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Defend Yourself Against the '90s

Or, what I learned and failed to learn during a long break from my regular band about the music of my youth

I was given seven whole weeks at home. The entire month of September and half of October were mine, and with them I could do whatever I pleased. There were no long drives, no hotel rooms, no Taco Bells oand the subsequent odors I was forced to suffer in tight confines, no load-ins or soundchecks or set times. For 49 days I could, if I chose to, not sing a single note or listen to a solitary righteous guitar solo. I could give my liver some reprieve after 12 years of the kind of abuse that is deemed illegal on most college campuses. I could actually make plans with friends, which may not seem like a luxury to most, but to me is as foreign a concept as LARPing. I know people who do it, but I’d never be able to have a conversation with them about it.

“So, like, you and a bunch of people know where you’ll be on a certain date in the future? And you’re going to meet a place that you’re all familiar with? I’m sorry, I just can’t wrap my head around this. Goodbye.”

I had Buffalo and surrounding areas (except Niagara Falls—that place is a shithole and I would never go there) available to me as it had not been in a long time. I could run headlong into the yonder, open myself to an old fear, hitch this gross, bearded wagon to a runaway splendor. It was all up to me. And that’s the problem.

Instead I got drunk and agreed to front a ’90s cover band that plays on Allen Street every few Thursdays. I’m sitting here right now trying to memorize the words to the Semisonics’ “Closing Time” at 12:50 on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon. I can hear kids playing in the park outside.

By no means am I disparaging this brainchild, and I think it’s important that I make that clear. Instead, I see it as proof that music isn’t something to which I was attracted because of the glow it emitted to an attention-starved teenager with a curious new erection, but because it is my unholy parasitic twin. It is as inextricably tied to my life as my age. I can’t simply take a seven-week break from being 32. Music is what my brain defaults to when alcohol restores the factory settings. I’m not going to have Jay-Z money (unless anybody wants to give to my Kickstarter?) or Honey Boo Boo fame, but if I turned away from the song I’d be doing myself a disservice, independent of who else is listening. It’s because I sincerely like making music, or in this case, making someone else’s music, and if we decide to cover the Lemonheads’ “Mrs. Robinson,” then it’ll be us making someone else’s music who made someone else’s music.

I think if you want proof of sincerity, you have to observe how things function when they are unaware that they are being observed. In other words, get it drunk and see what comes out. In my case, what came out was a quiet and humble urge to be entertaining people. There are worse things to wake up with after a long night out.

So, at to not renege on the promise I made to a group of friends, here I am a week away from the second SoulPatch show learning a few new songs to put in the set list at the behest of tens of screaming fans. And holy shit, were the ’90s full of garbage. So much so that the band called Garbage was actually better than most. In retrospect, it seems to have been a time dominated by anything except content, and the evidence lies in 99 percent of anything written by Anthony Kiedis. I feel douche bumps poking through the sleeve of my shirt when I think back on the conversations had between friends in which we naively groped bodies of music in search of some palpable, relatable meaning in the midst of so much vapid filler: “No, man, the ‘peaches’ are metaphors.”

I can’t help but wonder if our parents looked at the alternative music my generation listened to as we today eye askance the pop music that tweens are ingesting with gluttonous fervor. Was Billy Corgan really so annoying all along and we were just making excuses for the abusive partner radio rock served as, or did he legitimately appeal to our need for something new? Was I lying to myself in order to fit in somewhere, or did I actually think that Crash Test Dummies song was catchy, so much so that I actively sought out and purchased a cassette single? And the Spin Doctors? Seriously? The rule that music waits 20 years before it becomes cool again thankfully did not apply to the ’70s when they showed up on 1992’s Pocket Full of Kryptonite looking like members of the Uruguayan soccer team that crashed in the Andes and almost starved before eating each other.

Granted, there were many diamonds in the rough—Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, to name a few—who proved to be not only thoughtful and inspired but timeless as well, and it’s unfortunate that they were unjustly lumped in with the Sublimes of that era, but their influence on bands to this day indicate a higher purpose. How acts like the Offspring still have a career mass-producing empty space, however, is beyond me. But let us not allow the anomaly to affect the law. I will never again draw attention to Dexter, Noodles, and crew.

Actually, “Dexter, Noodles, and Crew” sounds like a great food-item-turned-cartoon, which, if you remember Gummi Bears, was also a weird phenomenon in the ’90s. Maybe I’ll call the guys at Epitaph and see if I can reach out and pitch the idea. I’ll set up a Kickstarter. Who’s with me?

This is the latest dispatch for Artvoice by Every Time I Die frontman Keith Buckley.

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