Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Curious Artifact

Growing up in the late 80s and early 90s in East Oakland, I did not hear or know of much music outside of the familiar orbits of R&B, Rap, Motown, and Gospel. I was sort of aware other types of music existed, like for instance there was this rather large, but vague genre I frequently heard referred to as “White Music”, that was pretty much any, and everything under the Rock banner. But I knew little if anything at all about those songs, performers, or bands. The most Rock I ever came close to in those days was Run-DMC's and Aerosmith's “Walk this Way”.

For me the soundtrack of the late 80's to early 90's was composed of artists and groups like NWA, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, Eric B & Rakim, Dani Dane, Prince, MC Lyte, Too Short, Slick Rick, Das EFX, TLC, EPMD, Kid n Play, Heavy D, Keith Sweat, Jodeci, En Vogue, Boys 2 Men and others.

This is not to claim I lived in a complete genre-deprivation tank of some sort. Sometimes, while flipping through the channels with my older siblings, we would occasionally pause at MTV (when Yo MTV Raps were not playing) or VH1. Back then those rock, alternative and grunge performers/bands seemed all at once curious and alien. It was much like catching glimpses into an entirely different world that seemed so far, far away from my own.

There are three rock videos I still remember having a really vivid impression on me the first time I saw them by coincidence. The first was,“You Could Be Mine” by Gun & Roses, had clips of the Terminator 2 film in it. I recall thinking it was pretty cool and humorous that the Terminator actually encountered the band at the end of the concert just as they were leaving the stadium.

The second was “Creep” by Stone Temple Pilots. My second-oldest brother and I sitting on the couch one afternoon. Somehow we caught the song as it was beginning and decided not to change the channel. I recall feeling it sounded like an extremely sad song. When we heard the line about everyone running because some guy suddenly had a gun, my brother started laughing as he said, “Yeah. That's a damned good reason to start running.”

The third that left the most lasting, and powerful impression was “Sober” by Tool. I was 12 or 13, sitting on the floor in the living room with both my older brothers. They were waiting for “Yo MTV Raps” to begin, so they begrudgingly left the channel there because it was about 10 minutes to go. The video, with its bizarre, stop animation, and dark, seething music began, instantly catching our attention.

What in hell is this?” My oldest brother inquired curiously.

I don't know.” The second-oldest replied. “But it looks pretty fuckin crazy.”

I remember instantly being both fascinated and puzzled by “Sober”. I loved the imagery, that raw sound, and just the power it seemed to have. I use to draw monsters all the time so the actual video ignited my imagination to no end.

I wanted to know who the faceless man was, what sort of world he lived in, why was there flesh moving through a pipe in the wall, and perhaps most of all, what the hell was in that box he kept peeking into? I occasionally checked MTV from time to time in hopes of seeing that video again, but I would not see such again until years later.

Once, while walking home from my 5th-grade class, I came across CD lying on the sidewalk. Cassettes were still mostly my realm of experiences back then, so finding a random CD was strange in itself. I picked it up, of course, and if I recall correctly, it read Whitesnake. What a strange name. Was there a rapper or R&B group named Whitesnake?

I was so puzzled by the title and CD that I decided to bring it home to my second-oldest brother with all the urgency of an archeologist accidentally discovering alien technology. Back then my second oldest brother was like my guru. While growing up I believed he was one of the smartest people I knew and had a way of examining situations on an in-depth level. I found him in his bedroom and handed the album to him while explaining where I found it.

I think it's rock-- or maybe metal-- or some shit.” He said while casually looking it over. “White Snake, huh? Never heard of them. Want to see what's on it?” He asked with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation.

I eagerly agreed as he placed the CD on the tray, and then pushed play. Almost immediately such a terrible, unfamiliar noise came from those speakers. To this day, I am not completely certain if the CD was perhaps scratched, or if that particular band was just that horrible. Either way, we threw it in the trash.