Recently the guys over at NPR’s All Songs Considered program put out a call to it’s readers to post or record stories about the songs that go them through their adolescence and teens. The concept was brought about by a friend asking Bob Boilen for a list of songs or album that got Bob through his teens. The friend, who is also an insightful father, had decided for his daughters 13th birthday, he was going to purchase her 25 albums to get her through her teens. I was blown away by the idea and thought “Good God! What if my father had done that? What if anyone around me had done that?” Regardless of outside forces though, we all come out of our teens with badges of honor in the shape of small, circular discs, whether they be black or metallic.
Below are the bands that got me through middle school
Geralidine Fibbers – Dragon Lady
I was in 5th grade when I received my first stereo system as a Christmas gift. It came with a Joe Diffie CD, an album chock full of country goodness and absolutely appropriate for the whole family to enjoy on Christmas morning. I used the stereo to listen to the usual Top 40 radio shows. Soon afterward, my dad came home with a sampler CD put out by Camelot that a coworker’s son had decided he didn’t like. I was over the moon to have another CD to play and couldn’t wait to put the disc on. The first song was Stress is Best by Menthol which to this day I still know all the words to and was probably the first time I heard someone use the word fuck in a song. Then Geraldine Fibbers came on. I remember listening to the song and being taken aback by the whole thing. Why was the singer lifting up someones dress? What are the family jewels? Where did this utter power of sound come from and why hadn’t I heard anything like it before? That first stereo didn’t have a “repeat track” button but I listened to it over and over, hitting the back button just as the guitar started to drown out. At a time when my whole world was falling to pieces and I was coming to the awful conclusion that I was nowhere near as interested in the things my friends were (boys, lipstick, kissing for the first time), this song gave a voice to the utter anguish I felt inside. When no one was home I’d turn it up and yell along, singing loudest at the “Everything I say is a stupid lie I wont tell the truth even when I die”. It wasn’t until college when I finally looked up the band on the internet that I discovered what I thought was a front man was really Carla Bozulich. I can only imagine what the song would have done to my mind if I had realized this back then.
Tori Amos : Boys for Pele album
By the time I hit late middle school I had discovered a college radio station feed I could pick up out of Bryan College Station and was promptly turned on to a myriad of 90’s alternative. The first time I heard Tori Amos was when this station played Caught a Lite Sneeze. To this day I’m not sure what it was that drew me to her. Maybe it was the stark contrast between her and the all boy brigade of grunge I was hearing. Perhaps it was the weird drums, the obscure and vague lyrics or Tori’s cracking, pushing, breathy voice. I was transfixed. I promptly convinced my parents to drive me 20 minutes into town to check if the album was at the used CD store. What luck I had to find the album in that small town! I listened to this album non-stop, before school, on the bus to and from school, even while waiting to start basketball games. No one else around me had any idea who I was trying to talk about but I wasn’t swayed. Tori Amos was my new religion and I, in all my adolescent glory, fixated on her with sheer and utter abandon. While songs like Professional Widow, Caught a Lite Sneeze, Blood Roses and Father Lucifer lifted me up and garnished new ideas, others like Hey Jupiter, Marianne, Horses and Twinkle held me close when no one else was there. At my lowest points, these were, and in some cases still are, the songs I turned to for a source of solace, of companionship, of a safe place to let go. I spent years at the base of my altar to Tori and sometimes, I’m not so certain that I’m not still there, sitting in the back row.
Nirvana : From the Muddy Banks of Wishkah
Kurt Cobain was already dead by the time I found Nirvana, thanks to goading by the boy with a bowl cut haircut who was a year behind in math and sat next to me up front so he could try to sniff the markers. I had heard Smells Like Teen Spirit somewhere along the line and convinced my otherwise incredibly Baptist Aunt & Uncle to purchase me a Nirvana album for my birthday. After a birthday dinner at Casa O’le we went to the CD store in the mall (cause thats what you do in Temple Texas friends) and I set out to find In Utereo but ended up with only Wishkah. Looking back, I couldn’t have ended up with a better choice. The pure raw power captured in the live album would never find its way onto a session album and I was utterly blown away by Negative Creep, Tourette & School. I found a voice to fall opposite Tori, on those days when I thought I would lose my mind in a flood of anger and boredom. I played this CD for years to come until it finally broke in my backpack under the weight of books and ten discs shoved into a 2 disc case.