Times were different in 1999. It was when AOL and Netscape had begun providing internet to the common folk in full swing. Even so, most of us still weren’t just endlessly pirating entire libraries from people off Soulseek or Napster, especially since those tasks took all day with a 256 kbps modem. And imagine if one of your family members picked up the phone. No, indie record stores were very much still the center of the universe for music and nothing brought me more pleasure than spending hours inside of one instead of being in a Psychology 101 class at the nearby community college I was attending.
Around this time period, I was 20 years old and thanks to the endless stream-of-consciousness band shout-outs from random kids on AOL Punk Chat, I had been introduced to countless punk bands. I was on a steady diet of ’77-88 Street Punk and Oi! at the time, after having graduated from gateway bands like the Sex Pistols and Descendents. Any time I entered Noise Noise Noise (Costa Mesa, CA RIP) I immediately went to the punk section and scoured for any new albums that someone had recommended. Sometimes, I bought things solely for the album and/or the band name. Most of the time I was happy with this gamble. If you think about it, punk bands were good at advertising if they were shit or not via cover art. Take, for instance, Minor Threat’s “Out of Step.” There is no denying that in that sleeve contained a piece of vinyl that shouted songs at you about being a misfit child that belonged nowhere.
But I remember feeling like I never quite fit in. I never understood quite how angry these middle-class white kids were in Orange County and I felt like there was so much hypocrisy. I also hated that you had to fit a certain mold, hold a certain identity to be respected. I despised that so much. Plus, I was tired of how punks and skinheads treated their ladies. 1999 was not a woke time period, dear readers. It was filled with toxic masculinity and misogyny (internal and external). Not that I understood what all of that was as of yet, but it definitely felt off and uncomfortable. It was around this time that I started to wander into other chat rooms. Fuck, this is insanely lame as I type it out, but like, this was how I navigated the world back then. Leave me alone!
Here in Indie Chat and Emo Chat were the original soft boys, with their 60s shaggy hair, Vulcan hair cut, or shotgun blast. They were so artsy, so sensitive, so pretentious, and full of disdain. I wanted to make out with one so badly and I knew that if I wanted that to happen, I’d have to start watching Godard films and listen to stuff other than Suicidal Supermarket Trolleys or some shit. I probably had to start dressing differently, too. Baby steps, though.
It was then I decided to break into unknown territory at Noise Noise Noise. I wandered into the indie section and started to paw at unfamiliar cover art that were vastly different in mood, composition, and themes than what I was used to. I was overwhelmed, to say the least, and I wasn’t the kind of kid that would ask the record store clerks for recommendations. So I just diligently kept flipping through with my heart beating faster for fear of being judged since I was wearing TUK creepers, a three-row pyramid belt, and a cheetah print spaghetti string tank top. But I was determined to make a purchase. I landed on this gauzy, mostly peach, cover of what were ghostly figures of humans I assumed were the band members. My Bloody Valentine. The name was sort of familiar. I think some really hot dude on Make Out Club had cited that this was his favorite band. So why the fuck not. I clutched it in my hands and paid for the damned thing and took it home.
I removed the cellophane wrapper, slid out the vinyl and placed it on my shitty Sony record player, slid down onto the floor with the cover in my hands, and waited for sound to emit from my speakers. What I heard, I was not prepared for. It was discordant and repetitive. The bass line was aggressive and maybe too bare. It made me nauseous. And when Kevin Shield’s voice came on, it sounded like whining and I was disgusted. I tore it off the record player, placed it back in its sleeve and literally tossed it across my room. I hated My Bloody Valentine. The hatred was so visceral that I can still feel ghost nausea whenever I recall this memory.
My Bloody Valentine’s “Isn’t Anything” is currently my most favorite album of all time. Do you want to know something weird? I can’t even remember when I decided to give it another chance. I’m not sure how much time had elapsed and how many other bands that were not punk I had listened to before I came back to it. All I know is that I did eventually listen to it again. I could not get enough of it. I want “Cupid Come” played at my funeral. I don’t care of it’s sexual. Everyone can stand some fucking sexiness while celebrating my worthless life here on earth. I also don’t want to spend time extolling the virtues of this album versus Loveless or whatever other shoegaze band there was. That wasn’t the point of this story.
I am talking about how differently I experienced music back then and how I know that kids today will never know what any of that was like. It doesn’t make me better or superior. It’s just a completely precious and strange time capsule of an era, especially if you think about how soon DSL became a thing in 2000 and everyone was pirating shit left and right off of P2P sharing clients. It was much harder to fall in love with a lot of music. You really had to have crushes on weird people and spend a lot of time and effort to explore entering a different subculture or realm. You couldn’t just go to fucking Urban Outfitters and buy a Joy Division tee shirt and be mercilessly mocked by your cool cousin for not knowing who they are. That means something to me. Some weird sort of circumstantial pride.
Anyway, get off my lawn!
If you’re reading this and thinking “hey I have a story about how music changed my life!” please, write it down and send it my way. I don’t care if it was 1978 or 2018. All stories are welcome as long as they’re about punk or punk-adjacent music. Catch me on Twitter @SteveDoesnt or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org