100% Synthetic

I started high school as somewhat of an electronic music dork. While I was very much into music, I wasn’t really interested in anything that wasn’t made with keyboards and sequencers. For me, it’s always been about finding stuff with good, funky beats – and at the time, the very early breakbeat-oriented stuff that was gaining popularity came closest to scratching that itch. For a long time, I voraciously pursued anything that had weird keyboards and sampled beats. I hadn’t heard anything guitar-based that interested me all that much, so it was all synthetic stuff for me at first. I entered my sophomore year believing very much that, as my good friend Miguel put it, “the future of music was androgynous men singing in English accents over the beep-boop of a synthesizer and drum machine.”

I was, thankfully, very wrong about that. I caught wind of the whole “Madchester” scene that was going on in the UK by way of the occasional copy of NME or Melody Maker I was able to find. Apparently, there was this whole scene going on over there that was all about guitar pop with funky dance grooves… and once again, few of the “alternative” people at my school knew or cared about such stuff. If it wasn’t REM, the Femmes, or Camper Van Beethoven, it wasn’t worth their attention.
I began to investigate some of these new bands like the Charlatans and the Happy Mondays, and found that I really dug them. The Charlatans in particular got me hooked, with the swirling organ and 60’s-influenced dancefloor groove. I went and got their first album on tape around the same time that I had begun hanging out with Jaimenacho.
Interestingly enough, he was already into all that stuff as well, and initially our friendship was largely based on our common obsession for the same music. He went to Europe later that same year, and brought back a bunch of awesome loot from some record shops in England.
I still wasn’t fully out of the “electronic only” camp just yet, but I was well on my way…

An Itch Scratched

I remember hanging out with Pecos and Jaime one evening, and Pecos had “Fool’s Gold” by the Stone Roses on his stereo in the famous Bronco. I was intrigued with the insanely funky sampled beat, and asked my amigos if either of them had the full album. I knew that the Roses were supposedly the ‘kings’ of the whole Manchester scene, but for some reason I hadn’t gotten around to listening to them.

“Sure, I’ve got it,” Jaimenacho said. “But you probably won’t like it.
The rest of it isn’t really like this.”

I told him that I just wanted to check it out, so he brought the tape to school the next day. I sometimes used to walk downtown and get a ride home with my mom after school in those days, and I remember listening to it on my headphones while waiting outside her office.

It was practically a life-changing experience. On the first listen, I felt like I was hearing real music for the first time. All the other stuff I’d ever liked prior to that moment suddenly seemed uninspired and half-assed. I was in love.
Every second of every song was absolutely brilliant; pure genius. For some reason it was exactly the thing that my high-school age ears had been begging to hear. I listened to it all the way through about six times that day.

I played that tape over and over, practically wearing it out before giving it back to Jaime. I went and got my own copy, cherishing it like none other in my collection. I lived with that album, not wanting to be unfaithful to it by putting another tape in my stereo. It became the soundtrack to my life for the remainder of the school year, and for several years after that. Call it an unhealthy obsession if you will, but that’s how it was.
It was one of the first CD’s I bought when I received a CD player for my birthday a few months later. Jaime and I (and often Paco as well) used to make semi-monthly Saturday record-hunting trips down to Haight Street and Berkeley, and I’d usually spend those days feverishly seeking out Roses singles and promo items. Paco and I even shelled out $45 for a rare Roses bootleg we found in Davis.

Jaime and I saw them live several years later on their ill-fated first (and final) American tour. On the day the tickets went on sale, we got up at the crack of dawn to wait in line at the Wherehouse in Redding. Amazingly, we managed to get three of them before it sold out about ten seconds later – so we were indeed feeling blessed with good fortune. They guy at the ticket desk said that it almost beat the Grateful Dead’s record for quickest-ever sell-out time for a concert.
A month or so later, Jaime, my girlfriend, and I all journeyed to the Fillmore and witnessed one of the most epic shows ever. It was the first time they’d ever played in San Francisco, and standing in line with 300 other equally devoted fans was quite an experience. Everyone in the whole place was buzzing with eager anticipation. Most of us had been waiting years for this opportunity, and it had finally arrived. Some guy offered us something like $200 each for our tickets, and we just scoffed at him.
Seeing Ian Brown take that first step out of the fog to the bassline of “I Wanna Be Adored” was one of the coolest experiences ever. That whole show was unforgettable, actually. It turned out to be their last-ever gig in the USA, as they had to cancel their remaining tour dates due to John Squire breaking his collarbone in a mountain biking accident in Marin the next day. The band itself broke up a few weeks later, so we consider ourselves fortunate for being able to see them when we did.

Anyway, yeah – you could say that the Stone Roses were (and still are) somewhat of a favorite of mine. Call me arrogant, but I still say that their first record is the greatest album ever recorded.