Friday, July 12, 2013

Carrying On Through It All

At 16, I'd hit a strange crisis. Nearly always the too-sensitive misfit all through grade school, I'd managed to make it to high school and reinvent things for myself - new friends, an eye on an actual career in the arts, happiness through music - and then my parents dropped the m-bomb.

"We're moving," my mom said. And it wasn't an across-Houston move like it had been when I was in second grade. It was an epic move, a culture shock move, a move that couldn't have come at a worse time for me. From huge Texas metropolis to...a tiny central Pennsylvania town. Just before my junior year of high school.

The cons: being ripped out of a circle of friends I'd amassed, a school I actually liked, and a city I was getting to know. The pros were difficult to get a handle on at first, but one of them came via that new-to-us portal to the world: pay TV. Though I'd gotten doses of MTV and other channels via my friends' access to cable in Houston (and I was getting earfuls of my mom jumping up and down about "full frontal nudity of men AND women!" on late-night Cinemax among our new bonanza of channels), the true revelations were through MTV I'd watch late into the night the summer before my first day of high school in a new town. Monty Python episodes. Old Monkees episodes. Comedy hosted by Mario Joyner. 120 Minutes. MTV News. That was 1989.

The real music explosion didn't happen for me until I went to a pre-college art program in Providence, Rhode Island, the following summer. Making up for lost time and a lack of diploma-worthy credits made for a year without any art classes that left me antsy and anguished, so my family sprung for six weeks on the side of College Hill. Along with the 2D, 3D, and drawing classes came proximity to music clubs (which were off-limits to us, as we were underage - not that I didn't try to go), and easier access to recorded music. Even the college bookstore sold tapes. I was in heaven.

Trying to pinpoint exactly when I'd heard of The Stone Roses is tricky. Chances are I'd read a blurb about them in Rolling Stone (or maybe it was this one), saw The Stone Roses cassette for sale in the school store, and picked it up as part of my continuing musical self-education. They were being touted as the band of the rave scene coming out of England at the time, but their sound was bigger than that - especially this classic on the album:

The album was amazing, and I kept coming back to it, all through the Happy Mondays twisting melons, Stereo MC's elevating minds, and Jesus Jones being right there right then...but waiting for the Roses to play in America, or to release new material, proved to be a real-life exercise in waiting for Godot. I resigned myself to listening to the album on my Walkman whenever I could, playing the tape some (but not too much) on the stereo in the glass shop at college as I gathered and worked hot glass, and assuming their edgy glory had dissolved into drug-addled obscurity, their talents having burned so hot they were consumed in the flames.

It's taken one weekend for me to get back to high school and the Roses. One book at a different college bookstore has brought it all back and changed how I think about the band. That debut album The Stone Roses, a rock shot in the dark for a teenager like me, was actually a major bridge between The Smiths' melancholy and the explosion of Britpop as embodied by Oasis and Blur, yet it more than stands on its own. What I've learned so far from Simon Spence's The Stone Roses: War And Peace, however, is that it's incredible how much damage the wrong manager can do to a band...but there's a degree to which the band did it to themselves. The book gets so lost in the court cases the band was involved in concerning one of the worst recording contracts in history, one considers it a miracle any of the Roses lived to tell the tale and to reunite in 2011. Spence's book also assumes its primary readers will be British - for instance, one not in the know is left to fill in the holes about how momentous the Roses' Spike Island performance really was.

What the book has readers like me doing is going back to the music that started it all. Though Ian Brown, John Squire, Mani, and Reni are likely taking their reunion one gig at a time, they seem to be doing pretty well with it thus far, even exhibiting some feistiness to the press. Hopefully, we here on this side of the pond will finally welcome them sometime in the next year. 'Til then, I'll be giving the songs a bunch more listens online - I can't trust my cassette-eating tape deck with the old tape.

Update, 7/13: Seems they did actually come to America around the time they were imploding (check the dates in May '95). Unfortunately, their disintegration came through in the shows, which culminated in what was arguably one of the worst gigs of all time back in England. Ouch.

They also DID make it to the U.S. this year, apparently playing to a much smaller crowd than they'd get in the UK, Australia, or Japan. My apologies for not looking into this further; having to maneuver around family outings is a little tough right now. By the time some more American dates are added, there should be more people who know who they are.

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