7. SUNNY DAY REAL ESTATE, LP2

 

In 1995, I wasn't listening to Snoop Dogg like the rest of my otherwise Godly (not to mention 100% white) classmates.  I was doing everything I could to keep my mind off my mother and my mother off my mind.  I was publishing 'zines, screen printing t-shirts, making the all-state basketball team (much to my embarrassment), skateboarding every day (much to my pleasure), and trying to lead wayward souls to the Lord through my grunge band's wannabe art rock.  I was finally graduating from high school.  I was eighteen.  

I had a girlfriend who was four years younger than me.  I guess that would have made me a statutory rapist, had we decided to do the normal teenage thing and fornicate.  Normal teenagers, we were not.  Christian teenagers, we were, which roughly translated to me repressing my intense carnal desires for this high school sweetheart of mine (who later took my virginity and became my fiancee, wife and ex-wife, over the course of the next 13 years) and channeling them in the direction of internet pornography and other secretive private affairs which led to a nearly suicidal guilt complex before I reached the age of 20.  

I was still in shock from the death of my mother, who succumbed to ovarian cancer the previous year.  This was the same lovely woman who rewarded me with Transformers and Gi-Joes when I memorized chapters of the Bible; who, years before Weird Al, sang me scripture verses put to the melodies of her favorite 50s doo-wop songs; who, "put on the armor of God" for me every morning before school and laid hands on me in prayer for every skater injury I sustained; who, while singing sweetly, "happy fruit Sunday to you", brought me ice cream scoops placed in freshly halved papayas on Sunday mornings when I tried to get out of going to church by faking a particularly devastating case of constipation.  

My mother was amazing.  People like this weren't supposed to die, or at least die this slowly right before their kid's eyes.  An instantaneous death by car or plane crash would have been a relief, in comparison.  Did Jesus really have to take her with a disease that ate her alive from the inside out over the course of a full year on a cot in the middle of our living room, while an endless stream of pastors, priests, and faith healers cast out her demons and demanded her full recovery?  This, I did not understand.     

My young life was fraught with heavy emotion.  My musical tastes followed suit.  

The heaviest alternative band on the radio were The Smashing Pumpkins.  As usual, I attributed their ear-shattering guitar feedback to their obvious infatuation with Satan himself.  But unlike the rest of the popular artists that dabbled with the Dark Master (i.e. all of them), The Smashing Pumpkins had wildly psychedelic lyrics about rockets, angels, and bullets with butterfly wings.  I was in love with them, though I was still a decade-and-a-half away from fully understanding mind-expanding psychedelia.  

My first car wreck was me veering off the road into a ditch.  Not because of alcohol (I would have to wait another 7 years to blame any of my life's problems on booze), but because I was so ferociously drumming along to SP's "Quiet" on the steering wheel, that I lost control of the vehicle.  Possibly as part of my rehab program, a buddy of mine told me to give this band called Sunny Day Real Estate a listen.  "The drums are the best thing ever!  The music is this brand new thing called FIMO!"  The album was called Diary.  The genre was (and still is, unfortunately) actually called "emo".  Yes, as in "emotional".  And the drumming was the best thing ever.  I was still about five years away from owning my first drum set, but somewhere deep inside, a little light bulb flickered on.  

The jewel case booklet was a collection of starkly rendered paintings portraying those old wooden Little People in various sad predicaments - dying in battle, in a house fire and on the operating table.  The introspective, gloomy lyrics were screamed in the most polarizing faux-British accent ever.  The guitars were heavy at times like the Pumpkins, but were played loosely (or perhaps not as well) and sounded rougher around the edges.  It was hard for mere mortals to tolerate.  I was pretty sure you'd never hear these guys played on modern rock radio following a hit by some white metalheads rapping with a token black DJ scratching in the background.  I loved it instantly.  

I've loved a lot of bands in my lifetime.  I didn't just love Sunny Day Real Estate.  I was obsessed with them.  They fulfilled every conscious and subconscious criteria for me.  The singer especially.  Jeremy Enigk was a Christian.  A CHRISTIAN!  I didn't even have to pray for this guy to accept the faith of my forefathers and change the world with his testimony, like I did with every other secular band I loved.

Jerry was alive and well during my formative era of rabid music ingestion, and so was my hatred for everything the Grateful Dead represented (evidently, along with being a "sexual", "drug" and "alcohol" virgin, I was also a "able to appreciate anything remotely important about music counterculture" virgin).  I could relate to the Deadhead's passion though, whether I acknowledged it or not.  For that tiny blip in time between my "Quiet" ditch wreck and Radiohead coming along and making everything I previously loved seem immature/obsolete, I followed Jeremy wherever he would lead me.  Fortunately, this was usually just the two hour drive to his Seattle hometown and back or I wouldn't have had enough money for gas.  I even bootlegged SDRE t-shirts in my dad's woodshed: distressed Courier font; definitely not tie-dyed.

Needless to say, I was one of the first/only customers waiting in line at Tower Records' legendary Midnight Monday new release party on November 6, 1995. Sunny Day's controversially-overdue sophomore album LP2 (aka The Pink Album) was finally hitting the shelves. The night was a win/win for me because Alice In Chains' "Three-Legged Dog" album came out the same day. I bought them both.  It took me close to six months to even break the shrinkwrap on the A.I.C. C.D.  Why bother?  My Discman was previously monopolized. 

I was quite taken aback when I first ripped the white-disc-with-the-cryptic-housefly-image from the all-pink-jewel-case-packaging and shoved it into my car stereo at roughly 12:04am on Tuesday, November 7 for the long drive back to my dad's house in the country. The most-polarizing band in my Christian high school music snob clique just went further polar. Diary's hooky melodies and Pixies-indebted dynamics seemed almost Top-40 catchy compared to the sprawling, proggy art experiments (complete with gobbledygook song titles like "J'Nuh") that made up the bulk of LP2.  Most alarmingly, Jeremy sounded even more like a screaming British toddler on this record than the last, which was truly saying something.  What he wasn't truly saying was anything remotely close to witnessing for Christ, which was quite a letdown to me.  At first.  Like any good Christian Soldier, I marched onward. Within a few weeks of relentless absorption, I boldly declared LP2 my favorite album of all time. 

In retrospect, through The Pink Album, it's easy to see (a primrose view, if you will) how important music was to me not only as a source of solace and inspiration, but as an identity.  I was willing to painstakingly force myself to like something if it was initially unlistenable, if it meant driving a deeper wedge between me and the mainstream culture of the day.  All my friends around me were doing the same thing at the same time.  We lived in our own hip bubble.  We weren't really rebelling against anything we were immediately surrounded with.  I mean, no one WE would be caught-dead-associating-with had Smash Mouth stickers on their car. Maybe this is the root of why all of these records are so hard to listen to a couple decades later.  I don't feel the all-consuming power in unfocused teenage rebellion anymore, I just hear music that wasn't as expertly composed and performed as, say, Steely Dan. And even Wynona Ryder liked Smash Mouth on that one episode of Larry Sanders.  

 

Or maybe, to quote LCD Soundsystem's "Losing My Edge", I am losing my edge.