Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Five not-so-good bands I was once really into...

Following up on this post, in which I describe five good bands I’ve never been able to enjoy, here are five less-than-stellar bands that I somehow found it in my heart to love. Taste is a strange thing, I suppose, but I’d like to claim the “youth exemption” on all these choices. I was a goofy kid and young adult, plagued by artsiness and excessive angst. Forgive me, won’t you?

1) Metallica

Don’t laugh. When you’re a fifteen year old boy, misunderstood in the Midwest, Metallica speaks to you. In the pounding drums of Lars Ulrich, you hear the echoes of your alienation from stupid-idiot-loser-adult society. The bass—played by either the late Cliff Burton or his replacement, Jason Newsted—thumps out the steady rhythm of your emotional isolation and implacable sense of grievance. Meanwhile, the soaring, wankish guitar solos of Mr. Kirk Hammett weedle out the glory that would be yours if only your acne cleared up, if only that girl in Algebra would talk to you, if only your hometown and your parents and the world at large weren’t so resolutely anti-metal. But it is the growled lyrics (not to mention the doughty rhythm guitar) of James Hetfield that signify the most for you—his stories of the electric chair, drug abuse, war amputees, death and pestilence. Let’s face it, when you’re a fifteen year old boy, those sorts of things are fucking cool.

2) The Dead Kennedys

Don’t laugh. I’m not entirely sorry that this was the band who brought forth my political awakening. They were far-leftists in outlook, like a lot of California punks of the era, but their lyrical outlook emphasized dark humor and cutting sarcasm over stridency and didacticism. While I’ve left behind a lot of the utopianism and anger that characterizes that mindset, I can still appreciate their hectoring urgency and their talent for ridicule. These are important things for a young person to learn.

What I can’t abide, however, is their music. Put plainly, it doesn’t hold up really well. It seems like they’re trying to create some kind of surf/punk fusion, but never had the patience to perfect this sound. It’s Dick Dale if Dick Dale hadn’t learned how to play more than three chords on his guitar. When mixed with the usual tinny, shitty-sounding recording techniques that the hardcore punks of the era loved, this effect is made even more dreadful. It’s like they’re playing their sped-up, skilled-down Ventures song at the bottom of a septic tank somewhere on the next block. What’s more, “singer” Jello Biafra’s scrapy, nasal voice took a lot of getting used to back when I was a teenager. Now that I’m older and less tolerant, it annoys me to no end.

3) Skinny Puppy

Don’t laugh. If you don’t know who Skinny Puppy is, don’t worry, you’re not missing anything. They were an “industrial” band. What that means, for those not versed in obscure nerd genres, is that they made music that sounds like angry robots shouting at you. The emphasis was on “textures” and “soundscapes”, usually generated with costly synthesizers and studio trickery, rather than traditional songs and catchy hooks. If that seems incredibly pretentious and sort of silly, you’re getting the picture.

Skinny Puppy, from Vancouver, were big movers and shakers in this scene. They had the evil noise, the flanged voices, and the spooky keyboard noises in spades. That wasn’t what made them special, though. What made them special was their live performances, which were sort of like Alice Cooper gone art school. They’d dress up in monster outfits. They’d show films of car crashes and war atrocities. They’d chop up fake animals in order to protest medical experiments. It was all very high concept and very difficult to explain to my parents.

Nowadays, just the mention of their name can make me blush. We were all young once, true, but some of us had a better soundtrack.

4) The Notorious B.I.G.

Don’t laugh. Biggie Smalls used to sell drugs in the New York City neighborhood I called home. When he died (before I moved there), his funeral procession snaked past my window. In downtown Brooklyn, B.I.G. was like Prince is for people around here. He was an icon, a bigger than life badguy with a heart of gold. Yet in spite his gangster image and his massive celebrity, he was also a compelling writer and vocalist. His sordid ghetto dramas struck deeper and burned brighter than pretty much anything his contemporaries ever attempted, and his pop hits were so catchy even white boys from Minnesota had to sing along.

And, as I’m sure you can imagine, I looked pretty silly doing that.

5) Queensryche

Stop laughing. In my heart of hearts, I’m a big ol’ drama queen. Nowadays, I’ve got this tendency well-hidden beneath layers and layers of irony. Back in my adolescence, however, I was a lot less cool. An operatic tenor and swooping guitars could reliably get me to mist up. I would throw on my headphones, dim the lights, fire up the Operation:Mindcrime and brood until it was bedtime. Good times, people, good times. In those many, many solitary sadness sessions, several great and profound truths were revealed to me. One, sometimes life is hard for people who are different. Two, often times there is tension between society and the individual. Three, while the girls in my humanities class may not understand me yet, the fancy-haired guys of Queensryche most definitely do. And, when all is said and done, that is perhaps the best reason to spend an entire sophomore year moping around in black eyeliner.