The Newsletter. No. 2: The Classics

This month I’m taking a musical trip down memory lane.

Middle School

Sublime – 40 oz. to Freedom

When I first started listening to 40 oz. to Freedom I didn’t actually like the music. I didn’t understand the entrepreneurial significance of the album’s title.

Hell, I didn’t even know Sublime had music beyond “Santeria,” “Wrong Way,” and “What I got.” And none of these songs were even on the album.

What initially drew me to the album was its vulgarity. I’d been listening to rap for a while. But, to me, the tone of the music in rap matched what was being said.

40 oz. was the first time I’d heard, “I want to fuck you,” sung in a melody atop the peaceful soundscape of reggae. And it made me uncomfortable at first. I suppose the argument could be made that most music is suggesting the same statement, Sublime was just one of my first run-ins with lyrics that overtly stated what other musicians suggested through lyrical innuendo, moaning, and emulated sex sounds created by instruments.

This album quickly grew into an obsession and also served as my entry point into roots artists being covered on the album like Toots and the Maytals. If you had to pick one, listen to “5446/Ball and Chain.”

Nirvana – Nevermind

The same year I fell in love with Sublime I also found Nevermind tucked in my mom’s car under a bunch of terrible 80’s glam metal albums. Not only did this album beat out MJ, but it also popularized a new genre and created, at the time, a powerhouse of a music scene in Seattle that overtook airwaves and record stores–the most dominant music mediums in the early nineties.

I have a certain reader in mind who would argue that it’s all about The Melvins. Yes, I know Nirvana stole some of their sound and that Kurt Cobain loved The Melvins–they were hugely influential to many bands. But it doesn’t pain me to say that Nirvana wrote better songs. Like actual songs that weren’t rambly ten minute heavy jams. And that’s one of the reasons Nirvana became so huge. Their songs are undeniable. Alice Cooper said in an interview once how more bands need to study The Beatles to get a sense of how to write a song. This album displays what happens when a creative mind has internalized The Beatles catalog and writes songs inspired by his other musical interests.

I really became obsessed with this album in middle school when I was raking leaves for my grandparents. Each summer/fall they would head out to this camp in the woods–which was like a retirement home for old people–and just live. It never really struck me as odd at the time, but looking back it was kind-of just like a displaced trailer park. Everyone built screened-in porches onto the front of their campers. They even grew grass and mowed said grass. In the middle of the woods let me remind you.

Anyway, this specific fall season I was in charge of raking their plot of land in the woods trailer park. While I raked, I listened to Nevermind on repeat. So I suppose you could try that out this fall when you’re raking too.

YouTube Gem of the month:

Elliot Smith feat. Jon Brion and Brad Mehldau. Click here.

Jon Brion is a genius and has produced many other geniuses the likes of Kanye West, Elliot Smith, Brad Mehldau, Fiona Apple. And the list goes on.

elementary school

Sure elementary school doesn’t follow middle school, but screw humans and their insistence on chronology.

Jay-Z – Roc La Familia: The Dynasty 
This album was a big hit at our local YMCA on Friday “Fun Nights.” Any time a song from the album would play, all my friends would pause and start rapping in each other’s faces to display our bravado and knowledge of the hottest album out. It was 7pm in suburbia but we were the hardest motherfuckers around rapping to Jay-Z.

high school

Kanye West – The College Dropout 
This album reintroduced me to rap. In middle school I stopped listening to rap/hip-hop in attempt to fit in with the “punks” at school. At that point showing allegiance to the punk or prep crowd was integral to social survival. And I wasn’t ready for alienation, so ascribe to social norms I did. One day at recess this particular year the punk and prep social circles lined up at recess to brawl. It was like a game of red rover except the two complete lines ran at each other, rather than individuals. After this recess debacle, for the rest of the week, the school called groups of 3-4 students to the office to discuss how we would prevent future conflict. There were even talks of introducing uniforms to the school so that the two groups couldn’t signal their allegiance through dress, much like how gangs wear colors, except for us it was Abercrombie vs Hot Topic, instead of red v. blue. The irony that Hot Topic is just as much a consumerist, popular establishment as Abercrombie was unrecognized by me and my punk friends. By 9th grade my idiotic allegiance to the punks had waned–and thankfully so because this was the year I first heard The College Dropout.

I am the type of person who struggles with my proclivity toward laziness. Because I am relatively smart, I often fight the nagging idea that things should come easily to those who are smart. Logically I know it’s not true, but that doesn’t keep me from wondering why an intelligent person like myself is stuck in a cycle of low-paying shitty jobs. College Dropout caters to these struggles, along with some others. Sure I’m not a black man working at The GAP who’s searched for stolen goods every night before leaving work, but I was a college dropout at one point. I can relate to the seemingly valueless degree that so many pressured me toward getting in my youth. Now that I have a degree I can say it hasn’t helped me pay off loans so far. (I do value my degree though, but for many reasons that defy the assumption that a degree guarantees employment. Enrichment is unmeasurable and therefore worthless to many in our society, or so it seems.)


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