How I was freed from the shackles of classic rock by 'Gold'
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
In the fall of 2001, I was on the cusp of my sophomore year at UMass-Dartmouth, a grey, lumbering beast of a public university if their ever was one. It was damp, constantly cloudy, and as a commuter, I definitely had a hard time finding a place through my first year, missing out on a lot of the interaction that’s pretty key to the whole college experience to begin with.
That started to get better the start of my sophomore year. I had joined a band playing harmonica (which I had just picked up) and, by default, was also singing. We started playing open mics and coffee shops around campus and town, and while we never developed much of a following, it was definitely fun and served as a good push toward building some of those oh-so-necessary social skills.
Up to this time, I pretty much had two stables of music I drew from:
- Classic rock.
- New albums by ’90s bands.
Therefor, a quick glance through my tapes or CDs in the car would reveal the likes of Pearl Jam, the Black Crowes, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and little else. Not that it seemed like a problem — I loved these people, and they were doing a more-than-admirable job filling my musical senses.
But there was a problem. I was not seeking out, at least actively, any new music from new people making new, exciting sounds. I had long given up on the radio, disgusted by the turgid slop of bands like Limp Bizkit, Staind and whatever piece of crap Interscope was forcing down everyone’s throats. The pop scene was as useless as ever, and my only other exposure to different sounds was through traditional folk, which, honestly, bored me. I could at least respect it, though, as no one gets into folk for the money.
My days of being excited by anyone resembling a new artists was completely zapped, though. I didn’t walk into stores hunting for new CDs like I had in high school. Instead, I looked for albums by bands I already knew I loved. I looked to fill in the gaps in my Rolling Stones collection, or maybe Dylan. My world view was this: music existed at its finest between 1967 and 1974, and had glimmers of hope in the mid ‘90s, and that’s it. Otherwise, anything new was some commercial crap, or overly whiny, and mainly, not for me. Sorry, Matchbox 20, you sucked so badly you killed my hope for everyone else.
Which is why I love Ryan Adams so much.
On Sept. 25, 2001, Adams released his first record for his new label, Lost Highway. It had 16 songs (and 21 if, like me, you got it early enough for the “Side 4” bonus disc), featured more style shifts than a French runway, and completely knocked me off my feet. This album was Gold, and I heard about it through my friend and bandmate in early October, who was quick to sing its praises. I listened a couple of times in his room, and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I could feel my cold, leery heart melting at the sound of Adams’ Jacksonville twang as he sang over the jangling “Somehow, Someday.” It was invigorating
After I tracked down my own copy, I lost count of how many times I listened to the slow burn of “Nobody Girl,” and how it seemed like a “Down By the River” for the new century. I thought “Wild Flowers” was the saddest, most beautiful song I’d ever heard. The fledgling band immediately started incorporating “The Rescue Blues” into the setlist. “Enemy Fire” had a dangerous edge of a pissed off garage band. “Goodnight, Hollywood Blvd.” was so all-at-once angry and mournful that it would stop me dead in my tracks. Every song on this album was thrilling, and for its own reasons.
It took at least 18 months for this album to leave regular play in my life. In that time, he released the odds-and-ends collection, Demolition, I downloaded hundreds of mp3s of random live songs and unreleased studio cuts, and my fandom was sealed in cement. And it’s been a rewarding one, since to this day, he’s refused to rest on his laurels. Each bit of new music he releases reflects the restlessness and ambition of a true artist. Simply, it’s just great to be into a guy like that. But that’s not the only reason why I owe an incredible debt to Gold.
Gold, if nothing else, proved to me that there was more music out there than that put out 30 years ago or by bands who had been established for at least a decade. Shortly after discovering Adams, my faith was renewed in the current music scene, and I built up my courage in seeking out new music. Over the next year and a half, I found the Strokes, the White Stripes (pre-“Fell in Love with a Girl”), Beachwood Sparks, Queens of the Stone Age, Wilco, the Shins and Tortoise, and I stepped back to discover the catalogs of bands I’d never been exposed to, including Guided by Voices, the Flaming Lips and Gomez.
Are any of those the most obscure band in the world? Of course not. It seems ridiculous to me now that I had no idea who any of them were, but on the same note, that’s an incredible amount of music to take in one gulp, and in less than two years.
Maybe I would’ve heard them with or without Gold, but that’s neither here nor there. The reality of that situation is that Gold pushed me toward this flood of discovery, this music that would fill my life for the next six, seven, eight years.
Obviously, this helped in the making friends department, as not only did I have something to talk about, I had something that legitimately excited me to share. And I was more than willing to learn. “Oh, dude, have you heard these guys?” ... “No, wait, I haven’t heard that yet, who’s that?” I became a dispenser and sponge for information. It felt amazing.
I don’t visit UMass too often (I already feel like the creepy old guy whenever I’m on a college campus). But once in a while, my travels have me drive by it, or I’ll see a highway sign letting fellow motorists know that, yes, if you take Exit 12, you’ll get where you’re going. Whenever I see one of these reminders, the thoughts of the grey, towering structures that loom so large over the campus are present.
But they’re secondary to Gold now.
Nov. 14, 2009