Toward the end of 1995, it suddenly hit me that I would probably never see her again. She was spending the next semester at another school, studying poetry under a mentor in the land of cows and sorority blondes and Amish people, and I would be finished with my senior year in the spring. I had only the haziest idea what would happen after that, but all signs suggested that it would be happening miles aware from where we went to college. At that point we were technically friends, but you wouldn’t know it from the way we said goodbye.
And I realized I didn’t want our story to be over. I’ve drawn a curtain over most of the details, but it had been a confusing, up-and-down, emotional one for both of us. Even so, over the course of it we’d grown together, and it was a shock to realize how hard it was going to be to pull apart.
I don’t remember how long it took me to figure out what to do next. I just remember that instead of calling her on the phone, which I suspect would have been the classier move, I decided not to take the chance of saying the wrong thing or failing to say everything I wanted to say. So, sometime on New Year’s Day of 1996, I typed up an email and sent it off to her. It contained, amid a lot of explanation of why I felt I had to say it now, a three-word phrase I’d never said to her before. To state the obvious, it was:
I love you.
She claims she literally fell out of her chair when she read it, which is hands down my favorite thing about this story.
So just like that, we were official. We’re still official. Love is the official part. Maybe someday we’ll add some other form of official to it. Maybe we’ll just stick with what’s working. Who knows?
With that settled, we spent our first few months as an official couple apart. It was easier than you might have thought; we got to visit each other a few times (no cars made it trickier), but we were busy with schoolwork, and we’d already had a year and a half of living down the hall from one another anyway.
Which brings us to the moment I walked into a mall record store and heard “Choice in the Matter” over the speakers.
I have to confess I didn’t know much about ’til Tuesday in the 80s. I’d probably heard “Voices Carry” at some point, and I seem to recall having heard some portion of Welcome Home, but either they hadn’t gotten enough airplay where I lived or they just hadn’t percolated through my brain the way some of the more cartoonish stuff from that era had. So when I heard Aimee Mann’s voice, I was struck by how self-assured it sounded, how solid the groove was, how the guitars rang, and I asked the store clerk, “Is this Chrissie Hynde?”
He pointed me to the listening station where her album was being featured. I put on the headphones. I listened, scanned ahead, listened, scanned ahead, listened. As you know if you’ve heard I’m With Stupid, there isn’t a bad song on it, but those first three songs in particular are practically designed to grab you immediately and not let go. I didn’t realize at the time that Bernard Butler had written and recorded “Sugarcoated” with her, but considering how much I loved Suede at the time, I’m sure hearing some of their sound didn’t hurt. Obviously I bought it on the spot.
I took it with me when I visited my girlfriend on her semester “abroad,” and she fell in love with it too. This didn’t happen as often as you might think; she got me into a lot of music, but it’s rarely worked in reverse. Even now I can probably count the number of bands I’ve successfully sold her on one hand and two big toes. For me to discover some new music for her was a big deal. What I’m saying is that it wasn’t my persuasive skill. It was Aimee Mann’s.
I became a fan after that, backtracking to the ’til Tuesday records (which are great) as well as Whatever (also great), and then picking up solo album after solo album since (which range from great to really fucking great). We eagerly awaited Bachelor No. 2, which features some of the Magnolia songs as well as two of my all-time favorites (“Red Vines” and “Ghost World”); I lost my mind over Lost In Space (“Humpty Dumpty,” the title track, “Invisible Ink”); really dug @#%&*! Smilers (“Freeway”, “31 Today”); and unconditionally loved Charmer (every freaking song, but especially the first six). I took a while to appreciate The Forgotten Arm, but how I could have overlooked “She Really Wants You” and “Little Bombs” is a mystery.
Even compared to these albums, though, I’m With Stupid stands out as something special. There’s a muscle to the guitar parts, sparks flying everywhere, a directness to the songs and arrangements. I would have liked any of the other albums if they’d been playing in that record store, but they would have taken longer to get to know, and I’m With Stupid is immediate. I’ve already mentioned how much I love “Long Shot,” “Choice in the Matter,” and “Sugarcoated.” “Superball” and “All Over Now” are in much the same vein, interspersed with slow-burn ballads like “Par for the Course,” “Ray,” and the fantastic title track. If you’ve heard one track from this record, it’s probably “That’s Just What You Are,” and it deserves to be heard. These days my favorite is “It’s Not Safe,” kicking off with the always-relevant observation “All you wanna do is something good / So get ready to be ridiculed and misunderstood,” and finishing with a span of silence followed by a clutch of random-sounding outro bits which make for a long but ultimately worthwhile mp3 when it comes up in the shuffle.
It’s probably fair to say that the record’s not full of fairytale romance. It starts off declaring “You fucked it up” and ends with the words “But you’re the idiot who keeps believing in love.” But my girlfriend and I, we’d just unfucked it up, and we’ve never minded being idiots who believe in love. It’s kept us together through almost 19 years, not to mention numerous Aimee Mann albums and several concerts. I think we had a choice in the matter, and we made the right one.
Another 1995 album I didn’t discover until 1996. They sound a lot like Suede to my ears (particularly on “King of the Kerb”), except with a female singer who actually has something to say. They lost some mojo after Lustra but for three albums they were incredible. Other picks: “Natural Animal,” “Pantyhose and Roses,” “Something Hot in a Cold Country.”
My initial impression of Gene was that they were determined to be the next Smiths. If so, they did a better job of it than some bands might have. They were more earnest, a bit less magical, but they definitely knew their way around a tune, and if Johnny Marr isn’t around, you could do a lot worse than Steve Mason. There isn’t a weak track on here; I like “Truth, Rest Your Head” and “Still Can’t Find the Phone” a lot, but it’s all terrific.
Morrissey, Southpaw Grammar
When this came out, I loved the first track and found the rest forgettable. Now I skip the first track and find the rest amazing. Sometimes I look at all the stuff I loved in the 80s and still love now and think my taste hasn’t changed. Then I look at records like this and think my taste has changed a lot; it’s just that the good stuff tends to always sound good.
- Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Rapture
- Belly, King
- PJ Harvey, To Bring You My Love
- Radiohead, The Bends
- Elastica, Elastica
- Annie Lennox, Medusa
- Suddenly Tammy!, We Get There When We Do
- The Dandy Warhols, Dandys Rule OK?
- Catherine Wheel, Happy Days
- Björk, Post
- Alison Moyet, Singles
- Pet Shop Boys, Alternative
- Garbage, Garbage
- Blur, The Great Escape
- David Bowie, Outside
- Tears for Fears, Raoul and the Kings of Spain
- Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
- Pulp, Different Class
- The Wolfgang Press, Funky Little Demons