Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I Should Do It More Than Twice Every Couple Decades

Okay, look... I was in college at the time, and it only happened once... All right, twice, but no more than that, I swear. Come on, the guy was definitely the experimental type, very experienced, and knew I'd be totally into it once I gave it a try... I just had to trust him. Boy, am I glad I did! My only regret is that it hasn't happened again in the 15 years since.

If you've made it this far without lunging for the Close Window button in a homophobic panic, you're about to be either pleasantly relieved to find out that I haven't gone all "Brokeback Blog" on you, or terribly disappointed if you were expecting a sordid tale of man-on-man action.

(Wow, I almost lunged for the Close Window button after typing those last four words!)

Sorry, cowboys... I'm actually talking about the two times that my college roommate (whom I'll call "Ron"... because that was his name) made mix tapes for me. Okay, maybe that didn't sound very heterosexual either, but stay with me for a minute and it will all make sense... I promise.

When I say Ron was experienced and experimental, I'm talking about music. He had the most massive collection of records, tapes, and CDs I had ever heard of, he practically lived in HMV, and he was always into the hottest new music before it even became the hottest new music. He used to come home with a new CD, invariably by somebody that no one else in the household had ever heard of, lock himself in his bedroom, slap on his big Sony headphones, and play it over and over and over until he knew the whole thing front to back, inside out. Then he'd come out, go straight to the big stereo, and dub the disc to cassette so he could listen to it in the car. Once that was done, he'd give the rest of us his review, telling us if the artist would "make it" or not, and which songs would be hits. And you know what? He was almost always right.

Before I met Ron, I was stuck in High School, musically speaking. It was the early 90's, a time of some great alternative bands (that's alternative with a lower-case 'a', when it wasn't just a cooler sounding label than 'Pop') and awesome new sounds, but I was deaf to it because I wasn't adventurous enough to leave George Michael's "Faith" or INX's "Kick" behind.


But Ron was a good guy... He knew a buddy in need of new tunes when he saw one. And so, he made me a couple of cassettes that introduced me to a bunch of new stuff. Well, some of it was actually old stuff, but it was new to me, and I loved it all.

For the first tape, he shuffled through piles of LPs and jewel cases, setting some aside, saying, "Oh! You'll like this!". Most of the songs on that one were completely new to me... Some Screaming Blue Messiahs, the Pixies, a little Big Audio Dynamite... All oldies now, but exactly the fresh sound I was looking for back then. I called that tape "Oh! You'll Like This!!! (The Force-Fed Mix)".

The second tape was a little different, but no less spectacular. It featured bands like The Housemartins, the Posies, They Might Be Giants, and The Mighty Lemon Drops. What made it great, though, was the amount of tracks that actually came off of honest-to-goodness records. Great sound, with just a hint of that vinyl hiss, pop, and crackle... Very cool. And I remember him waving me out of his way and telling me not to walk around when he had an LP on, or it might skip. So I ended up calling that tape "Steppin' Lightly Past the Vinyl (The One-Skip Mix)".

Like I said, that was 15 years ago now. I have gone 15 years without a knowledgeable, adventurous musical influence to get me excited about slappin' on the old headphones. I've had to make do with radio airplay and its pathetic parade of Classic Rock and cookie-cutter groups that are no more original than a 3-piece cover band at your local pub (yeah, I'm talking about you, Nickleback). That is, until last weekend...

I was doing a little blog surfing last Saturday and, no surprise if you know me, I went on over to the Zach Braff Blog (see "Daily Reads" in my sidebar) for a long overdue look-see. And what do you think good old Zach had chosen to talk about in his latest entry? Yep, music. Specifically, an up-and-coming artist by the name of Joshua Radin. Obviously this was a sign, right? Like Ron was speaking to me again, this time through the online writing of a celebrity neither of us have, or likely ever will, meet. Some crazy, cosmic tie that... Oh, fine... It was a coincidence. But it got me thinking.

I surfed a bit more and, long story short, ended up downloading... er... I mean, legitimately and legally purchasing about 40 tracks or so from one of the seasons of Scrubs, including 3 by Mr. Radin himself. And I gotta say, they are awesome! As I sat back and let my mp3 player do its thing, I got the same chills that my 2 mix tapes used to give me. At last!

I'm now definitely ready to explore some new musical horizons again, and I'm going to start by "legitimately and legally purchasing" some more stuff along the Zach Braff-y and Scrubs-y line... And, hey! If any of you have recommendations for stuff I just have to hear, drop me a comment or email and I'll try to check it out.

See, that was pretty heterosexual after all, wasn't it?
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