But when I was sixteen, I did not want to listen to anything that lacked yelling, nasty guitar, and of course, rebellious angst. So, I will go ahead and describe my top five bands when I was sixteen. Most of these bands I still listen to, though a lot less now than before. There are bands not in the top five that I also listened to which I will mention, but briefly. It is these main five bands that defined my adolescence and made me feel less of a freak, less of an outsider when I was alone in my room plotting my next 'anarchy' in the USA.
I did a cover of the Sex Pistol's 'Anarchy in the UK' for my senior year battle of the bands (seen in the photo above). The drama teacher at my HS, who was doing sound tech, actually let us go over, and kept telling us to cut because our time ran out, but he didn't pull the plug until after that song. I think he got what teenage angst was about, and thanks to him I could punk out and say a royal f-u to rules and people who keep stopwatches. Bloody stopwatches!
I listened to a lot of loud music, like I mentioned. Naming a few: Metallica, Black Sabbath, Guns n' Roses, Kiss, Aerosmith (pre-'Nine Lives'), Sex Pistols, Subhumans, Dead Kennedys, Dead Milkmen, Hole, No Doubt, Silverchair, Foo Fighters, Everclear,
But five bands stick out as the dominant soundtrack to my black paint splattered teenage years:
Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails (NIN), Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage, and Bush. Those are the fearsome five who were my friends when all I wanted was some understanding, that and some Lithium or Zoloft. (I'm not making fun of depression, by the way, since I have it clinically and have battled it my whole life, so understand that).
5) BUSH- This is the very first concert I went to on my own. The actual first concerts I went to were The Moody Blues and shamefully New Kids on the Block. But, the former counts as the first, so that's what I consider the first even though I fell asleep in the rain. Before the Bush concert, I still remember hiding my black nail polish covered hands from my parents and wearing my wallet chain to fit in. It was a cold early May night but I was excited to hear Veruca Salt and Bush rock out and salute teenage angst everywhere. I remember falling in love with Bush's sound the minute they released Sixteen Stone, in 1994, during the fall of my seventh grade year. I still recall going to assembly and during a conversation about music, asking if anyone had heard Bush. No one knew who I was talking about.
But, as soon as I heard 'Everything Zen', 'Little Things', 'Machinehead', and 'Comedown' I was hooked. It actually was 'Comedown' that caused me to buy the entire album (before I-tunes and Napster). When you either had to make a tape from the radio or shell out $15-$16 to buy an actual CD. The days of going to Sam Goody at the mall or Best Buy were in full swing. Oh, and by the way, I could only listen to CD's in my room, where I had a stereo/tape deck/CD player that my French cousin left to me after her year sojourn with our family. Thank goodness for that stereo! It saved my life!
I played Sixteen Stone on repeat falling in love with 'Testosterone' and 'Alien'. I was glad to find out that my wife, not only loved Bush as well, but loved the song 'Alien'. She even put the song on a mix she made for me (the most endearing thing ever). I loved 'Alien', as it defined what I felt like day in, day out. So the fact that my wife connected to the same song made me realize I made the right choice (well one of the many things). Let's just say I consider it 'our song'.
I loved Bush so much that I had a poster of the original members: Gavin Rossdale (lead vocals and rhythm guitar), Nigel Pulsford (back-up vocals and lead guitar), Dave Parsons (bassist), and Robin Goodridge (drummer). I wanted to be these guys. So I had them on my wall to remind me who I wanted to be when I grew up, a rock star. A cocky, British, arrogant, rock star. Well, these guys didn't look cocky so much as really cool and slick. In persona, they were less Oasis and more The Monkees. They looked at me from their poster and said, 'Rafi, you can be us if you just practice your bass and rock out'. My motto: 'If it's too loud, you're too old'.
I wasn't as smitten with Razorblade Suitcase (1996) and by The Science of Things (1999), I had moved on to other bands. But, I will never forget that Bush was my FIRST concert. It was also the first time I hit on a girl at a concert and got a phone number (despite her living in Illinois a couple hours from St. Louis) and the first time I put a band's sticker on my Fender bass guitar case.
4) NINE INCH NAILS- On March 8, 1994 (when I was in sixth grade) an earth shattering album entitled The Downward Spiral was released. I was still too young but by seventh grade, my virgin ears and eyes were open to the horrors of the world. I was ready for the gory, dark, Gothic world of NIN. As soon as I listened to this album, my world was turned upside down and I would never be the same. The Downward Spiral has so many amazing songs. To name a few: 'Piggy', 'Closer', 'March of the Pigs', 'Eraser', 'Hurt', 'I Do Not Want This'. I was mesmerized by this album. It became my anthem all throughout high school.
I was in a world that did not understand me and I did not want to become a part of. I was surrounded by people, I felt were 'pigs', who played a game that I refused to participate in. I dressed in all black and refused to play sports. I loathed the outdoors! I hated the sunlight, a vampire of sorts. I identified with Trent Reznor and his world of ugliness and pain. The world was bleak and non-perfect in my view and the music of NIN could not have described my sentiments any better. I would sit in my room, my shrine, and light candles and incense. I had my own religious experiences listening to NIN trying, not to channel demons, but to purge them out of my soul. I would use NIN's music to cleanse me of any anger, pain, and sadness. With their music, I didn't feel alone in my alienation against society and my peers. I wanted to fit in but I couldn't because I was too weird, too real for anybody's taste. It was NIN's music that made me feel empowered and emboldened to journey forward. With their music, I didn't feel so hopeless.
In the world of Trent Reznor, everything was dark and sexual. Sex was grotesque and obscene, people were barbaric animals and obscenely greedy. The world was unforgiving and relentlessly cold. This is what I also felt. A reality that was a mirror for reality. No gimmicks, no shiny plastic, little to no hope for humanity. As a teenager, I related to feeling burdened by society's expectations of me and at the same time felt lost in adult's projections onto me for what they wanted me to become. This world that Nine Inch Nails painted closely related to Tim Burton's world of the macabre, which I also related to very much so. With films like Beetlejuice (1988), Edward Scissorhands (1990), and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), the hero is the sad loner isolated from society. That hero was me.
Of course my favorite NIN song is Perfect Drug (1997) for the David Lynch film Lost Highway (that still haunts me to this day). It has the perfect balance of light and dark, hard and soft. The lyrics poetic: "Turn off the sun, pull the stars from the sky. The more I give to you, the more I die...you make me hard when I'm all soft inside. I see the truth when I'm all stupid eyed. You go straight to my heart. Without you, everything just falls apart." Plus, Trent Reznor looks like a vampire as do every other extra in the video. The whole video is a sickly green/black and you just get sucked in. As a teen, I wanted to live in the world of this video and that of NIN. A world that looked torn from the pages of Poe and painted by Edward Gorey. As a forlorn teenager, this world was sublime!
Video for Perfect Drug
Downward Spiral: 'March of the Pigs' and 'Closer'
3) GARBAGE- Okay if there's one rock vixen who I fantasized about and dreamed about, it was definitely Shirley Manson. She was strange, powerful, and well, hot. I'll never forget reading an interview about her where she said that she liked in when guys peed in her bellybutton. She wore her sexuality like a effervescent shiny skin. One couldn't help but fall in love with her. And the music of Garbage? At age fourteen, I listened to their debut album on repeat without ever growing tired of it. In August of 1995, when I was entering into eighth grade, Garbage's debut album was released and I never let my grip go from that album. I was obsessed and smitten with Garbage, namely Shirley Manson and her haunting, sinister, yet erotic vocals. Their dark, sexual, and powerful lyrics painted a world of possibilities. It matched my dark, reflective mood on most days.
I do not really have a favorite song off of this album. I literally enjoyed, and still enjoy every single song. Though, off hand I'd have to say I enjoyed: 'Only Happy When It Rains', 'Vow', 'Dog New Tricks', 'Fix Me Now', and 'Milk'. Now listening to the lyrics and melodies again, really for the first time since being a teenager, I feel like much of the background music sounds like x-rated horror movie music in its being seductive and enticing yet dark and haunting (not that I know what that sounds like). However, the music of Shirley Manson (vocals guitar), Butch Vig (drums, loops/sound effects), Duke Erikson (guitar/keyboard) and Steve Marker (guitar, samples/loops) was much more than corny porn music. It was poetry, it was art. There was nothing like it at the time. Their debut album still ranks as one of my favorites of all time because I don't hate any of the songs on it. I love them all, still to this day!
I saw them in concert for their Beautiful Garbage (2001) album tour when I was in college, in 2001. I felt like writing a sign that said 'I have been in love with Shirley Manson since I was 14 and now I'm 20.' I don't know what stopped me. I still think that Shirley Manson is one of the most beautiful women of rock n' roll history. She's a Scottish spitfire who I hope I someday have the pleasure to meet. Hubba, hubba, I'll never stop crushing on her (my wife even knows)! And though I like their newer stuff less, I still enjoy songs like 'Bleed Like Me', 'Happy Home', 'Androgyny', and 'Shut your Mouth'. I will always have a place for Garbage in my rock n' roll heart!
snippets from the debut album
video for 'Bleed Like Me' from Bleed Like Me (2005)
2) THE SMASHING PUMPKINS- Around the same time I fell in love with Garbage, I also fell in love with The Smashing Pumpkins. Their album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995) also came out in the fall of my eighth grade year. Middle school is hell! Certainly mine was filled with being bullied, ridiculed, and taunted. Music was my natural escape. Hearing the angst and pent up rage behind Billy Corgan's crooning lyrics was like a wake up call. So other people feel like me too? Adults can have these same emotions? Not everyone walks around like a wound up robot on Zoloft? There was something real and raw behind Smashing Pumpkins. With Bill Corgan (vocals, lead guitar, keyboard), James Iha (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), D'arcy Wretzky (bass, backing vocals), and Jimmy Chamberlin (drums, backing vocals) who could go wrong?
I, unfortunately, never saw them in concert. I almost did. They had a tour with Garbage in 1996 that was canceled after Jimmy Chamberlin and the keyboardist for their tour, Jonathan Melvoin, overdosed on drugs; it killed Melvoin. I still remember the moment, though, at discovering that Garbage and The Smashing Pumpkins, my two favorite bands at fourteen, were touring together and I'd get to go as an early birthday gift. But their album, Mellon Collie, was my soundtrack through life up until the end of high school through college. The waves and ebbs of the light and dark sides of the album got me through many things in life. I consider it, to this day, a life preserver.
Of course, being a double album, there is no 'real' favorite song. I do have some highlights, however, like: 'Tonight, Tonight', ', 'Zero', 'Fuck You (An Ode to No One)', 'Love', 'Porcelina of the Vast Oceans', 'Bodies', 'In the Arms of Sleep', 'Thru the Eyes of Ruby', 'We Only Come Out at Night', 'By Starlight', and 'Farewell and Goodnight'. Of course I also love the wider known hits like 'Bullets with Butterfly Wings' and '1979'. What I love about this album is that it tells a story, a fiction. You could write a whole musical/rock opera to this album, as it is poetic and lyrical.
I also like Smashing Pumpkin's earlier work like Gish (1991), Siamese Dream (1993), and Pisces Iscariot (1994). Any occasion, sad or happy called for a Pumpkins song. Like I said, their music got me through the rocky road of teenage-hood. Their version of 'Landslide' is still my anthem, as I performed it my senior year of high school. No matter how much I age and wrinkle, I still look back to my time with the Smashing Pumpkins as a highlight of my musical relationships.
video for 'Tonight, Tonight'
'We Only Come Out at Night'
My favorite album Pisces Iscariot (1994)
1) NIRVANA- Anyone who knew me in high school should NOT be surprised to see Nirvana listed as #1. I lived, breathed, and ate Nirvana. I celebrated Curt Kobain's birthday and memorialized his death day by putting posters up all over, like one would for a live person. I was one of 'those' who felt that Kurt Cobain's suicide was really a murder and stopped listening to Hole after my friends convinced me that Courtney Love was evil. I still think she's evil. Actually, I one time told my friend Becca that I'd punch her in the face if I ever saw her in real life. Well, one time we were at Teeny's (Moby's cafe in NYC) and lo and behold, who was standing outside in a Ramone's t-shirt, fishnets, big dark sunglasses, and a leather jacket with a cigarette dangling from her lips? Courtney fucking Love! Did I go outside and punch her? NO! I was frozen in place. My friend still mocks me to this day that I didn't live up to my word and sock her in the jaw. Hey, I didn't want a lawsuit! And we all know that Courtney Love knows the inside of a courtroom like the back of her hand.
Back to Nirvana. I love every single album of theirs. From Bleach (1989), Nevermind (1991), Incesticide (1992), In Utero (1993) to MTV Unplugged (1993), and From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah (1996). I even have the String Quartet's tribute album to Nirvana. I still cannot listen to a Nirvana song without having a flood of memories (good or bad but mostly the former) come back. My band in high school played mostly Nirvana covers. I, of course, played bass, wanting to be just like Krist Novoselic (bassist for Nirvana). I had posters of Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl (drummer) all over my room and locker. I had bass books of Nirvana songs and listened to their songs endlessly to determine the TAB. I built my rock n' roll performing future off of Nirvana. I tried to copy all the bass riffs from their songs and pretend to rock out in my room to any of their albums (often to a pretend live audience).
My favorite album, still to this day, is Incesticide. I liked the others, but there's something raw and unconventional about the lesser known album that pulled together b-sides. My personal favorites: 'Dive', 'Sliver', 'Been a Son', 'Son of a Gun', 'Hairspray Queen', 'Aero Zepplin', and 'Aneurysm'.
I would say that my second favorite album is In Utero. With songs like 'Rape Me', 'Serve the Servants', 'Scentless Apprentice', 'Heart-Shaped Box', 'Pennyroyal Tea', 'Very Ape', and of course 'All Apologies' you cannot go wrong.
Actually there is not a Nirvana album I don't like. I like them all. There are some songs I like more than others, however. I favor songs like 'Something in the Way' over 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'. The songs that were 'catchy' never became my absolute favorites. Kurt Cobain's poetry, however, will always be tattooed on my soul. It imprinted itself during my teenage years and it has permanently left a mark. I identified with Kurt Cobain and Nirvana in being rebellious, a rogue, misunderstood, outsiders, and drifters looking in on society, having the last laugh. They had the notoriety and still made fun of the audience and society that revered them, much like Oscar Wilde and other similar artists. As an aspiring artist, to me, this was the best kind. An artist who made it and then took a dump all over the faces of glittering stardom and marveling fan hysteria. To be an artist who didn't care and made art for the sake of its beauty and noise.
Full Incesticide album
Full In Utero album
Nirvana's video for 'Heart-Shaped Box'
Nirvana's video for 'In Bloom'
So, these are the artists from my teenage years who I revered like gods. When I envisioned myself being on stage, being a rock star, these are the idols whom I aspired to be molded after. Of course, I never became a rock start but hopefully one day I can at least rub elbows with them and be engulfed within the world of music, the only true world for the likes of me.