Saturday, February 24, 2007

[JFP] Soothing Soul and Intimate History

by Matt Saldana
Image courtesy Rob Sheffield
February 21, 2007

A friend of mine and I once tried to come up with a “Top 25 1990s Alternative Singles” list, but we were never able to resolve our differences over a pair of deal breakers: Veruca Salt’s “Volcano Girls” and PJ Harvey’s “Down by the Water.” My friend argued that “Volcano Girls” has a bouncy pop exuberance (in the 1997 video, the Chicago band strapped themselves into bungee cord harnesses and literally bounced off walls) that puts the song on par with other crunchy ‘90s guitar anthems like “Come Out and Play” by the Offspring and “Cannonball” by the Breeders. I thought PJ Harvey’s whispery, haunting song about a fish who has stolen her daughter was a more important contribution to “alternative” music—the ambiguously rebellious ‘90s version of the “indie rock” label. (It is a slightly more functional one, too, since PJ Harvey is signed to Island Records, and Nirvana was on Geffen.)

Rolling Stone pop guru Rob Sheffield has made his share of lists as a music critic—he wrote a particularly funny “Top Ten Worst Bands Ever” with Live at the top—but in his debut memoir, “Love Is a Mix Tape” (Crown Publishing, $22.95), he sticks to the less contentious art form of the spontaneously recorded, gloriously imperfect, memory-ingrained-in-the-magnetic-strip mix tape.

“The rhythm of the mix tape is the rhythm of romance, the analog hum of a physical connection between two sloppy, human bodies. The cassette is full of tape hiss and room tone; it’s full of wasted space, unnecessary noise,” he writes in his totally natural, plainspoken poetry.

In 219 brisk pages, organized around 22 actual mix tapes, Sheffield writes wistfully about the arrival of “grunge” and the accompanying cultural apocalypse—whose first sign, Sheffield writes, was when Olympic ice skater Kristi Yamaguchi revealed on television that she prepared for competitions by listening to Nirvana on her Walkman. He takes us through the real excitement of earnest, inventive, underground bands like Pavement and Liz Phair “crashing through the boundaries,” and then the eventual sonic-boom collapse: the death of Kurt Cobain, the frenzied re-commercialization of music.

[View the entire article at the Jackson Free Press.]