Friday, May 18, 2012

"I wanna tell you that I love you, but does it really matter?" - Mohammed's Radio and The Singles Soundtrack

The Singles Soundtrack was an important record for my circle of high school friends. It’s a soundtrack that contained several brand new songs by a collection of bands that were just starting to get huge: it came out between Ten and Vs., between Facelift and Dirt, and rather than being just a collection of throwaways (though some songs were pretty inessential. Why did Soundgarden put all their terrible songs on soundtracks?), it features more than a few early 90’s Alt-Rock high points.

It contains Paul Westerbeg’s best post-Replacements songs, as well as “Overblown”, one of Mudhoney’s finest moments, a song that boldly criticizes the Seattle scene that the movie and soundtrack were meant to lionize, and if you asked a hardcore Pearl Jam fan to make a list of his/her favorite songs, “State of Love and Trust” would be near the top.

These were our songs. They were new, and we felt, momentarily, like we were part of something. Our High School years had been filled with other people’s music. We ran full-on into Classic Rock because that’s the bill of goods you’re sold when you want to be a Rock kid. “This is time-tested. It’s authentic. It’s Zepplin and Floyd and The Who. It’s the canon.” It took a couple of years to realize that these were not our stories and they likely never would be. There was no shortage of bravado and sexuality to these songs, but there was very little doubt, fear, or genuine rage.  

We were mixed-up, angry kids, and whatever Aerosmith songs WNEW was playing were not going to temper or hone it. By the end of our sophomore year, we discovered Punk, but by then, it was other people’s Punk. All the best bands had broken up. New York Hardcore was just crossover Metal bullshit, so we listened to The Clash and Minor Threat and we were sated, but it still wasn’t OURS in the way that holding a debut album in your hands and knowing that you’re at the start of something makes a movement yours.  

By our senior year, we loved Hardcore, but we also loved Siousxie and the Banshees and the Sugarcubes and the Pixies, and we were raised on Classic Rock structures, so were ready for something that rocked, but was weirder, more complex.

Enter Nirvana, who freaking howled the most amazing words at you, cushioned by perfect Pop and Pearl Jam who were Rock in the traditional sense but fronted by a poet who made you toss all your Jim Morrison books because you now found them lacking. This was real, and it was ours.

Then came the Singles soundtrack, and all of our best instincts were confirmed. What songs suck on this record? The old ones. The Hendrix one. The Led Zepplin cover. The ones we all fast-forwarded over.

For the adults in Mohammed’s radio, this is their most important record. It shaped them because it’s both tragic and uplifting. The movie has absolutely nothing to do with the death of Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood, but it’s haunted by him. There are two songs by the former members of MLB (Pearl Jam), a song written in tribute to him (Alice in Chains’s “Would?”), and the man himself settling into the middle of the record with his most beautiful song: “Chloe Dancer/Crown of thorns”.

Every adult in Mohammed’s Radio has a favorite “Singles” song, and I’ll be posting them as we get closer to Thursday’s reading.

- Stephen

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