Music: My Anti-Anti-Drug
Examining an Obsession… or, Who Needs a Life? I Have CDs!
I guess you can all blame D.J. McQueen. (This is a slight psuedonymization of her name, but not by much.) She was the older sister of my friend Todd, who lived across the street from me when I was in second grade. Todd and I would hang out in his room, arguing about Star Trek and trading baseball cards and reading The Uncanny X-Men and all that early 70s shit that kids did back then in suburban Portland. (Um, Oregon.) D.J., a drama nerd of the first order, was always listening to the radio and taking some kind of notes. Once, I asked her what the hell she was doing, and she showed me: a huge sheath of paper on which she had written the name and artist of every song she heard on the radio, along with tally marks indicating how many times she heard that song.
Now, of course, I recognize this as the sick Obsessive Compulsive Disorder behavior that it was, but back then, I thought it was cool. I went home and started my own list. Even that wasn’t good enough for me, though. I started compiling my own lists: “My Favorite 10 Songs” soon turned into “The 100 Greatest Songs Ever Recorded,” and was re-calculated on a monthly basis. I am proud that The Chi-Lites’ “Have You Seen Her” never left my Top 10; I am embarrassed that The Four Seasons’ discofied “December 1963 (Oh What a Night)” was always #1. Hey, I was a kid, what the hell did I know?
From then on, it just got worse: buying the singles for “Rubberband Man” and “Rhinestone Cowboy” at 7-Eleven; haunting the album area at Gary’s Rexall Drug — first album bought with own money was Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town; convincing the parents to let me get a membership to the Columbia Record and Tape Club, where I discovered Songs in the Key of Life and A New World Record; borrowing and taping B-52’s and Kinks and David Bowie and Clash and Prince albums from my friends’ big brothers and sisters; wangling a gig reviewing records for my high school newspaper, becoming an expert by pretending to be an expert and by reading Spin and Rolling Stone; spending all my college and post-college money on tapes and albums and then CDs; and now writing for this Web site and others.
Sure, my story isn’t all that unusual. Many of you out there are the same way. But have you ever actually cried when you heard that an album that you were gonna buy was gone and out of print? Have you translated the words of a Pizzicato Five song from the Japanese so your pre-school-aged daughter could sing along in the car? Have you ever lost sleep thinking that somehow, through poor planning and stupidity, you have FAILED MISERABLY IN LIFE because you don’t own a copy of Gomez’s outtakes collection Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline, and their new album is coming out REALLY SOON and if it hits the stores and you don’t have a complete collection then you’re just a LOSER and don’t deserve to call yourself an INFORMED CITIZEN OF THE WORLD? (Don’t worry — I just picked it up. Paid cash. Less likely to get busted with the credit card statement by the wife. Smooth.)
That’s the downside. But, as unreconstructed and unrepentant junkies and alcoholics say, let’s talk upside. The rush of new music! Discovering new stuff that completely blows your head off! Last fall, when everything was going to shit — my college fellow-obsessive musical buddy Ted was on one of those planes; only guy I knew who loved The Fleshtones as much as me — I unclenched my teeth and let music save my ass. The weird freaky timeless beauty of the Circulatory System album… the angry polemics of Argentina’s Bersuit Vergabarat… the hushed gnostic Sanskrit hymns on Susheela Raman’s album… all that butt-kickery of the White fuckin’ Stripes… Those albums, cued up on my new CD Walkman headphones as I went on my 5 a.m. walks, really brought me back from the brink more times than I can mention.
Music is how I relate to the world. This is not good; it is not bad; it is just how it is. I understand this now. I would love to believe that my life is such a fabulous movie that it deserves a great soundtrack, but it’s less poetic than that. It’s more like this: I cancelled my therapy sessions this winter. Who needs therapy? I have Innervisions, and I have Forever Changes, I have Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome, I have London Calling.