Day 18: Philadelphia, USA, 30 March 2020, 10:30 a.m. EST
The view from my bubble to the streets below.
There was a TV movie in the 70s starring John Travolta about a lonely teenage kid who lived in a hermetically-sealed bubble because his body couldn’t produce antibodies, thus he was isolated and disallowed any human contact out of fear such contact would infect him with something his weak immune system couldn’t fight. Like all TV movies of that era, it was cheesy and silly, but now, after 18 days of complete isolation in my Philadelphia loft, during which I haven’t come in contact with another human being and I clean, scrub, and disinfect every possible inch of the place, I feel lonely and isolated like Travolta’s character in the film. Sadly, 70s teen babe extraordinaire, Glynnis O’Conner, clad in a bikini, is not waiting on the other side of my bubble like it was for Travolta’s character. That lucky, disco-dancing Vinnie Barbarino creep.
It’s Monday, March 30, 2020, and the world is in a place it’s not been in 100 years, paralyzed by a viral pandemic that is spreading like a wildfire and infecting people with such an alarming virulence that governments worldwide have ordered people to create their own bubble like mine and not come in contact with other people for…well, for as long as it takes to stop the spread of COVID-19, the villainous coronavirus. In the USA it’s killing about 1.7% of people who contract it, which is alarming mostly for the simple reason it spreads rather easily and the tally of the afflicted is growing rapidly. Too rapidly. Since I went into isolation the numbers no longer makes sense except to report, as a former medical scientist myself, that it is NOT GOOD.
I’m bearing witness to this unprecedented madness high above in my top-floor loft with its view of Center City Philly below, normally filled noisily with people coming and going in great numbers on foot or bikes or in cars, but now it’s virtually empty. People are bunkered in their homes waiting out this pandemic, and I hope, like me, they are concerned about what kind of world we’ll face when we finally emerge from our self-imposed home incarceration. Our economy is in shambles, our investment portfolios—for those of us fortunate enough to have them in the first place—are decimated, and our futures are ambiguous if only because we’ve no idea when this virus will run its course or scientists will find a vaccine that protects us from its ravages.
I am lucky in that I don’t need to leave my apartment for any reason. Thanks to Amazon and Instacart I can order groceries and home supplies and it all gets delivered to my door. I have provisioned myself the last three weeks with enough food to last months. Secondly, my company is in good financial standing so I work from home every day and the paychecks will keep clearing for the foreseeable future. I also have a decent amount of savings and credit to keep me afloat for a very long time. Moreover, I was always somewhat of a doomsday prepper, so I have an ample stash of emergency rations, medical supplies, and other critical survival must-haves in my supply closet. I have three powerful HEPA air filters that keep my loft free of dust and allergens. I even have solar panels I can mount in my south-facing massive windows where the sun passes for 12-15 hours a day. I have a decent-sized battery storage unit that can keep all of my critical electronics charged if power should ever be cut. I even have solar-charged lamps and lanterns to light my place for the same reason. I prepared for this outcome years ago, honestly never even imagining it would happen, and yet I prepared all the same.
I could bunker in my apartment for a long while like Charlton Heston’s character in the film The Omega Man. How weird to see such a science fiction plot finally come true in my lifetime. As I kid I watched that film and had nightmares. Guess what? I am living in that nightmare right now. COVID-19 won’t kill even a small number of humans, but it will infect a great number, and not knowing its true potency at this time is the cause of so much uncertainty and fear. We just don’t know how deadly and dangerous this virus will be, nor do we know how to combat it medically. Thus we wait.
The first 10 days of isolation had me wallowing in anxiety out of fear I’d caught the virus while flying home from Spain, but as the distance grows between my last human contact and the present, coupled with the fact I feel healthy and virus-free, I’ve calmed down and resigned myself to remaining in isolation until there’s a vaccine. I am an active, fit, and mostly-healthy 56-year-old man, but I do have type-2 diabetes and an aortic aneurysm, so I will not tempt fate. Catching the disease at my age is a crap shoot, and although based on the stats for my age group that I have a 98.2% chance of surviving infection by COVID-19, I do not want to temp fate as the 1.8% who didn’t survive it. Bottom line: I don’t want to catch this bug, and I won’t if I stay isolated.
How strange are these times? It’s difficult to process what’s happening with any kind of sane, rational, and coherent thoughts. All I can do is survive it and hope that I can emerge safe from this in a few months.
Day One: Valencia, Spain, 11 March 2020, 13:16 GMT+1
Proof of life, 11 March 2020, Valencia, Spain
So it’s March 11, 2020 and I am in Spain, which is rapidly becoming the next cluster of ever-increasing coronavirus infections, although in Valencia, where I am living, the rate has been relatively slow. However I have decided to go back to Philadelphia tomorrow as I’m worried if I wait a week or two longer I will be stuck here as I am sure, like Italy, Spain will be barred as a starting point to travel to the USA. Spain has been, as far as I can tell, extremely lackadaisical in handling the containment of the virus’s spread, so it’s no wonder the numbers are bounding upward at such an alarming rate. The US is the same, and I imagine in a week or two both countries will be at the low end of a pandemic.
I’d rather be safe at home in my already well-prepared apartment in Philly than here. I’m not exactly Joe the Survivalist, but I readily admit I have been a prepper for years and my my apartment is well stocked with food and other survival provisions that can keep me comfortably ensconced in my home for a month or two if the need arises. So luckily the window is still open to get my ass back to the USA tomorrow. If I’d have waited another few days I am certain I’d be fucked.
Tonight I am catching a Renfe AVE train to Madrid, where I’ll spend the night at the airport Marriott, and then fly home to Philly tomorrow at noon Spanish time, arriving home at 4 pm EST. Madrid is rapidly becoming the epicenter of the coronavirus infection in Spain, so I’m consciously aware of being highly vigilant in avoiding personal contact or large crowds.
En Route to Madrid, 11 Mar 20 18:30 GMT+1
Moving through Spain at 300 km/hr on the glorious Alta Velocidad aka AVE train from Valencia to Madrid. I’m in Coche 9 and it’s pretty empty. People seem wary and just a little concerned, but no one is running down the streets in a Chicken Little panic. It all feels creepy like a dream after eating spicy food; humanity is reacting to this unprecedented crisis with fear, yes, but also with some curiosity as this is so fucking weird what’s happening, and how astonishingly fast it’s gone into the red worldwide. The World Health Organization has declared it a worldwide pandemic. The zombie apocalypse is upon us. OK, most people who catch this will recover fine, but people are going to die, and that’s shitty. I hope I am one of the lucky ones.
Madrid Atocha Train Station, 20:00 GMT+1
You can sense the growing, “It’s every muchacho for himself” right now as people are avoiding even looking at each other, as if they can mind meld the damn virus with thoughts. I caught the first cab I saw and the driver looked healthy and safe. He told me no one is riding cabs in Madrid. I told him to wash his hands and don’t take on any sick looking fares.
Marriott Near the Airport: 12 March 2020, 04:00 GMT+1
I left my hotel TV on CNN and awoke to the news that Trump has suspended all Euros from coming to America on Friday at midnight. This doesn’t affect my ability to get home so I am pleased. But I praise myself quietly for deciding to go home before it got weird. It’s just gotten weird. I had a mild anxiety attack at the thought of being stuck in Spain, but it passed when CNN clarified that I’d be able to fly home in a few hours.
Day 2: Madrid-Barajas Airport, 10:10 GMT+1
I’m through security and found an isolated seat where I can hide until my flight boards. Lots of Americans are scrambling for flights home even though Trump’s ban is only for Europeans, but everyone, like me, feels the door will be shut in a few days even for us. I’m feeling mild anxiety as I just want to feel safe and at home. If I do get sick I’d rather be in my bed, in my home, so my only goal is to get on this flight and get back to Philly by 4:00 EST today. Once home I’ll at least have my familiar environs. Being stuck in a foreign country during the early stages of this zombie apocalypse has been, to say the least, surreal and a bit scary. My odds of making it home without catching this motherfucking virus are probably 30% yes, 70% no. I trust my hale immune system and my ability to heal, but I am still a bit wary.
Philadelphia, 4:47 PM EST
Eight hours later I made it home. The journey ends where it began. I’m putting myself on a self-induced 14-day quarantine at home. My flight was packed with Americans heading home before Trump’s European flight ban goes into effect, even though technically Americans can still fly home from Europe after Friday. No one was taking chances. I heard lots of coughing and sniffling, so I’m assuming I may experience a COVID-19 infection. I’d say the odds are in favor I don’t, but I want to be safe.
Day 11: Philadelphia, 21 March 2020, 9:10 AM EST
My self-isolated state has encompassed the last ten days since I returned March 12. I’ve had no contact with another human since then, and as of yet I haven’t exhibited any symptoms associated with COVID-19. I was not only lucky to get out of Spain when I did, but even luckier that I probably wasn’t exposed to the virus on the flight home. I will hold off celebrating this fact for another week or so, as I may just be carrying it but I’m asymptomatic. Until next Thursday I will not take any chances infecting others by emerging from my apartment. Even after that date I’ll probably stay isolated for up to another month if necessary.
Philly has handled the crisis well. Restaurants still deliver food even though their dining rooms are essentially closed, moreover through Acme Foods and Whole Foods/Amazon I have been able to order groceries that get delivered to my door. Also, in my “doomsday” closet I stockpiled about 6 months of emergency rations (Army MREs and Mountain House freeze-dried meals) a few years ago when I got all “prepper aware” while recuperating from a broken arm and not having much else to do but prepare for the zombie apocalypse. Smart move; I can literally remain in my apartment for months if necessary. It helps I am wealthy enough to afford such luxuries and that my job is not in jeopardy, and even so, I can live well for quite a while without a paycheck coming in at this point. However, my company is fine, and though things may slow down, we should weather this storm well.
The last week was a difficult and anxiety-ridden period as I saw the world outside going nutty over this virus. I decided after the second day to stop watching or reading the news because it only added to my anxiety about whether I was sick or not. I swear, there was a three-day period where every stomach rumbling or allergy stuffiness episode had me convinced I was ill with COVID-19. The ensuing panic would subside only after I realized, rationally, that I was fine, but in those minutes of frenetic panic I’d hyperventilate myself into a shortness-of-breath episode. Of course I realized I could breath deeply and that I was just in a state of too much oxygen being breathed in and not enough carbon dioxide coming out, which feels differently than the shortness of breath caused by pneumonia; my brain’s breathing mechanism realizes the oxygen to CO² ratio is out of whack, ergo it slows breathing to allow the excess O² to get absorbed and the resulting CO² to exhale, which makes me feel like I cannot breathe, but of course I am, just slowly. I wonder if I am the only fool to hyperventilate himself into thinking I had COVID-19. Of course, after each of these very minor and silly episodes I was fine. No fever, No cough. No weakness or fatigue. I was not ill with COVID-19; I was just being a silly billy running around gasping for the air I was actually breathing in fine. My lungs were not damaged or incapable of fully expanding.
Sleeping was difficult for a few days, mainly from the time change returning from Spain, but now I’m doing fine. Last night’s sleep felt refreshing, the first time I’ve awoken and actually felt like I had restful sleep. Based on what I know about the incubation period for COVID-19, I still have many days to go before I can feel confident I didn’t catch it, but each day without symptoms is a good sign, and the fact 10 days symptom-free have passed since my last human exposure makes me feel less anxiety than each previous day.
My greater concern is more scientific. Is it better we become exposed to the virus and develop immunities, or avoid it altogether? I prefer not to catch it as I am diabetic and also have an aortic aneurysm, and although I have both conditions well under control, and I am physically fit from lots of bicycling and long hikes, I’d rather not test myself by getting sick with this damn virus. However, over the long term it may behoove me to suffer through an infection as having immunity now for this early strain may benefit me if the virus evolves into something deadlier that I’d not have to face if I were immune. I am sure every epidemiologist in the world is positing the same theory. Yes, we do not want to expose those who are vulnerable to the virus to its ravages once infected, but maybe it is, long term, in the best interest of humanity that our young become immune to it. Natural selection is a motherfucker and viruses play the game as well as any piece of genetic material in our world. They are clever, adaptive, and sinister little Darwinistic machines.
This leads to an insane but true thought. Is our compassion for, and protection of, the weakest among us the right strategy? I mean, sure, isolate everyone over 60 or those under 60 with underlying health conditions. But for a vast majority of people it may be better for them to catch this virus and suffer through its infection into their system. Some 80-90% of people who have caught this virus only experienced mild symptoms and seem to have recovered fine. Now their immune systems are prepared to fight any new hybrid of this genetic code that tries to attack them in the future, moreover they will never be carriers, and hence vectors, of it again.
My guess is that scientists feel we are close enough to getting a vaccine that we can absorb the massive cost of isolating humanity in the short term if we are in fact rolling out a vaccine within the next year. I certainly hope that is the case. If not, how long can people be isolated before it’s no longer economically feasible? And since 80-90% of those infected recover fine, then let people catch it, carry on with life, and this thing will die of its own loneliness seeking hosts that don’t exist.
Anyhow. More later.
Philadelphia, 21 March 2020, 23:10 PM EST; Day 11, Part II
It was a good and bad day in isolation. Good in that I ordered groceries that will be delivered tomorrow by Acme Foods, bad in that I was edgy and nervous all day for no apparent reason other than I’m still unsure I won’t get sick. I know I should be more existential and even oblivious to this fact, that even if I get sick it will be mild, but I am so completely fearing getting sick that my squirrelley obsessiveness is starting to get irrationally stupid and panic-laden. What, my neck hurts from working at my desk all day? OMG, COVID-19! Then comes the five-minute check: no fever, no fatigue, no sore throat, no cough…all right, I’m fine. Breathe deeply and get my pulse down. There you go. Crisis over. I’m a nutty motherfucker, I freely admit.
This COVID-19 is a hypochondriac’s nightmare, and as everyone who knows me will attest, I am a wildly neurotic and laughably chronic hypochondriac. I have expended more adrenalin worrying about being sick, infirm, or dying than any ten human beings. What’s even funnier is that when I actually get sick I’m the calmest person in the room. But anticipating getting sick? That sickens me to the point of near paralysis. Seriously, I’m a goof.
I sit here at my desk in a state of calm resignation that I just have to let the chips fall where they may with this whole COVID-19 coronavirus shit. I mean, every day a human being is alive there’s a great risk of getting in a deadly car crash or other unexpected accident, or dying from one disease or other, or a fucking pile of space junk can crash down on one’s head. Life is a crap shoot.
As my 9th grade Biology teacher, the great Alfreda Buckner, who was also a trained mortician, once told us when we whined about homework, “Children, you don’t have to do anything in life you don’t want, except die. We all have to die.” That, in Mrs. Buckner’s terse words, is the essence of evolution. Mrs. Buckner was a brilliant woman. Like all living beings, we humans exist for a while, then we don’t exist. We can fight to exist longer, or not fight to exist longer, but in the end we all have to cease to exist. There are millions of ways for humans to die, but in the end we all die. C’est la vie. Worrying about this fact doesn’t ever change the ultimate outcome. I only wish I were zen enough to fully comprehend this simple fact; I’m not. I’m a hyperventilating mess right now.
Luckily, we humans have consciousness so I can record my thoughts for posterity during this weird turn of human events and let people understand how I, a nobody and about as anonymous as any other bloke, suffered through this monumentally unprecedented modern human experience. The world has literally shut down and people are bunkered in their homes awaiting salvation from this pandemic. I wonder how many others are suffering from the panic and anxiety that has left me reeling on occasion. When this is all over and we go back to living as we always have—if that is ever possible—then we can all have a laugh about it, or tell a few amusing anecdotes and stories about our experiences.
What keeps lingering in my hypochondriac panic is this rational thought: these past decades we’ve seen one of the largest mass extinctions the planet has ever experienced as countless species have ceased to exist due to environmental changes or simply through natural selection. Is that what humanity is facing? Has nature decided to punish us for our misuse of the planet the last few hundred years? Have we done this to ourselves and sealed our own doom? Crazy question, yes, but one that obviously has to be asked. Maybe this virus is just the first wave. Maybe the shit has hit the proverbial fan and the next wave will be devastating.
But I fucking hope it’s not true. However this fact has haunted me in my isolation and panic the last ten days.
The origin of the term “shoegazer” in the early 1990s by the British music press was a pejorative meant to slag the middle-class kids who comprised most of the bands, who, when playing live at clubs, seemed more obsessed staring at the floor while managing banks of guitar effects pedals than looking out at the audience. Of course the audience was comprised of middle-class kids high on hashish and X who dug the effects-laden, dreamy, ethereal noise by the bands on the stage. The music was a loud, swirling mess of new hi-tech sound effects mixed with a definite lo-fi, garage band ethos, with the lead singers almost whispering the lyrics over this cacophony of rich, fuzzy-buzzing sounds. The more potent designer drugs available at the time certainly added to the overall psychedelic ambiance at clubs, and for a few years the posh, slightly oblivious shoegazers offered an alternative to the “Madchester” sound embraced by the hooligans and working class club denizens. In the middle 90s the Shoegazers were made obsolete by the Brit Pop bands Oasis, Blur, Suede, and the like.
In America in the early 90s, Grunge, a more male-dominated and aggressive hybrid of Punk and Hard Rock, was the predominant new style that captured popular fancy after Nirvana’s epic “Smells Like Teen Spirit” exploded in late 1991, but in the UK the Shoegazers, eminently more feminine in their approach and yet fueled by loud, feedback-laden guitars and introspective, dream-like lyricism, definitely provided a delicious alternative to the Seattle boys who powered Grunge’s ascent. I honestly enjoyed the music of both scenes but for different reasons and for different personal circumstances; why limit one’s self to a single choice?
Grunge had very few, if any, female leaders, while the Shoegazers, even if led by guys, took great lengths to explore the female psyche in both content and feeling, which gave the movement a much more sensual and erotic feeling than the hyper-testosterone noise of Grunge with its hirsute rocker boys and all their masculine angst. The Shoegazer bands Lush and My Bloody Valentine were probably the best of the lot at making beautiful noise powered by this ethereal feminine power. Moreover, gay power was greatly represented by superb bands like Kitchens of Distinction, which added to the diverse and beautiful flavor of the movement, proving that Rock wasn’t just about hairy dudes flexing their man parts and hyper machismo on stage. Shogazers offered a softer and more sensitive feeling to its ambiance, and yet still rocked loudly and proudly in all that beautiful noise.
I’d like to present what I think are the best examples of the sound in no particular order, but some songs simply stand out more than others and exemplify why Shoegazer music was so fucking fabulous in the strange and wonderful early 1990s that was my life in transition from living in Europe through the middle-to-late 80s and now back home in the new decade, where I felt like a weird alien in my homeland and had great difficulty adjusting to the American way of life after years of being blithely oblivious to its culture. Good “Alternative” music and the book Generation X by Douglas Copeland helped me navigate these strange new waters.
I’d always kept an open mind and embraced music from a wide and diverse blend of genres, especially from what was coming out of London, Manchester, and greater Europe, while at the same time, thanks to SPIN Magazine, being jacked into the American Indie and Alternative scene with as much gusto. I never felt beholden to one band or genre or sound, and in fact found great pleasure in mixing and matching my listening playlists with as many weirdly diverse sounds as I possibly could. I first heard many of the great Shoegazer songs while watching MTV’s epic “Alternative” show 120 Minutes, which thankfully embraced the same weird music ethos as I did in 1990 when I returned to the the USA. 120 Minutes introduced early Grunge and Shoegazer bands with equal aplomb and respect in the early 90s, offering the fans to decide what to love and what to hate, just two more styles in a large and diverse mix of yummy alternatives to the deluge of boring and vapid mainstream crap pumped out on the airwaves on a daily basis.
So, where to begin? If I were to introduce one song by one band that captures the Shoegazer ethos perfectly, My Bloody Valentine is, hands-down, the band, and their song Come In Alone is the song. It’s a breathlessly sensual, joyously weird, brilliantly loud, gloriously messy mélange of everything that made Shoegazer music so goddamn great. If you’ve ever been high on X you know that powerful feeling to touch another human being while reality melts into a swirling, churning, bubbling mess of sights, sounds, and feelings too weird and beautiful to imagine sober. You find yourself reaching out to feel the flesh of someone, anyone, in your general vicinity, and that touch becomes an electrified and nearly orgasmic explosion of synapses firing in hyper-drive, and it’s not quite sexual and yet not asexual either, but somewhere wildly, weirdly in-between, as if you’re doing some kind of hyper-naughty Vulcan mind meld powered by your loins as much as your brain. You realize, high on this crazy nutty drug, how much another human being means to you at that moment, how fucking beautiful it is to touch them and share that feeling. This is X at its best. And this song captures that amazing feeling.
My Bloody Valentine – Come In Alone (1991)
In a very close second is this gorgeous mess of sound and feeling by the girl-dominated band Lush, proving that the exertion of lady parts and feelings can power a Rock song to utter nirvana with as much brilliance as any boy band. These ladies made some superbly sensual music in their heyday, music with which to blaze up and touch-kiss-feel-fuck your significant other in a yummy blissful way. There are two versions of this song and each is as vibrant and necessary as the other depending on your mood at the moment you spin them. I love this effects-laden explosion of yummy girl power best. This was a great band proving that feminine feeling in loud doses can power the psyche with amazing results. Influenced and produced by Cocteau Twins guitarist Robin Guthrie, this version is Cocteau-esqe and yet singer Miki Berenyi owns it with a breathlessly majestic vibe all her own. Dirty me, I always imagine a beautiful woman furiously masturbating to this as it plays. Sue me.
Lush – Thoughtforms (1990)
Kitchens of Distinction provided more of an introspective vibe to the Shoegazer sound with a distinctly gay flavor, and one needn’t be gay to enjoy this perspective if one has an open mind and wishes to understand all the vibrant and vital stories to be told by our fellow human beings. Why limit yourself to the narrow confines of your own experience and viewpoint? How weird to live in such intellectual myopia. It helped that the band could Rock and sounded fabulous. The guitars are powerful and shimmering with glorious majesty, and while R.E.M. and Echo & The Bunnymen obviously influenced the lads, they take their sound to new heights beyond that cool baseline. This was a real sleeper in the early 90s that 120 Minutes introduced to an American audience willing to embrace something bold and different. A Shoegazer 101 lecture must include this epic tune as one of the cornerstones of the genre. However, it stands on its own as a great Pop song regardless of the genre.
Kitchens of Distinction – Drive That Fast (1991)
You want a song that just rocks? Try this one by Swervedriver, in my humble opinion one of the great Rock songs of the 1990s, a driving, powerful, beautiful cacophony of noise and feeling, all guitars and nothing but guitars in a sonic wonderland. Again the band tones down the testosterone but not the masculine energy, and the net effect is a glistening, glorious, nearly perfect Rock & Roll song. It’s probably the least shoegazer-like Shoegazer song of this lot, but certainly well within the confines of the movement in spirit if not in reality.
Swervedriver – Duel (1993)
Slowdive captured the capital-E ethereal feeling of the Shoegazer movement, making loud guitar rock that was extremely girl-friendly and sensual without losing its power, and adding a wonderfully psychedelic atmosphere that took the listener to an otherworldly existence far away from the shitty hustle and bustle of reality. You felt the pot haze surround you when this was blasting from your stereo, and hopefully it was real as this was perfect for those soft, somber, candlelit, sensual moments lying on the floor cuddling with the one you loved after a good joint or two or three. Thirty years later this still sounds lush and vital, as if the years that have gone by haven’t really aged you or the feelings you had in 1993. You still need this sound to surround you in more contemplative moments.
Slowdive – Alison (1993)
Catherine Wheel was an interesting band, masculine enough in sound and style to be confused with the Grunge boys in Seattle in 1992, and yet never quite sounding as cock-thrustingly dude-like as Pearl Jam or Soundgarden or that ilk. Sure, the Seattle boys had a sensitive side, but it was too narcissistic to be anything but whiny, me-first male blathering, while Catherine Wheel displayed an astonishingly softer version of male angst, and while not losing the penis altogether within the mix, their style favored a much more sensual sound within the loud guitars and fuzzbox effects than the Seattle boys were ever capable of capturing on record or in live performances. Just compare this stellar track to any Pearl Jam or Nirvana or Soundgarden track and you’re immediately aware of the difference. It had guitar power and a driving 4/4 beat, but there’s a hypnotic sensuality to the sound that gives it more flavor and feeling than your typical Grunge song.
Catherine Wheel – Crank (1993)
Lush was so good, so perfectly sexy and profoundly lovely, that it would be hard not to include a few songs from the band’s limited but generally great catalogue. Miki and Emma’s breathless vocal styling amid the shimmering, echo-laden guitars, proved without a doubt that guitar Rock has plenty of room for female sensuality and all its unbridled glory without losing the powerful “jamming” of a male-dominated song. In fact, the gender gap in the sound is what gives it so much power and feeling. They’re not merely fucking you, they’re in charge, so shut the fuck up and let them ride you. I, for one, never minded that kind of relationship with a strong, beautiful, brilliant woman. If you really care for a woman, let her have the floor to express her feelings, moreover let her art shine with the power of an exploding star in the heavens. Lush did that for me as much as any girl-dominated Rock band before or since. They weren’t imitating the boys, they were showing us how it should be done properly. Fuck yeah it’s sexy, but it’s also mind-expanding and fun. In the early 90s few bands earned my love as much as this one.
Lush – Sweetness and Light (1990)
To truly understand My Bloody Valentine is to know how being afflicted with OCD affects the strive for perfection differently than in normal people. With OCD the excessive need to make each moment better than the next is maddening, but within that madness lies the genius that has always made the human race strive to be better, stronger, smarter, and fitter. In musical terms, with technology finally catching up to ambition, one could translate serious musical OCD tendencies into long, arduous, even insane recording sessions where layer upon layer of sound could be included on the seemingly endless space within a 24-track digital studio console. Back in the time of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, a lot of the recording studio work on such an amazing recording was obsessed with the difficulty in manipulating the tape or finding clever ways to harness analog sounds out of primitive electronic equipment, while by the time Kevin Shields was recording Loveless all of hard recording process challenges were simplified by digital technology, so every ounce of creativity could be thrown at laying every sound and whim possible into this vast space on the digital palette. Shields went way overboard during the recording of the album Loveless and we’re all lucky to bear witness to his OCD insanity, because no matter how loud you play the record it never overwhelms your hearing, but the layer-upon-layer of sound and effects across the entire stereo channel will drive you mad with its sensual allure and sonic perfection. There are so many overdubs of guitars and voices and sound modulations across every track that the net effect is like a nuclear explosion but without the concussion. It’s profoundly beautiful and yet also disorienting in large doses, especially while wearing good headphones, but few records have moved me with as much feeling and emotion as Loveless, easily one of my top-5 favorite Rock albums in my life. It is such a celebration of life and sound and music obsessiveness gone mad that I often feel a kindred soul has touched me in places so few of my fellow humans even know, let alone understand.
My Bloody Valentine – Sometimes (1991)
While most Shoegazer bands used traditional instruments in the vein of Classic Rock, albeit processed through a vast array of digital effects, Curve embraced drum machines and synths but didn’t lose their guitars, which, while heavily modulated with the same vast array of digital effects as all the Shoegazers used, still led the attack. It gave the band’s sound a Gothic-Industrial flavor amid the psychedelia and ethereal vocal stylings of Toni Halliday. Curve’s sound was creepy and lovely at the same time, a frenetic tornado of swirling sonic echoes backed by droning pulses and electronic drum beats, making it feel like a crazy acid thrip filtered through a jet engine. Halliday and music partner Dean Garcia eschewed tradition song structures and just threw the music in the air and let it catch the wind’s direction, which makes for a wild and sensually powerful feeling on a good stereo system or while wearing headphones. Better yet, while stoned it’s even more fun. Like Swervedriver, Curve is barely Shoegazer in the traditional sense, but gladly wrapped in the movement if by spirit alone. If feminine sensuality is the driving force of the sound, and this is record dripping with it, it can’t be that different than Lush or My Bloody Valentine.
Curve – Doppelgänger (1992)
Of all the Shoegazers, Chapterhouse embraced the Madchester beat the most and gave its songs a dance groove that was as alluring as its vastly layered, gorgeous sound. The breathless vocal delivery was buried within the mix a bit much, but that added a sensual mystery to the overall feeling, which of course sounds fabulous with headphones. Like all Shoegazer bands, the lack of hyper-macho posing probably led to it not selling well in America while at the same time, 1991, Grunge went stratospheric with its screaming hairy boys appealing more to the traditional Rock fans who longed for the days of Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin. Grunge wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but very few girls were included in the genre and it had little or no feminine sensuality amid the howling hairy boys up front. Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder, and Curt Cobain were all valid Rock stars by any accord, but we’d heard their type for the last 30 years, while the Shoegazers gave us a more diverse expression of gender and sexuality, and refreshingly so. Like, it’s perfectly great if the music is a little less dude-like and more girlie and faggie, and as a straight male I like a little flavor to my mix than just straight testosterone blasting through my ears like acid through a firehose. Give my ears some soft and tender tickling too. But still the loud guitars, please. Always the loud guitars.
Chapterhouse – Pearl (1991)
Ride was a traditional Rock band who embraced the Shoegazer ethos but turned down the effects and relied more on traditional pop styling amid the guitar noise. They were smart and sensitive lads who experienced some buzz in America but not enough to become wildly famous like the Seattle Grunge boys, though it could be reasonably argued their music was as good or better than most of the Grunge fare. Such is life. Part of the problem was Ride championed the music over their image, while Grunge celebrated the long-haired Rock god image front and center along with the music. Eddie Vedder was pretty and long-haired and sensitive enough to make the girls scream, while Ride just wanted you to LISTEN and not look. Alas, Rock & Roll is as much about image as it is the music, no matter how great the music may be. I recall that Christopher Cross’s music was wildly popular on the radio at first in 1980 or so, but then after a couple of awkward appearances on national TV where people saw him as chubby and sadly dull looking, his appeal lessened even with so many good pop songs to his credit. Meanwhile, a few years later, MTV made superstars out of far too many pretty but artistically shitty acts while acts like Cross were too ugly for MTV stardom. Ride made great music but looked boring and uninterested in drawing fans into their looks and image, which, artistically, was cool, but also career suicide. They weren’t bad looking blokes, but they didn’t project glamour like Eddie Vedder or the like; luckily Pear Jam the band had the chops to match the pretty looks of the lead singer. Such is Rock & Roll. No one ever said the best music always becomes the most popular.