Ask any kid preparing to leave for their first year of college, and they will attest to the importance of choosing the right posters to hang in your dorm room. After all, these will be the cover art to your new identity, so you need to make sure you impress. Needless to say, my Beatles and Rush posters failed to make an impression, other than confirming what people could pretty much guess by looking at me. Loser.
Luckily for me, my roommate more than made up for my pedestrian J.C. Penney tastes with his Lou Reed poster. In fact, when he showed up for orientation, the last kid on the floor to arrive, and came striding into the room with his dirty blond hair, f-you attitude, and 6’-4” presence I nearly peed myself. WTF did I get myself into? Little did I know a door had been opened into a whole other world of music.
Chris was, and still is, one of the biggest pains in the ass you could ever meet. He’s one of those people who goes out of his way to piss you off, and yet you still come away liking him for some reason you can never quite figure out. He was into bands that I had never even heard of, or knew existed. But he came with a stereo, a huge collection of tapes and CD’s, and all the things that I couldn’t afford, like a car, and a fridge. Despite his attitude, and personal crusade to offend as many people as humanly possible, he took me under his wing, and adopted me. We were roommates after all, and nothing would change that, so we might as well get along. And while I didn’t embrace The Exploited, or G.B.H. or any of his hardcore, I did take a liking to Husker Du, and some of his more accessible punk.
By the second semester I had made other friendships, with less ornery kids, who also stretched me musically. From Scott I was introduced to REM, and The Replacements. Scott and I bonded at the end of the first semester, as we studied together for finals. When Chris announced that he was leaving at the end of the year to either enlist in the Army Rangers, or attend Villanova (I forget which) it was Scott whom I planned to room with.
It was during the 2nd semester that Chris joined the college radio station, and took the training to be a D.J. At first he went alone for his shift, but soon Scott and I began to accompany him to get access to the stacks of records at the station. WTSC 91.1 was, and still is, a true open format college station catering to college rock. It was a ramshackle affair, with each D.J. having a 3 hour shift to basically play whatever they wanted, although we were strongly encouraged to play from the red file of new releases. By sophomore year (Chris had returned after all) the show began to fall more and more to Scott and I. Don’t tell the FCC, but we never had no training, and basically made it up as we went. But with a transmitter range of about 5 miles, and a shift from 11 – 2 pm on a Thursday night, what harm could we really do?
Those late night shifts were a blast. Having access to the new vinyl gave us a chance to listen and experiment with whatever we wanted without spending a dime. We bootlegged music from the back, and made mix tapes. Music was never as much fun for me as it was then. Outside of our little cocoon, the music industry plodded on churning out krep like Phil Collins, Debbie Gibson, and Guns ’n Roses, but we could have cared less. Instead we were streaming REM-The Replacements-Husker Du-The Feelies-Dumptruck-The Connells-The Smiths-Big Dipper-Big Black-Throwing Muses-Billy Bragg-Dinosaur Jr.-Guadalcanal Diary-fIREHOSE-The Jesus and Mary Chain-Superchunk and The Pixies out into the frozen night. Trapped in the solitude of the North Country, we had music, and cheap beer to entertain us, and precious few coeds to distract us. Not that we wouldn’t have minded a little distraction. God, how I wished for a distraction. Instead I alternated between inward self loathing, and outward contempt for the world. Still do, really. Punk Rock was right in my wheel house.
If I ever write that great American novel, it will take place in the North Country. There, my stand in, will come of age as he chases unattainable girls, and continually self destructs despite his best efforts to get out of his own way. In the movie version, my stand in (think a young John Cusack) will stumble through the self inflicted trials of Job, in pursuit of that illusory muse (think a young Catherine Zeta-Jones) to a soundtrack made up of these bands.
We’re talking “Top Five”…
Stay tuned for Part 3 Tomorrow – When Mr. 20 Prospect Sells Out