Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Vehicle for the Road Not Taken

August 2014:

It was a beautiful late summer day and we were riding home from lunch on City Island.  Alas, traffic was backed up. Me and Mrs. Jaybee were tired and, frankly, getting on each other’s nerves.  

It was Mrs. Jaybee’s turn to choose the music. She picked an old favorite - The Chills’ Submarine Bells.   

Listening to an often-played record can be wearisome. But today - maybe because the weather and the date were a near match of the day in 1990 when we got the CD - the flood of memories it invoked brought tears to my eyes. (This is an odd thing to have happen when you’re bickering.)

Oh, and it sounded great.

August 1990:

It might not come as a surprise to you that I used to spend my birthdays in record stores. I’d go during the year, too, but on my birthday I’d give myself permission to go nuts. And this one would prove to be a legendary trip. (A good trip, by the way, looks like me holding an armful of CDs, and Mrs. Jaybee looking on wondering why we were indoors on a perfectly beautiful day.) Why?

First, because I’d gone through a record buying drought for a few years. I’d held off on getting a CD player until 1989 so the selection of vinyl albums in record stores was getting slimmer by the week. But now I had the CD player.

I’ve often (well, maybe twice) said how when I go to a record store my eyes are bigger than my ears (or wallet) I pick up lots of potential CDs to buy and end up putting back all but a handful. And 1990 trip was the very epitome of this. At one point, I had 30 CDs in my cart. I would eventually prune it back to nine or ten.

But before I did, somewhere in that pile of 30 were Submarine Bells by The Chills and Vehicle by The Clean - both new CDS by alt-rock bands from New Zealand. I’d heard very good things about both, but now, having to make some hard choices, I thought one NZ-alt-rock band would have to suffice for the time being.

So, how did I choose?  The cover, of course.

Here's the Clean:


And here's the Chills:

I much preferred the pretty blue and weird marine life Submarine Bells. A dumb reason? Sure, but look at this expert advice that says otherwise.

1990 and Forward:

Another reason this trip would be memorable was that we had just bought a house, and were thus starting a new chapter in our lives. This virtually guaranteed that the music we were listening to - assuming it was any good - would forever be associated with that time.

We only had Theresa - two years old - at the time. Michael hadn’t arrived yet. So you can imagine how many memories were to follow.

And I didn’t regret Submarine Bells one bit.  It was the the best of the many CDs we got that day, and would end up being one of our all time favorites. And like the best music, it would go beyond being mere background music for those times. It would become part of them.

While I never exactly looked back, I’d kept Vehicle on my list, occasionally see it on subsequent record store trips and wonder what I might have missed not getting it.

Why didn’t I just get it? Well, it would show up less and less frequently, and when it did, it would be in the form of a pricey import. So it would never quite make it through the pruning process, and The Clean would eventually drop off the map. Plus, I’d already gotten the great CD, didn’t I?

April 2014:

Record Store Day in Other Music and there it was. A brand new copy with bonus tracks, and almost reasonable priced. The time seemed right.  

I would get a chance to hear the road not taken.


First you get the guitars chiming, ecstatically welcoming in the Spring of 2014 like the chirping of (giant prehistoric) birds . Then the bass and drum foundation that is so strong I don't care that they really can't sing for sh*t. 

It’s a bit harder-edged than the Chills and weirder. But it’s such a striking sound that it provided the most high points of any CD so far this year, I played it non-stop for six weeks.  Even the Chills didn’t do that. Granted, there were nine other CDs it was competing with. The Clean only had two, which I’ll deal with at another time.

So what would it have been like if I got the Clean instead of the Chills? Well I probably wouldn’t have played the latter as much for dinner guests. But I suspect it would have attached itself to our memories almost as indelibly as the Chills.

But just to be certain, check in with me in 24 years or so. A

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