the part of the 1990s i slept through

My great loves in music will always be melancholy. Something in my brain, the same part that responded to the fugues in minor key I grew up playing, also responds to the key changes in VNV Nation or Depeche Mode much better than in, say, neo-psychadelic indie rock. I’ve never understood, say, Modest Mouse.

Recently, the boyfriend has been causing me to backtrack through the indie rock I missed while I was still asleep in my classical nerd cocoon in the 1990s. He’s making me Pixies CDs, because he worships the Pixies, and insists that I understand them. He’s also made me a Sonic Youth compilation because they are gods of music. And while we do have many artists in common, he’s far more on the indie side of the spectrum, and I’m more on the melancholy goth side. It works – he burned me the Infadels a couple weeks ago, and I burned him the Birthday Massacre on our first date. We swap his indie/punk background material for my neo-goth.

It’s woken me up as to exactly how much music I missed out on while I was growing up on the Island. I only discovered alt-rock when I moved to Seattle, and it was tough to find out what I’d missed. And I was so busy discovering the artists that were big right then in 1995 – Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Tori Amos, NIN – that I didn’t start backtracking into the earlier 90s. I could have listened to the four-hour retro show on Sundays on KNDD, I suppose. I could have and should have looked deeper into the less mainstream bands that were big at the time – Liz Phair, Sonic Youth, Pavement, and the Pixies spinoff projects, both Frank Black and the Breeders – but I didn’t. And then I got distracted backtracking through Siouxsie and Depeche Mode, New Order and Joy Division, and then I got sidetracked in New Goth and synthpop, and then there were an awful lot of years where I just didn’t listen to anything because I was Not Exactly Myself.

I think the point to all this is that I’m realizing that there’s this massive gap in my music experience that is Indie/College/Alternative From About 1985 To 1995. I just wasn’t paying attention at the time, or I wasn’t in the headspace. And now, thanks to one indie-obsessed goth nerd, I’ve realized how much there is to catch up on. That the Jesus and Mary Chain had more than that one song with Mazzy Star. That Pavement had more than the one single. That even though I adore their follower, Ulrich Schnauss, I totally missed My Bloody Valentine. I never heard the expression “shoegaze” until about last year, and I never understood it until recently.

I know current music well enough. When Paul sent me the list of bands he was seeing at Coachella, I was able to respond about most of them. And most of them, I had heard of. I’m pretty up on my current indie, and I certainly spend enough time backtracking through the last ten years in gothic/industrial/synthpop for everything I missed. But I’m realizing that there’s a lot of really awesome music out there that I never even started to listen to, that is directly responsible for the music I listen to and like so much today. How could I leave the Pixies out of my music experience when I’ve always adored Nirvana? How could I not backtrack to the Sundays when I really like The Like?

And also, I’m really fascinated by where music as I listen to it came from. I know the roots and descent of anything with electronic bleeps in it. I even know the story of punk, how it appeares and went back and forth across the Atlantic, and how it opened mindsets to create post-punk. What I have never been able to figure out is where indie rock came from, how this radically different form of music could start appearing in 1981. How much of it comes from a John Cage mentality? How much was sheer experiment? Where does punk even come from? How do these styles of music just appear, over the course of a few years, a few bands? How is it that there’s layers and layers of styles of rock music, indie or not, out there that have been simply incubating and influencing others, until, finally, a band makes it into the mainstream, and everything bursts to the surface? I keep getting the image of pre-punk bands, rock-raised kids in sixties garages, or in lofts in New York’s Village, but how did they get from rock’n’roll to pre-punk?

How is it that there are hundreds of musical styles and genres that have appeared in the last thirty years, when there’s so much that went on before – but without the diversity?

Anyways. Regardless of the history, I have an awful lot to catch up on. Curse my boyfriend for inspiring musical curiosity!

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