The years 1994-98 may as well have never existed for me!
They were a four year period where I pretty much shut myself away from the world. The depression that had struck in 1991 clearly wasn't going to go away and it clung to me like an ungainly and smudged tattoo. On top of that there had been a succession of disastrous relationships, all of which never seemed to end in the non-acrimonious way they often did in TV and films but in calamitous misjudgements that left me battered, bruised and emotionally scarred. Yet another relationship crashed on the rocks in 1994 and so I called it a day and simply withdrew.
For the previous 10 or 11 years I felt like I had gone out every single night. Staying in at home was almost a taboo....it was unthinkable! In my diary of 1989 I actually write of the shock of staying in one Wednesday night in March....meaning I had gone out EVERY single night in the first three months of 1989. Nights in were viewed as a waste, especially when there were bands to go and see, friends to have a drink with, our own bands to rehearse with, girls to smooch around with, and the feeling that if we stayed indoors something important might happen and we'd miss it!
So now, in mid-1994, I shut myself away. Locking myself in my room with my records, my videos, my books and my ever increasing fondness for Red Wine and Jack Daniels. Red Wine had become my drug of choice....I had progressed from the ludicrously unpleasant German sugarswill of Liebfraumilch and Riesling, through the Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs and had now found that Red Wine suited my mood, and did the job properly.
I also seemed to give up on music at this time too. Grunge and Britpop came and went without affecting me in the slightest. The Nineties became a non-decade for me. Some people, 5 to 10 years younger than me will talk longingly of a decade of Oasis, Take That, The Spice Girls and 'Three Lions', but it all just passed me by.
In the Autumn of 1994 I went on holiday to Lanzarote....NEVER had I felt the need to get away and chillout so completely as I did at that time. Lanzarote isn't a particularly nice place, scenery wise....it's very parched and barren in places but this, and the intense heat felt just what I needed. I had with me a cassette that I had made of two bands I had recently become smitten with; Grant Lee Buffalo and The Scud Mountain Boys, and their music became so appropriate in every way to both the natural landscape and to the landscape of my mind.
I have a vivid memory of sitting on the porch of our apartment at almost 2:00 in the morning, the air still warm and humid, large stretches of scorched earth unfolding before me in the shadows, and the bottle of Red Wine I had for company loosening the grip of anxiety around me....just then 'Lone Star Song' by Grant Lee Buffalo crashed in on the headphones....it was PERFECT! The crunching guitar, the drawled vocals, the shrill harmonica and the blistering guitar solo just complimented everything.
As the wine worked it's magic, 'Mockingbirds' played out, that strange Lennonesque falsetto spinning around my head like refreshing breeze....miles from anyone or any unhappiness.
Another night I recall with remarkable lucidity; it had been an incredibly hot afternoon and we had all sat in the garden of our apartment enjoying a few light ales and the heat and the loooooong sunny afternoon meant that by early evening we were all rather over-refreshed. But we had to go out for our dinner and as everybody lethargically got ready to go out I stood looking out the front door, gazing at the deep crimson sunset, the smell of deodorant and hairspray everywhere, my head swimming in alcohol when 'Honey Don't Think' came on the music player. "It's the luck of the draw// How you wound up with me// I don't know how at all// But I beg you to stay// Crawl around on this earth// While the world's still small"....even now I can't hear those lines without being taken back there.
And then there was 'Happiness', a song I turned to a lot back in those days because of it's irony, and because it genuinely made me feel like everything was alright in the world.
The songs of the Scud Mountain Boys never really had much of an effect until I was back home again and dealing with my own self-imposed exile. Like I said in the opening paragraphs, there was a time when staying in was a novelty, but now by locking myself away, I felt safe. Safe from mental unhappiness and from having make decisions and deal with situations that were causing me deep anxiety.
The Scud Mountain Boys music is so slow and so painfully melancholic that I just enshrouded myself in their warm comforting embrace. Take the first two songs below; 'Reservoir' and 'Letter To Bread'....aren't they just the saddest songs you've ever heard?
Or take their woozy, somnambulent covers on well known songs; 'Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves', 'Witchita Lineman' and 'Please Mister, Please'.....so agonisingly beautiful, can't you feel exactly where my head was at in those dark days?
I also love the contradictory use of fire images in the songs 'Silo' and 'Freight Of Fire'(both in the one clip below); "Well I'm gonna burn the silo when you go" from the former juxtaposed with "Love it comes like a burning freight of fire// Love it dies just like three days without water" from the latter.
I realise that this must paint a sorry picture of someone dealing with their emotional issues with Red Wine and mournfully sad music, and that maybe that's not what this Blog is supposed to be about. We're supposed to be writing about our love of music and the happiness it brings us, right? But sometimes music goes way beyond that....sometimes music really is medicine for the soul, and if it hadn't been for these beautiful songs I can't even begin to wonder where I might have ended up. If you can't relate to any of this, if "it's only just music" then piss off and read an article about Paul Weller or Sting!!
I'd like to finish with a song that isn't by either of the two featured in this article, but which is my ultimate Red Wine And Downers moment; 'Dallas' by Silver Jews. I actually get scared listening to this track as it saw me through many a Cabernet Sauvignon soaked moment of doubt, and the very timbre of David Berman's voice just transports me back to a time and place I hope I've left far behind.
Happy trails to you, my Friends!