Tuesday, December 13, 2005

My Mood Is Black When My Jacket's On

I can trace the initial cause of my tinnitus back to about 1985 pretty easily. I blame two ex-factory workers from Scotland, brothers, surly bastards. They unleashed a big wad of bubblegum wrapped around a nail bomb onto the world and my ears were never quite the same again. This is not a complaint, however.

(l-r: William Reid, Jim Reid)

Over the years, I've heard dozens of hilarious stories about Psychocandy being used as sonic terrorism by sullen mid-80's teenagers. If you were pissed off, between the ages of 15 to 18, and had a propensity for both black clothing and not combing your hair, then the Jesus and Mary Chain were your own personal H-bomb. Guaranteed results. Needles were yanked from spinning vinyl. Volume knobs manhandled. Mothers would scream up steep staircases. My father used to think I was purposely listening to radio static on my Walkman, slouched down in the backseat of the family car, just to annoy him, but no, it was only Psychocandy. It summed up every last shred of 16 year-old fury I was experiencing over being trapped in the car on long road trips to lamp stores and wallpaper showrooms.

(An amusing aside: I had a JAMC shirt that I wore incessantly at the time, it was pretty inoffensive, just a black tee with big chunky letters on it saying The Jesus and Mary Chain. It wasn't like it had a nun in pasties and a g-string on it or anything. Anyway, I took a trip to NYC, my first, with my parents in the Summer of 1987. We were staying in Times Square, which was still enticingly scummy/weird at that point, and I'd worn the shirt our first night there, despite my mother's protests. It took no less than ten minutes before an agitated street preacher with a megaphone had caught a glance at the shirt as we walked past. We were followed for the better part of a block, the preacher shouting "The Jesus and what? Turn around, young man!! The Jesus and what??" into his loudhailer. I told Jim Reid this story when I interviewed him in the mid-90's and he seemed greatly pleased by it.)

The way I saw it, there was the Smiths for the introspective, gazing out over the Moors (well, Anaheim, but whatever) moments, and then there was the Mary Chain for when your mood was black and your jacket's on. "The Living End", with its mumbled lyric of "I feel so quick in my leather boots" always made me smile, but it took some distance from the self-absorbed murk of adolescence to realize that the line that followed shortly - There's nothing else but me - summed it all up even better. You could lose yourself in these roaring surges of white noise and feedback and echo. Escape.

(clockwise from top left: Douglas Hart, William Reid, Jim Reid)

Sure, this stuff still sounds completely crucial and brilliant 20 years on, but there's no comparison to how it felt when you first heard it. It's a bit of a noisepop cliché now, the whole "it sounded like my stereo was broken!" initial-Psychocandy-listening experience story, but this band and this album summed up a fat chunk of suburban teen ennui and restless boredom for a lot of kids in the mid-80's. When you discovered it, you'd never heard anything like it before, and I've often wondered if this wasn't a bit like the hair-raising intensity that the Ramones evoked in a lot of 70's-era music kids. The music just lunged at you. Survivors of those early, thunderously loud-fast-attack-attack-attack Ramones gigs spoke of the proceedings in shell-shocked terms afterwards. Jaws dropped. Eardrums were blitzkrieged. One thing was certain about Psychocandy, though - it was impossible to be on the fence about it, either it swept you up with it or you went and listened to Simply fucking Red instead, you miserable loser.

One of my very favorite early Mary Chain rarities was their fine cover of Syd Barrett's "Vegetable Man", something I'd only owned on a 7" prior to the magic of MP3 technology. I'd remembered there being a cover version of Subway Sect's fantastic song "Ambition" as an early b-side as well, but I somehow never came across it until just recently. A true punk classic, "Ambition", as knocked out by the Jesus and Mary Chain, is pure '85-style, all clattering drum-machine and cheese-grater guitars, and (to the best of my knowledge) wasn't ever given an official release on CD, although it would've nestled among the early rarities on Barbed Wire Kisses just perfectly.

The Jesus and Mary Chain - "Ambition"
(MP3, 128kpbs, 3.2MB)

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