I played in a band in high school. I was the bassist and wrote a lot of lyrics. My best friend and I wrote all the songs. I wanted to be a singer, but could never get over myself long enough to pull-it-off. Like a lot of young and music-obsessed kids, we dreamed of making it big one day (at the time of course having no idea what “making it” would entail. I mean, how hard could it be to get your CD in a record shop?). Some kids have the football team, we had the band. The songs we wrote and the songs by the artists we loved were our swords and badges of honor in the daily melee of our teenage years.
Like a lot of garage bands, our songs were simple, big on `90s era indie/alternative influence and full of teen angst: we railed against conformity, complained of broken hearts and in general cut the figure of young and tortured Rimbauds. I look back at some of it now and cringe (performing at our graduation resplendent in our caps and gowns.) I remember other things and see the talent: our young dream of succeeding in show business not entirely unwarranted. It’s just a very long way from rural Oregon to Hollywood.
When I think about some of the words we wrote and sang, I wonder if any grown-ups were actually listening; otherwise, they would’ve surely taken us to get help or suggested a Ritalin prescription, especially for me, not realizing the music was our own self-medication. Anyway, we did manage to play a few gigs in the “big cities” of Portland and Eugene (we were based in the Corvallis area.) We played “new band night” a couple times at The Satyricon in Portland’s Chinatown. I’m currently reading Torment Saint, William Todd Schultz’s fantastic new biography of Elliott Smith (a massive influence for me and my friend during this period). In it, George Touhouliotis (a former Portland cab driver) describes the venue and the area of Portland it was in as a real shithole, full of drugs, prostitution and fights.
Portland’s spruced up a lot since then (that general neighborhood is now known as the Soho-esque “Pearl District.”) I think back on our gullible, fresh faces, hands stamped with “M” for minor, playing our over-earnest indie/folk tunes, and wonder what the hardcore Portland gutter punks must’ve thought. That is if anyone was at those shows. I was so dazzled by the bright lights and the big city (“We’ve surely made it now!” I thought to myself naively) I hardly remember what the crowds were like. And that’s probably for the best.
Torment Saint: The Life of Elliott Smith, by William Todd Shultz is best paired with anything Elliott Smith ever put out, because it’s all brilliant.