Still I Have Not Found My Way Out Of This Night

Spring of 1994. I’d just turned thirty, and was wrapping up my second year at Georgetown. An active summer, both professionally and socially, lay ahead. Mid-June would find me at Purdue for a nine-day workshop on constructivist learning as it applied to an upper-level class I’d be teaching for the first time come fall (the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman occurred while I was there). By the end of the month, I was blowing money I didn’t really have on my first trip to the Europe, where I was able to meet up with John and Ann in Paris, then Toby and Kasia in Zurich. A couple weeks after returning, I was back on the road to visit Greg and Katie in Maryland for a few days (that’s when I saw Sam Phillips perform).

This cassette was a companion on at least that Purdue trip, and maybe to MD, too. We visited side A last week; let’s now see what awaits on side B. There are plenty of long-time favorites.

B-52’s, “Roam”
It’s not my favorite song from Cosmic Thing. It’s still plenty good, though. There’s a song off Voice of the Beehive’s Let It Bee, called “I Walk the Earth,” with a similar theme. I’ve got that one on another tape…

The Darling Buds, “Long Day in the Universe”
From the Buds’ third album Erotica. That album is a much more challenging listen than their first two pop-oriented disks, but it’s not without its highlights.

Suzanne Vega, “Blood Makes Noise”
Short yet so sweet. 1987 me would have been flabbergasted that Vega would sound like this five years later. Producer/future husband Mitchell Froom can be fairly criticized for going overboard in the studio during this era (he also handled Kiko for Los Lobos and Six Pack of Love for Peter Case in 1992). The gadgetry and gimmickry couldn’t overwhelm a catchy tune like this, though. It legit should have been her third pop hit.

The Polecats, “Make a Circuit with Me”
On trips to Chicago in the early 90s, I’d often tune the radio to WXRT. This came at my roommate John’s recommendation; our tastes overlapped enough that he knew I’d enjoy it. One of the songs XRT introduced to me was this 1983 rockabilly/New Wave treasure out of England–I heard it more than once traveling up and down I-57. A clever extended metaphor on all things electric, I cannot understand how it wasn’t a big hit. I’m grateful the folks assembling the Living in Oblivion series saw fit to include it on one of their compilations.

I suppose it’s possible that some exec was trying to leverage the Stray Cats’ recent success promoting this band whose name and sound bore passing resemblances to Brian Setzer’s group. It was a worthwhile gambit–I know I’d rather listen to “Make a Circuit with Me” than “(She’s) Sexy + 17.”

Texas, “Fade Away”
Big bunches of this cassette reflect recent purchases. Rick’s Road, the third album from these Scottish rockers, was among them. On the first few listens, only the second track, “Fade Away,” stood out. It wound up being the fourth single released in the UK, though it didn’t chart there. Still a groovy, soulful, bluesy number.

Jane Wiedlin, “At the End of the Day”
Tangled sank like a stone when it came out in 1990. I’d heard “World on Fire” around that time, and wasn’t too surprised that it couldn’t build on the success of the awesome “Rush Hour” from two years before. In spite of that initial impression, eventually I plucked Tangled out of a cut-out bin to give it a shot. There are a few real highlights: the title track is good, “99 Ways” is super charming (it also made a tape), and I think “At the End of the Day” could have been a minor hit had it been released as a single.

Matthew Sweet, “Time Capsule”
In between Girlfriend and 100% Fun came Altered Beast; I was never able to get into it like those other two. “Time Capsule” was easily its best song. Hope bugs don’t freak you out–apparently Sweet was cool with them.

Brenda Kahn, “I Don’t Sleep, I Drink Coffee Instead”
This must have been another song I first encountered on WRFL in the fall of 1992. I scooped up Epiphany in Brooklyn not long after. Kahn’s punk-folk reminds a little of Cindy Lee Berryhill, who’d had a couple of albums a few years earlier. Kahn definitely has sass and a way with words. The references to Louisville and “a couple of Hoosiers” being “well-traveled in two states of the Union” may have caught my ear first, but there’s a lot more going on in this sub-2:30 piece.

Bettie Serveert, “Tom Boy”
There are some great songs on Palomine, the 1992 debut from this Dutch band. I noted in the very early days of this blog that the intro to “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” reminded me a lot of the opening notes of “Tom Boy.” Bettie Serveert is still an ongoing project; they last released an LP almost four years ago.

Monte Warden, “Feel Better”
I saw Monte Warden open for someone–probably Béla Fleck and the Flecktones–at the Kentucky Theater in the spring 0f 1993. I don’t buy CDs at concerts all that often, but I must have liked Warden’s Texas sound enough that night. “Feel Better” shows a hint of early Elvis and has a raucous guitar solo smack dab in the middle; definitely worth a listen still.

Warden’s career started in Austin with The Wagoneers. Several years ago he and the band reformed. They’re still together.

The Indigo Girls, “Least Complicated”
I guess the release date of Swamp Ophelia–5/10/94–gives me a big clue as to when this tape came together. “Least Complicated” has to be among my top 5 Indigo Girls songs.

Eighteen of the tape’s twenty-six songs feature female vocals–I’ve not been lying to you over the years about where most of my music money was going in the first half of the 90s.

Lisa Germano, “Energy”
Germano’s second album Happiness was originally put out on Capitol in the summer of 1993. Something must have gone sideways between Mellencamp’s fiddler and Capitol shortly thereafter, because it was re-released on 4AD six months later. I have the original CD, which includes a cover of “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'”–it was stripped from the reissue. That wasn’t the only change, apparently–Kenny Aranoff’s drum track has been removed from “Energy” in what we hear below. To me, this changes the whole nature of the track, ironically sucking much of the song’s energy away.

Iris DeMent, “My Life”
Some might think “My Life” too maudlin, but it spoke to me the first time I heard it, among the songs that invariably bring tears to my eyes. I believe I can check off at least the first two items from DeMent’s list in the chorus. I can’t help but notice she phrases those in past tense, while the third–“I can give comfort to my friends when they’re hurting”–concerns both the present and the future. I can aspire to do the same.

Over this past weekend I learned of the passing of a woman I went to college with. We overlapped only one year, and I didn’t know her all that well. We had a number of mutual friends, though, so I would see her occasionally in those first few years after I graduated. Full of life and humor, a genuinely nice and caring person–it’s cruel for the world to be robbed of folks like her far too many years early. She became a librarian, and served as director of the system in the county where she grew up over the last dozen or so years of her life. Reading anecdotes involving her these last few days on FB awakens me once again to the good we can do just by being present with one another.

Rest in peace, LJ.

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