Sunday, February 13, 2011

Anti Music Missiles

I was debating whether for my first official review justify my top album pick for the past year, Deerhunter's "Halcyon Digest" or look back at an album that had not only impact on the way I listen to music or, I guess, my life in general. That's simple, I'm choosing the latter. Spin magazine used to run a segment called 10 albums that changed my life where they would interview a musician about those albums that influenced them personally. I could focus on only one album.

As a junior at a small liberal arts college in Ohio in 1986, I still had this unshakable faith that somehow popular music was going to be a relevant force in pop culture again. At that time, the landscape was dominated by mega-heavy weight pop stars (Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, etc...) and sprinkled with half-assed wannabes, too numerous to mention. It was an age where material volume and image where vogue. Polished digital recording was becoming the new standard, the dawn of the compact disc and MTV was still showing music videos. Very corporate, indeed.

In January 1986, I was perusing the record store next to the Laundromat where I always seem to spend my Saturday mornings when I found what thought was the source of a song that I heard over the previous summer from a band called the Replacements. The album didn't have the song I was looking for but I bought it anyway out of shear boredom. The album was TIM. I was the first major label release for the band which is the likely the reason it ended up in that particular store in the first place.

When I got back to my room, I broke out an adult malted beverage, yes it was still morning, and hit the cassette to side one. The one-two punch of "Hold My Life" followed by "I'll Buy" I comparable to Exile on Main Street's "Rocks Off" and "Rip this Joint" to start an album. Not only did it have a guitar driven attack driven by Bob Stinson's lead but Paul Westerberg's desperate vocals sounded as if it could have been a confessional outburst. Whether belting out "Tell em' what do we really care" on "I'll Buy" or the childlike banter of "Kiss Me On the Bus" "OK, don't say 'Hi' then" all the way to "Swingin Party" with "If being wrong's a crime, I'm serving forever" , the theme was not being one step away from the "brink" all the time but fear. Fear of success, fear of failure, fear of what comes next, other people's fear, who knows.
I figured that I had five adult beverages while listening to side one of the new cassette over and over again. Six times, I believe, rewinding each time, all this before I even pressed play on side two. Finally, I got sick of rewinding the tape over and over again and played the second side of the cassette.

Whoa, one of the best anthem songs ever to start side two, "Bastards of Young" was a shot of adrenalin. It was all over, I was hooked. There was no going back. I didn't do anything drastic like "quittin' school" but I would never listen to pop radio the same way again. For the first time, I realized that music didn't have to be on the radio to be good. It would be easy to draw comparisons between personal upheaval and those happening within the band. Bob Stinson's guitar work was apparently recorded in one session with producer Tommy Erdelyi and spliced in later the engineer Steven Fjelstad after Bob disappeared not to return during the remainder of the recording sessions for Tim. Leave that to lore.

The album was not polished, many will say it was under produced but, hey, critics said the same thing about the Rolling Stone's "Exile on Main Street" when it was released. Even the subsequent Lo-Fi sounds of 1994s Guided By Voices "Bee Thousand". After listening to the 2008 rerelease of Tim I get the impression that polish would destroy this record. The power of the record was not in the perfected digital sound that would leave a lasting image but the emotional attachment to whatever fear that serve Paul Westerberg on a given day. 25 years later, Tim still remains a link to my past that I will cherish, always.
Thanks for sharing it Paul.

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