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The Mix Tape, 1991: I'm 13, and I Live in Evergreen Park

I turned 13. I loved metal. Nirvana was a year away. I was not the most popular kid in my class. I discovered girls liked music. I made out for the first time. I did not start puberty. The year is 1991, and I live in Evergreen Park.

Stop! (Jane's Addiction, from Ritual de lo Habitual)
It was the album cover. The original album cover. I always went through the vinyl racks at Wind Records, even though the only turntable I had was a busted Fisher-Price portable unit. I asked the guy behind the counter who they were, not yet hip to a hipster's assumed knowledge. "They're playing right now," he said. And it was this song. I whiled away the next 45 minutes browsing and listening to this whole incredible album. Cheesy? Yes. Derivative of almost every '70s rock trope? Yes. I loved this album because it made me feel older, and because it was Rolling Stone's Critics Pick for Album of the Year (after I bought it!). Stop! was what I wanted drugs to feel like. And when I got older, I found that I was right.

Hangar 18 (Megadeth, from Rust in Peace)
Jack Stanley loved Megadeth. I loved Metallica. He made out with chicks from the public junior high. I began to like Megadeth. The album had a cooler-than-Iron Maiden comic book cover, and Dave Mustaine could shred. I think this song is about Area 51. I don't know. My brain shut out Dave's vocals.

Fade to Black (Metallica, from Ride the Lightning)
I wore huge glasses. My braces would have scared Tim Burton. The year before, two eighth-graders threw me in the dumpster, and the principal yelled at me because my clothes were too filthy for class. I related to this song.

You're Crazy (Guns N' Roses, from Appetite for Destruction)
I ripped off Columbia House for the first time at 10 and started my music collection. I peeled the wrapper off this cassette with my teeth when it finally arrived. I played this cassette so much over the next three years, the mechanism snapped. I grew up with six sisters, and other girls were not my forte. I wanted to run down 95th Street singing this song at every woman I met, shouting them down. I had some misogyny issues to resolve.

Pour Some Sugar on Me (Def Leppard, from Hysteria)
The British call it being a lad. Ya know, stylish guy, hit with the ladies. I wanted to be an American lad. It involved this song, roller skating, and having women fight over me while the referee skated backwards to break it up. A complicated image for an incredibly sophomoric song.

Welcome to the Terrordome (Public Enemy, from Fear of a Black Planet)
The closest I ever got to black people was occasionally the library, the Plaza, or the corner of 99th and Halsted. I certainly didn't know any. But if you couldn't tell, I had a certain affinity for angry music. And no one was more pissed off than Chuck D in 1991. On my door, he glared at my mother for even thinking of emptying my laundry from the Dirty Dunk. Next to him was a photo of what I now know as Flavor Flav's "grill." I grew up in a remarkably tolerant household within a toxically racist village. Chuck D's raps blistered any of that ignorance which may have adhered to me. He was my anti-Martin Luther King. "It's weak to speak and blame somebody else/When you destroy yourself." Word.

What It Takes (Aerosmith, from Pump)
I wanted someone to break my heart so I could feel Steven Tyler's pain. Big. Sappy. Ballad. But it moved me to tears.

Cherry Pie (Warrant, from Cherry Pie)
"So I mixed up the batter/And she licked the beater." 'Nuff said.

Beat on the Brat (The Ramones, from Ramones)
"Yeah, this is punk music." So said Brian O'Neill, one-third of the Brothers O'Neill who had such a huge influence on what I thought was cool. I didn't know punk from funk yet, but I loved this. Dumb and violent, like the best of Tom & Jerry. Unfortunately, this song turned to "Beat on the Brett" when Mike Spadoni and Mike O'Neill felt like giving me "deserved" beatings.

Don't Know What You Got (Cinderella, from Long Cold Winter)
A dusty for me at 13. I left my Crue-lovin' hair metal days long behind (one year). I wanted it faster and heavier--more shop vac, less feather duster. But I would fall in love with Bowie very soon, and my glam-lovin' roots lie right here. Some songs make you air guitar. Some you mouth intently late at night, plugged into your Walkman. This is one of the latter.

Paint It Black (The Rolling Stones, from Hot Rocks)
I bought Hot Rocks at the local Musicland with a Christmas gift coin a year before this and listened to it on my Walkman everywhere for a solid month. Walking home from school. Studying. Reading in bed. Regular radio became extraordinarily boring. I began my baby steps to Rock Snobdom. This was Serious Music. Not pretty; it was untamed. I would close my eyes at night with this song and, maybe like David St. Hubbins, think more black, more black.

Almost Grown (Chuck Berry, from The Great 28)
Another Columbia House heist. Chuck Berry played teen-aged blues, sure, but nobody ever played 'em better. His guitar licks hum and strut; they vibrate. He was black, he was cool, and I wanted to hang out with him all the time. I thought I was being hip and retro, but later I find everybody was into him. Kind of a bummer.

The Warmth of the Sun (The Beach Boys, from Endless Summer)
My sisters listened to crappy music. Phil Collins. Huey Lewis and the News. The Outfield. But they owned a ton of Beach Boys--records, 8-tracks, cassettes--nearly everything. This was my blues. Get cut from the team? Listen to Brian Wilson. Not get a girl to skate with you? Listen to Brian Wilson. Friends ditch you? Listen to Brian Wilson. Guy always knew what to say and empathized with you like crazy. The opening harmony of this song is a straight out music taste scythe for me to this day. Either you get goose bumps, or you just don't get it.

Five to One (The Doors, from The Best of the Doors)
Oooh . . . the Doors. Yes, everyone who loves music goes through a huge Doors phase. Mine went hand in hand with Jim Thompson novels right around the summer I was going into seventh grade. The Corniea Bros. played The Best of all the time, busting through their wonky, aging speakers, talking shit and drinking beer in a bombed-out basement. I sat and soaked it in, occasionally sneaking a smoke, that's it. Happy to be there. I thought this was punk. No, punk has art to it. No art in that basement. And no art in the Doors. I still love Jim Thompson, though.

Angel of Death (Slayer, from Reign in Blood)
Commitment. When I think Slayer, I think commitment. These dudes didn't just take the thrash Kool-Aid, they bathed in it. And it always sounded better coming out of Dennis O'Neill's locked bedroom. More secret. Plus, the real cool public school kids wore Slayer hoodies and would smash your weak-ass won-at-a-carnival framed Bon Jovi poster as soon as smile at you. I couldn't get that committed. But I loved knowing something that beyond the pale was out there for me.

Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin, from Led Zeppelin IV)
Poetry to me then. I also thought drugs were like this song. Thank God I was wrong. The rest of Led's oeuvre I found pretty weak--not heavy enough. But Robert Plant tripping medieval and Jimmy Page at his most prog? To my Tolkien-trained ears, a true symphony. Sometimes it's good you are 13 only once.

Alison (Elvis Costello, from My Aim Is True)
First, the cover. It was me, looking back at me! Then this song. Almost Chuck Berry wedded to the Beach Boys. I could have sworn Elvis ripped it out of my heart's teletype. And my sisters loved him, so I knew he eventually got the girl. Elvis still gives me that faith.

4th of July, Asbury Park (Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, from Live/1975-85)
If you are a Brett, you wear Chuck Taylors and have a complete devotion to Bruce. I don't remember life before him, because to me it didn't exist. 1978, he was already the Boss. Bruce was sui generis, all eventual music I held dear to this day derives from him. And this song, well, it was nothing but electric. It's West Side Story mated to S.E. Hinton. I hung on every recycled word of it, because new to me then didn't matter. When you're 13, everything is new and most of it absolutely sucks. You want warm blankets. Bruce is still mine.


Posted on March 28, 2006

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