I’ve been really enjoying Sean’s REM stuff, and I’ve been thinking about this list a lot (I have a lot of time on my hands), and while it’s nowhere near the same list I would have made, the thing that I think is really great about REM is, while it’s fairly easy to list their worst albums—essentially, their last four records are pretty terrible, and kind of disheartening to listen to—picking their best ones is a lot harder, because their are basically no wrong answers.
Having said that, there is no way Out Of Time ranks third.
My mother and stepfather bought my brother this dog for Christmas. I don’t remember what year, but I’m almost positive it was the first year we moved into our new house in Sarepta, Louisiana… so, what, 1994, ‘95? Something like that. There were probably some kind of idyllic visions in their heads, new family, new surroundings, that sort of thing. A new dog for the kids, the whole bit. The only problem with this situation was this: I didn’t want a dog—we’d had pets when I was much younger, but since I wanted to spend all my time inside, I didn’t really care about having them. And now that was a teenager and wanting to spend even more time inside than I already did, the last thing I definitely didn’t want a dog. I didn’t want the responsibility of one. And so it was determined before they got this puppy for my brother that it would be his dog, not mine.
He was a half Great Dane/Black Lab mix, and I would concede even then that he was a pretty cute puppy. We named him Sergeant, for reasons that are somewhat cloudy, and he was my brother’s dog. The only snag in making him my brother’s responsibility was that, even at that point, at ten or eleven years old, my brother was already showing signs of becoming the least responsible person I have ever known. And so the dog was sent to his home in the back yard: a fenced-in concrete slab with a dog house that sat along the fenceline about fifty yards behind our house. Sergeant would spend nearly all of his time in this area, all alone except for the once a day or so when my brother was forced—and he had to be forced, practically every time—to drag himself outside to dump food into his dish and fill his water bowl.
Thinking about it now, it must have been horrible for the dog, sitting out there by himself. On the few occasions when he got released, when my brother was forced—and he had to be forced, practically every time—to clean out the pen, Sergeant, by now a fairly good-sized dog (half Great Dane, remember?) with long legs, would run all around the lawn for hours. It was almost impossible to catch him and put him back in the pen, which at the time I saw as mainly a giant pain in the ass, but looking back on it, who could blame him? I wouldn’t have wanted to go back into that cell again for anything.
When things began to really go south with our home life, the last year or so I was living there, after my mother and stepfather divorced, my mom became something of an animal person, something she never had been during my early childhood. She got a couple of puppies from someone and, much to my annoyance, kept them in the house. I don’t even remember their names, but I do remember coming home one day to discover one of them had been hit by a car, and burying him in the back yard, not too far from the pen where Sergeant kept his lonely vigil, and I remember how upset my mother was, and how heavy the dog felt as I carried it out behind the house. The second dog, the sister to the one I buried, also came to a bad end: someone poisoned her. We suspected the neighbors, but there was no proof. I don’t remember who buried her.
Then there was another dog, and this one I would have no memory of if not for what became of it. I had almost completely checked out emotionally from the goings-on at home, and was casting about for an escape, so what my mother and brother and their pets were up to didn’t concern me greatly. My mother had taken up with this guy named Mike….Stovall? I think his name was, who lived a couple of towns over, and was spending nearly all of her time at his place. I think my brother was hanging out with him a lot, too, or was otherwise in the wind, and I had a lovely time the summer after I graduated high school, the house more or less to myself, reading and listening to music, working at McDonald’s, hanging out with my friends, and watching TV. I suppose I must have been feeding Sergeant, who remained outside in his sad little pen.
It all came to an end soon enough. I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but Mike and my mother had their eventual and entirely predictable falling-out, and through some kind of weird underhandedness on his part, we wound up getting evicted. Which really just gave me the final push to get the hell out of there, headed for my grandparents’ house in Texas, where I would start school. My brother got shipped off to my mother’s parents, and my mother moved in with a friend in Arkansas.
But the dogs. What to do with the dogs, who could not go with us? I guess the easiest way to say it is this: we dumped them. The three of us took the dogs to a nearby park, a fishing area with a boat ramp. I guess my mother thought someone might pick them up there, and I guess someone might have, and I guess she must have been pretty desperate, and couldn’t see any other options. But I know there must have been. And I remember feeling really lousy about it, but what the hell could I do. I had my own life to get started, and I barely had any positive feelings for the humans in my life at the time, much less the animals I never wanted to be saddled with in the first place. And so we dumped them.
As of this writing it’s been fourteen years and when I stop and think about those two dogs I’m consumed by a guilt and a sadness that seems almost unimaginable to me considering the eternity that has passed since that day by the water when we cut our losses and headed for the lifeboats, every man for himself.
We can all agree that Jared Leto is pretty terrible, and when you consider that he’s over forty years old, I think we can all agree that that makes him not only terrible but also embarrassing.
So when I watched the Oscars on Sunday with a friend of mine, and when Leto won, the two of us were equally dismissive. But I thought his speech was sort of sweet and earnest, and he mentioned his hometown of Bossier City, Louisiana, which is just across the river from me, and for whatever reason I found myself swayed to his cause.
I will never understand the internet: despite all my hilarious and/or thoughtful posts, what gets the most play on tumblr? This post about Smokey And The Bandit, which at this point has over 300 likes or reblogs. None of which actually reblog the content of said post. People just love Smokey And The Bandit. More than anyone would ever guess, I guess.
Well, it finally happened: Ol Glenn, my neighbor across the hall, has moved out, headed back to Alabama. He will be missed. This is not exactly something I would have said back when Glenn first showed up. I was never super-close with the guy, but I liked him well enough. He had a dog, which should have been annoying, but it was quiet, and so I didn’t have that to bitch about. I would say hello to him whenever I’d see him, but I’m really bad at smalltalk, and so I’d do my best to scurry upstairs without running into him.
He knocked on my door a couple of days before he flew the coop and gave me a bunch of records and some DVDs. With the exception of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, the DVDs were all awful, and the records he gave me were so incredibly on-point Old Man Records (a bunch of Atlanta Rhythm Section albums; a Grand Funk Railroad record; Works, Volume 1 by Emerson Lake & Palmer; Mick Jagger’s She’s The Boss on cassette) that it almost made my head spin.
It was also really sweet of him, a small gesture of kindness that I found myself strangely very moved by. And so godspeed, Glenn. You will be missed. Unless my next neighbor is a 22-year-old lingerie model who needs someone to help take photos, I’m not going to do any better than you.
A couple of weeks ago I watched Nothing Can Hurt Me, the documentary about Big Star, and at almost the same time I was re-reading parts of Robert Gordon’s It Came From Memphis. These, along with Holly George-Warren’s article “The Muse of Memphis” in the most recent issue of The Oxford American, have pushed me into a major Big Star mode, which is funny, because apart from their last album, which is really just them in name only, I don’t really even like Big Star all that much.
I knew of them, of course, for a long time before I ever actually heard any of their music, because that was sort of their thing: you could go a long time listening to music that paid a huge debt to them before you heard the real thing. So I knew “Alex Chilton” by The Replacements, and I knew Son Volt’s cover of “Holocaust”, and I knew Cheap Trick’s reworking of “In The Street” for That 70s Show. But Big Star themselves eluded me.
I don’t remember if I heard Third first, or if I got the first two albums, which came packed together on one CD, but for the purposes of this story we’ll say that I got the #1 Record/Radio City compilation first. And I didn’t like it much. I think, because of everything I’d heard about how the band were the godfathers of power-pop, I was expecting something more bombastic and in-your-face. Something louder, more powerful sounding. I was probably expecting something that sounded more like Cheap Trick, or, more honestly, more like Weezer, as hilarious as that may or may not be.
So at some point or other I got my hands on a copy of Third, which famously was never truly completed, and which never had a definitive track listing, though the version I have is the 1992 Rykodisc reissue, which features producer Jim Dickinson’s involvement and, presumably, represents the band’s original intentions for the album. And I don’t remember being blown away by it. At first. But it creeps up on you, mostly in a slow and unexpected way. I’d owned the album for years before, one night, during a period when I was living in an unfinished and unheated attic, I caught the lines “get me out of here/get me out of here/I hate it here/get me out of here,” and it went right through me, and the hooks were in. That Robert Gordon tells the exact same story about the exact same song in It Came From Memphis is indicative of how universal Third can seem at times.
It’s a beautiful album, and it probably means more to me now than it ever did. The crackle of feedback that begins “Kangaroo” is maybe my favorite moment of distortion ever recorded; the wobbly menace in Alex Chilton’s voice when he seethes “play it for me, guitarist” in “Dream Lover”; the extended “it ain’t gonna lassst” in “Big Black Car”; the way the whole thing sounds so exhausted and wasted and emotionally drained and falling apart.
Which is also the album’s biggest problem: Third is, fundamentally, a record about wallowing, about giving in to whatever dreary impulse you can latch onto (from It Came From Memphis: “back then it was loose. We were buying sealed bottles, thirty to a bottle, of Ambar twos, Desoxyn, up, downs, whatever you wanted.”) to distract you, because your feelings got hurt, or because your band didn’t become as famous as you thought it should have, or for whatever stupid reasons people pursue numbness. That some great art was wrenched away from the oblivion it was flirting with is what redeems the album.
Unearthed excerpt, from some thing I wrote about five years ago, late at night, while deep in my cups:
No one is entirely sure when the apes rose up and conqured their human masters, but the fact that it happened is not even a matter of dispute: Australia is, as of this writing, ruled by apes, and has been for some time. The last known year that the island remained in the control of its human population was 1986, when the film Crocodile Dundee became the second highest grossing film of that year. The movie spawned a wave of interest in Australia that was quickly tempered by the realization that there were no commerical flights to the continent available: the mystery deepened when 1988’s Crocodile Dundeee II was released to only mild success: at this point, it was painfully obvious that, rather than humans, the “actors” were nothing more than apes wearing masks and miming the lines along with a heavily edited soundtrack consisting of previously recorded dialog that had been chopped and pasted into the thinnest of possible plots. There are even those who claim the masks the apes were wearing were in fact the actual, skinned faces of the actors from the previous films, but there is at this time no evidence to prove or disprove this grisly rumor. There is at this time no living person who has seen 2001’s Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles, so any rumors regarding this film are nonexistent.
Cody is a young guy. I think he only recently became old enough to drink. He’s built almost exactly like a teddy bear and has a little goatee that makes him look like a chubby Guy Fawkes mask when he smiles. He often goes for months without a haircut, and after awhile it looks literally exactly like this. He’s a nice kid, but uh…a little slow (he once asked me what 12 hours from five o’clock would be). He fucks up a lot.
Jeff is older, probably early forties. He’s short and slender and always wears a baseball cap. He looks kind of like Clint Howard, and his hands have a visible tremble to them. He used to drive trucks for us but after some unspecified troubles, he was given a demotion, and now works on the dock loading trucks. He’s having some family issues—divorce—and drinks a lot. He’s come to work and seemed drunk at least a couple of times, and has fucked up some stuff fairly badly. He’s a nice enough guy.
A couple of texts from my coworker Patrick:
Text 1: Cody has put in his vacation requests to coincide with car shows later in the year he wants to go to. He says the one in December is in Texas and says “yeah that’s the only car show that’ll show tits.”
Text 2: What an animal.
Text 3: Jeff starts putting in his two cents and goes “yeah man…you go to some of these black shows and they show a lot. They start tweaking and everything.” I assume he meant twerking.
Text 4: The depths of their perversion is unfathomable.
I’m from Texas, and I went to junior high and high school in a very small town in Louisiana, and I remember when I was twelve and thirteen years old that this is how eighty percent of the guys looked in their senior photos, creepy little mustaches and everything. It’s a style choice that manages to somehow make you look sixteen and forty-five at the same time, and it’s not something I recommend to anyone.
Looking at Tim McGraw in those pictures, though, it does make me sort of miss those days when country music was still largely a niche market and even the people in charge of the talent were still almost completely clueless about how to make the jump to a more mainstream audience. There was a weird sort of dopey innocence to it that’s largely been erased, though any nostalgia I have for it is more likely me pining for my own uncultured childhood, when I would probably have looked at the guy on the cover of Not A Moment Too Soon and thought man, what a cool dude.
Which, now that I think about that, maybe I don’t miss those days so much after all.