I know it’s cliche.
The old “This came out 10 years ago, I feel old”. I see these posts on social networking sites often, usually on Reddit. I myself cannot claim innocence in this regard, as I tipped my hat to anime classic Cowboy Bebop just last month. It doesn’t matter now though, because it’s 2014 and I officially feel old. Why is that?
Because 1994 was the year that I fell in love with music.
Yep, 20 years ago.
Growing up I was fortunate enough to have my ears nurtured and groomed by Led Zepplin, Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor, The Beach Boys, Carol King and of course, The Beatles. It’s easy when you’re a kid. Your parents pop in their favorite record or cassette tape on a warm Saturday afternoon, you fall asleep to Mister Mister playing on some adult contemporary station in the backseat as your parent’s van as they drive you home from your friend’s house or maybe you had that fantastic little Fisher Price radio. You know the one…
Tell me you didn’t use this bad boy to sing Bobby Brown’s “Every Little Step” at the top of your lungs, envisioning a crowd cheering for you.
…oh you didn’t? Yeah, no, neither did I…
1994 is when things changed for me however. I was heading into middle school, assembling my own rag-tag group of friends that looked like they were ripped out of an episode of Step By Step. Seriously, we had a “Cody”. Our “Cody” used to be the first one to exclaim “Dudes, have you heard this song?”. Which had us all clamoring to find our own music to obsess over and expose to the group. Mine was The Offspring’s Smash.
I’ll never forget the moment I first heard these guys. I was at a laser tag event for the Sunday school group my parents made me join. I despised that group of kids …in ways that I probably shouldn’t describe in a public essay that has my real name attached to it. This laser tag event was probably the only time I was actually happy to be part of the group- these impertinent upper-crust stiff-necks were about to get a taste of my angsty preteen fantasy-vengeance. I still remember all the kids stationed behind their recharge posts, the count-down clock ticking away as the room filled with mist from the dry ice machine. My back was against the wall, my chest tightened under the plastic scoreboard shield strapped around my body and the sweat started to bubble up from under my Darkwing Duck hat. Then I hear it…the rhythmic clinking drums, the subtle, sneaky guitar riff and suddenly-
I don’t remember who won or lost that night. It didn’t matter. That song was all I needed to throw myself into the battlefield like I was Carl Weathers in The Predator. I felt tougher. I had never heard anything like it and I wanted more. I fruitlessly begged my parents for days, until a relative finally snuck the album inside a shirt as part of a birthday present (thanks Aunt Lisa).
From that moment on it was non-stop. Green Day, Weezer, Nine Inch Nails, Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains. All of these were released in 1994 and they all still remain in my music collection. These were the albums that got me through middle school, inspired me to keep drawing and made me want to devour as much music as I possibly could. Dookie, Smash, The Blue Album got me obsessed with rock, and though I was a late bloomer, eventually Nas’s Illmatic and Gang Star’s Hard to Earn would play an integral role in my love and fascination with hip-hop.
More importantly, I was discovering this on my own. I was deciding for myself what I liked and how I wanted to spend
my own money my parent’s money and gift cards.
Yes, these records are 20 years-old, but they played such an important role in my life that I feel more warm-nostalgia and less grumpy-“I’m aging too fast.” 1994 was a great year for music. It all holds up for me. Nas still sounds incredible when he flows over menacing piano plinks about the darker days of New York City on Illmatic. Tales of anger, boredom and lust spazzing through buzzing riffs on Green Day’s Dookie bring out a younger, rebellious voice.
So many songs from this era still blend in beautifully with my current playlists. I can easily transition from the gothic harmonies of Bone Thugs to Kendrick Lamar’s soulful re-collective story telling on Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. Cake’s gloomy dry crooning on songs like Jolene ease pretty nicely into The Shins’…gloomy dry crooning. 311’s funked-out dance hall grooves still compliment any summer day just as naturally as Weezer’s sappy melodies blaring at a late night party will cause the room to start singing along.Seriously, if this song comes on during a party and no one makes a horrid attempt to duet with Rivers, you’re hanging out with the wrong people.
But it all comes back to 1994 being the year that my world was blown open. I was exposed to a cavalcade of new ideas and sounds that excited me, causing me to branch from each artist into something new. Discovering Green Day made me curious about punk music, bringing me to learn about T.S.O.L. and the Buzzcocks. It also gave me a taste for speedy licks and heavy guitars, preparing my palette for anything from the Deftones to Queens of the Stone Age. On the same token, the bubbly melodic instrumentation and thoughtful lyrics of R.E.M. warmed my heart to welcome bands like Neutral Milk Hotel and Modest Mouse. And I’ll definitely say that Nas and Biggie spawned my insatiable love for rap music…because I’m going to lie and pretend that it wasn’t Kris Kross.
It’s just amazing to me that when I listen to this stuff now it still brings forth many of the same feelings and sensations that I felt 20 years ago. That seem feeling I had when that I first heard the words “you gotta keep ’em separated”.
These records mean a lot to me, I feel they have truly aged well.
…and remember, not everything ages well.