Wednesday, August 13, 2008

So nice, I bought it twice

Quite by chance I discovered online last week that one of my favorite sort-of new albums (from 1993!) was re-released back in June after having been out of print for some time. I still have my copy of Exile in Guyville by Liz Phair from 1993, and it still plays just fine. But the reissue comes with a companion DVD shot this year by Liz herself, and three so-called 'B-sides', so I decided that was enough to justify buying.

I guess I was of the mind that I should have some justification for buying, because I really have never gotten the point of reissued classic albums. They were done right the first time, obviously, since they are now known as classic. Bonus tracks historically have never been much of a bonus, sort of like the deleted scenes you sometimes get when a movie goes to DVD. And there is the fact that I still have the original one!

What really got me to buy and watch was the way I felt reading the promo bit for the 15th Anniversary reissue. I thought, wow, it's actually been long enough since I was young and cool for an alternative, 'indie' album to have gone out of print? Wait a minute, as I remember, Liz is very same close to being the same age as me...does that make us old enough to be out of print?

The DVD tells what she was like in 1993 as an artist and person, doing what she did, just because. And not thinking too much about it, until it became apparent things had changed as more people caught on. Besides being the same age as Liz, I can remember those musical times quite well because I was introduced to that 'scene' by good friends of mine, and we felt like it was just for us and a few other cool people across the country to know about.

At the time, circa 1990, 1991, 1992, "alternative music" and "indie" actually meant something other than just the marketing label it is now. To me and my friends, "alternative" meant music that got made and heard without conforming to existing standards of sound, production, publicity and play. About all that could be agreed upon about alternative was, that it was rock that you would probably not hear on the radio, made by people who did not care if you heard it on the radio, or care if you understood it or if you bought it.

Such was my first exposure to bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Primus, Mother Love Bone, Smashing Pumpkins, The Screaming Trees, The Fluid, Faith No More, well, the list goes on and on. The people who turned me on to all those bands (God bless them) of course loved the music just because, and that was how I first heard it, but what really attracted me to it was the fact that they had had to seek out cool music. They did not hear it on the radio, they heard it from friends' collections and by word of mouth from those who had seen live shows. Then they got a record store to order copies for them, or order their own through the mail, and when the new stuff arrived, it was like Christmas morning. My roommates and I had our own house with a kickass stereo we always let them use, and many were the times they came running over with a new parcel in hand, knocking and the door and grinning.

'Indie', as it turned out, meant music produced and distributed with borrowed money (or money saved up by the hardworking band themselves) rather than the deep pockets of a corporation pushing a product. Indie music existed so the fans could take a few songs home with them, and if the band wound up making some beer and bong money, well, that was cool too.

I was not always an instant fan of the music to which they introduced me, but I usually liked the new stuff after a few listens. It took some getting used to, for someone who had only recently strayed from FM radio! I was most excited about the feeling of hearing something not that many people were hearing, and it felt good, the sense of having it to ourselves in that way.

About the time we had gotten used to the 1989 album a buddy brought in by Nirvana, name of Bleach, we heard from one of our more well-read buddies that a new album was coming from them, with a big budget and production touches not common to the genre. Not many people noticed when Nevermind dropped in fall 1991, and well, most everybody knows the way that album changed the popular music scene into what it is now. I included it to lend a time reference to this out-of-hand post (grin)

One by one the bands only a few of us knew about started making money and getting attention of the masses, so to stay cool and hip, it became a race to stay on top of new music and know about it before everybody else did. I'm not sure why so many of us felt that imperative, but we did.

It was the end of 1993? the beginning of 1994? that I read about Liz Phair in a magazine or newspaper music review, and in the spirit of trying out the new, I bought Exile and Urge Overkill's Saturation which was also reviewed. (I guess a Chicago theme was in effect?) Neither of them I had heard of, and their music was VERY different, but I loved it. They did have on common another thing: that I was the only person I knew of who liked them!

As the reissue DVD played, I learned that 'the scene' was changing for those musicians as the very same time I was discovering them. They lamented being branded as 'sellouts' by their peers after their work got played around the country, despite the fact that none of them got rich in the process. What was cried about was, how dare they let so many people in on 'our' music? If too many know about it, it's not cool anymore! And of course, I could relate to that sentiment, even though I never was a musician playing Chicago clubs in the early 1990s.

So the DVD made it worth the purchase, for sure. It took me back to the time and places I was in 1993, to where I was when I first heard the album, and even though those times and places are depressingly LONG gone, I liked it. And yes, it's easy to see why the three B-side tracks weren't included in the original, but I guess it's all right having the extra copy of Exile anyway.

The reissue did inspire me to ponder what might be the next new thing nobody saw coming in music, and how best to stay on top of it.

My only exposure to new music nowadays is live performances by rock bands on TV talk shows such as Conan, Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel, Craig Ferguson, Carson Daly (ewww) and Jay Leno ( double EWWWWW) Where else can a person can find out about what new music is out there, waiting to be discovered by the likes of me? Any magazines to recommend? There was a time when I bought Rolling Stone for that but it seems to not be the same in that respect. What about the Internet for tracking down new music? I would rather read reviews first, then listen, but I am not opposed to trying stuff cold, either.