Josh: “I remember hearing this song (Huggy Bear’s Herjazz) late at night on KXCI.”
Me: Sitting on the counter behind him, glugging wine. “Was your heart a flower?”
Josh: Staring into the middle distance for a long time, with clenched fists, “… I loved it… They were from England.”
Josh tells the best stories.
Whatever. I do not love Huggy Bear. But, that story along with the countless ones he tells about his teenaged life that go “I saw this band once. They were good.” make me seethe with a longing. Josh experienced the nineties alternative thing the normal way: by listening to the radio, reading magazines and going to shows. I, on the other hand, went to an ass-backwards high school on a shartspray of an army base where they openly mocked me, in the fall of 1992, for wearing Doc Martens. I lived in Japan, but not actually on the base, in a weird house where my room might as well have been a box in the sky for all of the connectedness I felt to the outside world. I had no American tv, one English language radio station and, you know, there wasn’t any internet yet.
My life in Virginia, which had mostly consisted of listening to music, seeking out music, watching Mtv, and getting into serious trouble attempting to bring said music to life every now and then was completely gone. The kids at my new school weren’t that hostile; it was mostly like I wasn’t there. I would show up, they would crinkle their noses in confusion, and look away. I don’t even want to think about what they thought was cool. I had one great friend back home, Kerensa, who wrote letters to me and sent me tapes and cds. In that first year, I also had a friend Halcyon who lived at the same train stop that I did, Minami Rinkan, and saved my ass by introducing me to the Pixies.
And then unto me an indie angel appeared bearing artifacts and good news. His name was Brian (like everyone else in the 90s) and he was a senior my freshman year. He had curly brown hair, glasses, and wore docs, t-shirts, and shorts. You can see him in your mind. He had a big crush on my friend Hal. One time, he drove us somewhere and the good news was delivered.
“What is this song you’re listening to?” I asked.
“What is it?”
“PJ Harvey. Do you like it?”
“This is seriously the best thing I have ever heard.”
It was the song Water. A star was born. I have been totally and completely obsessed with her ever since. I listened to Rid of Me so much that I believed albums were “too loud” if they weren’t produced by Steve Albini. She rules my heart.
Because I think he was amused by my instant conversion by St. Polly Jean de Harvey, this Brian brought a couple of cds to school for me to borrow. He gave me a Peter Murphy cd (pfft), a Curve cd (meh), and My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless (holy shit!). I still have it, that one, that I “borrowed”. It looks like it has been run over. The paint stuff is off of the top of the disc. After listening to the first song, Only Shallow, I turned to the nobody that was in my room with me and said “My god, someone made a song for me that sounds just like my brain feels. Let’s try that again.” Loveless is, to me, the sound of being in that room — for years — cranking out poety, doing weird art, writing letters home, thinking. When I am listening to it, as I am now, I can see that room that is, of course, forever gone. There was a medicine cabinet on the wall. I had a troll with Peter Pan clothes and a ceramic mermaid that I made. I had Super Mario sheets and dark purple curtains. I was obsessed with incense and smells. Pine. Cinnamon. Earthy things. I had a black and red mohair sweater that went down to my knees. I had other albums that I loved, but no other music is that place. The cold Japanese winter, hanging out in my room wearing giant socks, knowing every note of this record.
The funny part is that I now know that everyone loved it. But, I didn’t then. I not only didn’t realize that it was an instant classic that was critically acclaimed and on everyone’s “best of everything” list, I didn’t even know anything about the band. I remember the first time someone said something, way later, to me about Kevin Shields. I was like… “Um, it’s sung by a girl?”. I mean just zero data. I am kind of protective about it, too. I don’t want to know anything about them. I don’t retroactively read reviews and I didn’t follow the reunion tour. It is one of the few things that I love this much that I refuse to beat to death. I don’t think I ever even talked about it with the friends that I ended up acquiring in Japan, Brian and Teresa. I’m sure they loved it just as much as I did, but I can’t remember talking about it. I thought it was too weird for sharing, I thought it was too beautiful and too all-about-me for the light of day.
Like I said, I floated through my high school like a ghost. Except for my closest friends, I didn’t think anyone saw me. But, some did. They were mostly younger than me. When I moved back to Japan, a few years later, I became friends with them. I was less fragile and arty then. We actually talked about things. I will never forget the night I walked into the enlisted club on the same horrowshow base that held our high school to see my friend John’s (J.R. Fields) DJ night. When he saw me come in, he pulled whatever he was playing and put on Only Shallow. There it was: the same song, the same feeling, and someone else was telling me that they knew. He knew I was that song. He had been there and he had seen. Hardly anyone else was in the club, but it was one of the most public moments of my life.
So, we’re lying in bed (after counting down with Pitchfork yet again) with me whining about never getting to see any of my favorite people play because of traveling (if PJ Harvey was in Japan, I was visiting family and vice versa). “So, did you never see this then?” Josh asks.
Holy shit. Not only was PJ Harvey on Jay Leno, she sang a weirder version of that song than appears on the album. She’s without her band and singing the “lick my legs” parts up front. Wtf? Is this really, really what media was like in the 90s? Screw you all. I’m going back into my Japan fantasyland where a Polly Jean Harvey was a strange force of nature like a wind or a twisted tree that grew in a Cornish field, wailing and rocking a blues guitar. Not someone you could see on… Jay Leno. Seriously? Wow.