Wednesday, October 08, 2008

COLUMN: My Bloody Valentine

I think it was Gene Simmons of KISS who coined the phrase, "If it's too loud, you're too old." Sadly, of course, no one told Gene the follow-up rule: "If you're 59 years old and still putting on Spandex and demon make-up while boasting about your 'Love Gun,' it may also be time to roll up your tongue and call it a day.

Still, I've always thought ol' Gene had a point with the "too loud, too old" bit. In fact, I've spent an inordinate amount of my adult life worrying about that phrase.

See, I'm a music nerd. It's my only hobby, my only passion. It's even my second job -- spinning records for the dance club crowd down in the District every weekend. And thanks to Gene, I now wake up every morning in perpetual fear of discovering that music's too loud and I'm too old. I just know that one day, my alarm clock will go off to the radio, and my first thought of the day will be: "You confound kids with your gall darn rocking and your rolling! Shut that racket off!"

And that will be the day that my life ceases to have meaning.

I can already feel it happening. There's already a good chunk of Top 40 music that I just don't "get," be it the pointless aggression of metal bands like Disturbed (sample lyric: "Ooh ah ah ah ah! Awk! Awk!") or the repetitive drone of dirty South hip hop (sample lyric: "Yahhh, trick, Yahhh!") And, while I still dutifully go to the record store every week and walk out with a handful of new releases -- many of which are exceptionally good -- it's still the music of 20 years ago that gets the most play on my iPod.

My fate may be sealed. I'm guessing it's only a matter of time before I start calling my mom to borrow her Celine Dion and Kenny G records -- to play, of course, at a courteous and respectful volume.

I was bargain-shopping for Geritol when a text message showed up on my phone:


To the average mortal? Gibberish. To an aging music nerd in dire need of redemption? It was like being born again.

My music tastes occasionally run a little left of the dial, I realize. The bands and scenes that saw me through the college years are admittedly not for everyone. I experimented with all kinds of music, but one scene and one sound connected with me like none other: SHOEGAZING.

It's a term coined by a British music journalist in the early 90's while trying to describe a batch of bands coming out of the art schools of England. Bands that were taking basic rock melodies and layering them with waves of guitar overdubs, reverberating tremolos, and vocals so fragile and low in the mix that sometimes you couldn't discern what you were hearing. Bands so concerned with hitting the right effect pedals for their guitars that they would never look up when playing live - quite literally, they would be gazing at their shoes all night.

If there was ever music invented solely for me, this was it. I worshipped shoegazer bands like:








But above all of them, there was the band that essentially invented the sound:


With a name so evil, you'd think their music would be angry, right? Far from it. It's the most perfect noise ever confined onto record. If you believe me, it's the sound of God dreaming. If you believe my mom, it's a defective recording of a dying pig onboard a crashing airliner. And even after a 14 year hiatus, the band's devoted fans never gave up on their return. And when I got that text message, I knew it wasn't a joke. The Valentines were back.

Their music might not be angry, but it IS loud. So loud, in fact, they once held a Guinness record for being the loudest band on Earth. Ergo, as we made our way to Chicago's Aragon Ballroom last Saturday, earplugs were the primary fashion accessory. A half hour later, I was doing the impossible: I was seeing My Bloody Valentine play live.

And it was heaven. Loud, noisy heaven. A crushing wall of sound meeting a sea of music nerds, culminating in -- I kid you not -- 23 minutes of pure, mind-numbing, atonal feedback. It was like 12 jet airliners taxiing down the runway of my soul. And I sucked every second of it up (earplugs safely in place.) At times, we worried for the structural integrity of the Aragon Ballroom, but it held up. The crowd held up. I held up. And then, with nary more than a "Yea, thanks," they were gone again.

And so, too, was any notion that I was losing my music nerd credibility. My Bloody Valentine is NOT a band for amateurs. Even the dudes who listen to that scary death metal that sounds like the Cookie Monster screaming over a power drill might be spooked by the sonic maelstrom of an MBV gig. And I didn't just survive; I loved every minute of it. They're not for everyone (look 'em up on Youtube - you'll hate 'em, trust me,) but for this humble nerd, it was bliss -- and enough to convince myself that, officially, it's not too loud and I'm not too old.

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