Say Hello To Heaven – R.I.P Chris Cornell

On Monday, I was at a memorial. A catholic service. The deceased had killed himself. Mixed with the grief was a disbelief – an incomprehensible place where nothing can possibly make sense. I was trying to explain depression to a friend. It wasn’t working. A hushed conversation in the back of a funeral parlour isn’t going to do it. Where is a good place?

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Some people talk to me about music. It’s built into the description of being a music geek. Like minded people communicate in that somewhat nuanced language, and others will ask you about it when something happens… usually a tragedy. As I walk into my son’s school yard another parent begins.

“Did you hear about Chris Corn…”

“Stop.” I reply. “I don’t mean to be a jerk, but I don’t want to talk about it. Especially in the school yard. And definitely not as a casual conversation.”

He stumbles with his next words. “Sorry, I just…”

“No problem. Just not going to talk about it.” And with those words I deliver my child to the door of the school and walk home.

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My turntable spins. A line keeps coming back to me. I grab the liner notes to verify it. Fuck Wikipedia and the second-hand sources that screw up lyrics on the best of days.

“He hurt so bad / like a soul breaking / but he never said nothing to me…”

In the spring of 1991 I picked up this record – Temple Of The Dog. It was before Soundgarden had released Badmotorfinger in October, and I was telling a recently met acquaintance/friend about it. I hadn’t realized he was the Entertainment Editor at the campus paper until he asked me to write a review. Although, “Hunger Strike” would go on to be a hit the following year, it was “Say Hello To Heaven” that had sold me on the record. It was a song Chris Cornell had written after his former roommate Andrew Wood had died of an overdose. Wood, the vocalist for Mother Love Bone passed before the bands debut record had hit the streets. Like all overdose deaths tend to do, the lines between substance abuse and mental illness get blurred. Wood’s public persona had been one of fun loving and flamboyance, Cornell’s interpretation said something far more personal.

“Since you can’t say to me / now how the dogs broke your bone / there’s just one thing left to be said…”

Cornell’s voice soars into what I think is his most poignant moment. “Say hello to heaven.”

The turntable spins.

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Other people talk to me about depression. I’ve been pretty open about my own battles with it. But, trust me when I say that like minded people do not communicate with conversations about it. You don’t walk up to someone on the street and say, “so, I hear you feel like you’ve been run over and dragged on gravel.” Or… if they do, I’ve not joined that club. Those that have gone through it will either talk about their own experience, or listen as someone talks about theirs. Usually, these take place either one on one, or, if you’ve ever been hospitalized, a group setting. I tend to try and bring a sense of the ridiculous when I do open up, mentioning the full on weeping despair I once had over not finding a clean pair of socks. While a person’s tone can be jocular or matter of fact, there is nothing casual about depression, anxiety or mental illness. Still, my lack of foot covering story gets a laugh as a ‘WTF’ moment.

Still, life can be wonderful and then you have an episode…

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In June 2001, I was looking out the window of a hospital room down upon a place I had dubbed the “crop circle refueling station.” A fire hydrant in the middle of a large grass field, mowed in circles until it reached the concrete of the building itself. Detoxing off of thirteen prescriptions given for a mixture of pain and overwhelming sadness. It had been six months since I cried about the socks. Three months since the back surgery to remove two herniated discs, one of which had been calcified and impaled the sciatic nerve. The doctors hadn’t caught onto the fact that the ‘Oxy’ mixed with an already diagnosed ‘clinical depression’ was causing a severe reaction.

My life was good, but it felt like shit.

I was so heavily medicated I wasn’t sure which thoughts were real and which were the drugs. What I do remember most about that time in my life… an eternity worth of sleep seemed a whole lot better for me and everybody else than sitting around and waiting for the pain to subside. Three days after I arrived in the hospital, down to just my meds for cholesterol, it felt like a fog was lifting off my brain. Looking down on the “crop circle refueling station” I wondered what the fuck had happened to me.

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April 2001. A month after my surgery.

The meds say half a pill before bed. That was an hour earlier. I want to be better. I want to sleep. Fuck it! I’m taking more.

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Chris Cornell’s wife released a statement on Thursday. She believes her husband had taken a few extra Ativan tablets after his concert on Wednesday night. A medication that helps with anxiety when taken in low dosage.

Problem with anxiety… patience for medication to kick in doesn’t work so well. If you are having a panic attack, or looking darkness in the eye waiting isn’t something you are prone to do.  In a moment like that, when the abyss creeps in, it’s easy to over medicate. And that’s when the real shit begins.

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Friday afternoon the CD player is shooting a laser on a plastic disc and I’m being flooded with traces of doom. Every god damned lyric has me projecting bullshit about how dark everything must have gotten over the years. I’m looking for reasons. Except, you know, they just don’t exist. What am I searching for…

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A month ago, I was talking to my thirteen-year-old son about Vic Chesnutt. His suicide came up and we both cried. He asked why, and if it was wrong. It went something like this…

My head began to hurt. “I don’t have a good answer for that. Some people will hold up a Bible and tell you it is a sin. Others will talk about how selfish it is to hurt the people you love by ending your own life. Personally, I don’t buy into that. I believe that mental illness… depression; it takes away the hope you have for a good future. It only leaves you with the impression that your pain needs to end, and that you are a burden on those who suffer through it beside you.”

“That doesn’t make sense!”

“What?”

“The burden thing. Mommy pays for you to be home with us. You’re not a burden. So what if he owes money.”

“Part of being an adult is the desire to be self sustaining. That our own life should not impede or lower the people we care about.”

“THAT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE! When Grandma and Grumpa got sick you moved and took care of them didn’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Were they a burden?”

“No. I was exactly where I needed to be. Where I wanted to be. However, they didn’t see it that way. Grandma saw me leave my family to take care of her and it really bugged her.”

“That’s what I mean, if you were sick I would want to be with you.”

“That is how depression works. You forget that people really want to be there for you. You don’t want to ask for help. You don’t want to hold people back from their own lives. You just want to end the pain.”

The conversation went on… it never really reached a satisfying conclusion.

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Looking through the scores of articles published in the first 24 hours, I come across one in the Huffpost, from Julie A. Fast, an expert on mental illness and a survivor herself. I’m struck by a small paragraph near the end of the piece.

“If he has a brain like mine, he has an illness and his brain was triggered by something that resulted in a suicidal episode. It may have had nothing to do with his amazing life. Sometimes an illness is simply stronger than the person. Sometimes medications mess with our sensitive brain chemicals.”

The words hit me with a mix of confirmation, resignation and an awful strong desire to say “No shit – Sherlock.” I’m pissed off at everyone and no one at all. I resist the idea of opening a bottle of wine as Cornell’s epic voice pleads “reach down, and pick the crowd up.”

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The day Kurt Cobain died I was the Entertainment Editor of my campus paper. Quite a few people were bugging me to write an obituary. When I didn’t, a couple staff blamed the EIC (Editor In Chief), actually suggesting she didn’t want one. It was ludicrous. She knew why I didn’t, and I never had to explain myself. She could always see right through me. It was personal. As someone who had visited dark places, I wasn’t prepared to go there. I couldn’t express myself in terms that would bring anything remotely insightful. It had nothing to do with all that ‘voice of a generation’ crap, just a sadness that I couldn’t comprehend. Always regretted not saying something, but I simply can’t find words for it. Still haven’t got them.

Kurt Cobain – Elliott Smith – Mark Linkous – Vic Chesnutt – Chris Cornell. All artists I adored.

What’s the old saying… there but for the grace of God, go I?

I don’t know these people, but I know that place. I can’t help but take it personally. Every suicide I hear about hits me. My ears burn. I ache. I place it in a compartment tagged “to deal with later” and wait until I have time alone. Then I ache some more.

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Last year a friend posted an article on Facebook – Suicide Rates Amongst Middle Aged Men Rises 43% in the last 15 years. Chris Cornell was 52. I turn 50 in July.

Fuckin’ Facebook and its fuckin’ statistics.

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Twenty-four news cycle, major media, outlets that only mention artists when tragedy strikes, headlines about a voice silenced, and I feel rage. Misdirected rage. Quite honestly, why should I give a shit about all the talk about ‘grunge’ and ‘Seattle’ and ‘vocal range’ and the hyperbole surrounding it. 1990’s superlatives that lessen the time to a cliché. I’m smart enough to know what I’m searching for; the need to find something – someone to articulate how I’m feeling. Words that parallel my thoughts and give them voice. A smarter person than I to bring perspective. I’m searching, listening, searching and listening. Nothing so far.

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It’s Saturday morning. It starts with “Big Dumb Sex.” Cornell sreams ‘fuck’ enough times to make even Zac De La Rocha blush. This back before Soundgarden could fill a stadium. Before metalheads and alt-rock fans had been hearing “Jesus Christ Pose” on Walkman’s. Before people were bringing his voice up in conversations about rock’s greatest vocalists. It’s just a stupid fuckin’ song by a barely twenty something guy. The hook is the fact that he is using profanity to the point of hilarity, as a means to say “this is my version of pop music.” A parody of all the glam metal/big hair bands of the day. Essentially, it was meant to make you laugh. No deep meaning. Just a moment of being a dumbass.

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Outside the funeral home my friend and I get a bit into the whole self-referential morbid mortality thing. He wonders how people can catch up inside a funeral home. How laughter can continue in a room with the deceased. I take a different angle.

“Do me a favor. If or when I go – laugh. I don’t care what the circumstances are – laugh. I don’t want how I died to define me. I don’t want singular moments of when I was exceptional or unexceptional being the focus. I want The Lemonheads punk version of “Amazing Grace” played at the memorial. I want stupid stories regaled for all to hear.”

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I didn’t know Chris Cornell. But I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want Wednesday night in Detroit to be his epitaph. So, If, like me, you are looking for something to make sense of it… stop.

Just go put on a record.

Don’t watch the latest CNN updates.

Just put on a record.

Listen.

Repeat.

I suggest the Soundgarden cover of Devo’s “Girl You Want” from the EP SOMMS. It’s awesome fun and a great way to remember a person in their happier “dumbass” moments.

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I Really Want This! Sweet Relief: A Benefit For Victoria Williams – Various Artists

 

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Back in ’93 I was given an album to review that became a best friend of sorts. Surprisingly it was a compilation record (which usually just don’t stand up due to inconsistency) of songs by an artist whose music was only known previously to musicians and music geeks, but it knocked me over. One song after another caught my imagination with vivid imagery and music that could be both morose and uplifting within the same moment. It was brilliant, which is something you usually can’t say for a record recorded by “various artists.” However, what holds it together is the artist to who the album was benefiting – Victoria Williams.

“My sister got bit by a copperhead snake in the woods behind the house” is the first line that pops out the old speakers as Soul Asylum breaks into “Summer Of Drugs” and I as listener was hooked. By the time Evan Dando (of the Lemonheads) sings “Frying Pan” I’ve decided I want to play guitar.  By the conclusion I’m looking for a bullhorn so I can tell any and everyone within earshot that they have to listen and buy this record. Williams’ songs are so detailed in character that songs feel like you’ve both read an exceptional short story and listened to a new musical experience. Despite the different styles of the various artists performing the songs, the original vision of the songwriter herself remains potent and shines through any genre leaping in the album itself.

If you don’t know the story, Williams star was on the rise when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Having been bogged down with debt from increasing medical bills a virtual who’s who of 90’s alt rock and beyond joined forces to help her and others out. The Sweet Relief Charity Fund was set up to help musicians in need of expensive health care.

More than 20 years have gone by and Pearl Jam is still playing their contribution “Crazy Mary” live, and my CD still has a home within twelve inches of the stereo. So, you can see my love for this record runs deep, and I want a vinyl copy… I just didn’t think that one actually existed. That is until the other day when I just started putting album titles into the discogs search engine and… oh my, it exists. But damn… only in European used stores that would raise the price with shipping to over a hundred bucks.

So, I hope that it gets re-issued on vinyl eventually or that the ghost of Ed McMahon shows up at my door with an oversized check.

Sweet Relief can still be purchased at your better record stores on CD and has two follow up LP’s.

Sweet Relief II: Gravity Of The Situation – The Songs Of Vic Chesnutt

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And

Sweet Relief III: Pennies From Heaven

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Check them out, give ‘em a listen, and maybe you’ll want to drop a few dollars to a worthy cause.

P.S. – Here’s a video of Victoria Williams covering the great Sam Cooke

 

The Beauty Found In Power-Pop & Introspection or Best Coast – California Nights

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The early days of Best Coast were filled with simplistic images of happy places and troubles no bigger than a rival for someone’s affection or a need for the sun. Not that there is anything wrong with that; after all Best Coast was providing the kind of indie-pop, garage, lo-fi, reggae influenced tunes that kept us northerners warm all winter.  It was a return to the myth that California is the place of adolescent dreams come true, and no one will argue that once wrapped in a sonic blanket watching a fire burn.

Still it has been five years since the Best Coast debut Crazy For You and one can only live in dreams for so long? Eventually there is a reckoning…

Right?

The answer is California Nights. Gone is the warm washing fuzz of reverb on everything that had the words lo-fi and surf rock attached to their records, and in is a more ‘nineties-esqe’ alt-rock tone that could be slipped into a mix between the Lemonheads and Garbage. Thematically, this is also the case as Bethany Cosentino has switched gears and presented herself in a more realistic position as lyrics deal with insomnia, heartbreak and happiness in pill bottles. Actually, dare I say it, it seems Cosentino has grown introspective and the guitar work of multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno has risen to match. No longer are songs restricted to the quick “pop” length of two three minutes, but now the sound sometimes goes all ‘shoegaze’ and rides a guitar riff for all its worth. To some extent, the title track itself conjures more images of brit-pop than anything that could come out of a California night.

It isn’t all happy smiles as the sun sets to the west, there is anger and melancholia in the air as opener “Feeling OK” rightfully has you questioning the validity of such a statement. The song at its heart reveals that “OK” isn’t a satisfactory resolution to any question worth asking – especially one as loaded “how are you.” Even if one is asking it of themselves.

The triumph of this record is that it doesn’t live in a world of manufactured dreams come true, eternal sun, and beaches. The emotions behind it are universal and hence you can relate to it more. California Nights is proof positive that beauty can be found in the balanced mix of power-pop and introspection, and that’s a sunny thought all by itself. It’s worth every cent spent and more.

You can pick this album up at your local record stores or get some special packages from the band site – here.

My Story of RSD 2015 or Insanity Blooms Eternal

Over ninety minutes early and the line is more than one hundred deep. The old roomy and I meet and catch up as some dude directly in front of us chain tokes his way into the sonic abyss that is Record Store Day 2015. Music geek conversations drift through the air only interrupted by my backfiring joke at the length of the line.

“Maybe everyone is here to pick up that One Direction record…”

“I am!” says the woman just two people ahead. Her boyfriend starts laughing at my dumbfounded look.

I think to myself “I haven’t actually met a One Direction fan over the age of twelve” but I hold my tongue; after all, it isn’t even 9AM and pissing people off shouldn’t happen so early on a weekend.

The line moves forward in a civilized manner, which seems rather odd considering that I’ve had vinyl literally rain down upon my head during past RSD’s. Seriously, it is an odd sensation when a bunch of seven, ten and twelve inch records start smacking your cranium. Mild pain followed by anger and a quick burst of panic because you just don’t want any of this very sweet vinyl to get broken.

As usual, there is that group of people trying to look through the bins of records while the people behind them are giving them the “pick your record and get the fuck out my way” stare. It would be amusing if I wasn’t trying to get my hands on the same record as … well, the guy in front of me who just grabbed the last Otis Redding record that my fingers were reaching for.  Fortunately, I do get my hands on some of the stuff I wanted.

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The White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan in gatefold cover with coloured red and white 180 gram vinyl

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The Dandy Warhols – Eponymous – first time on vinyl in double gatefold cover and white vinyl to boot

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George Thorogood & the Delaware Destroyers debut without bass as it was originally recorded. Also on blue vinyl

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Ride – OX4: The Best of – In glorious 180 gram red vinyl with a double gatefold cover

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Yeah I missed out on Social Distortion, Joan Jett, Small Faces and as mentioned, Otis Redding, but still had a pretty good time despite the competition and jockeying for best vinyl position. I jump into the vehicle and head for the elderly mall on the west side of the city figuring maybe I could grab some of what I lost out on. When I arrive the employees are praying mallrats will finish the free coffee they had for their customers. I manage to pick up a couple of the 7 inch’s I missed out on, namely Alex Chilton’s “Jesus Christ” and the Lemonheads/Gram Parsons split “Brass Buttons” on pink vinyl.

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Now, I’m looking at the clock and considering the likelihood of finding a few things at some record stores I’ve never tried before.

Do I really want to spend more?

It’s the best haul I’ve managed but the little music geek in the back of my brain is whispering, “find more… you must find more…”.

Then I remember, I have stuff on the way… other awesome pieces of vinyl in transit from places abroad.

Afterall, if you look around in the right places, any day can be a record store day. Yeah, right, who am I kidding, I’m heading to another record store.

Superchunk: I Hate Music … (Just Kidding, because no one can hate music and do it this well)

There were quite a few bands that my roommate was into that took a bit of time for me to agree on. Usually it was pretty back and forth; I introduced him to Dinosaur Jr, he replied with Urge Overkill; I put on the Lemonheads and he replies with Sugar, but some stuff didn’t really stick.

Superchunk was one of those bands for me. I could appreciate what he was hearing, but other than the odd song (“Slack Motherfucker” is a frickin’ anthem of undeniable proportion) I just couldn’t get beyond the throwing then into a mix tape. Full albums just kinda slipped by me and never stood out in the collection as more than filler space.

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So here we are more than twenty years later and Superchunk has me re-evaluating my attitude with an awesome frickin’ record, that even makes my kids play air guitar. Of course their excitement might have more to do with the fan made Lego video for “FOH”, but they really don’t need to apologise for that.

“Me & You & Jackie Mittoo” bursts out with ‘anthemic’ glee as Mac McCaughan sings “I hate music – what is it worth?/ Can’t bring anyone back to this earth / Or fill in the space between all of the notes / But I got nothing else so I guess here we go.”

I Hate Music is a brilliant alt-rock masterpiece that arrives twenty years after such things were ‘so-called’ fashionable. It’s fuzzed out guitars and vocals seeped in blasts to match. The overall sentiment a ‘tongue in cheek’ “screw you – I play rock ‘n’ roll because I want to, mixed with some of the darker crap that comes with… well for lack of a better term – being a fuckin’ adult.

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http://www.mergerecords.com/i-hate-music

Beyond the tunes, the vinyl packaging for I Hate Music is phenomenal. For just a couple bucks more than the standard black disc, you get 150 gram coloured vinyl with a extra 7” inch single of unreleased material… and the damn 45 is white vinyl to boot. (You also get the download card, to put the album on your device of choice.)

So now that I Hate Music has finished playing I’m looking through my old CD’s for Superchunk’s Foolish with a sheepish grin on my face.  I’m wondering if I should have been paying closer attention to my roommates pontificating about the finer points of Afghan Whigs or the Archers of Loaf or…

Where To Buy Shi… Stuff #2 – Let Them Eat Vinyl

Birthdays are awesome! Or at least, my birthday is pretty awesome. There is people you love and food and if you’re lucky, cool presents too. Sometimes the gifts can even surprise you. For instance, one of my most awesome sisters gave me the gift of records – which I love, AND, it was one I didn’t even know existed – even cooler!

Which brings me to this edition of Cool Places to Buy Sh… Stuff…

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The gift I got was the Ramones The Cretin Hop manufactured by the good people at Let Them Eat Vinyl. The Cretin Hop itself is a bootleg taken from a 1979 radio broadcast with a couple tunes added on from appearances on Letterman and the Tonight Show. This printing is a 180 gram yellow translucent double album housed in a pretty cool gatefold sleeve and limited to 1000 copies with further albums to be made in black vinyl thereafter. The quality of sound is exactly what one should expect from a live show. It is rough around the edges, but sounds exactly like a Ramones concert should be without the frills and clutter of overdubs and tinkering sounds that plague most major artists live albums. (Honestly, if you flub a part, leave it or pick a different night.)

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It also seems to be part of a loosely based series of albums taken from various radio broadcasts of different acts in their prime. Along with the Ramones you’ll find Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Flying Burrito Brothers, Pixies, Patti Smith, Lemonheads and many others all in similar black and white gatefold sleeve covers. In addition to the Ramones I also have Joe Walsh’s All Night Long which is on 140 gram vinyl and limited to 500 copies. The sound on this one is great, and seems to be a pretty perfect example of Walsh live. (Oddly, whoever wrote the liner notes for the Walsh album needs to Google a little more often as they mix song appearances from the movie soundtrack of The Warriors.)

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The story doesn’t end there. Besides putting out some quality bootlegs, Let Them Eat Vinyl has been responsible for putting the Ramones re-issues out on vinyl for a few years now. It looks like their first wave was all 180 gram limited edition coloured vinyl while the further editions were released on the more standard 180 gram black vinyl.

If you are looking for some quality bootlegs from an assortment of great artists, you should check out the Let Them Eat Vinyl catalogue. You might find something you like. (Can’t wait for my birthday this year.)

http://www.letthemeatvinyl.com/catalogue.htm

The “Best-est” Album & Concert Ever – Lemonheads – Musical Memories

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http://www.amazon.ca/Its-Shame-About-Ray-Vinyl/dp/B00HQUQQ9Q/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1421972136&sr=8-3&keywords=it%27s+a+shame+about+ray

Back in May of ‘92 I was handed an advanced copy of the Lemonheads It’s A Shame About Ray. It was the very first album review that I did for the now defunct id Magazine, and it was a giant part of “my musical eye opening.” While Seattle had led the world towards what would be called “alternative” (whatever that means) this album slapped me in the face way harder than anything coming out of the so-called grunge scene.

It was twelve songs of pure ‘jangle pop’ joy that played like folk/punk/country/power-pop/lo-fi and whatever other style you decide applies all at the same time. You could play it at a party or a campfire. It had the energy of the Ramones with the pop sensibility of Big Star and the emotional depth of Gram Parsons. Under thirty minutes in length, Ray was a meaningful shot of music that did away with the heavy guitar bombast, and just gave you a perfect group of songs. What guitar solos that existed were of the “blink and you’ve missed it” kind. Hell, when I started playing guitar the following year, the first tune I learned was “Hannah & Gabi.”

To say that I was I was raving about this record would be a giant understatement. Every person that knew me was hearing about it and I was converting people into fans by the day. All this, and their cover of “Mrs. Robinson” wasn’t even on the record yet.

By the time they played Toronto’s Edgefest a couple summers later, it felt like I had personally invited half (ok – maybe a dozen) the audience. However, it isn’t the big show that comes to mind most when I think of the Lemonheads – it’s a much smaller venue that I attended in November of ’93.

The Masonic Temple, also known as the Concert Hall, was the sight of one of the coolest shows I had ever witnessed. The Line up was Magnapop, Redd Kross and the Lemonheads. As Magnapop began its set I noticed that the age of the audience was wickedly varied between aging hipsters who were into great shows and young hipsters who were now caught by the 90’s “alternative” bug. Looking back, this should have been just another of the frickin’ tons of shows I was attending… but no. Magnapop, who most of us had never heard of, began their set tossing candy out to the audience. The crowd was going insane with enthusiasm and applause. Then the brothers McDonald, who are essentially Redd Kross, jumped on stage treating a small venue ‘all ages show’ to a taste of ‘rock star swagger’ that would not have been out of place at Glastonbury. It was ‘hair rock’ for the alt-rock kids who were now “pogo-ing” in a mosh pit that was quickly expanding to all areas. By the time the Lemonheads hit the stage the November audience was dripping in summer sweat.

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Then came the body surfing. Oh sure, this was the usual fare for concerts in ’93, but something was different. Usually, it is your friends or a couple very good concert goers who keep you safe from falling. Not this time. The kids – all of them – a community of fans were keeping each other aloft and preventing falls. Women, were body surfing and not getting groped by idiots/assholes in the pit – because… well, this concert was the coolest, safest, “best-est” (yeah I know it isn’t a word) ever! In fact, this is what concerts are supposed to be like! Evan Dando is on stage playing guitar and singing and I’m in awe of both the performer and the audience alike.

Honestly, I had been to a lot of concerts before that one, and a lot more since, but outside of a few local acts playing to their hometown crowds, this was the most appreciative audience I had ever been a part of.

Today the mail arrived with my copy of It’s A Shame About Ray on 180 gram vinyl. It isn’t just one of my all time favorite records, or a ‘must have’ for fans of 90’s music… nope… it’s a good friend I’m always happy to see.

Thanks Evan