Let me take you back to 1996 for a bit. Young Bradley (or "Brad" as he was know then) is just beginning his lifelong obsession with music, specifically Rock N' Roll music. He's taped some of his mother's vinyl records like "Born to Run," "Bat Out of Hell" and Neil Young's "Decade" compilation. He loves those cassettes but soon learns there are other stations on the radio besides WKLH - the Milwaukee-based Classic Rock station. (A quick check of WKLH's "last 50 songs played" list reveals the usual suspects - Led Zeppelin, Mott the Hoople, Boston, the Stones, Petty, Floyd, Eddie Money, Journey, Whitesnake, Def Lep, Foreigner, Van Halen, etc., etc.) Brad starts inching up the dial and runs into what they call "alternative" stations. He hears what is currently his favorite band in the world, Metallica. What song, you may ask? Jesus, that was over twenty years ago. What the fuck? How am I supposed to remember that shit? Wait, I forgot that no one knows what the right answer is so I can just make it up. Never mind what I just said, I totally remember it like it was yesterday. It was METALLICA'S "FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS." Odd choice for a radio track as there's no lyrics for over two minutes, but fuck, who cares, it goddamn rocks! So, needless to say, Brad was locked in on this new station. He couldn't wait to hear what was next. It was a song that would rock Brad's young world called "Lithium." He would later learn that this was the song that played during perhaps THE GREATEST PERFORMANCE MTV HAS EVER SEEN (the "Rape Me" intro, Krist hurling his bass towards the heavens only to catch it with his face, clearly concussing himself in the process, or as they said back then, "getting the wind knocked out of him," and, the finishing touch, Dave Grohl's "Hi Axl" taunt to wrap it all up). What was this music, and who the fuck was Nirvana? Brad would later learn that Nirvana is one of his favorite bands ever and he would have the unfortunate pleasure of visiting Kurt's hometown of Aberdeen, WA multiple times. First with a future girlfriend who grew up there and later for other, more random reasons. But, Nirvana is not what I'm here to write about, we don't have the fucking time. So, let's jump to the next song Brad heard on the fateful day. What was it? This time I fucking remember for sure. Not sure why I can't recall the Metallica song, but it's probably because I already knew it so it didn't stand out to me. Anyways, next up on the "alternative" station was:
If Brad had any mind left to be blown after hearing "Lithium" then it was surely destroyed by "Machinehead." The energy, the guitar sounds, that voice, fuck, THAT VOICE, those nonsensical lyrics, the inverted chorus; damn, this shit was real. But, remember, this is 1996. Brad is quite young. How would I get more of this band called... "Bush?" What stupid bandname, but so is "the Beatles," so fuck it. If the music is good... And it was. But, I wanted to hear more. So, I did the only thing a child could do back then to hear a song again: listen to the radio nonstop for the next couple days, with a blank cassette in the brand-new Sony boombox (a CD player no less! Though we owned exactly zero CD's...) we got from my mom and stepdad cashing in their Camel cash. Oh, the 90's...
But, seriously, it took two days of sitting in front of the stereo every goddamn moment I wasn't at school, doing chores, eating, pooping, sleeping or playing baseball. It was excruciating. Then, FINALLY, it came back on! Sort of half-listening, I missed the first five or ten seconds as I scrambled to push the "red circle" and "play" buttons as quickly as possible. It was an art to get the whole fucking song, and I was a determined muthafucker. Every song that I missed the first few seconds on, I'd wait and wait til they announced it was coming up "after this break," and I would memorize the commercials so I could time it just right to have the song in its' entirety. I was unparalleled at this unique skill and eventually people would hit me up for copies of my cassettes since they were so much better than theirs (and because they were too lazy and unfocused to make their own) and had music they had never heard before, like Bush, Rage Against the Machine, The Wallflowers, Nirvana, R.E.M., etc.
Pissed that I missed the opening bars, I waited to hear it again. Another day passed. Then, they announced that Bush was coming up after the break and I wasn't going to miss it this time. The brief pause after the familiar commercial and record/play, here we go! Only it was different. It wasn't "Machinehead." I was stopped in my tracks. I loved this song even more. Wait, they have more than one good song? This was great news! Maybe I should save up my chores money and buy this cassette. Actually, fuck that, I wanted to get it on CD. I can do that now! But, what was this new song called? After the song ended and I started breathing and being conscious again, I heard the DJ say "COMEDOWN." I NEEDED this album, ASAP.
I asked for extra chores so I could slowly work my way towards the $15 or $16 I knew it would cost. I wasn't going to get there quickly enough for me. Cassettes were cheaper, so fuck it I could get that now. Off to Sam Goody in the Beaver Dam mall (RIP to both). I raced to the "B" section and grabbed the first Bush tape I saw. I was so excited! I was going to get those songs at home and whenever I goddamn wanted now. Except, in late 1996, Bush had TWO albums available and I picked... the wrong one. Don't get me wrong, I love "Razorblade Suitcase" as much as the next guy (as long as that guy like fucking loves "Razorblade Suitcase" as much as I do. OK, chances are I love "Razorblade Suitcase" more than the next guy, unless the next guy is Gavin Rossdale and, in which case, I can't believe I'm next to Gavin Rossdale! He's so talented... and sexy...) but it definitely does not have "Machinehead" or "Comedown" on it. I was so bummed. I'd have to start saving all over again...
In the next few weeks, I slowly fell in love with "Razorblade Suitcase" but more rapidly fell in love with some song called "One Headlight" by the Wallflowers. I found out it was Bob Dylan's son and I was in. Although, Jakob sounded like if Bob and Tom Petty had a kid... Which, I know, not possible outside of a "Junior" type scenario, but that's what it fucking sounded like. I got distracted and as soon as I had my $16 I convinced my mom to drive me to Shopko where I could buy... "Bringing Down the Horse" by the Wallflowers, on CD. My very first CD! I had my Bush on cassette and that would get me through the next few weeks as would this Wallflowers record, which would go on to be one of my favorite records ever. Not top 10 or anything obviously, but definitely top 25 or 30.
Meanwhile, my sister had heard of Bush, perhaps because I couldn't stop talking about them or playing the songs I taped off the radio on repeat, between spins of my brand new CD. Or, perhaps she saw one of the videos on MTV. Kids probably don't know this, but MTV used to play music videos. I found many a great artists via this extinct medium (RIP MTV as a music channel). So, now she wanted in on this band. We saved our money, headed to Walmart and were gonna get us some Bush! But, it didn't make sense for us both to buy "Sixteen Stone." I wanted it badly since I already had "Razorblade Suitcase" and had been jonesing for this album for about two or three months, at least. But, she was older and had the final say. She was buying "Sixteen Stone." Dejected, but determined to buy a CD, I purchased my second copy of "Razorblade Suitcase," this time on CD. Why, you may ask? Because I have Asperger's and once I decide I'm going to do something, I have to do it or I will go insane. And, I had decided I was buying a Bush CD that day, so I did. I dubbed my sis's copy of "Sixteen Stone" but worked so hard to convince myself that "Razorblade Suitcase" was better. It was not, but man, did I try hard to believe it was. It's like WHAT MARK KOZELEK SAID IN "HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN": "When we were kids, we hated things our sisters did..." Sisters were not cool and conversely, neither were little brothers. For years, "Sixteen Stone" was "my sister's record" so I couldn't love it the same. It made no sense and makes even less now, thinking back on it. But, it was what it was. Eventually, months and months later, I had badgered my sister enough that she gave me the CD. Finally, it was mine! Plus, she had to make room on her shelf for that hot, debut record from this up and coming band called Hanson...
Now that I finally owned the damn record, it was one of my favorites. "Comedown," "Machinehead," "Little Things," "Everything Zen" and, of course, what quickly became my favorite song "Glycerine." Again, watching MTV, I SAW THIS PERFORMANCE OF "GLYCERINE" and was never the same. The second best performance on MTV after Nirvana's "Lithium" took place at MTV's Spring Break and was shot during a hurricane watch. MTV told the band they needed to stop playing as the rains came pouring down. They would be risking electrocution and it was unsafe to continue. The band retreated to drier spaces but Gavin said "fuck it" and went back out for one more song. You can tell during the performance, which even now brought a tear to my eye, that Gavin realizes the magnitude of this moment and how special this is, even sitting on a chord while the crowd slowly crescendos in appreciation. It's a magical moment and I've never forgotten that. To me, that's part of this album. As are all the hours I spent trying to tape "Machinehead" and "Comedown," the disappointment of buying the wrong cassette, my sister buying this album so I couldn't (even though it made no difference since I had a taped copy and could borrow her copy), the album being one of my earliest introductions to music beyond classic rock, all of it is packed in there.
And none of that is to mention Gavin himself, who young Brad thought was the coolest guy on the planet. I mean, that voice (I learned much later that he was English, I just thought he "sang cool"). Some years later while learning the guitar ("Glycerine" was the first song I ever learned), I was so disappointed to learn that my voice was not raspy and sexy like Gavin's. It broke my heart. I just wanted to sound like that. I could get my Epiphone Les Paul Special II to sound kind of like his guitars sounded but my voice was so "clean." I didn't understand why I couldn't sing like him. Found the trick later in life (lots of bourbon, cigarettes and good old fashioned hard livin') and I've been pleased as punch that I can finally sound more like Gavin. The other point of contention was his hair. He had wavy hair and mine was Native American straight (damn you, genes!). Also, he was handsome and I'm, well, pretty damn good looking but I'm not a model-looking muthafucker like Gavin. Now, lyrically, I feel like I've got him since so many of his songs seemingly mean gobbledygook. Now I'm sure, to him, this makes sense but here's the lyrics to one of my favorite songs off "Razorblade Suitcase," "A Tendency to Start Fires":
Strange zoo, strange blaze
Douse my head in flames
Coming through got to get some
Happiness is a bad son
Forceps, kitchen tools
Deconstruct your every move
Feels better when you're here
Guillotine just got here
Back bend, back break
Please yourself to make it rate
Live it all at your own cost
So many just got lost
Leaning to fire
Leaning to fire
Leaning to fire
Here's tomorrow man
Best of my ability
Chasing what I can
Here's tomorrow man
Umm... Yeah. But, I can't tell you how many times I've screamed along to this song. I just have no clue what any of that's supposed to mean, if anything at all. It could be the Asperger's, as many lyrics that are metaphorical float over my head, but those don't seem like they fall into that category. Anyhow, I'm nitpicking. I love Gavin Rossdale and have idolized him since 1996. His voice, his songs, his look; I mean, come on, look at this man: