Albums are funny creatures. Some albums resonate with you the same way they did the day you heard them, regardless of how mature you become or how old you get, while others grow up and mature with you. It’s the latter category of albums I want to discuss in detail.
But, first, let me say a few words about those albums that stay the same. There’s nothing wrong with an album staying the same and resonating with you the same way it did the first day you heard it. Some albums are just like that. Let’s face it: There are quality pop records that are just that, pop records. Those kinds of albums, those pieces of sugary ear candy, are meant to be enjoyed at face value. At the risk of discrediting the blog right off the bat (Sorry dad!), I would venture to say that Rick Astley’s debut album “Whenever You Need Somebody” falls into that category. (Look, I don’t care how much you despise “Never Gonna Give You Up”! It’s 80’s bubblegum pop gold! Deal with it!) To paint myself in a hipper light, I refuse to say better light, Fine China’s “When the World Sings” is another fantastic album of sugary ear candy that falls into that category. As I said before, albums like that are fantastic and there is nothing with them. Enjoy them for what they are and what they offer; and enjoy them as often as you wish.
That said, let’s get to those albums that grow and mature with you. I know this is painting with a broad stroke, but I’d say those types of albums fall into two categories. Category one is albums that are painted with such a surreal brush that you are forced to come to your own conclusion about their meaning. When you’re a teen, or whatever age you first hear the record at, you come to associate certain meanings and themes with the record. As you get older, and mature, you come to associate different more mature meanings and themes with the record. Starflyer 59’s “Gold” is an album that falls into this category. We will revisit this album, in detail, in just a minute, because I’d like to illustrate my personal journey with it.
Category two is albums that due to your age, at the time you first hear it, you don’t have the maturity level or life experience to fully understand their meanings and themes. These are the albums that you appreciate when you first hear them, but can only fully appreciate, at least meaning and theme wise, as you get older and gain more life experience. Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”, and my father can correct me if I’m wrong, is an album that I would say falls into that category.
I know for me, the ending coda of “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” where he reprises the “Mother, Mother” section of “What’s Going On” was gut wrenching on first listen at 19, due mostly to the musical aspect of that section, but as has taken on an even more gut wrenching bent now that I’m 31 and have watched things like the Trayvon Martin incident go down. Hell, the whole song has taken on a more gut wrenching bent now that I’m 31. Let’s just face it, that whole album travels to new gut wrenching heights as you get older and mature. I’m listening to the exact coda mentioned above right now and getting chills. Why don’t you listen now…..
As I said before, Starflyer 59’s “Gold” is an album that falls into that first category, and like I’d to paint a picture of my journey with the record. First, let’s set the scene. Be forewarned that this might take a while. I’ve been told my stories usually contain way more details than needed. I apologize in advance.
It’s Christmas of ’96, I’m 14, and fully embroiled in what would become around a 10 year stint Christian fundamentalism. That last bit bears mentioning because Starflyer 59 is a Christian band, a Christian band as far removed from the terrible music Christian fundamentalism produces as possible, but still a band I wouldn’t have ever found if I hadn’t renounced secular music a few months earlier. For Starflyer 59, Joy Electric, a few other bands, and the fact that these bands introduced me to music I would have never gotten into otherwise, I’m glad I went through a Christian music only phase. Those bands and that singular reason only though. Other than that, I’m quite embarrassed that I ended up in that phase. Anyway, I should move on.
So, I’m 14 and my music tastes at the time mainly consist of anything I consider “heavy and grungy”. Screaming and yelling are always a plus, and anything outside of the instruments typically seen in a power trio set up are for pussies. Suffice to say, I was close minded, in more ways than one, and my music tastes didn’t span a very wide spectrum. I was about to have my mind blown and my eyes opened wide to music I would have never considered before by this very record that I’m listening to as I write this. Unfortunately, that’s not the point of this entry, and actually could be a whole entry unto itself.
Moving on, and continuing my setting of the scene, it’s Christmas of ’96 at my grandparents’ house in Montezuma, GA (I miss that house so much). I had asked for either Starflyer 59’s “Silver” or “Gold” for Christmas, amongst other things. I had listened to a bit of “Gold”, and possibly “Silver”, via the open demo tape at my local Baptist Christian Bookstore. I had also seen the “Housewife Love Song” video on one of Tooth and Nail’s, Starflyer 59’s former label, VHS video compilations. I know, I know, I’m old because I heard my first snatches of the record on tape and VHS, and I should be ashamed because I set foot in a Baptist Christian Bookstore. Guilty on both accounts, but, hey, tapes are strangely making a comeback in the indie label world (which I admittedly don’t understand), and I managed to get myself out of that latter shameful bigoted situation 10 years later (I know, I know, my atheist bias is showing). I have no rebuttal concerning VHS. All that aside, I received only one of those two records for Christmas that year: “Gold”.
So, after opening presents, whatever night we opened them, I slipped “Gold” into my Sony Discman, and inserted Wave Race 64 into my newly acquired Nintendo 64. I started the game and pressed play on my Discman, as I sat in the great room with its high vaulted ceilings and wall length fluorescent lighting. The following stretch of time as I devoured the record whole, like you should on any first listen to a record, are crystallized in mind for eternity. Maybe it’s because I didn’t know what to think. More than likely, it’s because I had NEVER heard anything like this before. I’m treading into that other blog entry’s territory with that last sentence, so I better move on.
I remember vividly when “You’re Mean”, which is track 4 on the record, hit. I was jet skiing around in the beginning levels when that surf guitar bend and that tremolo bar guitar wash in the intro hit. I was immediately transfixed. The verse was incredibly catchy, the reverbed lead riffs were oh so catchy, and the chorus hit all those chord changes, layers, and notes that I needed at that exact moment in time. In all seriousness, my life was probably changed in those 2 minutes and 4 seconds of song. I remember at some point, during what would be side two of the album, shutting off Wave Race and going to sit on the couch. I was mesmerized by the music but bored by it at the same time. The record ended. I’m pretty sure I immediately hit a few key tracks up again before listening to the entire album again. There might have been another around of that. I’m pretty sure I flipped though the sleeve and was amazed at the magnificent artwork.
So now that I possibly too thoroughly set the scene, let me get to my actual journey. Remember, I was 14. Like most 14 year olds I thought a lot about girls, and I desperately wanted a girlfriend. Crushes abounded, and, with me being very unpopular and even more socially awkward than I am today, withered like flowers that bloom in the late winter only to be killed by a surprise last frost. Unlike most 14 years olds, I also thought about god a lot, but the album isn’t about god so that doesn’t matter. I just felt like mentioning it, since it explains some of my unpopularity and social awkwardness.
So I was a lovelorn early teenager, and this record played right into that. In Jason Martin’s cryptic, and when I say cryptic I mean INCREDIBLY CRYPTIC, lyrics it was easy to read in tales of multiple lost loves. I imagined Jason heartbroken over some unrequited love or crush, heartbroken by a relationship ended by the other party, and all other manners of heartbreak related to women and girls. With titles like “When You Feel Miserable”, “You’re Mean”, “Stop Wasting Your Whole Life/Messed Up and Down”, “Messed Up Over You”, and “Do You Ever Feel That Way”, what the hell was 14 year old me supposed to think and imagine? The utterly pained howling lead lines in the post-chorus sections of “Indianna”, hell the sound of that entire song, only seemed to confirm those suspicions. Suffice to say, it sound tracked my 14 year old mind well.
Music wise, I pictured late night empty suburban streets, in the 1950s, lit dimly by old streetlights, and empty stretches of highway lit only by the lights illuminating the exit signs. Somehow, I saw Jason wandering these empty streets and highways forlorn and emotionally destroyed. This was probably due to both the sound of the record and the BEAST of a video that was the “Housewife Love Song” video, which definitely had an intentional 50’s feel to it. What’s the sound of the record you ask? Surf-y leads, tracks and tracks of guitars playing the exact same thing to create a MASSIVE wall of overly distorted guitars, single tracks of reverbed, tremolo, chorused guitars jangling at times and subdued at others, a bit of organ, bass whose point was to hit the root note and little else, and flat sounding drums. It’s dark, almost oppressive, and somehow ungodly beautiful at the same time. More useless information possibly, but I feel like it adds something. You might not have heard the song so let’s have a listen…..
So “Gold” was, without a doubt, the sound track to my freshman year of high school, along with the rest of the Starflyer 59 catalogue that existed at the time. I remember riding around in Georgia in my grandparents van pining over various girls from school and church with this record blasting in my Discman. Throughout the rest of my high school years, “Gold” was, as I partially said above, a dark, almost oppressive, angst-y chronicle of too many loves lost.
At 31, that has changed. The catalyst for the change was reading Jason’s musings on the record in the “Easy Come, Easy Go” box set liner notes and reading an interview with Starflyer 59 conducted during the recording sessions for their 2003 record “Old”, which I’m pretty sure was a joke at “Gold”’s expense since that record had become a perennial fan favorite. In the “Easy Come, Easy Go” liner notes, and in that interview it’s revealed that, while everyone thought “Gold” was all about heartache relating to girls, “Gold” was actually about heartache due to getting older and losing touch with high school friends. Granted, some fans will still argue that heartache over Leigh Bingham Nash, of Sixpence None the Richer fame, inspired a lot of the heartache. That may be true. It may be a combo of those two. Regardless, it caused me to look at the record differently.
I’m not sure if at that point, when I read those liner notes and that article, that I had the life experience to have the album morph into an album about growing older and losing touch with the ones you love, but at 31 I certainly do. Facing the fact that the girl I always thought I’d marry who, in some shape, form, or fashion, has been a part of my life for over half my life will be moving away and out of my life soon, I certainly do. As my mind, unfortunately, becomes more obsessed with the perceived good times that, my mind is convinced, only exist in the past and will never exist again in any capacity, I certainly do.
Now, it’s still a dark and oppressive record. The sonics of the record, and the circumstances it was recorded under, make it impossible for it to be anything but. The sonics I’ve discussed, but I feel that the circumstances it was recorded under deserve some time as well. From beginning until just before the end, it was just Jason by himself in the studio recording all the instruments. At the last minute Wayne Everett swooped in to help with drums and background vocals, and Ed Giles Benrock came in to do some drumming as well, but other than that it was solitary lonely affair. Jason says in the “Easy Come, Easy Go” box set liner notes concerning “Gold” things like “I was having a semi-breakdown” and it wasn’t even fun recording it anymore. Needless to say, this lends itself to the record being dark and oppressive
However at 31, instead of angst, it is now a record filled with cryptic lyrics that chronicle the less savory aspects of beginning to grow old, i.e. mid to late twenties for most: Growing apart from friends you thought you’d always be friends with, watching dear friends move far away, watching friends you love fuck up and knowing that, for whatever reason, you are powerless to help them, and knowing that the good old days you shared with those people now rest in a past you can never return to and that now only exists in your mind. It’s not just people, however. It’s good times in general, those happy times that crystallize in your mind that you know you’ll forever wish you could rewind back to and relive over and over again.
While the cryptic lyrics allow me to attach any of the above situations I’ve been through or are going through to each song, the album has still grown up and matured as I’ve grown up and matured. From angst-y to regretful and melancholically nostalgic would probably be an apt description of the transition. I’ve realized that it’s the feelings expressed so well in Joy Electric’s song “Losing Touch with Everyone”, which is a song about all of the above, spread out of the course of an entire album.
So what records have grown up with you? Comment and let me know!
Great post Justin! It has been way too long since I gave Gold and What’s Going On a proper listen. I’ll be breaking out the good headphones and doing this today at work.
….also, hopefully finally reading this will get me off my laurels to write my post!