Considering how much I integrate music into my conception of, umm, self, it's surprising that I don't remember more songs based on where I was when I first heard them.
I do remember being on the road trip with Mike and Rick, stuck in traffic near Dallas, listening to the radio, when I first heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit," well before the song broke on MTV, at the time like a punch in the gut, not just for the song's razorblade hooks, but also for the realization that there was actually a radio station playing this kind of stuff in the months before hair metal died.
I remember running around with Mark Gadol that day as a teenager, smoking a joint with him in his orange Chevy Vega, "the shitshaker," then stumbling into Spec's and buying Iron Maiden's Killers. Then stopping by the house of a buddy, who played my new British metal record on his crappy Radio Shack stereo, and played it LOUD, too, the huge volume and enormous amplifier clip visibly bothering Mark, who grimaced, stoned and uncomfortable, as "Drifter" blared on, Dave Murray's wah-wah solo and speaker dregs forming a tornado of unwanted noise in dude's living room . . .
And I remember "Cannon," late Saturday night sometime early 1995, driving to work in the tricked-up black Malibu, on my way to work at the Miami Herald building, on my way to put out the Sunday morning paper. The expressway as you would expect on a Saturday night was full of enthusiastic would-be drunks, their lechery transmitted through the beams of their headlights, driving faster than they ought, playing their stereos too loud, maybe as loud as mine, maybe they could hear how this Cannon song just exploded in alternating parts, right?
That Malibu was equipped with a sound system designed to fight the stereo wars, even on a Saturday night, and designed to modulate Self's post-grunge guitars, designed to make dust of them all. "Cannon," even in its first introduction, was ammunition, motherfucker. Fire met powder, soprano vocals, dirty guitar, amped out, amped up, and this time clean.
Well, for 4:01, anyway. Then I went to work, while everybody else went to party. So it goes.
But to cop a line from a different act, the memory remained. Thing was, "Cannon" blew me away, but the DJ had neglected to mention the name of the band, or the name of the song, and the station--or any other--never played it again, not while I was listening, anyway.
So I went around for 8 or 9 years not knowing the name of the song that had rocked my world that Saturday night during the Clinton administration. Well, OK, I kinda guessed the tune was called "Cannon," but I couldn't hear it again until I knew the name of the band.
As you might have guessed, the mystery was solved with a fileshare search earlier this decade, and the RIAA might keep in mind that I bought Self's debut album not in spite of, but because of, the fileshare networks they demonize so much.
But back to the music--or at least what it conveys to me.
I used to know a guy who was best friends with a drunk. The guy's name was Gary and the drunk's name was Billy. Billy managed to keep a decent job stamping concrete, managed to pay his alimony, managed to keep his Oldsmobile Delta '88 running, managed, for the most part, to keep going despite a pretty severe drinking problem that was slowly destroying his liver. His doctors had told him that he had to stop drinking if he wanted to have a chance at saving his liver, but Billy pretty cheerfully admitted that he wasn't going to be able to stop. Again, Billy was mostly Gary's friend, so I can't even tell you whether Billy's poison of choice was rum or vodka or rye or scotch or what.
All I know is he wasn't gonna stop, and that he didn't.
Anyway, so I'm hanging out at Gary's one night, maybe we were playing cards, used to play poker with Gary some, and Billy pulls up in his battered Olds, and the rear bumper is hanging even lower than I remembered it. We got to talking and Billy told me how he'd hit a wall or an iron gate or something, and how he'd bashed the front and back ends of his car so many times that the safety factor had pretty much all gone out of them. "All my crumple zones are crumpled," he told me sheepishly.
Gary always kept a copy of this letter to the editor Billy had written to the Herald stuck to his refrigerator. Something about how we shouldn't kowtow to the Russians. One day sometime later I was pulling open his fridge to grab a beer and I saw the thing, and asked "how IS Billy?" and Gary told me that Billy's liver had failed a few months previous.
Well. The world asked him to leave, and he obliged. But I've never forgotten Billy's crumple zones, and I'm always reminded of them, don't ask me why, when Matt Mahaffey from Self, in between the rocket guitar, sings that "Destiny is towing your car."
This file was removed April 7, 2009. If you're still way interested in coming up with a copy of this--and really can't figure out where you might get one--drop me an email and I'm sure I'll be able to figure something out for you.
128 kbps mp3, up for six weeks (right click and save as target)
File under: LOUDquietLOUD