Friday, December 31, 2004

The Band Crush

I get band crushes: these intense fascinations with an artist, often in a sudden burst of discovery, craving more, looking for the full catalog. If they're an artist with a history, you get to work backward and forward from wherever you entered, then keep that thread going into the present and future, assuming the artist is still active. Even if you lose track of the thread sometimes, you can find it again. And these threads, woven together, create a fabric of experience which shapes us.

Example: I first encountered XTC in 1982, just after English Settlement, when I saw the video for "Senses Working Overtime," still one of my favorite songs, maybe ever. (Though I'm constantly baffled as to why the world's most infamous sufferer of stage fright could sing on film. Wouldn't that be worse?) I went backward and fell head-over-heels for Go 2 and Drums and Wires and the whole early catalog, as different as they were from what XTC would become in the 80's. I stuck with them, briefly baffled but eventually entranced by The Dukes of the Stratosphear, rooting for the occasional radio appearances of "Peter Pumpkinhead" or "The Man Who Murdered Love." My children have been rocked to sleep by my achingly poor rendition of "Love on a Farmboy's Wages." My recent "Dear God" encounter with my daughter has already appeared in this space (see comments section of "Bonus Christmas Babe-blogging"). And I feel a vague sense of adulterous irresponsibility at my failure to own the ever-burgeoning collection of Fuzzy Warbles discs, though I know I'll rectify this at some point.

So maybe crush is the wrong word. Maybe this is more like a lifelong commitment one can make to multiple partners, whose claims on various corners of the soul can't be questioned. But crush definitely describes the early fascination, the minor obsession, the sufficiency of one CD in the car, the running of music through the head in the shower, as one falls asleep and wakes up, the utter domination of mental and aural real estate for a while. I've had a whole bunch of these, to quote Helen from The Iliad, "slut that I am." I have one now.

And once you've had a band crush, you never really lose it. You may forget it, but you're likely to relapse at any second. A couple of years ago, I made the acquaintance of a woman in Colorado whose musical tastes dovetailed so completely with my own that we spent a good six months shipping CDR's back and forth across the continent, guessing what each other might like, rarely wrong. She asked, via email, whether I knew The Records. I said yes, but didn't have any on CD. She sent me Smashes, Crashes, and Near Misses, and I smiled, putting it on while I worked on something else. I only gradually became aware that I was singing along to something I thought I only kind of knew, and hadn't heard in well over twenty years. And this wasn't "Starry Eyes" or "Hearts in Her Eyes"--no, this was "I Don't Remember Your Name," which as far as I know was never a hit. And I knew every word. So there's an unconscious aspect to the process as well.

The list of my band crushes is long, and has little to do with whether a band was ever commercially popular or not. In fact, I would argue that the relative obscurity of a band increases their crushability, since there is an incredible charm to the idea that this is your own little thing. We crushers love to share our obsessions with others, thrilled and excited to find fellow travelers, and that's simply not as intense a process when just anyone knows who your crush is.

True: I was at a party the other night and a guy was looking through the artist list on my iPod, trying to find the song of the band of the mutual friend who was hosting the party. I found the process oddly intimate, this list of artists who make up my consciousness on display for this person I'd barely met. But it was all okay when he said, and I quote, "Shoes! No way! Cool!" (or something to that effect). Our host looked in and said from the other room, "You didn't just say 'Shoes' did you? Uh-oh." He and I shared a look and burst out laughing, my ongoing attempts to convince him that they are one of the greatest bands of the last thirty years being something of a standing joke at this point. (I am right about this, Bill; you'll see that someday.)

Eventually, the intensity of the crush fades a bit, and the weaving process can begin. That's when you become aware that you no longer are content with one CD in the car, but now want to make a mix which includes the crush band with others you like too, sometimes even former crushes, like introducing a human crush to your friends to see how they coexist. All of which I tell myself to help keep things in perspective.

And I don't believe for one second I'm the only person who does this, though such a confession may simply convince others that I need a twelve-step program more than a blog.


Rmj said...

I always figured looking at someone else's recorded music collection, like looking at their bookshelves, was a very intimate glimpse into their "true self." Which could be embarassing or enlightening, depending on what was seen there.

refinnej said...

Mary, as one who has been in a car with you I must say that your crush is kind of a public service. In just one 20 minute drive, I hear songs I thought I forgot about because as far as I know no one else plays them. Somebody has to though, so keep up the good work!! (It's kind of like me and the Lee Krasner paintings no one looks at because Jackson's splatters hog all the limelight. It's a good thing and a bad thing, so I know where you are coming from.)

Phila said...

So Mary...since you've got an iPod, I could just e-mail you some songs, couldn't I? Do you have DSL?

Fox said...

You gotta listen to NOFX's "Two Jealous Agains". If that doesn't universally affirm the concept of band crushing on a very fundamental level, well then you need to listen to it again because you're wrong and it does ;) lol. Or so I tell myself to justify my JimmyEatWorld adoration. ::starry sigh::

also, I am neither terribly powerful nor overwhelmingly poppy, but I believe you should link to my blog. :-D Because I am great.