Happy to be Reminded

I don’t have a favorite album. There are too many choices, and too many ways in which an album can be good for me to ever want to pick one favorite. But I can distinctly remember a time when I did have a favorite and I was reminded of that today.

In 7th grade my favorite album was Failure by the Posies. A choice that stands up rather well, if I do say so myself. It’s still my favorite Posies album. At that point the Posies were Jon Auer & Ken Stringfellow, just out of High School, recording in their parents’ house. According to allmusic.com Failure was recorded as a demo and Pop Llama liked it enough to release it as an album (on cassette). As they say in the liner notes to the CD version, “[W]e warn you that you are listening to a disc that was not only recorded in someone’s living room, on used tape at that, on eight tracks but was released inauspiciously as a cassette over a year and a half ago with the intention of selling a couple hundred copies to our friends and such. Little did we know, that like musical George Bailey’s we found ourselves unexpectedly blessed with darn near 10,000 friends. Fortunately, they didn’t all stay at once. Some of you may know that our house is rather small and gloomy and hardly the place one invites dignitaries. Which, if you have been so kind as to pay full retail and not hassle your record-store-cashier buddies for a discount, you are.”

As you can probably tell from those notes, they were clever, a little bit bored, and listened to a lot of music. As it turned out, they were great musicians as well. It is the classic story of rock and roll surprise success (though they never really rocked, and their success was ultimately modest). Failure is my favorite of their albums because it is the one in which they seem most relaxed in their ambitions. All of the other albums feel, to me, like they’re consciously trying to do something different, and it isn’t completely comfortable. Failure, by contrast, feels unselfconscious in a very positive way.

My favorite song, in seventh grade, was Under Easy, a sarcastic song about being frustrated with someone (a friend? or a boy/girlfriend?) who is wallowing in adolescent angst. Despite not being a particularly angst-ridden adolescent I identified with the target of the song.

They certainly weren’t above adolescent angst themselves. Take, for example, I May Hate You Sometimes. Some of the lyrics are almost painful, “I’m another one just like you, a human being.” but others are fantastic, like the opening, “Here we are, only been a couple of years, maybe longer.” That is a near-perfect opening line, particularly for someone just out of High School. “I don’t want to live up to your expectations / I don’t want to be the one to end relations / I may hate you sometimes, but I’ll always love you.” That was a line that made a big impact on me at 12. I think I’ve carried that around for a long time as an image of someone trapped in a non-functional relationship who has tied themselves completely in knots. It’s an easy emotion to empathize with.

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