Dear Nikola Šarčević,

Note to our readers: This letter was written by a nice person from Brazil. Please keep in mind that it was translated from Portuguese to English.

I was probably around 9 or 10 years old when I received the file “Chiquita Chaser” over ICQ. It was a catchy song and I’d be singing “papah papah parararah” all around. “Nice one,” I thought. “Do you have more songs of this band?” I asked my ICQ friend. Then, he sent me “Bullion.” It was enough, I was already addicted. Millencolin would come for a concert in the same year, 1998, but I was too young and really far from where it would be. Then, I downloaded and listened to everything related to the band. It was a happy time of my life and I remember I waited anxiously for the next album when finally, Pennybridge Pioneers was released. The album exceeded all my expectations, but the last song, “The Ballad,” was annoying to me so I’d skip it every time. The album cover was beautiful and the painting of your face looked really similar to the guy I was in love during school days (we were best friends and he still uses this album cover as his profile picture in every social network, even though he prefers heavy metal), which was funny. I would listen to Millencolin more than my own thoughts! The songs were with me everyday, encouraging me to live, never give up on my dreams and face the world. I started being “Millengirl” when almost nobody here knew what that meant. Seriously, it became my nickname.

Six years after Pennybridge’s release, you finally came to Rio de Janeiro and I was really excited to go. I was 17 years old and finally, I was grown enough to be there dancing with you guys. But in my mom’s head, I was still too young and, even seeing all my effort to save money and buy the tickets with my low salary working as a trainee in a hospital and going to the shopping mall with me to check the prices of the tickets one day before the show, she didn’t let me go. I think I only cried like that when my father or my best friend died. I got so angry that I spent almost a month quiet, talking only basic things with her. Then, Mom made me a promise: no matter where Millencolin would be, if the band came again to Brazil, I would be there.

The next year would be terrible: my dad died. It was the second big problem I ever faced in life (the first was when my parents got divorced) and I never thanked you for helping me face this. Afterward, mentally, I felt embraced by you and your lyrics every time I had a problem or a great moment (when I graduated, for example, I had to choose a song for the time they would call my name in the ceremony and I choose “Birdie).

You came back in 2008, but the show was in São Paulo. I didn’t even ask my mom, just said “They’re coming to São Paulo and there’s this girl called Renata on Orkut with a van and she’ll take me and a lot of people I don’t know.” To my surprise, she replied “Don’t worry, I bought my car insurance with somebody I only know by phone and it works very well. Good luck, dear!”

So I went to São Paulo, happy as can be. I begged Renata and she let me go backstage with her and another friend. I finally met you in person and got so nervous, said so many things, made a huge mess that you even took a picture of me. (I tried to ask you on Facebook, but you didn’t reply. Maybe you don’t even remember this picture because I know your memory is really bad!) Of course, the producers kicked me out and I completely forgot that my friends gave me the t-shirts they were wearing hoping I could get them signed. I was very happy but they were naked and got mad at me and had to buy new t-shirts. I enjoyed every moment of the show and in the end, I reached Kimmo, the manager. He promised me he’d find the t-shirts and he actually did. He sent the t-shirts back, they travelled with the band to Porto Alegre (unfortunately, you didn’t sign them, but the guys were really happy that their t-shirts travelled with the band!).

Going to SP (2008)
Traveling to Sao Paolo
SP concert (2008)
Backstage at the concert

What I couldn’t guess is that the day after, I would feel really sad. The show was something I anticipated for a long time and it was amazing, but it was over. I wanted and needed more. Two years later, 2010, you came to Rio de Janeiro again.

Being another face in the crowd wasn’t enough for me. I didn’t want to go home and feel so empty again, missing the energy and power of your presence on the stage. So I reached you at your hotel. I called you and said I was a journalist, if I could have a time with you for an interview or if you could sign my CDs. You said “Talk to Kimmo,” but he wouldn’t talk to me as I’m sure he thought I was another annoying groupie. Then, I took all of my CDs to the hotel and addressed them to you (and got them back the day after, in the reception, signed by everybody!). After that, I ran to the show.

At the show, I was so emotional, singing and dancing that, somehow, you invited me to sing the only Millencolin song I didn’t like: “The Ballad.” We had a quick talk on the stage and you said “You called me earlier.” You recognized my voice and I got so much more nervous than I was already, my voice on the microphone sounded horrible and I started jumping as a kangaroo. A roadie tried to kick me out (always like that!) and I ran back to the stage, kissed Erik’s cheek and got a pic. You found everything so funny! In the end, I took pictures with all the band again, a lot of people added me on Facebook, I received a lot of pictures and I was mentioned on a lot of music sites!

Inviting me (2010)
Nikola inviting me to the stage
Singing (2010)
Me singing with the band
Singing 2 (2010)
Me singing with the band
You called me earlier in the morning (2010)
“You called me earlier in the morning”
My authographs (2010).jpg
Autographs

When I got home, I was singing a song, not a Millencolin one, but a random song. I tried to find it online and to my surprise, I wrote the song for you. My first song.

And this is not the end of our interaction, Nikola.

Millencolin came again in 2015. What else could I live with the band, after all these things? I made a t-shirt with the picture of us singing “The Ballad” (my favorite song now) and I wanted to be sure I’d get it signed. I asked everyone I knew, I ran to the local rock radio, I tried lots of things but nobody could give me a backstage pass. I was really close to the club where the show would be drinking a coffee with a friend and very upset when I had the idea of messaging you. I really bothered you, because you read all of my messages but didn’t reply, until you asked me “What do you want?” I said “My name on your guest list” and you said “Done.” I had no doubt my name was there for real because you scream “What’s done is done” in my ears uncountable times per month.

I went quickly to the concert and I waited until you arrived. You looked at me so serious and waved, I was pretending I was okay, even though I was just trying not to be kicked out again (I could really be, you know). Last time we met, I had long curly brown hair and this time, my hair was short, straight and blonde. I wasn’t expecting you to recognize me anyway. The show started and, when you started playing “The Balled,” I cried and screamed “THAT’S MY SONG!” You got a little confused and I screamed again “THAT’S MY SONG!” showing my t-shirt with our picture this time. You got really touched and said “Is that you? And that’s me, I suppose. You look so different, I didn’t recognize! So I’ll play this one for you.” And of course, I cried eve more. In the end and at the backstage, all the guys signed my t-shirt but this time, it was different. I was feeling so calm and peaceful, you were together with me all the time, paying attention to everything I said (don’t remember what), with eyes of someone who was really caring.

Nikola and I (2015).jpg
Me and Nikola (in person and on my t-shirt!)

Right now for me, you are much more than a singer, bassist or music writer. You are a HERO, someone who has inspired my entire life only by existing and not giving up on your dreams, who doesn’t treat people badly, has a huge heart and politeness after all these years and fame. All of you guys actually, but it’s just that I have this connection with you somehow. I sent you the song I wrote and you said you liked it, but I could never explain all of this to you.

I really hope you read this letter, hero. Back in Örebro, sitting in your favorite chair, when you listen to “The Ballad” on the radio I hope you feel as special as I do.

Thank you for everything.

Love,
Thaabs

PS: Mom loves you (so does my entire family).

Time Travel: Record Store Day circa the 1990s

First things first, a big thank you to the Palace Inn for hosting the 1990’s equivalent of record store day.

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My friends and I looked forward to spending our parent’s hard earned cash inside your walls on an annual basis. The record conventions you housed were our musical holiday, and conveniently presented us with one of the only opportunities to eat at a Taco Bell during the year. For this one day out of the year we excitedly left our cozy suburb north of Pittsburgh to make the 45-minute trek to Monroeville (a different, lesser known-to us-suburb) that had one of the few Taco Bells in the greater Pittsburgh area and was also home to you.

All praise and glory to The Palace Inn aside, let’s get bootleg. Real bootleg.

The Palace Inn was a hotel that appeared stuck in time (1960s/70s). It was as if it had been teleported from the “off off” strip in Las Vegas and landed in Pittsburgh missing a casino and most of the glitz and glamour. Despite having no casino, there was a lot of gambling that occurred during the record conventions we attended inside it’s unmemorable ballroom. At these events, music fans could purchase a wide array of items including, KISS picture discs, overpriced rock n’ roll memorabilia, and most importantly bootlegs. Straight. Up. Bootlegs.

These bootlegs came in an array of shapes and sizes. Some were on silver CDs and looked like semi-official releases as evidenced by being on “labels” such as Kiss the Stone (KTS) and Blind Pig. Before committing to a purchase you had no idea what the sound quality was going to be, or if they were even going to be “real” concert recordings. Sometimes you would drop $30 only to own a CD of studio recordings with fake crowd noise mixed in. I quickly learned that one way to reduce the odds of a big burn was to purchase bootlegs dubbed onto cassettes. This roll of the dice typically only cost $5 to $8 and came complete with hand-written labels. As a grungy and odd 14-15 year old, I had become fascinated and fixated with MTV and “alternative” radio’s newest misfit, Beck.

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I felt a strong connection to him as he appeared to embrace his low self-esteem and poor self-image all the while managing to run it through a drum machine, a casio keyboard, a broken guitar, and finally, into a tape machine to create powerful and otherworldly sounds. I bought everything I could find in the record stores of my local mall that had his name on it (Mellow Gold, Loser EP, Stereopathetic Soulmanure, One Foot in the Grave).

As a result, whenever I went to the convention I scoured each and every table with the sole mission of finding any and all Beck bootlegs. I bought the cassette Beck: 1st Ave Minneapolis 6.29.94.

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My late adolescent eyes opened wide as I saw song titles that I did not recognize (“Colour Coordinated,” “Asskizz Powergrudge,” “Takes one to know one,” etc.). You see, I have always had reoccurring dreams about seeing, hearing, or experiencing things that did not exist in real life, but wished that they did (e.g., different flavors of Kool-Aid, a proper sequel to Rocky IV). This seemed like one of those dreams, but it wasn’t. This was reality. I could take this cassette with me out of this dream!!!! I also purchased the I’m a Schmoozer Baby bootleg and the Melkweg, Amsterdam show on cassette all from the Mellow Gold tour (1994).

As I collected more shows I began to realize that an album of unreleased music was forming (e.g., “Casio (Good Stuff),” “Brother,” “Convalescent,” etc.). Could this be the follow-up to Mellow Gold? Beck fueled my excitement for the follow-up as he introduces “It’s All in Your Mind” from the Amsterdam Show. “It’s gonna be on the next record” he drawls before launching into the song. Readers need to remember that this was pre-(mass)internet, so information about upcoming releases was often limited to Kurt Loder reports on MTV and a few magazines. I took Beck at his word and my hope continued to grow…

Unfortunately, most of these songs have not been released or recorded/released with the same energy or feel as the Mellow Gold era tour or Beck’s previous records (e.g., “Convalescent” released as “Glut” and the version of “Minus” on Odelay (both bullshit in my opinion)).

And so, to celebrate the spirit of Record Store Day pre the actual formation of Record Store Day, I encourage you to walk around any corner in America and grab some Taco Bell. Here is my record store day gift to you passed down through the hands and ears of cassette dubbing peddlers and pseudo-record labels from Europe. Here is part of what the follow up to Mellow Gold might have sounded like before Beck leaped off the bold and prolific cliff of lo-fi noise rock and folked-up hip-hop and left us in a puff of polished and contrived dust.

Enjoy,
Matt

Casio (Good Stuff)

It’s All In Your Mind (Single Version)

It’s Not Easy

Sandman

I’m Never Gonna Dance Again: A Love Letter to George Michael

I still remember the first time I saw him. It was by the pool. It was the early eighties, and his tiny white Speedo told me everything about him that I needed to know. He was hip, shared my taste for laid-back, sporty summer fun, and he knew how to make his Coppertone-tanned body speak the language of youthful cool. He was George Michael in Wham!’s “Club Tropicana” video; I was seven and he was. my. man.

The sensual weight of his masculine thigh emerging from his swimsuit awakened something in me. I remember the shadow of soft-looking hair on his honeyed skin and the way his leg muscles rhythmically jiggled as he tapped his foot along to the song’s beat, “fun and sunshine—there’s enough for everyone.” I wasn’t the only one that noticed that there was something different and special about Wham! right out of the gate. That something was George Michael, and he was lusciously, meltingly sexy…to me, to his ostensible commercial target audience of pop listeners, and to gay men. He was certainly my first sexual crush, but his dimples and his playfulness somehow made him more than just sexy; he was achingly loveable too.

This combination of sexy and safe, the PG-13 sweet spot for teenage fandom is what band managers have been trying to get right since the sixties. If you want details, P. David Marshall offers an incisive analysis of this cultural phenomenon in Celebrity and Power: Fame in Contemporary Culture (1997). Over the years we’ve seen this recipe play out again and again through boy bands like The Monkees, Menudo, New Kids on the Block, Boyz II Men, and the Backstreet Boys. But George Michael so thoroughly exceeded this musical category that even to my elementary-school self, the mention of these comparisons seemed insultingly dissonant.

Looking back, something I found deeply appealing (that I wouldn’t be able to articulate for a few more years) was that Wham! videos, and later, Michael’s first solo album, told us that it was ok to like sex, to feel sexy, and to enjoy looking at the bodies of beautiful men. Men! …As in, not just women! This was revolutionary in the early years of music videos and MTV. In the eighties we were inundated with images of the sexual woman-as-object, the dehumanized woman, the woman as animal/mannequin/prisoner/toy. Just start with Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible” video and see how many others you can count that fit within this trope in under a minute. I’ll throw in some dry ice and shadows and light playing on vertical blinds to help you get going. But when you watch Michael’s videos from the “Make it Big” andFaith” albums, what you get is a pretty seductive inversion of what Laura Mulvey famously called “the male gaze” in “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” (1975). In other words, instead of looking through a man’s eyes at the objectified bodies of women, George Michael’s videos let kid-me look through eyes like my own, eyes that found both erotic and romantic delight in every inch of the singer’s face and body. He allowed himself to be an actively-engaged male sex object, happily participating in the coy seduction, offering us the dark allure of his eyes and the ripples of his sleek chest during the Wham! years, and then replacing those with the denim-clad ass-shake of the “Faith” album. I guess the burgeoning feminist in me found this sex-positive objectification of Michael totally thrilling, and what’s more—it allowed me to imagine a future where my own sexual pleasure wouldn’t depend on how I looked in a neon string bikini. In Michael’s videos, women’s bodies just didn’t matter that much, they were much less interesting and received far less airtime than every inch of his own gorgeousness.

Of course, savvy fans already hear the strain of irony in these claims, since Michael’s later solo career was marked by his attempts to undo the iconic sex symbol status he had earned for himself. Setting his “Faith” jacket ablaze in the video for “Freedom ’90” and turning the camera away from him and onto the strutting bodies of supermodels seemed to rebelliously invert the inversion he had accomplished earlier. Moreover, once his LA bathroom indiscretion led him to publicly come out as gay, the complicated roles of women as love-objects in his songs and videos took on new layers of meaning for fans that hadn’t already read between the lines.

But, to me, none of it mattered. I had already spent a whole childhood’s worth of incipient sexuality lusting for one man, with more than a handful of personal milestones matched to the sound of his voice. In the bedroom of my friend’s cool big sister, I learned about what was “in” and played My Little Pony to the tune of “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” As part of my fifth grade elementary-school graduation, my friends and I performed our own choreography to “I Want Your Sex.” (God knows what my teachers made of that performance. Perhaps the benign neglect of the public school system worked in my favor in this instance.) In high school my summer camp’s theme song was a Mad-Libs style anthem re-written to the tune of “Faith,” and as a senior I wielded my class status by forcing everyone else in our lounge to listen to “Freedom ’90” on repeat. Years later, in my mid-twenties I recall experiencing a feeling that, at the time, I believed was the closest thing I had ever felt to the sublime. I was driving across the country taking my life and my stuff to grad school and on a pastoral winding hillside in Wyoming, I found myself belting along to the entire “Make it Big” album while the man I loved at the time slept in the passenger seat next to me. I remember the feeling cresting like a wave in my chest that life may never get any more perfect than what I had experienced during that singular album-long moment of crystalized joy.

Memories like these also have helped me understand that although my love affair with George Michael may have begun as a purely sexual one, it was able to grow into something much deeper because of his incredible talents as a lyricist and composer. Michael’s ballads, like “Father Figure,” “One More Try” and “Careless Whisper” live in the ghostworld of haunting regret. He brings an irresistible pop sensibility to the repetitive spiral of raw longing that defines many of our early experiences of love and loss. Combined with the intimate appeal of his tremendous emotional aptitude, was the fact that this sexy-as-hell man seemed to be in the throes of a breakup with someone that the lyrics allowed me to imagine each time as an intelligent and complicated woman. “If you are the desert/ I’ll be the sea/ If you ever hunger/ Hunger for me/ Whatever you ask for/That’s what I’ll be” he desperately croons to the lover who wants a “Father Figure.” Then, in “One More Try” the roles are reversed and Michael, himself, goes from being the father to the child. “So you think that you love me/ Know that you need me/ I wrote the song/ I know it’s wrong/ Just let me go/ And teacher/ There are things/ That I don’t want to learn/ And the last one I had/ Made me cry/ So I don’t want to learn to/ Hold you, touch you/ Think that you’re mine.” My heteronormative teen projections allowed me to consistently picture Michael singing to a woman…maybe some more beautiful, complex version of the woman that I hoped to become, but still, a woman that he seemed to respect and care for deeply. For me these were entanglements worth aspiring to.  

Equal and opposite to Michael’s ballads were his playfully upbeat pleasure anthems. Combining openly unchaste lyrics with a kind of puppy-dog tenderness, Michael’s songs always seemed to have coy winks and sloppy licks folded into them—part camp and part youthful bravado. “I’m Your Man,” now a viral sensation from Michael’s groundbreaking car karaoke session with James Corden, woos listeners by insistently bopping into our hearts, “Baby, I’m your man/ You bet!/ If you’re gonna do it, do it right, right?/ Do it with me.” There’s a similar kind of goofy romantic inevitability that courses through “Freedom” from the “Make it Big” album: “But you know that I’ll forgive you/ Just this once twice forever/ ‘Cause baby, you could drag me to hell and back/ Just as long as we’re together/ And you do[…]/I don’t want your freedom/ Girl, all I want right now is you.” Listening to George Michael’s up-tempo hits gave me a new way to imagine adult relationships. It was a way I’d rarely seen represented in other types of pop culture, but it validated my existence as a thinking female person with real emotional and sexual needs. Michael didn’t sing to vapid babes. He sung—happily and eagerly—to women who had rich interior lives and things to teach him. Letting myself fall into the dreamworld of his songs always made me feel like he was mine, like we were a pair of old lovers, messily, irrevocably destined to drive each other nuts with our cuteness forever.

Now in the dark and terrifying early days of 2017, I’m feeling bereft, not only because last Christmas really was the “Last Christmas” for me to enjoy Michael’s perfect twinkling heartbreak wonderland in a pure way, but because we lost one more pop pioneer of gender-bending sexual freedom and queerness in a year when the departures of Bowie and Prince were already too devastating. I’ll keep George Michael and his soulful gravitas with me this year as I seek strength to fight the battles that too certainly lie ahead, but I hope I’ll also find occasions to dance again in that fiercely hopeful and defiantly sexy way that George Michael taught me.

Love always,

Emily

Dear Morrissey,

I love Your Arsenal.

I like to think I was raised by three things: a mom, a dad and MTV. My parents’ care shaped my character, while channel 14 on our cable box fostered my then-burgeoning lifelong love of music. For much of 1992, my version of an after school special was “Hangin’ with MTV,” a live program that invited artists into the studio to perform and take questions from the audience.

One Thursday afternoon, the show began with a quintet of retro-looking rockers playing a tune in which the singer sang affectionately to a girl he called “Fatty.” I thought, “How wacky is that? He loves her and is calling her such a name?” It was just the sort of slightly off-kilter thing that has always appealed to me in artistic expression.

The rest of the band, all as well-groomed and handsome in a 1950’s kind of way as their vocalist, played coolly behind him. After a commercial break, VJ John Norris introduced this man as Morrissey and explained that he’d be back later to play another song from Your Arsenal At that moment, my main priority in life became owning that album.

“This isn’t one of those bad tapes, is it?” my mom asked. The cassette I’d just pulled from the wall in my local mall’s music store featured a fuzzy sepia-toned image of a man, taut torso exposed, licking his one hand and positioning a microphone near his crotch with the other.

“No, see, it doesn’t have a Parental Advisory sticker on it,” I answered, my 13-year-old mind totally oblivious to the sexual innuendos oozing from the album cover. Even the title was aahemcheeky double entendre. All I saw was this cool, well-coiffed, and mononymous man, Morrissey, who mesmerised me for the first time only days before.

“Hmm, okay. Well, it’s your money,” my mom said. Still slightly suspect, she walked with me to the cash register, where I proudly purchased what I just knew was going to be my new favorite tape.

I don’t remember exactly what happened after that, but I assume that as soon as I got home from the mall, I went directly to my room, popped the tape into my boombox, and listened to it from start to finish. It’s just one of those albums whose songs are so expertly sequenced that they lead you along like a story. Two tough-edged tunes, the driving and surf-like “You’re Gonna Need Someone on Your Side” and the swaggering, “Jean Genie”-esque “Glamourous Glue” kick off the album, which veers down a rockabilly back road with “Certain People I Know” somewhere in the middle, descends into the marvelously mopey “Seasick, Yet Still Docked” and the melodramatic, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”-esque “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday,” and finally resolves with the skeptically hopeful “Tomorrow.”

Overall it’s an album that perfectly melds grittiness with glamor. The toughness of the new backing band, which had been recruited from the London Rockabilly scene, and the sonically muscular production from Mick Ronson (no duh where the Bowie inspo came from!), are balanced beautifully by Morrissey’s fay Britishness.

And it did indeed become a favorite from that day, so much so that I’ve now purchased it in three different formats over the years: cassette tape, CD, and vinyl. It’s never missed any all-time favorite records list I’ve made, and it even influences my own musical output to this day.

So, Your Arsenal, for all the aural pleasure you’ve given me, I “thank you from the heart of my bottom.”

Richard

To those of you who are unfamiliar with the Old 97’s:

My friend John introduced me to the Old 97’s several years ago during a summer we all dubbed “The Summer of Rock Music,” although really our traipsing around to every show we possibly could lasted well into the fall and possibly winter of that year and into the following year.

The Old 97’s are one of those bands that I will always regret not having in my life sooner. There’s other bands and singers I could have written about here with whom I have been acquainted with for much longer, have been a part of my formative years, been with me through several physical and metaphorical journeys and blah blah blah, but sometimes a band just hits you at the right place at the right moment and effortlessly inserts itself into the soundtrack of your life. And that’s what the Old 97’s did for me. The truth is my years in San Antonio are some of the best years of my life, and the Old 97’s will always transport me back to hot summer nights in dusty dance halls, drinking Shiner and rocking out to some amazing live music. They provided the background music to my life in Texas.

I hadn’t heard very much of their stuff before I went to that first show in 2011. John made me a CD he titled “The Old 97’s Crash Course,” and that was my introduction. I was instantly hooked, listening to it nonstop leading up to the show. And I fell in love from the first chord they struck onstage. They will always be one of the best live shows I’ll ever see, no matter how many more shows I live to see.

I have no idea in what genre to classify them, and I think that’s one of the best things about them. Some of the songs sound country, some sound a little punk, some a weird mix of the two that somehow always works. And their catalogue of work is so prolific, they’ve spilled over into several other genres at this point. But lead singer Rhett Miller just calls it all rock and roll like he doesn’t really give a shit what box they fit into or if they fit into any box at all. And that’s pretty cool.

I saw them several times in San Antonio before I left the state for good – saw all the things you come to expect at a good Old 97’s show: at least one proposal during “Question,” bassist Murry Hammond singing a smattering of crowd favorites, Rhett drunkenly backing up Murry on “Valentine,” the time-honored and never-failing “Timebomb” at the end of the show (after what is usually a lengthy encore), and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Rhett’s hair that just keeps getting more amazing every time I see them (seriously, what is that?).

It was everything I could ever want in a band – raw and gritty, a little jaded with just enough cynicism to make it feel real, not forced or contrived or trying to be anything it’s not. Give me a band who claims “Let’s Get Drunk and Get It On” as one of their few love songs and belts out the lyric “Love is a marathon – sometimes you puke,” and I’m instantly sold. Screw all that impossible love crap. I want real, and that’s what you get with a good Old 97’s song.

The real reason I was struck with inspiration to write this love letter is that recently, after not having the opportunity to see the Old 97’s since I left Texas more than four years ago, they finally came to my neck of the woods here in Virginia a couple weeks ago. San Antonio was the last time I had the chance to be around great music, to discover new bands and go see some amazing performances. I’ve been missing and trying to get back to it ever since.

So when I saw the Old 97’s were performing in Norfolk at one of my favorite venues, there was no way I was missing it. I went by myself, because screw it, right? A friend had to bail unexpectedly, and there wasn’t anyone else I wanted to take who I thought would appreciate them the way I did, and anyone who loves music like I do knows you don’t take just anyone to see one of your favorite bands. Besides, the Old 97’s feel like old friends. We’ve got history that now crosses state lines.

From the moment they stepped onstage that night, I was transported back in time those hot summer shows in San Antonio. It was a different vibe seeing them outside their home state in a way I can’t explain except to say that they understand Texans in a way they’ll never understand Virginians, but it didn’t make it any less amazing. And it reaffirmed everything I love about their music – the energy, the in-your-face lyrics, the big ole middle finger to the man, and a subtle ode to the working man (or woman) in all of us that always feels a little Dylan-esque to me.

My only disappointment was that they couldn’t play forever. There’s no greater feeling than going to a show and never wanting the band to stop playing. It made me homesick in a way I hadn’t really fathomed I missed Texas, so maybe this is a love letter as much to Texas as it is to the Old 97’s.

So come back soon, boys. This homesick pseudo-Texan will be waiting in the front row, hoping you play a little “State of Texas” to help me miss it just a little less for a while.

Love,
Kellie

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Valentine

Won’t Be Home

A State of Texas

Dear Isaac Brock,

If memory serves, I believe my first listen of your music was the album This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About. I quickly backtracked and listened to anything else I could find. The ambiguity of your lyrics and dabs into harmony and discord simultaneously spun my head. I was mostly focused on hip-hop at the time, but when I heard the opening track, “Dramamine,” I was hooked. The guitar, percussion, bass, words—delivery of all was incredibly haunting, yet delightful. “We kiss on the mouth, but still cough down our sleeves.” I remember feeling the need to share the music with anyone who would give me the time of day, or night. The best thing about it being that no one could quickly categorize the style. The normal response was, “What kind of music is this supposed to be?” The construct and content of “Custom Concern” is a perfect example of comfortable melancholy. “The Fruit That Ate Itself.” “Bad breath talking about fresh rain…Are you going to get sick worrying about your health?” It’s the visual of so many lyrics that pop up like an ouroboros that keeps me, to this day, looking for your next utterance. “Talking Shit About A Pretty Sunset.” I don’t even listen to that anymore because my friends and I played it to death. However, it is wonderful, and exists because you put it out there. Thank you!

Continue to The Lonesome Crowded West. That album caught everyone worth speaking to that I knew at the time. Sometimes a person can portray the consciousness of a massive group of people, be it niche or not, surprisingly swiftly; congratulations. I don’t much care about intent or directive when it comes to artistic output, to me it’s all excrement; in that it is our digestive bi-product of the elements we are exposed to. “Absence versus thin air.” That sounds very disheartening, absurdist, etc. But lovely in the fashion of the music that surrounds it. “Convenient Parking” still sounds relevant. I can remember reading things about convenience, rather than necessity, being the mother of invention around this time (1997). Anytime anyone hears that someone else feels the same way, timely, and coming out of speakers – gold. Sifted through the music stream and found you. Forever grateful. Looked further into K Records and Up Records at the same time thanks to your work. Built To Spill, 764-HERO, etc. I probably never would have ventured.

To The Moon & Antarctica. I received this on cassette before it was properly released, and can’t believe that it didn’t break from being passed around like a two nickel lover. Blank cassette with some random labels and stickers on it, handwriting from a good friend, icing on a cake. I didn’t even need to see album art for this. I felt like someone had just given me the best present in the entirety of the planet. Upon listening, holy expletive words. I still love this. Some people, of course, think this is where the band took a negative, commercial approach. Watching people eat cake is hard when you’re starving, I’ll say that.

Obviously your band has grown and developed a larger audience. Rightfully, in my opinion, or IMHO. I still hear “Well, it took a lot of work to be the ass that I am…” and get shivers of comradery. Change personnel all you want; love will always be with you, Eric and Jeremiah!

Dan

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

The Fruit That Ate Itself

Talking Shit About A Pretty Sunset

Dark Center of the Universe

Jason,

By the time your iconic album covers for Jade Tree Records were in print, I’d already decided to become a graphic designer. As a teenager, I loved the concept of being in the art world yet was not the greatest hands-on artist. I lacked the depth of imagination present in those who make art for the sake of art, plus the practicality instilled in me as a child of working class parents didn’t allow me to entertain the notion. Put that in a jar with the inordinate amount of time I’d spent at a computer and shake—you’ve got a graphic designer.

My dream was to move to New York City, live/work in an impossibly large, bright, slightly disheveled studio space and art direct a magazine. (Weren’t we all at least a tiny bit inspired by Raygun back then?)

To make that happen, or so it seemed at the time, art school was a must. RISD was my top choice though self-doubt prevented me from even applying. (Talk about being your own worst enemy.) The Art Institute of Pittsburgh was less risky, less expensive and allowed me to return to my hometown for a couple years.

Truthfully, it didn’t matter much to me where I got started. I knew what to expect: me being relatively anti-social, listening to music, going to shows and learning design. Maybe, MAYBE, I’d make a couple friends through our mutual love of music, which is exactly how I found out about The Promise Ring. Someone told me they were fond of 30• Everywhere, and before I heard a single note, the album art reeled me in. It used color sparingly yet deliberately. It had WHITE SPACE on the cover. Clearly it was holding something back and I needed to know what it was, so I bought it.

On the first few listens, my focal points were “Everywhere in Denver” and “Red Paint.” I’d spent prior years predominantly listening to punk and uptempo indie, so the subtlety of something like “A Picture Postcard” was initially lost on me. Ever determined, I kept at it and over time the nuances of each song captured and held my attention.

Part of what kept me going back was the artwork. I was determined to make sense of something that looked so refined and beautiful. It sounds like I’m being overly dramatic, but I was at a fork in the road. Old self—high school student and stubborn malcontent—was part of this scene:

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New self—aspiring to be a graphic designer with a good eye—wanted to be in this scene:

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So I obsessively listened to 30• Everywhere followed closely by Nothing Feels Good and explored albums on different labels with similar aesthetics (and therefore, in my mind, a related sound).

It was like passing through a door I never knew existed; a turning point for which your design work and music were a critical catalyst. This was where I fit in, if not immediately than at least I finally knew where I wanted to be and with whom. I felt compelled to take my education to the next level and transferred to RISD with the help of a scholarship, where I used your style as inspiration for one of my first projects:

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Note the use of geometry, white space and sideways text blocks.

With broader knowledge of the music and design industries, this was not unlike the work of Peter Saville for Factory or Mark Robinson for Teen-Beat.

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Marc Robinson’s work above. Is there a need to show Saville’s? Most are at least somewhat familiar with it (for New Order in particular, or the ubiquitous Joy Division cover ripped off by Disney).

You too spearheaded the look and feel for a small music genre that touched fans on a very personal level. Whether they realized it or not, your aesthetics contributed greatly to the overall concept of their favorite music.

Thank you for inspiring me aurally and visually. My trajectory would have undoubtedly been different (and likely less interesting) without you.

Hugs,
Christine

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Everywhere In Denver

Between Pacific Coasts

A Picture Postcard