I was listening to All Songs Considered recently, well, catching up is a more appropriate way to put it, as they had one of Nickel Creek's very last shows at the 930 Club in DC recorded (and that was November). I really love that band (almost as much as I love to surprise everyone with my conflicting taste) and I cannot listen to their debut without thinking of Austin. Though consequently, I picked up their sophomore effort in Tokyo and it, too, reminds me of a very particular time in my life. (Waiting for the train after my private lessons I taught).
So I started to wonder, what are the ten most distinctive albums in my life? The ones I cannot listen to without thinking about the time in which I discovered them? So here we go, starting off with the one that brought it on:
1. Nickel Creek (self-titled album): This album will always be Austin Community College photography class. I discovered them while working for Austin City Limits in January 2001. That same month I started taking a photography class on Saturday mornings. Not only did I listen to this album on the trek out there, but also in the 24-hour darkroom near my house. I know this album inside and out and it's one of my all-time favorites.
2. The B-52s, Good Stuff: Technically speaking, the last full album the band ever released in 1992 (but that will change later this year). And I vividly recall being with my older sister Veloute at Sound Warehouse (Music Warehouse? whatev) on Fry Street when she bought it. I have no idea why it's such a vivid memory but it is. And the first three tracks off that album continue to be the best off the album and I suppose were a distinct impression the way home.
As a matter of fact, it was probably a cassette, now that I think about it.
3. Black 47, Fire of Freedom: I used to fucking loathe this album. My mother brought it home from Recycled Books & Records, and to say Black 47 is an acquired taste is an understatement. I did enjoy Maria's Wedding, their catchiest hit, but the rest of the album left me really cold. Then when I was in college and doing a ton of research on Ireland's political history, I started listening to this again. I was turning onto Oak Street when I finally started listening to the lyrics of James Connolly and I was hooked. I have gone on to see them live in NYC, but was underage at the time and could not consume insane amounts of Guinness.
4. Dar Williams, The End of the Summer: This album is my apartment on West Street in Austin. I listened to it a ton and it coincided nicely with the first time I ever saw her live (another Austin City Limits story, I'm afraid). I used to work for the Texas Education Agency and we had to park on the top two floors of the parking garage and it was like, eight stories. So I really recall listening to this album as I went round and round up to the top and all the way back down at the end of the day (as I was freelance, the days were often 3-5 hours).
Infact, one of the very few "regrets" I have in life is that I didn't see her second show while she was in town. The guy I was dating at the time was a big fan but didn't want to go, as it was a large venue and he thought no one would show up and he would feel bad for her. What the fuck sort of thinking is that? I was confused at the time but went along; in retrospect, I really wish I had just said, "Ok, cool, I'm going."
5. Depeche Mode, Violator: There are a ton of albums I could credit Veloute with turning me onto...The Damned, The Smiths, 45 Grave (ok, that one song...Riboflavin is such bitchin' fun), but mostly, this is the one I recall booming through the wall, any number of tracks. And to this day, it is Depeche Mode's strongest album and I really love each track.
The tracks off this album are always the ones they play best live. Sure I have a soft spot for Music For the Masses and Black Celebration, but this is arguably their best album. And with my bedroom right next to hers, the bass really came through nicely. I still have a few of her concert shirts that have miraculously survived the years. However much the radio overplays "Enjoy the Silence" and "Personal Jesus," the album itself will always be a treasure for me.
6. The Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces: I used to listen to this album a ton on my trips between Denton and Austin. The title track was a particular favorite, and it was while listening to this album that I got a lot of thinking done (3 hour trips, you know) and one of my trips back up to Denton was to surprise the guy I was dating. But sadly for him, living in a new city was a very energizing thing and it was on that trip that I realized I didn't have to put up with his bullshit baggage. And I realized I didn't feel anything for him anymore and dumped him in the following weeks. Good album.
7. Paul Simon, Graceland: My mom used to listen to this album a lot (at least in my memory). And rightly so, it's a great album.
I think she also really favored Rhythm of the Saints, but Graceland is the one that really sticks out. And for some reason I really remember having lunch at the table while she was listening to it on the giant black boombox on the microwave and I got to drink Strawberry Crush from those conical glasses with the impression bubbles in the glass. My sister Alex was usually there too, and I don't know if we were playing games or eating. But it's a distinctive album!
8. Pet Shop Boys, Very: This is a weird one. This album is BRIGHT FUCKING ORANGE. And it came out when I was in ninth grade. I had four close friends, three of whom were Mormon and the fourth was agnostic like me. We all used to go to their Mormon dances at their church once a month, since it was fun and something to do. Myself and a girl named Signee were the only females and we both loved this album, especially the first track.
The not-being-able-to-drink-caffeine-or-alcohol thing wasn't as weird at that age as it presumably would be now, and sadly, I did lose touch with everyone but the agnostic. (But fair enough, he and I have known each other since 3rd grade--we were the only ones in 8th grade to bring Clinton/Gore materials to poli sci class for extra credit...everyone else brought Bush/Quayle crap). I'm surprised we never dated but I had too much fun giving him shit for the drama queens he did date, all the while lusting after our sane intellectual friend Ellen.
9. Tori Amos, To Venus and Back: I bought this album to listen to in the car after two of my college girlfriends invited me to a Tori Amos concert. I'd never been a huge fan but I was familiar with most of her hits. Bizarrely, I had had a total of three strangers come up to my in life and declare that I was "like a little Tori Amos." So I was curious to see the lady live. (To this day I have no idea what they were smoking).
I still recall with much clarity being in the car while the two of them discussed their relationships woes, much of which I had been privy to in film class, but the details came flying out in the car. And so did the pronouns. I had had no idea that they were both lesbians and I have rarely felt as ignorant (but secretly so--I had managed not to reveal my stupidity or hetero assumptions) as I did at that moment. And I saw it clearly afterwards (of course she's gay!) but it never occurred to me at the time.
I've always been much better spotting the men than the ladies. I grew up on Erasure, for fuck's sake. Did you see that Pet Shop Boys entry up there, I ask you?
10. Trish Murphy, Rubies On the Lawn: Another Austin album, are you fucking kidding? Sorry, yes. But I got dumped before Valentine's Day and I was determined to see a Patty Griffin show at the Mercury. It was the first show I ever went to by myself and it was REALLY HARD. Like REALLY. Not only was I on my own but EVERYONE ELSE was paired up. Hard core. I shit you not, someone even came up to me, in a case of mistaken identity, saying, "Hey, aren't you Troy's cousin?" and I so desperately wanted to pretend that I was. (I guess I hadn't had enough to drink yet).
Opening for her were Abra Moore, Darden Smith and Trish Murphy. I enjoyed all three of them way more than Griffin, who insisted on playing actual romantic songs. (I was bitter, if that wasn't apparent. Who likes Valentine's Day anyway??). Murphy played a song that positively lit me up with its bouncy beat, called, "I Know What You Are." I was hooked. I wrote her the next day to find out what it was, and I've never seen her play it since, as her sets are usually acoustic and this one needs FUCK YOU DRUMS. It has a fun That Thing You Do! beat going on. I went to see her a bunch while I lived there and have not been able to see here since, though she does occasionally make it up here to Dallas. She often plays barefoot and has her dog at the show. She says all her voice coaches told her she was "singing wrong," but fucked if I can tell. I fucking love this whole album and it makes me want to go back to Austin right now.
Shit, looking back at this ten it's obvious to the casual observer (or even to the comatose observer, frankly) that not only did my year in Austin make a big musical impression, I seem to like the ladies with the guitars. Fair enough.