Monday, September 24, 2007

I Was There: An Oral History of 1997

I have once again fallen hopelessly behind in my RSS reading, so I'm only now delving into this AV Club list of the landmark albums of 1997. While I appreciate any attempt to deflate the current wave of boomer self-congratulation, I must voice one objection to this look back: it makes me feel really old. On the bright side, though, now I think I'm old enough to gather the young 'uns around my rocking chair to hear my stories of the way music was when I was their age. So join me as I look back on my personal memories of the Onion's picks:

1. Radiohead, OK Computer - I loved "Creep" but didn't much care for The Bends, so it would seem that my interest in Radiohead would have been nipped in the bud. "Paranoid Android" was such a shock to my senses, though, that I instantly became a fan of the band. While I didn't technically listen to the whole album until I was in college, I had prematurely decided that it would be one of my favorites. Turns out I was right!

2. Modest Mouse, The Lonesome Crowded West - Who? I may have been faintly aware of the existence of a band called Modest Mouse prior to the unexpected success of "Float On," but certainly not this far back. No music geek points for me.

3. Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out - Back in the day, my only real outlet for music criticism was the record review section of the Philadelphia Inquirer. That's where I first heard of Sleater-Kinney, when I read a rave review of Call the Doctor. Dig Me Out got four stars, and I thought to myself, I should probably check these gals out. Nine years later, Sleater-Kinney was going on hiatus, I still didn't own this CD, and I desperately snatched up a ticket to one of their final shows to assuage my guilt at sleeping on them for so long. It was a great show, but I still haven't bought this album for some reason.

4. Elliott Smith, Either/Or - As far as I was concerned, Elliott Smith was the guy who sang that song from Good Will Hunting. I rooted for him to win the Oscar because I was at least sophisticated enough to know that he was a lot better than Celine Dion.

5. Yo La Tengo, I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One - Take the anecdote behind Dig Me Out, only replace references to Sleater-Kinney with Yo La Tengo. Yo La Tengo are still together of course, and I did acquire this album last year. Sometimes I wonder how my life would be different if I had actually gotten into all of the hip bands of which I was vaguely aware at the time. Probably nothing would be different except for an annoying habit of trying to work Yo La Tengo into as many conversations as possible.

6. Spiritualized, Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space - Didn't these guys have a song in a Volkswagen commercial? Cool album title, though.

7. Company Flow, Funcrusher Plus - El-P was in Company Flow, right? I own I'll Sleep When You're Dead but I fear it might be another ten years before I have really gotten into that album.

8. Björk, Homogenic - You know, I can't really remember when I became aware of the existence of Bjork, but I'm fairly sure that I would have hated her at that point of my life.

9. Belle And Sebastian, The EPs - I really, really wish I'd been into Belle and Sebastian when I was 15; it's hard to think of another band that can appeal equally to gawky adolescents and sophisticated rock snobs.

10. Notorious B.I.G., Life After Death / Wu-Tang Clan, Wu-Tang Forever - I was just getting out of my "Rap's not music! They don't play instruments!" phase, but wasn't far enough along that I was, you know, listening to the stuff.

11. Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, Supa Dupa Fly - I didn't get it. Was she wearing a garbage bag in that video? Somewhere between "Get Ur Freak On" and "Work It," I finally realized how awesome Missy was.

12. Erykah Badu, Baduizm - Now this, I liked, at least as far as the one song I knew. If I'd only bought the CD, I could have probably gotten into the Roots a good four or five years early.

13. Mogwai, Young Team - I'm still not quite sure what "post-rock" is. Do you think my adolescent self could have figured it out?

14. Daft Punk, Homework - Boy oh boy, I would have hated Daft Punk, not being able to see the difference between their house music and the generic dance-pop I was forced to listen to at school dances. The duo didn't show up on my radar until 2001, when "One More Time" was all over MTV2. Based on the video, I just assumed they were Japanese.

15. Helium, The Magic City - Oh, sure, these guys! Um...did they have an album called No Guitars or something? (Yes they did.) I think I read a review of that once.

16. The Promise Ring, Nothing Feels Good - OK, I've seriously never heard of this band. This is getting quite embarrassing.

17. Bob Dylan, Time Out Of Mind - Finally! An album I actually owned in the year 1997! (OK, it was early 1998. Close enough) I bought this with the prize money I won in a writing contest (the featured speaker that day, incidentally was the editor of a now-defunct music magazine, my first glimpse of a real-life record snob.) It was the first Dylan album I owned and, in retrospect, not the best place to begin one's appreciation of Mr. Zimmerman. Still, it did the trick, even if it took me a few more years to fully catch up with his career.

18. Other essential 1997 listening: Oh, who cares at this point? It turns out I shouldn't be depressed that it's been 10 years since these albums were released; I should be depressed that my musical taste ten years ago was so lame, and I still haven't finished my remedial listening.

I can only hope that this won't become a recurring feature. If so, I guess I have a year to prepare myself for the shame of knowing that when In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star were in stores, I was busy talking up Rebekah to anyone who would listen.

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