me and high-school really didn't get along. god, i hated that place. and that time. i graduated from the ironically named Elmira Free Academy a full year early - june of 1993 - and in the 16 years (uhm, wow) since have annihilated or overwritten most of those memories. lately i've been thinking about that shithole again. about the kid i was, the music i listened to and how it got me to where i sit today*. as the youngest of my three upstate siblings tries to find her way to the light at the end of study hall alot of the weird memories of high-school have been flowing back in.
by the time i became one of elmira's finest achievers i was WAY into collecting punk tapes. do you remember that gigantic waterproof sony walkman that was YELLOW with the locking mechanism on the side? why was it YELLOW? why, when cassette tapes were tiny and light as feather did this thing have to be a goddamned dictionary in your pocket? why was it YELLOW? yellow is basically the worst color on earth (fresh pee) and somebody at sony thought, let's make that shit YELLOW and way way bigger than it needs to be! let's make a PISS BRICK! i wore the most enormous pants back then and i can still remember straight struggling to get that thing out of my pocket. luckily it had cutting edge AUTO-REVERSE technology so tape-flipping was less of an issue but still - can you imagine kids on capitol hill using one of these? i think the yellow would go over fine, but actually getting it into a pocket of the modern trendsetter would be a physical impossibility. perhaps an ironic fanny pack is the answer. i dunno. i can't help you.
the thing i remember most about that walkman was the way it looked loaded up with my misfits Legacy of Brutality cassette. while most cassettes were that weird metallic clear plastic this shit was BLACK. you know what else is black? DEAD STUFF. man the misfits were my favorite band right around the time i had this stupid ass yellow walkman. thinking about it now, the thing probably looked like a goddamn bumble-bee but i remember thinking it looked so completely badass. I would listen to Static Age, Legacy of Brutality, Walk Among Us and Earth A.D. over and over until the AA's died or the tape got eaten.** I had at least 3 Misfits t-shirts including the classic skull shirt and an Earth A.D. shirt with several bloody wolf-man- zombies hanging from a nooses. ***
nowadays cassettes are long gone and i'm not sure why this happened but the misfits never transitioned into the CD/record collection for me. i thought for a while that maybe i had lost or let someone borrow my misfits CD's but i'm realizing now that i never had them. just the cassettes. i guess i just started getting into other stuff around the time CD's came out / i got into records and i just never replaced these formative classics.
over the years my taste has really expanded. to think that i really only listened to punk for years and years is pretty astonishing. I often make the mistake, when thinking about my own experience with music - changing tastes etc. - of thinking that i'm the only one that spent his childhood feeling songs like MOMMY, CAN I GO OUT AND KILL TONIGHT?, HYBRID MOMENTS and BULLET - despite a real inability to understand what the fuck Danzig was actually singing. Seriously, could you tell me the lyrics to those songs before Google existed? I don't think so. The misfits were ferocious and full of attitude; exactly what i needed at the time.
In the years following my taste slowly morphed - from clearly punk music (dead kennedys, bad religion, misfits, sex pistols, black flag, minor threat, minutemen) into sometimes poppier emotional punk of the bay area (jawbreaker, green day, crimpshrine, mohinder) -into whatever the sam-hell it is today. along the way i discovered a guy named david pajo. mr. pajo is probably best known for his contribution to/creation of the post-rock movement as a member of Louisville band slint (Tweez, Spiderland) and later tortoise (the amazing Millions Now Living Will Never Die and TNT). even though i love and admire all four of those records it wasn't until i heard pajo play alone, stripped bare as papa M that i really fell in love with his music. Live from a Shark's Tank, Whatever Mortal, Papa M Sings, Songs of Mac and his six singles (entitled 1-6, all on drag city) are an exercise in delicate and deliberate song writing that is on the surface completely at odds with my early years as a connoisseur of punk rock. pajo's most recent release is a collection of misfits covers. listening to Scream With Me has filled me with such happiness. maybe it sounds dumb, HAPPINESS and MISFITS unlikely sentence mates - but this record, just feels like going home. it has forced me to contemplate where i came from***** in relation to where i am today. perhaps more importantly it reminds me that there are others out there that have traversed similar territory in terms of music and perhaps more importantly - in life. what's the goddamn dif i guess, right? the songs themselves are triumphant in their ability to transcend the inherent brutality of a misfits song to create something aesthetically beautiful. it's amazing what slowing the pace and tone of a song like I TURNED INTO A MARTIAN will do to the feeling it exudes. as each note crawls by pajo asks us to reexamine danzig's lyrics beneath the cold light of one's lifetime -
possession of the mind is a terrible thing
it's a transformation with an urge to kill
not the body of a man from earth
not the face of the one you love
i turned into a martian
i can't even recall my name
sometimes i never hardly sleep at night
i turned into a martian today
- there is newfound disaffection in the words as pajo sings:
i walk down city streets
in an unsuspecting human world
inhuman in your midst
- i still consider myself to be into punk rock. it's just another kind of punk i guess. another feeling. i think ray barbee sums it up pretty well****: "[punk is more of] a way of thinking...if you've got a heavy metal show and you book a jazz band in there, that's punk." pajo's fragile covers have gotten me thinking about what glenn danzig was trying to get across more than i ever did as a kid. in that way this collection of songs is a completely punk rock record and i am more of a punk now than i was then. fuckin' a.
it's the very best thing i've heard this year. I really can not recommend it strongly enough. It's a limited edition vinyl release (1000 pressed at 45rpm) and comes with free CD of the full record.
Here's the tracklisting:
Where Eagles Dare
Teenagers from Mars
I Turned into a Martian
You can and will buy it here.
**i was pretty proud of my ability to fix cassette tapes when i was a kid. i wore these fucked up thick plastic glasses when i was young and was always having to use the mini-screwdriver to tighten them and what-not - presumably due to the unnatural weight of the thick lenses. anyway i quickly discovered that this little tool could also be used to dismantle audio cassettes. i would repair a friend's damaged tape in exchange for a dub of some other album. i remember i would lay the tape on the table as if i was about to perform a triple bypass. i think i washed my hands first. i'd open it up and untwist the tape and even do splices with my mom's scotch tape. i remember one time i had this fugazi tape - it wasn't 13 songs because that wasn't on cassette - OH -margin walker it was - i had that all laid out and i need some scotch tape to repair it and i asked my mom - who sent me on this wild search through the basement for a mystery roll of scotch tape that was left over from wrapping christmas presents. i remember searching around, STRESSING that margin walker was splayed out all over the table (should've secured my surgical materials prior to making the first incision) - any old breeze could come by and blow everything all to hell. luckily that didn't happen and i believe the repair was a success. thank god, fugazi tapes were like 6$ and not available at sam goody.
***I also eventually owned a couple of danzig shirts including one from the 2nd record LUCIFUGE that had the outline of an upside-down cross on the front with the danzig skull inside it. On the back were big blood red letters that read GOD DON'T LIKE IT. hahaha, oh man, i'd wear that today if i still had it.
*****epicly later'd is a brilliant video series about skateboarders, created by patrick o'dell. ray barbee's episode is here.