I just bought a new album by the Decemberists called "The King is Dead". Although their folk rock music is completely modern, the music reminds me of high school. Maybe it's because the lead singer sounds like Michael Stipe from REM. I listened to the whole album straight through three or four times. It brought back how important music used to be to me. How much it defined me. How much I ached for it. How I would use my last dollar for a concert and beg for money if needed.
My favorite band in high school was The Smiths. For me, they epitomize 80's alternative/punk music (although they were more post-punk than punk). I remember seeing a building spray painted with the words "The Smiths" when I was in junior high. I wanted to know who the band was. What had inspired someone to love them so much that they spray painted their love from a can and why did mysterious looking guys with black hair and long bangs wear The Smiths' name on their trench coats?
By high school, I was well versed in an obsession for The Smiths. Their album "Meat is Murder" came out in 1985 in my freshman year of high school. The music touched something deep in me. The Smiths' masterpiece album "The Queen is Dead" came out in 1986. Soon, my style changed from goody two shoes to alternative. I dyed my hair blue black, pierced my nose and exchanged my tennis shoes for combat boots.
Johnny Marr's guitar combined with the plaintive sound of Morrissey's voice was like butter on toast for me. I played their albums until they were scratched beyond recognition.
The Smiths played at the Hollywood Palladium and we drove to Hollywood all wide eyed in my friend Tracy's tiny Honda Civic. I fought my way to the pit and jumped up and down to the music as if there was no tomorrow. At the end of the concert, Morrissey gathered up the flowers from the stage. The Smiths broke up in my junior year of high school and I was devastated. The day we found out, my friends Tracy, Melinda and I blasted their song "Big Mouth Strikes Again" from a boom box from our place in the quad.
The Pixies album "Doolittle" came out in 1989 and the album is my senior year of high school. I remember dancing to "Debaser" with my friend Tracy in her parents' brand new condo in Creekside. Tracy's parents were out of town and we drank beer after beer as we listened to the album on their brand new CD player. We switched back and fourth between "Debaser", "Here Comes Your Man" and Gigantic". We debated whether we preferred Frank Black or Kim Deal as lead vocalist. We agreed that they ruled regardless.
There were so many other bands that I loved. The Cure, The Replacements (I listened to the song "Alex Chilton" for inspiration before writing this post tonight..."I'm in love. What's that song?"), Siouxsie and the Banshees, Dramarama, The Smithereens, The Screaming Blue Messiahs, The Sex Pistols, The Violent Femmes, The Cramps, Oingo Boingo, The Cult, X, The Alarm, REM, early Inxs, U2, Depeche Mode and New Order. The list goes on and on. We went to concerts every weekend, drank Strawberry Hill in the parking lot of the venue and danced and screamed ourselves hoarse.
What happened to the girl who screamed for hours on end when her band came on stage and fought her way to the front? What happened to that kind of desperate, but pure joy?
I know she's still in me somewhere because she made a guest appearance at a Morrissey show in Pomona last year. I unearthed some silver combat boots, a black skirt and tights and outlined my eyes in black kohl. Adrian had to work late so we met at the Fox Theater and when I walked up to him, he looked at me with surprise as if he didn't recognize me at first.
Morrissey came on stage and sang song after song by The Smiths and when the song "Ask" came on, I screamed and jumped around as if I was sixteen again. I jumped around so much that I accidentally stomped on my friend Shiela's toe. She had just underwent foot surgery.
I was obnoxiously happy. I still had it in me. The girl I thought had been submerged underneath days of worry and drudgery was inside of me all along. She just needed a little music to come alive.