Posted by: dougery | May 7, 2010

Confessions of a (One-time Industrial Pop Metal) Music Fan

Today I’d like to test the waters for possible series of future articles whereby I try and figure out how on earth I listened to that horrible racket I did growing up.

My friend Austin’s grimace-inducing, thought-provoking recent article reminded me just how unpleasant it was to grow up in an American public school. “Nobody ever wants to go back to junior high,” he says, and it makes me wonder, surely there was something salvageable in those anti-halcyon days, right? Like say, the music? The answer, of course, written in 30 foot high letters of fire is a resounding ‘No, no of course not, no, good God no.’ Because for every Nevermind there were a dozen 16 Stone, for every great Smashing Pumpkins album there were, well, the next 5 Smashing Pumpkins albums, and so forth.

I’ve got an uncomfortable number of musical skeletons in my closet, and basically, anything I listened to and enjoyed while in middle/high-school is illegible for this series. Extra-eligible if it was so embarrassing you won’t find any traces of it in my current iTunes library. Not even for kitsch value, though I’ve never been a fan of liking something because it was so very bad. “Toxic” is in my iPod because, believe it or not, I genuinely think it’s a good song. But that is besides the point. The point is I had to wade through the musical equivalent of a river of blood to get to the promised land on the other side. Afterall we don’t all emerge in a sparkly glam-rock birth crooning the lyrics from Hunky Dory.

The inaugural article will focus on a type of music some would call Industrial, others probably classify as some form of wussified Metal, and still others would file it away disdainfully under Pop. The musicians and artists in question probably wouldn’t think of their songs as pop music, however, when your songs are played on FM radio all the way in the rural cornfields of North Sticksville, population seven cows, a threshing machine and a diesel gas station (which doubles as a VHS rental center and grocery store), well then congratulations, you are, beyond a shadow of a doubt, ‘popular’ music.

To boil down “Industrial Pop Metal” even further, basically, what I mean to say is that good golly did I love NIN’s Pretty Hate Machine. It was, like, Punk with a disco beat! And I enjoyed it so much so that I was relentless in devouring any band I could find that sounded remotely similar to Trent Reznor’s cynical pop masterpiece. And being the mid-90’s, I was limited in my resources for discovering new music.

You might have had the internet back then, but if you did, you were probably using AOL for your email, if you had email at all. If you were cutting edge, Hotmail. Remember those? No? Well, I don’t blame you because I was stunned the other to find out Pretty Hate Machine was over 20 years old. Insane. Needless to say maybe there existed the prenatal fetuses of would-be internet music magazines, but I sure as hell didn’t have access to them. What I had access to was 103.3 the EDGE, as crass and as corporate a rock radio station as ever existed.

The huge record companies had yet to become emasculated by the Napsters of the world and pushed hard for “their music” to be played on big FM radio stations. None of the musical discoveries detailed below happened by chance, all were bought and paid for many times over before I, well, bought and paid for their cassettes, and then eventually, gasp, compact discs.

So already the music I was being served had most of its EDGEs sanded off. It had to appeal to as many people as possible. The weirder moments of Pretty Hate Machine (which, at that time, generally meant any of the more squiggly electronic bits) which were also some of it’s finer moments, would never make it into any of the dopplegaNINger’s albums. So I had to content myself with the Gravity Kills, the Stabbing Westwards and the Econoline Crushes of the world.

I was listening the latter’s album The Devil You Know while driving to work this morning and was having an acid senior high-school flashback. The music was so bald, so unadorned and yet so barren of anything any actual human would ever say or feel that I alternatingly laughed and tried to crawl out of my skin. To think, this was not only an album I loved, but one I unabashedly suggested others listen to of their own free will.

And yet even a stinker like The Devil You Know had a track like “Home”, the fifth song on the album and by far it’s best. A blistering pace and a overwhelming wall of sound separate this tune from its neighbors. Sure the lyrics were rubbish:

“I’m here and I wonder if I’m lost/
cuz I can’t seem to understand the way I feel.
I’m not here to be a creep.
I’m just feeling incomplete.
Take me home.”

Ick. And yet the music was so punishing those barely mattered. And surprisingly I found myself enjoying a song I hadn’t listened to in a decade if not more. My iPod got an unexpected guest. And the only mild embarrassment I feel is that I’ve gone without it for so long.

See ya next time everybody.

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Responses

  1. My musical taste at that age was atrocious. For most of jr. high, I didn’t even really listen to music, a fact that I can’t even comprehend these days, despite the fact that it was me. I started listening to music in eight grade when i got my first portable CD player (which I recently unearthed whilst cleaning my room back in SC… it was like an archaeological find. That thing was massive and ancient).

    I remember middle school band trips where I would always take three CDs with me: the Eagles’ “Hell Freezes Over,” Dave Matthews Band’s first album, and Hootie and the Blowfish. Oddly enough, I still have a fondness for all those albums, even if I can recognize now how bad they were (except Hootie. I will still defend Hootie. They weren’t great, but they had something).

    I think we can forgive ourselves, though, since we weren’t very sophisticated and wore our hearts on our sleeves and so the music that most appealed to us, most spoke to us, was the music that did the same. And most of it was terrible. Subtly is lost on middle schoolers. The lyrics from “Home” seem sloppy and on-the-nose now, but man, as a tween and teen, that would have hit my Air Force brat, nomadic soul.

    Nowadays, I like my music like I live my life: complex. Mulit-layered. Full of doubt and ambiguity, hope and fear of the future.

    Sadly, someday I’ll be old and think I’ve got life figured and I’ll be so content that I’ll put on some “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and think, “man, this is living.”

    I’ll still listen to “Toxic,” though.

  2. There are many things about today’s youth that bug the shit out of me (get off my lawn, brats!) but I am deeply jealous of their access to new (whatever) via the internet. There are entire websites devoted to “if you liked this, you might like that” nowadays for comics or music or movies or whatever. And the range… you could be instantly a fan of a swedish death metal band even if you are growing up in Astabula.

    Of course there is the growth. The trial and error and the necessary shedding of skins one must undergo if you want to be a fully functional person that such access transcends. What I mean by this is where to do kids go who grow up on admittedly awesome but obscure music by the time they are our age?

    There’s two ways. Each more hipstery than the last.

    A) you come full circle, and only like extremely poppy music, the stuff your hipster friends gag(a) on. or

    B) you keep tunneling so deep into the underground that you’re never seen from again.

  3. i was listening to amy grant.
    enough said.

  4. This is a great post! I’ll bet this could be a great guest column in a music mag… Obviously provokes lots of response from people who enjoy rehashing the embarrassment of their youth… (I liked Enya).


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