12 Personally Pivotal Albums

My favorite place in the world when I was fourteen was a record shop in Norman, Oklahoma called, “Shadowplay.” It was owned by a woman named Ruth. She was goth way before it was a word. She was the biggest fan of The Cure in Oklahoma. I always wanted to impress her. When I painted a giant made up eye on my denim jacket, with The Cure written on it, a big part of why was trying to impress Ruth. She was the coolest, she introduced me to Nick Cave, The Fall, Joy Division, even GG Allin, and of course, all bands 4AD. When she was slightly impressed by my art, I was in heaven. Being fourteen, everything seems so important. Life is urgent. It doesn’t feel like a road stretching out before your feet; it feels like the road is jumping around and you are lucky to stay on top of it.

I had the 4AD label compilation “Lonely As An Eyesore” as cassette first. You would walking into Shadowplay, out of the bright, college town sun, into a batcave of a music seller, replete with catacombs. One day, Ruth told me about the time Sonic Youth came to the store. Campus corner, where the bars and cute shops was located, a long time ago, used to be a giant department store. It was cut open, and the street went through, so all the stores were attached in the back with confusing hallways. She told me that the band went back there and got lost, and she felt terrible; because it really freaked them out, for the fact that it was dark, and other reasons that have been told to me in confidence.

The tape went back with me to my suburban house, along with some flyers for my walls, some record cover promo posters that labels don’t seem to make anymore, and the feeling of triumphant victory in the culture wars of the mid-eighties. The comparison was mind exploding. The sounds so fresh, not always goth, but touching upon it. There was a lushness to bands like Colourbox, Cocteau Twins and Throwing Muses. It was very moody jangle pop, mixed with the chamber music of Dead Can Dance. The post punk and jazz-influenced elements of bands like The Wolfgang Press, Clan of Xymox and Dif Juz, grew in appeal after eventually renting the VHS of videos that accompanies the album, that they had available at the Hastings, along with Standing On A Beach by The Cure. Everyone looked so cool, I wanted to emulate them all. I would beg my mom to take me there to rent the tapes, which of course, she’d have to drive the 25 minutes to return. She was raising me alone, and at times I think she thought maybe it was the best that she could give me, which it was. I fell headlong into the occult world of shimmery guitars, boxing and beating, angular rhythms, music that made the hair on the back of your neck stick straight up.

I was very sad when I found out it had moved. It wasn’t the same shop, it lost its grime, the cave-like qualities. I was homeless, squatting in Norman, I couldn’t afford records, but I was only five years older from the day I stepped into that mythical place, a store, I know, but one with a subtext. A setting to transcribe into a story’s first few pages. A place to influence and intoxicate, to teach, that by digging; you can find treasures in stacks of music, dusty keys that unlock doors to places in your psyche that might frighten, even repulse. It also might show you angels, and once in a while, they might notice you breathlessly watching their moves.

FFO Bach, The Cure, The Velvet Underground

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