1991. It’s the last year you had a best friend.
Not a circle of friends. Not a girlfriend, even if she’s also your best friend, because that’s different. We’re talking about a platonic guy best friend, the kind you hang out with and you don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to, but when you do it’s perfectly natural and never weird or catty or backstabby. The kind of guy you’ve known since seventh grade and told all your crushes to (well, most of them, because even though you come out to him, you know he’s straight and doesn’t want to hear about the guys you have crushes on). The kind where you’re fine that he dates this one girl you liked and then later dates another girl after she broke up with you, because you guys go farther back than that, and really, there’s no other guy you would rather see them with. He’s pretty much the best.
You don’t do everything together. This is not some buddy movie where you’re joined at the hip. It’s just what you figure is probably a normal, healthy friendship where you have lots of interests in common — video games, books, music, good movies, bad movies, computers — and you hang out and do those interests together. There are no skeletons in your shared closet. It’s exactly what it appears to be and you wouldn’t have it any other way.
You see Batman together, and Silence of the Lambs. You rent movies like Eating Raoul, The Stuff, anything campy or cheesy, especially if it’s rated R and there are good odds that (look, you’re both teenage guys) a girl will take her shirt off in it. You camp out on the living room floor in sleeping bags with his brothers, playing the Sega or Nintendo consoles your own parents have no interest in buying you. You swim in his aboveground pool in the summer. You explore the woods behind his house, and you stop off at the convenience store at the end of the street for candy on the way home. You catch crayfish in the creek.
In 1990 you do the fall play together, but you’re the drama kid, not him. You overlap at “nerd,” but he can pass for a jock and you can’t. The one year you tried running track you finished last in every race. But you do Mathletics together, and the Science Olympiad, even though neither of you is quite nerdy enough to win anything. You’re neck and neck for valedictorian, and it’s too close to call.
And then he moves away before senior year.
His dad’s in the military. It’s time to go. He’s off to finish up at another school. And just like that your childhood ends. For whatever reason neither of you is the type to sustain a long-distance friendship, so you lose touch until years later. You’ll have friends again, some very close, but you’ll never have a friend like him again. Deep down, there’ll always be at least the tiniest of doubts about whether a particular friend of yours really likes you or just tolerates you. That natural, easy fit — it’ll never quite come again. It can’t. There’s no way to retroactively grow up together.
But you can bring back little pieces of that time with music. For example: Peggy Suicide.
You were watching 120 Minutes together, arguing about which were the best songs, and the video for “Beautiful Love” kept showing up for a few weeks. You both agreed that the way Julian Cope’s mouth moved to form the word “love” was hilarious.
Something about it stuck, though, and you later checked out the album. You found out it was even more bonkers than the singles would indicate. It was a weird tripped-out new age pagan psychedelic tour of — America? the Earth? This crazy Prince-level epic double album switching genres and mood with every song, all about the bad things we do to our bodies and our planet and other people, and all about the good things we do to each other’s genitals and how sex with a woman can be like riding a fine motorcycle. …you guess. It’s all very surreal.
I mean, you love it. It’s fucking fantastic, if still hilarious. “Double Vegetation” and “Drive, She Said” rock. “Soldier Blue” is the best song ever recorded with samples of Lenny Bruce in it. “The American Lite” is absurd and glorious. And plenty more songs are nearly as good, and even when they’re not, the whole bizarre album fits together perfectly as one long piece. You picture Julian Cope as that long-haired nouveau hippie dude who works down at the commune and never goes anywhere without a girl on each arm (both in off-white bras and long floral skirts) and effortlessly correct feminist politics and a Chomsky book in his hemp satchel. You are probably not that far off.
You’ll dig a few more Cope records. Saint Julian‘s exuberant pop, a few tracks each from My Nation Underground, Jehovahkill, and 20 Mothers, but mainly you’ll love this one. You grew up poking fun at it with your best friend. Even if it weren’t a leaning tower of awesome, that would be reason enough to love it.
When I went to rewrite this entry, I was this close to choosing this album to write about. Not only could I have talked about two of the best songs Johnny Marr, Neil Tennant, and Bernard Sumner have ever come up with (“The Patience of a Saint” and “Getting Away With It”), I could have taken the opportunity to discuss both New Order and Pet Shop Boys in a single post. Instead it’s looking like they’re both going to be relegated to the Also section. That’s okay; they’re in very fine company.
Prince and the New Power Generation, Diamonds and Pearls
The last Prince album I really loved, though I haven’t caught up on anything after Emancipation. “Daddy Pop” is my favorite, but there’s also the title track, the fabulously unsubtle “Cream,” “Willing and Able,” “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night,” and the one you’ll never get out of your head, “Gett Off.”
Smashing Pumpkins, Gish
I didn’t like the Pumpkins much in 1991. “Siva” was just that video I kept fast-forwarding through on 120 Minutes. I went back to it a couple years later, after hearing “Rhinoceros” and “Crush” out of context, and fell in love. Still probably my favorite of theirs, though the first three albums are all masterpieces in their own way.
- Divinyls, Divinyls
- Roxette, Joyride
- Morrissey, Kill Uncle
- Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians, Perspex Island
- Throwing Muses, The Real Ramona
- Sarah McLachlan, Solace
- Happy Rhodes, Warpaint
- Teenage Fanclub, Bandwagonesque
- Massive Attack, Blue Lines
- Talk Talk, Laughing Stock
- Daniel Ash, Coming Down
- OMD, Sugar Tax
- Siouxsie and the Banshees, Superstition
- Miranda Sex Garden, Madra
- Blur, Leisure
- They Might Be Giants, Miscellaneous T
- Erasure, Chorus
- Enya, Shepherd Moons (yes, really)