Tuesday, May 30, 2017

It Came from the '90s

When it comes to music, it will probably not surprise you to know that:
  1. On the rare occasions I listen to radio, I am seriously bad about pushing buttons, like in the first three notes. I do not fuck around. I can smell Red Hot Chili Peppers a split-second after they start, like a sonic fart from the worst taco truck in town.
  2. I don't care much for '90s rock.
That said, I'll give a prime example where I -- get this -- changed my mind about something. For years, Toadies' Possum Kingdom was a Z-Rock staple, and the repetitive "Do you wanna die?" line never failed to get me to change the station. No, asshole, I don't wanna die.

Sometimes these things happen serendipitously, weirdly, for no reason or event at all. They simply occur. But (and again, many years ago; it is an old song by now) after some number of half-listens some years ago, I finally listened more closely to the lyrics. And I watched the video. And it all still holds up quite well.

He's enticing some chick away from a party so he can kill her. He's a fucking serial killer.

I don't know. Maybe that's what the lyrics really mean, maybe not. They're purposely vague, like most good lyrics. But the video certainly reinforces that impression.

But that's not what's cool about the video. It's the little things:  the snare drum wobbling between the legs of the drummer, the duct tape on the horn of the "lead" guitarist's black Strat. The weird green mic the singer uses. That frayed orange light bulb from the '50s swaying back and forth to the beat.

Mostly, it's just a great fucking groove. The bass player and the drummer are locked in, and it's a great ride. This is what they're talking about when they talk about the backbone.

Most people who have heard of Chico probably don't know that, during the Cold War, it was designated as an "alternative" state capital in the event that the Soviets nuked Sacramento. So with Beale AFB about an hour south, several Titan I missile silos were installed north of town, and basically shut down and abandoned, all during the Sixties.

By the time me and my degenerate friends came along in the Eighties, the silos were basically the Forbidden Party Spot -- geographically distant enough to where the cops were not a problem, but you needed to be sure that you had all your alcohol on hand for the evening, because a trip back in to town would just be a huge pain in the ass.

We only went there a few times, because even as drunken teenage assholes, we understood that this was a dangerous place. There were hazards all around, and no one nearby to help if you got hurt. This was a period of time where I regularly rode dirt bikes and went cliff-diving in Feather River Canyon, and yet it was in the silos where I felt legitimately concerned for my physical safety.

All I recall, thirty years later, is tunnels and catwalks, and a darkness you could practically touch. We all had decent Maglites, and still you could barely see more than a few feet in front of you at a time. Someone accidentally dropped something (flashlight maybe) over the catwalk railing, and a couple seconds later we heard a splash that was distant enough to be worrisome. We came out a tunnel at one point and looked down at about a forty-foot drop to a concrete ramp below, not much in between, bearing in mind that we were a bunch of eighteen-year-old punks trying to impress our girls on a dark Friday night, in a place we knew nothing about.

But the tunnels, because of the extreme darkness, the odd echoes, mostly of our shoes on the metal catwalks, gave a sense of claustrophobia, and I am not particularly claustrophobic. Strange, oddly exhilarating, and a bit unnerving.

Which brings me to some of those long camera shots in the Possum Kingdom video, that room they're all in, packed like sardines, the band on a postage stamp, the crowd asshole-to-elbow jumping in near unison to that frog's-ass-tight groove. I don't know why, perhaps because the silos are the closest I've ever been to being in a cave, but that particular shot in that particular video takes me right back to that particular place. Every time, if only for an instant.

Which -- even and perhaps especially if it's all bullshit -- is kinda the point.

Honorable mention: Spacehog, In the Meantime. Yes, the video is weird and has all manner of odd ducks. But once again, we have an immutable groove, a masterful bass line, and the song itself evokes the Seventies glory of Bowie.

1 comment:

Brian M said...

I love Chico. Not as polished or priggish as the Bay Area can be. When I retire, if Trump has not cratered my 457/401A, it may be the only culturally decent* and physically beautiful place I will be able to afford to buy a little shack or bungalow and stay in the state that, despite its failings, I love to death.

*The college crowd does mitigate the Burning Coal Red State Agricultural Feudalism of the northern Sacramento Valley. But the latter is at least not concerned with "aps" and AI nonsense.