This is going to be a little experiment. What follows will be a verbal snapshot; a relatively brief look at a moment in time. The specific time will not be given, but clues will be obvious. I will filter this through a specific song as the point of reference. Alright? So come on; let’s move.
“Hey man, check this out,” said Bill with his nearly impossible to place accent and intonation. Bill was one of the very few people I had ever met from New Hampshire. He was also the only one I ever became friends with. We met through skateboarding. Ninety-eight percent of the skaters I knew were into hardcore punk and Bill was no different. However, he was the first serious “straight-edge” guy I had ever come across. He did not drink or party in any way and was a vegetarian as well. This was long before vegetarianism was something anyone ever really rattled on about or hip kids gravitated to. Bill had an athletic build and was about the same height as me. He had a chiseled jawline, buzzed sandy hair and amber/brown eyes. He was a sharp looking guy. He dressed plainly in button-down flannel shirts jeans or cut-off chinos and mostly unadorned t-shirts. I recall he wore many bracelets though some of which were just pieces of string or braided junk.
He handed me a cassette that had a white liner with the song titles typed out and printed. “This is Ian’s new band,” Bill said nonchalantly. Bill lived with this chick Kim who eventually would be in Jawbox and his other house mate was Mike Hampton who was in The Faith and then Embrace. Kim dated J from Government Issue. Basically, Bill knew every DC scenester and so did I from hanging with them. None of them drank or partied at all so on many occasions they would all meet up to do other things that did not involve inebriants. We went bowling, played pool; it was weird, but kinda cool in a way.
Clicky as they all were they treated us pretty nicely and actually were cordial to me outside of those events. The nicest one of them all besides Bill’s house mates was Guy. He was really personable and funny. Man though, when he got on stage, he tore it up. Poured his heart out and flailed like a maniac. A great entertainer and a great dude. He too was in “Ian’s” new band.
The first couple of songs on the demo were good, but not mind blowing. They sounded familiar with Ian’s drill Sargent vocals over top the trademark DC stop/start guitar gallop sound. I thought “OK, whatever more of the same stuff they have pedaled before.” Somewhere maybe forth or fifth song in “Give Me the Cure” came on. It was instantly different. Guy was the lead vocal and it began very quietly in contrast to what had preceded it. It had a simple repetitive figure that builds through the song coming to an incredibly dissonant bridge that snaps the song’s spine in half. The rhythm of the bass and drum was in lockstep, but with a far more dance-driven almost “go-go” groove. Crazy; sitting in Bill’s room I was nodding my head along with it, but I wanted to get up and move my hips!!! Most people either loved or hated Guy’s vocals as they were very raspy and sounded bottomlessly desperate. They were almost sad sounding no matter what he was singing about. He was always pleading with the listener over his subjects. I remembered that when I first heard him a few years before I thought it stunk, but he became an acquired taste, like olives. Salty, bitter and challenging, then a savory reward for those who stuck it out.
There was a great deal of space in this number. No one instrument overpowered or drowned out anything else. As the song began you only heard a quiet guitar line, then Guy, then the drums and finally the bass. “Good God I don’t need a reason” Guy says at the end of the first verse and it was he alone with the guitar. The drama and power that underscored his statement blew me away. Not everything had to be loud and monstrous to have an impact as I was to learn. Quiet moments help you appreciate the loud ones.
The two note dissonant figure that shattered the songs initial groove was then propelled into a whirlpool by Joe’s circular alternate key bass line. The tension built was a rare treat. It echoed of greats like Gang of Four and Sonic Youth maybe both mixed together. Gang of Four was always the touchstone I used when trying describe them. That was a huge compliment. I loved Gang of Four musically and for my own personal reasons of them having been the soundtrack to to one of my earliest moments of intimacy. The building guitar squall was all Sonic Youth. They had come along for me a few years earlier and I was only just starting to appreciate them. They would become a favorite and a big influence. This was among the several prescient moments from this song.
The guitar over the verse break outta the bridge was a WW2 fighter plane roar. Specifically, the sound was nearly identical to the howling Vought F4U Corsairs that I adored as a little boy from the show “Ba Ba Blacksheep”. Explosive, yet still with that same propulsive groove that made my hips want to swivel in the first part. At about 2:20 Ian creates a tremolo effect on a note as he and Guy scream “Going down!” I later saw them do this live and he basically grabs the guitar’s headstock and bends it violently. I read in an interview that he had kept the same 2 guitars (Gibson SG’s of course) forever but had the necks and headstocks rebuilt tons of times.
I made Bill play it again and then I dubbed the whole thing. I may still have it. The songs later showed up on their 1st EP, but the mix was different. I listened to it a lot and saw them a couple of times that spring before I went home to become a burn tech. As in the song I would be feeling the dying soon.
This song for some reason popped into my head the other day. I thought about how it made me feel. I listened to it over and over. I jumped, sang along and danced around. Some say it was about AIDS, but I think that is too confining. It is finding something 4 me that many might not see. The cure; good god I don’t need a reason. There is no reason…everything is the shot, everything is the pill and that is the cure. Being there and moving to dance in every way.