Sympathy for the Record Industry, 1995
Here’s how it works:
Take a jam band, lay it down in the synthetic decade of the 1980s, amplify it, and coat it with a thin stain of patented British negativity. Play a song as though you were trying to become a locked groove on a vinyl record. Take lots of drugs, see God, fight, break up, make up, fight, see God, think you are God, make music, take more drugs. Wake up sometime later and find that you’re still good.
For me, Spacemen 3 was a band I came to in a way that was blessedly free of cultural context. I don’t even remember the first time, but I remember a lot of in-between times, nights extended into sunrises, road trips, windburnt cheeks, ill advised mornings spent not being good. There are eras and eras. Mine were around the year 2000. That’s about it.
Here’s the short version: The band was headed by two guys who named themselves J. Spaceman and Sonic Boom. They had lots of drama and the band broke up. Spaceman went on to head Spiritualized. Sonically, they occupy an interesting place in the context of the 1980s—space rock, or what is basically electric psychedelic music based on repetition, simple refrains, and a production sound that expands the physical space around the tracks while also laying down a heavy blanket of almost-looping circular verses over your neck. This particular album was a post-break-up reissue, I think, of an early (1984) recording session. It is not as slick as later efforts, and for that alone I love it.
For all the fucked-up children of the world we give you Spacemen 3, and they give you:
Blues guitar line, low, in place of a bass and overwashed with chorus pedal brushes of repetition. Play it again, loop entire concepts of songs, then play it again. Watch the people line up at the diner across the street for breakfast when you’re still rubbing the bootlace burns off your calves from the night before. Know not when or with whom, but know you will go sideways around and again.
Drugs have nothing to do with it. Although this album is drugs, of course. Is the sky-embracing fervor of romantic visions. Is Blake and John Donne and all that shit.
One of the many things I did this weekend was take a few people I like very much but don’t know very well to my father’s house in Santa Cruz. Try to play tour guide to a past which I sometimes barely remember, yet of which I am a bodily summation. Adore it. I looked at a room, wood on the walls and thin cotton curtains in the window, in which I lived and my younger sister lived and then my younger younger sister and now no one knows whose room to call it. I thought about being not the youngest anymore. Because I always think of myself as young. As being from a younger generation rising up on sounds made by those before us. As listening to an older friend’s records and wondering how to get from where I am to where they have lived.
Staring at this little room occupied by so many teenage lives and dramas and listenings and fantasies and realizations, I wondered inside at it. At the loop of the simple equation that some people see as a path to transcendence but I generally see as just being us, doing this, alive, here. With music, we all are younger siblings. Are the next in a circle of tripped out efforts or wrong headed directions. And also are always getting older.
Now, older and more still, I listen alone. Surrounded, though. Spacing out, existential quandaries not different but always valid, cheeks windburnt and muscles stiff from spining the routes of my backstory. Here in the city of my present, as an older sibling looking back at listening spaces past, I ask: when do we learn the difference between rock and reality? Do we ever? Then, when do we forget it? What is the moment you can’t resist, as you and I move further up the generational loop? Should you summon it, invoked by layers of metaphysical pop, or let it settle and stick to the curve of the road? How can you get there without looping your life mistakes like a sonic book?
And also to that younger one, you with all the nights and jobs and drugs and mistakes and rapture yet ahead of you, I say: I know you’re still going to make something great and then make mistakes and fight and break up. I know you’re going to quit before you’re ahead, try tacking backward after it’s too late, kiss someone on a carpeted floor that’s seen generations of betrayals and mundanity. I know you’re gonna have empty sixpacks rolling around your kitchen counter in the morning and bemoan the passage of this made-up thing called time.
This feeling of transcendence: the sonic amazement this band seeks and sometimes delivers on, depending on your state and the time in the morning it is and the drooping eyelids of the person next to you. The state is not quite like heaven. Or even rapture. It’s just like looking at the bad decisions you’ve ever made in another person’s electric eyes and saying, Yes. This is religion. This deliverance, this sex. Error and sin. Fuck-ups, please.
Put it on and spin and just obliterate me. It’s okay. We won’t remember it tomorrow anyway.