WORDS BY MARY LUCIA
Life’s measurements of importance can be summed up by what record I had on repeat—and probably also what style of pants I was wearing.
In the late 1970s, my oldest brother had a great record collection; albeit, he stored them against the radiator in his bedroom. I should clarify: It was the old “Greg Brady needs his space by turning the attic into a bedroom” jive. Ultimately, code for “I need a room in which I can smoke pot, preferably on another floor of the house.”
No surprise, Hal referred to that rotating sibling bedroom as the Opium Den.
As youngest sister, it was my job to wait for my brother to go out in the evening to sneak up those creaking stairs. Everything seemed slightly exotic up there, lit by the oozing warmth of a lava lamp. Candle wax covered the surface of his speakers.
The album artwork of ELO’s Into the Blue drew me in immediately.
Headphone listening was a given in that household, as it was competing with at least three other people’s Hi-Fi selections.
This also explains why nobody ever responded to a ringing phone or their name being called for dinner.
Those layered synthesizer sounds on that record are indelibly seared into my brain, even though I couldn’t comfortably crank the volume, as I had to keep an ear on the possible footsteps approaching, indicating my impending bust. Even then, I knew the sounds of Jeff Lynne were the anchovy of music production: Forever detectable, even if it was just a whiff. When I was finished soaking up the sounds and smells of big brother’s forbidden retreat, I would grab a piece of cinnamon Dentyne from his cluttered dresser top of Zig-Zag papers and ritualistically swipe some spilled change from his floor.
I’m guessing I might not have been in charge of my wardrobe selections at this time. It could’ve been my pre-I-won’t-wear-any jeans-that-aren’t-Levi’s stage of life, in which case I was sporting some Squaresville crap brand foisted upon me.
In 1992, I was in my short-lived Fly Girl phase and rabidly latched onto TLC’s Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip. My Sony Discman went everywhere I went. I had a very handsome, romantic boyfriend at the time, who had a huge crush on Lisa Bonet—which, horrifyingly, resulted in me getting a spiral perm. Everything in this period of life felt romantic: Living in NYC, working at a vintage clothing store, and living on ice cream sandwiches and diet root beer. I was able to work the expression “She looks like she needs a case of Ho Remover” into my vernacular. The blended voices of the young women of TLC and the attitude of sass fell right in step with my own. I was wearing my boys’ Levi’s 501 jeans baggy and wide-legged, cinched with a wide belt was the uniform—no matter that my New Jack crotch looked about four feet long.
The summer of 2001, I had gotten an advance copy of The Strokes debut album, Is This It? Where had this sound been all my life? Upon first listen, I had never felt so at home with a recording as I did with these NYC scruffs. This short collection of songs spoke to me on a level that hit all the right rock-and-roll feels. It was everything I was hungry for at that exact moment in time. Every production trick people disliked were the very reasons I loved it. Muffled vocals sung into a catcher’s mitt? Sonic perfection to me.
By this point I had a crummy CD player in my shitbox Volvo that I cherished.
Along came September 11, 2001, and I still hadn’t changed the disc—nor would I for at least another month. These two-and-a-half minute songs now became the soundtrack to a most confusing and hellish time for everyone, but especially New Yorkers. It was ingrained in me alongside super low-rise skinny jeans.
The following year I foolishly thought I could easily remove 17 layers of wallpaper from a kitchen wall before moving. I was armed with the Tiger scraper, dropcloth, ladder, and boombox.
Problem was, I had only one CD to listen to, and that was The Libertines’ Up the Bracket. Which really was no problem at all. It was pure Brit-Stabby and ragged sounding, and I ate it up.
The real issue was that I was not armed with Valium and the phone number for a wallpaper removal support hotline. Friends should’ve requested a wellness check for me: “Yeah, I have a friend who thinks she’s going to easily remove 100 years of wallpaper from five walls. She’s armed with one CD, and we haven’t heard from her in days.”
I felt had something to prove, so I was determined to remove the ancient layers of someone else’s bad decorating ideas. This agonizing process was punctuated by The Libertines’ snarl and tasty riffs. I can’t separate the two in my mind. At this time in my life of trousers, it was still Free the Ass Crack low-rise.
Then came 2012, the year I was losing my beloved dog, Smudge.
Every week, I stood during her aqua therapy sessions, encouraging her like a loaf of bread coming down the conveyor belt at Cub Foods.
Father John Misty’s Fear Fun was the soundtrack. The tune ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings’ was particularly striking when the inevitable happened and Smudge passed on. I had her ashes and was planning on burying her in my backyard. I asked my friend DC to help me, to which he comically pointed out I was the first friend to ask him to dig a grave. The song lyrics “Jesus Christ girl, someone’s gotta help me dig,” provided a much-needed laugh.
Status of my jeans: Most likely Levi’s bootcut, as I finally was able to show off a wicked collection of vintage cowboy boots. (Note: Way too tough to pull off pants tucked into boots, unless you’re Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel & the Furious Five.)
Some Good Years, The Cowsills
See No Evil, Television
Lowdown – 2006 Remastered Version, Wire
As Long As You Tell Him – Single Version, Faces
Richard III, Supergrass
Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile), Van Morrison
Sooner or Later, The Grass Roots
Who Loves the Sun – 2015 Remaster, The Velvet Underground
Rockin’ at Midnight – 2006 Remaster, The Honeydrippers
You Don’t Know Me, Crystal Gayle
Who Needs You, The Orwells