Music has always been a big deal in my life. Cliché. It is for everyone. I just thought I'd chart my music listening through my favorite bands. It shows an interesting evolution.
When I was a kid, my brother and I mostly just listened to what came on the radio. This meant that Michael Jackson was a huge part of our childhood. A joke here would be too easy, so I'll not go there. Let me say it this way; My kids only know him as some freaky dude who probably touched kids inappropriately. It's hard to explain to them how much EVERYONE thought he was the shit back in the early Eighties. There was NO one bigger. The "Thriller" album was genuinely great, and we listened to it until the tape wore out.
The other big influence on us musically was the classical music that my mother was constantly playing. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, they were all there, with many others. For me, when it came to the classic composers, the Russians were my favorites. Modest Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain" and Pyotr Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" are bombastic, violent, and a bit unpredictable. So, through the late Seventies and early Eighties, I had the strange balance of Jackson and Tchaikovsky as my favorite artists.
In the late Eighties, I was taking my radio listening much more seriously. I was recording stuff off of the radio all the time, filling up 90 minute tapes (and cursing when the DJs talked too long over the beginning of the songs), and later even recording the "best" of those from one tape to another, making my own mixtapes. Most of you reading this are from my generation, and know what I'm talking about first hand, but for those that aren't, or didn't, these were poor in quality, being essentially a recording of a recording of an analog transmission. It's a testament to the technology of the day that these tapes were even listenable, which really, they wouldn't be by today's standards.
In that time period of mixtaping and taking my radio pop music very seriously, one band had emerged from the crowd as the first band that I would unqualifyingly call my "favorite band." That was Information Society. Their first two albums, their self-titled debut and their follow up "Hack," were on almost constant rotation. Everybody knew "What's on Your Mind (Pure Energy)" well enough, but I SCOFFED at those people, knowing that was just the tip of the iceberg. I thought nothing could topple them from the top spot in my heart, but the same year that "Hack" was released in 1990, a friend introduced me to the Circle Jerks.
My friend Chris moved to California from New York, and he brought with him, oddly, a California band. Now, my friend Monte and had tried to introduce punk to me a hundred times, but every time, I shrugged, and just didn't get it. Every band he played for me, the Dead Kennedys, the Misfits, the Ramones, I would later love, but I just wasn't ready for it at that moment. The Circle Jerks album "Wonderful" is the perfect gateway record into punk. It's loud, it's got screaming and fast guitars, but it also has the jovial melodic energy to it that a lot of punk lacks. Much of the punk scene took itself too seriously. Let's say, as seriously as I had taken the most ridiculous pop radio music just months earlier. But the Jerks seemed to be on the edge of laughing at themselves, and you the listener. It's even in their name. As Chris blasted such gems as "Killing For Jesus" and "Making the Bombs" from his '68 Chevy II Nova, well, it was love at first listen. I secretly kept InSoc on rotation, but publicly decried such sugar-coated radio junk food, and put the Dead Kennedys "Frankenchrist" on for all to hear. Eventually, punk was 90% of what I listened to, and though that percentage has dropped, it's still a large chunk of what plays through my iPhone, even today.
The next evolution came in 1993, when I heard the Pixies for the first time. Not quite punk, but what punk rock musicians listened to. What an odd band that is, when you really analyze them. The singers are kind of switched, with the lead male vocalist letting loose a high pitched scream, and the back up female singer bringing in the bass vocals. The guitar mostly sounded like sci-fi movie sound effects. The songs never seemed to keep a typical rhythm, playing way too fast or really slow at almost inappropriate times. But there was one aspect of their music that seemed so natural, that it never occurred to me that I hadn't really heard it before, and that was their signature LOUD quiet LOUD formula. With the verses quiet, and the choruses loud, or sometimes, oddly the reverse, it seemed like such a natural flow to songs, that I never noticed that other bands didn't really do that to the extent that the Pixies did. Well, no band before them, anyway, since so perfectly suited was that formula to rock and roll, that most other bands after them incorporated it into their sound. I devoured their catalog, and they remained my favorite band for many years.
In the 2000s, many bands vied for the top spot. The Pogues came close to bumping them. Okkervil River came the closest in 2007, but as much as I loved them, and in particular the LP "Black Sheep Boy," I just couldn't declare them my absolute, top of the pile, favorite. I figured something as momentous as one's "favorite band" was not to be knocked around willy-nilly. It's at this point that I want to note that I've never detailed everything out so explicitly before, so I never fully realized that some of my "favorite bands" were only such for a couple of years. I kind of imagined that any one band probably held that honor for a decade or so, when in fact, only the Pixies held it for that long.
But all reigns must come to an end, and thus it was for my beloved Black Francis and company. In 2010, while on deployment in Afghanistan, I discovered Rammstein. A German metal band that sings almost entirely in their native tongue, they were an unlikely band to knock the Pixies from the spot that they held so firmly for 17 years (more than that, really, since I didn't declare Rammstein my favorite band right away). Rammstein's Singer Till Lindemann has such a guttural sound to his voice, that the consonant heavy German language is actually very complimentary to his singing. He sounds like he is going to set you on fire as he sexes you up. If you were to dance in a club with Till, his dancing would consist of grinding up against you, while holding your neck firmly with both hands at the same time in a light choke hold. Google some Rammstein videos on Youtube. I'll wait... see? His appearance fits in flawlessly with his voice. Fucking him would hurt, and only MOSTLY in a good way, I guarantee it.
Rammstein formed in 1994, and one remarkable thing is that there has not been one change in their line up in all that time. That's pretty rare, especially considering that they are a larger band. People often ask me how I can enjoy listening to a band that doesn't sing in English, but this is a foolish question, if you really think about it. Folks the world over love opera, but most of them don't understand Italian. It's about the rhythm, and about that person using their voice as a musical instrument. Also, I took Kristine with me to see them live when they came through on a brief North American tour, and it was the best concert either of us had ever been to. Kristine is not even a FAN of them, and she said this. They know that you don't have a clue what they are singing about, so they put on a very visual heavy show, filled with pyrotechnics, people being set on fire, Till riding a giant pink six foot cock that spews white foam, and even exploding laser babies. For the encore song "Engel (Angel)," Till came out wearing these beautiful metal wings with a 20 foot wingspan, and during the finale, fire shot out of the wingtips about another 20 feet in either direction. That's a 60 foot wingspan of flaming metal goddamn wings.
So what band will come along to defeat Rammstein in my heart, and when? I don't know, but they will be a tough band to defeat. I mean physically. I mean Flake, the keyboardist, will go down quickly with a glass jaw, but the other five look like tough mother fuckers. They may maintain that top spot for quite some time. A new album would help, as it's been a while, and I'm itching for new material, but even without that, and even as they aren't as heavily played by me as they once were, they still remain, to this day, my favorite band.