Category Archives: Feature Post

Sum 41: September 4, 2004 – Roberta Bondar Centre

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I had the privilege of going through my teens while pop-punk was at it’s peak.  Bands like Blink-182, The Offspring, and Jimmy Eat World weren’t just dominating alt-rock stations, they were pumping out consistent Top-40 hits. On my side of the border, Sum 41 were without a doubt, the Canadian kings of the genre.

The Sum 41 show was the first time that I’d seen a band live, and actually known most of their material.  No more mumbling through those unfamiliar verses for me.  From their first single release in 2000, all the way up to their trip to my hometown, I was a fan.  Now, I wasn’t exactly buying all the albums, but I’d at least seen all the music videos, and downloaded a few of their songs with Kazaa.

Around 2004, the band was at the peak of their popularity.  Over the course of four years, they’d gone from MuchMusic  darlings to collaborating with Iggy Pop, and even showing up on the Spider-man soundtrack.  In addition to the commercial success, the band was also showing some impressive creative growth, by introducing a bit of Metal to their already solid pop-punk sound.  It might not sound like a huge deal now, but mixing the stylings of Iron Maiden and Blink 182 made for a pretty refreshing sound at the time.

As far as concerts go, this one was a pretty big change of pace from what I’d seen so far.  Instead of a late night excursion into some smoky den,  this bad boy was an outdoor show in the middle of the day.  It had a much more “All Ages” feel to it, but that might have had less to do with the sunshine, and more to do with the fact that I brought my girlfriend’s little brother along to the show.

The concert itself was really fun.  Since the crowd skewed a bit younger, the audience was a lot more active than the Sloan or Nazareth gigs.  Lots of jumping around, but nobody got too out of hand (again, broad daylight).  Knowing all the songs really added to the whole experience too.

Now, it’s not that have anything against hearing new material live for the first time. It’s just that it forces you to dial things back a bit, and switch into move of an observer mode.  Whereas, when you know the songs, you’re more free to be an active participant in the whole experience.  Not just singing along, but being completely prepared for that special moment where the band stops everything, and lets the crowd take over the performance (A highlight of any live show, and gets exponentially cooler when you add in a few thousand more fans).

Unfortunately the band’s lead guitarist left the band not too long after this show, and Sum 41 never really got that “mojo” back. Well, I stopped keeping up with them anyway. That said, I’ll always have fond memories of this concert, and every high school highlight they provided the soundtrack to.

Nazareth: August 10, 2004 – The Eastgate

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As a general rule, the second time’s always easier. You’ve got a general idea of how things are supposed to play out, and hopefully picked up a few things from your first experience. That’s not to say it’ll turn out better, but at least you’re getting yourself into.

After the Sloan show, it ended up being almost a year before my next concert experience. And in that year, a decent amount of things had changed. I’d started my first real job, was about to start college, and for the first time in my life, I wasn’t single.

The job was a nice change of pace from the part-time work I’d been doing at a local golf course. Not that the golf course was a particularly bad place to work, but it wasn’t without it’s hazards. My main jobs there involved picking all the balls up from the driving range, cleaning them, and then getting everything set for the next day. Seems safe enough…. The thing is, walking around a wide open field and picking up balls with a PVC tube, makes you a pretty attractive target for anyone with a golf club, and the love of a good challenge. After braving a few near-misses, I figured it was time to break out the big guns….THE POULAN.

The Poulan was a marvel of golf-course technology. A riding lawnmower with an attached Popemobile-style cage that would keep the rider safe from even the most enthusiastic golfer. It even had an attachment that would pick up all the golf balls for me. The only real problem with the Poulan was its notorious unreliability. In order to get to the field where all the stray golf balls were, I had to go down an extremely steep hill, and make a sharp right-hand turn at the bottom. On one of these trips, right after I started down that 45º incline, the brakes decided to give out. As the Poulan approached speeds that no riding lawnmower was ever built to handle, and the Popemobile cage rattled around me, I figured that a dismount would be safer than sinking with the ship. After flinging open the cage door, and tossing myself into a nearby bush, I decided that I’d rather chance a golf ball head-shot, than take my chances with a lawnmower rollover.

As nice as the switch in employment was, the biggest change that year was my relationship status. Going into high school, I assumed that I’d walk out with two things for sure: some kind of luxurious facial hair, and a girlfriend. Sadly, the facial hair didn’t show up with any kind of consistency until I was well into my 20s, and the whole girlfriend thing took a bit longer than expected.

If my years of watching Saved By The Bell had taught me anything (aside from the dangers of caffeine pills), it was that high school relationships were a foregone conclusion. I mean if Screech could pair up with Tori Spelling, then I was guaranteed to meet that special someone. Except it just didn’t happen.

Now being an awkward teen isn’t exactly unheard of, but I’ll try and provide a bit of personal background. A good chunk of my base-interpersonal skills come from how much time I spent with my great-grandfather growing up. While Granny was always the talkative, outgoing type, Pa tended to err on the quiet, and contemplative side of things. He was the type of guy who would never be accused of talking to hear himself speak. If he didn’t feel like there was an immediate need to make his thoughts known, he just wouldn’t. As a result, everyone that knew him would immediately give him their undivided attention if he showed even the slightest intention of speaking up.

With my mother being a single, working parent, I spent a lot of time with my great-grandparents. For the amount of time/effort they put into raising me, they were essentially parents, and with my dad not being a huge part of my life, Pa was my de facto father figure. He built me a swing from a tree branch, we’d play catch in the yard, and he’d gladly sit through any Disney movie that I was in the mood for.  I really couldn’t have asked for more.

For all the time we spent together, we didn’t spend much of it talking. It wasn’t your typical awkward silence situation though. We just had this ease with each other, and a comfort level where speaking wasn’t all that necessary. Spending the majority of my younger days living as an only child, being quiet was my comfortable norm. Pa related to that quieter nature, and we really just “got” each other.

Unfortunately, this shared stoic nature didn’t do me many favours when it came to social situations. Around people that I don’t know very well, or most of my family, I’m the quiet one. The one who takes things in, thinks them over, and picks my time to speak very carefully. If I don’t have something exceptional to say, I’m perfectly content to stay silent.

Around friends however, this dynamic changes up quite a bit. I have this instant comfort level, and all of a sudden, I feel like I always know what to say. There’s a confidence that comes over me, and I go from being a quiet observer, to the extrovert of the group. I draw from that social energy, and boom, I’m the me that I want to be. The change can be so drastic, that sometimes I wonder which one’s the “real me”. Am I a quiet person that projects confidence to fit in? Or am I this entertaining individual that feels repressed a good chunk of the time? Honestly, I have no idea.

That outgoing persona’s great, except for the fact that it usually relies on my knowing someone for a while. Usually, I’ll get put in a situation where I’m forced to be social (work, a party, some group project at school), and I’ll slowly gain that comfort level, start acting like myself, and maybe end up with a new friend. It’s a time-consuming system, but if somebody makes it through that whole process, they’re pretty much guaranteed to be my friend for the long haul. It’s a great system for building lasting friendships, but makes meeting new people (specifically, potential dates) a little tough.

Through high school, I stuck with a couple of groups of friends, and didn’t branch out all that much. It wasn’t until grade 12 that my main group of friends somehow joined up with a group of girls. Here was this readymade group of friends, that had spent their entire elementary, and high school careers growing, and refining into a solid social unit that seemed just like ours. It was like the Chipmunks teaming up with the Chipettes, and all of a sudden we’d found ourselves a supergroup. Instead of a group of guys meeting up at the same spot in the hallway to eat lunch, we had a crew with our own table in the cafeteria. For the rest of the year, we spent all of our spare periods together, and hung out every weekend.

A few of us that lived east of the school made a habit of walking home together every day. We had a little convoy going on, and as we’d get near the first person’s house, we’d stop and chat for a while. Eventually, they’d head home, the rest of us would walk to the next branching point, chat some more, and the process would continue until there were only two of us left. The whole thing changed my 15 minute walk into a 90 minute relay, but it was a real highlight of my time in high school. With all the bonus chat time the last two of us got, I gained that comfort level, and we ended up becoming really good friends. She even gave me some dance lessons to prepare for the year end semi-formal.

After graduation, our supergroup went on a camping trip to Pancake Bay. The two of us spent most of the trip together, and were practically dating by the end of the summer. She ended up leaving town for school, but we stayed in touch, and decided to go from practically dating, to actually dating once the Thanksgiving break rolled around.

Flash forward a few months, and four of had our tickets in hand, and were all set to see Nazareth at the Eastgate.

After the Sloan show, I felt like a pro at the whole concert thing.  The Eastgate was a bit different though.  The entire crowd seemed a good 30 or 40 years older than us, and gave off a real strong grisled-biker vibe.  Needless to say, four kids under the age of 20 stuck out a bit in the sea of burly individuals, with beards and tattoos.  Not exactly my usual scene, but there I was, fresh out of high school, surrounded by a crowd of completely sloshed, 50-something couples, slow-dancing to “Love Hurts”.

The show didn’t quite have the same impact as the Sloan gig, and honestly, I don’t think there was any way it could have.  While I didn’t walk out of there with a new favourite band,  I did have a great time.  I mean, how many other acts would treat you to a bagpipe/talk box solo?

 

Led Zeppelin II

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Confession time: for a long time, Led Zeppelin IV just didn’t do it for me.

In the Napster days, Led Zeppelin was this name that always got tossed around as the definitive hard rock band. Knowing that “Stairway to Heaven” was their most popular song, I figured that Led Zeppelin IV was the obvious point to jump on the Led Zep bandwagon. Bad call. I went in expecting something along the lines of “Hells Bells” and ended up with songs like “Four Sticks”, and “The Battle of Evermore”. Great songs in retrospect, but at the time, I saw the album’s diversity as incoherence. Without three album’s worth of context, it just came across as an album that couldn’t decide on it’s own identity. Looking back, Led Zepplin IV is an amazing album, but at age 15, I’d decided that Led Zep just wasn’t for me.

A couple of years later, I’d finished up high school, but had no firm plans on what to do with my life. Instead of blowing a few thousand dollars on some random universty program, I made the call to do an extra year of high school. With all the advanced math and science classes under my belt, I was left with a lot of choice in that last year. Computer programming/engineering classes seemed like a safe bet, but that wouldn’t fill up an entire schedule. The time was right to get a bit more experimental with my course picks, and what high school class says free spirit more than guitar?

As much as I loved the idea of learning how to actually play the music I enjoyed, I did have some reservations. Namely, my complete lack of musical talent. Seriously, it was pretty bad.

In grade 5, my class was given the task of learning how to play the recorder. The instrument itself wasn’t all that intimidating, but reading sheet music turned out to be extremely difficult for me. After learning the first 3-note song, I was completely lost, and way behind the rest of the class. The rest of the year was spent sitting as low as possible at my desk, in an attempt to obscure my hands from the teacher’s view. From there, I’d pantomime what the other kids were doing, and pretend to blow into that stress-inducing, wannabe flute. Whenever the time came for a test, I’d transcribe the notes into a system of numbers that fit with my finger placement, and fumble through the song. After all that, I walked away with a solid “B” mark, and a healthy sense of anxiety whenever the thought of performing music popped into my head.

Fortunately, guitar class worked out much better because I ended up with an amazing teacher. He wasn’t nessecarily Ynngwie Malmsteen, but he had a real passion for his job, and patience to spare. The sound of twenty teens mangling “Sweet City Woman” never seemed to fase him one bit, and he knew we could only get better. Afterall, the spirit of rock was chaos, and we had that in spades. Best of all, by getting rid of sheet music, the barrier for entry was tossed right out the window. With guitar tabs, and transcribed chords I had a fighting chance at this whole music thing.

Throughout that year, I gained a new appreciation for dozens of artists. The Beatles, The Who, Bowie, Hendrix, Kansas….even Led Zeppelin. Songs like “Moby Dick”, and “Bring it on Home” sounded like I’d always imagined Led Zeppelin should sound. The main riffs weren’t overly complicated, but still had the ability to make you look, sound, and feel like a legit rock star if you could pull them off. As it turns out, all of the “new” Led Zeppelin songs that I was discovering came from the same album….Led Zeppelin II. Their second album, and their second chance at winning me over.

I picked up the album on my next trip to MusicWorld, and thankfully, I wasn’t let down in the slightest. While a bit less diverse than their fourth album, Led Zeppelin II delivered on that promise of being the definitive hard rock experience from intro to outro. This was the legendary Led Zeppelin that I’d heard so much about, and it was the exact album that I’d been looking for.

From beginning to end, Led Zeppelin II had that sense of cohesion I didn’t get from their fourth record. Track sequencing probably had a lot to do with this. Jimmy Page did an incredible job of creating the perfect flow to keep you engaged the entire time. Kicking things off with “Whole Lotta Love”, then calming things down for an intermission of sorts with “Thank You”, before jumping into the second act with “Heartbreaker”.

To close out the whole show, there’s “Bring it on Home”. Beginning with a slow, heavily distorted blues intro, “Bring it on Home” suddenly explodes with life around the 1:40 mark. The band keeps that frenetic pace going for the rest of the song, before returning to the slow blues riff for the outro. It’s the perfect track to end the album with, and gives Led Zeppelin II an excellent mix of climax, and closure in the confines of a single song.

Needless to say, after Led Zeppelin II, I was finally sold on Led Zeppelin. Over the next few years, I’d pick up their other records, and with the context of Led Zeppelin II, I was much more open to the blues-heavy Led Zep I, the acoustic/folk-influence of Led Zep III, as well as the later albums that threw most genre conventions out the window. Without giving Led Zeppelin that second chance, I would’ve completely missed out on “The Rain Song”, and that’s just not a world that I’d want to live in.

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Sloan: October 4, 2003 – The Canadian Motor Hotel

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There’s nothing quite like live music. When the right band takes the stage, that song that you’ve heard a million times before, suddenly turns into this shared experience between you, the band, and the crowd. The band pumping up the crowd, the crowd giving it right back, and you in the middle of it all. A shared experience between a few dozen, to a few thousand people. Everybody brought to that same place and time for the love of one thing….music.

Somehow, I’d managed to go through 4 years of high school without ever attending a rock show. It’s not that I avoided them, it’s just that they never really seemed like the thing to do. My hometown isn’t exactly huge, so big name acts didn’t come around all that often, and the idea of spending money on some band that I’d never heard of seemed like way too much of a gamble. That was money I could’ve been spending on guaranteed fun, like trying to track down the hottest wings in the city.

When I heard that Sloan were coming to town, I was genuinely floored. They weren’t some unknown property, or a nostalgia act on the casino circuit. Sloan were one of the more popular, and well respected Canadian bands of that decade. They even had a single in heavy rotation on the radio. The fact that this successful, contemporary  band was playing a gig in my city was surprising. The fact that said gig was going to be at a local bar was bordering on unbelievable. The universe was practically demanding that I take advantage, so who was I to disappoint.

A trip to the local CD Plus, and $20 later, I had my ticket, and was all set for my first concert.

The Canadian also happened to be my first time in a real bar. Sure there was the trip to the odd sports bar for wings, but those were basically restaurants. The Canadian was the real deal. I’m talking entrance at the back, staircase to the basement, bouncer at the door, and second-hand smoke permeating everything. Windows weren’t really a thing, and the ceiling tiles were on the verge of collapse after years of nicotine and audio abuse.

My friend and I quickly grabbed some t-shirts from the merch table, and managed to snag a table on the edge of the dance floor. The opening band (Cuff the Duke) was decent, but I was probably too excited about the whole scenario to really process much of what they were playing.

Not long after Sloan took the stage, an old man came up to us and let us know that, “Young fellas like you should be up there, where the action is”. I was pretty sure that it was just a ploy to snag our sweet table spot, but he was pretty creepy, so we decided to vacate anyway.

It was the best thing we could’ve done really. We ended up getting really close to the stage, and got right into the show. As the music boomed, I could even feel little pieces of the drop-ceiling falling down into my hair. The whole scene felt very rock-n-roll.

As a very casual Sloan fan, I didn’t exactly know all the lyrics to their songs. In fact, a good chunk of the experience was spent awkwardly singing along with a good chunk of mumbling, and every 5th word shouted out. The best part was that I never felt nearly as awkward as I probably was. Sloan were just too captivating for me to even feel a bit self-conscious.

With all four members of the band sharing the songwriting duty, they would regularly mix up their lineup on the spot. The drummer would grab a guitar, the guitarist would grab the mic, and the singer would be sitting at the drums, spinning a drumstick between his fingers. Whoever wrote the song, would sing the song, and the music was fantastic.

Crowd interaction was the icing on the cake. From a story about the band running into a random fan downtown, and getting invited over for dinner, to the bass player standing on an amp, taking aim with his bass guitar, and firing notes into the cheering crowd.

Walking out of the Canadian, I made the mistake of trying to talk with my friend about how great the show was. Turns out, that on this night of firsts, I also ended up with my first case of rock-induced tinnitus. The conversation sounded a lot like we were having it at the bottom of a lake, but I’m pretty sure he enjoyed the show as much as I did.

Instead of the usual scenario of me becoming a fan, buying albums, then searching out a live gig, Sloan won me over on the spot. In the following years, with every Sloan album that I picked up, I just appreciated them even more. As hard as it was to believe that they would play in my town back then,  I have an even tougher time now, getting over the fact that one of my all-time favourite bands was my first ever concert experience.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater Soundtrack

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I’m a big fan of programs like iTunes Genius. They take the music that you’re currently listening to, and give you song recommendations based on other people with similar taste in music. In high school, the soundtracks to the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games were like my own version of iTunes Genius. The big difference being, all song suggestions were based on the assumption that I really liked skate punk.

With the rampant music downloading at the time, I wasn’t listening to too many albums. Internet connection speeds were catching up with my ambitions of checking out all the songs that I’d heard of, but there was a new obstacle approaching fast. I was running out of new music to check out. The pop stations generally repeated the same songs on a daily basis, and even the local rock station tended to stick to the same playlist. Hearing Metallica’s cover of “Turn the Page” for the 50th time wasn’t exactly inspiring, so I was on the lookout for a new source. Enter, the Tony Hawk series.

I’d picked up Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater for the Nintendo 64 in the fall of 2000, and instantly fell in love with the music. Looking back, it was probably the worst possible way to be introduced to these songs. N64 games were pretty infamous for their limited storage capacity. This wasn’t a huge deal for games like Zelda, or Mario where the music was mostly chiptunes, but things got a bit dicey when pre-recorded music tracks entered the scene. In the transition from CD (Playstation) to cartridge (N64), the Tony Hawk soundtrack got pretty mangled. The sound quality took a dive, songs were heavily edited for time/language, and a good chunk of the tracks didn’t even make the cut. All that said, I still spent hours in front of the TV with the same minute and a half of “Superman” by Goldfinger on repeat.

I’ve heard it said that the true test of a song’s quality, is if it still holds up when performed by a single singer with a guitar. I’d say that if you hear a song filtered through the Nintendo 64, and still enjoy it, that song’s probably a masterpiece.

Each successive year brought a new Tony Hawk game, and along with it, a new song list that seemed custom made for me. Thanks to the annual boost in song-count, and genre diversity, I’d found my go-to source for new tunes in high school.

Eventually Activision (the publisher of Tony Hawk), would run the series into the ground, but those first 4 games were magic. If there’s any doubt, just take a look at this track list:

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
1. The Dead Kennedys – Police Truck
2. The Ernies – Here and Now
3. Even Rude – Vilified
4. Goldfinger – Superman
5. Primus – Jerry Was a Race Car Driver
6. Speedealer – Screamer/Nothing to Me
7. Suicidal Tendencies – Cyco Vision
8. The Suicide Machines – New Girl
9. Unsane – Committed
10. The Vandals – Euro-Barge

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
1. Rage Against the Machine – Guerilla Radio
2. Bad Religion – You
3. Anthrax feat. Chuck D. of Public Enemy – Bring the Noise
4. Powerman 5000 – When Worlds Collide
5. Naughty by Nature – Pin the Tail on the Donkey
6. Papa Roach – Blood Brothers
7. The High and Mighty feat. Mos Def & Mad Skillz – B-Boy Document 99
8. Consumed – Heavy Metal Winner
9. Dub Pistols – Cyclone
10. Swingin’ Utters – Five Lessons Learned
11. Styles of Beyond – Subculture
12. Millencolin – No Cigar
13. Black Planet feat. Alley Life – Out With the Old
14. Lagwagon – May 16
15. Fu Manchu – Evil Eye

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3
1. AFI – The Boy Who Destroyed the World
2. Adolescents – Amoeba
3. Alien Ant Farm – Wish
4. Bodyjar – Not the Same
5. CKY – 96 Quite Bitter Beings
6. Del the Funky Homosapien – If You Must
7. Guttermouth – I’m Destroying the World
8. House of Pain – I’m a Swing It
9. KRS-One – Hush
10. Mad Capsule Markets – Pulse
11. Motorhead – Ace of Spades
12. The Nextmen – Amongst the Madness
13. Ozomatli – Cut Chemist Suite
14. The Ramones – Blitzkrieg Bop
15. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Fight Like a Brave
16. Redman – Let’s Get Dirty
17. The Reverend Horton Heat – I Can’t Surf
18. Rollins Band – What’s the Matter Man
19. Xzibit – Paparazzi
20. Zebrahead – Check

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4
1. AC/DC – TNT
2. Aesop Rock – Labor
3. Agent Orange – Bloodstains (Darkness Version)
4. Avail – Simple Song
5. The Bouncing Souls – Manthem
6. City Stars – Bad Dreams
7. The Cult – Bad Fun
8. De La Soul – Oodles of O’s
9. Delinquent Habits – House of the Rising Drum
10. The Distillers – Seneca Falls
11. Eyedea & Abilities – Big Shots
12. The Faction – Skate and Destroy
13. Flogging Molly – Drunken Lullabies
14. Gang Star – Mass Appeal
15. Goldfinger – Spokesman
16. Haiku D’Etat – Non Compos Mentis
17. Hot Water Music – Freightliner
18. Iron Maiden – The Number of the Beast
19. JFA – Beach Blanket Bongout
20. Less Than Jake – All My Best Friends are Metalheads
21. Lootpack – Whenimondamic
22. Lunchbox Avenue – Everything and Anything
23. Public Enemy – By The Time I Get to Arizona
24. Muskabeatz – Bodyrock (feat. Biz Markie)
25. Muskabeatz – I’m A Star (feat. Grandmaster Melle Mel)
26. Muskabeatz – Versus of Doom (feat. Jeru the Damaja)
27. N.W.A. – Express Yourself
28. Nebula – Giant
29. The Offspring – Blackball
30. P.O.D. – Boom
31. Rocket from the Crypt – Savoir Faire
32. Run-DMC – My Adidas
33. Sex Pistols – Anarchy in the UK
34. System of a Down – Shimmy
35. Toy Dolls – Dig That Groove Baby
36. U.S. Bombs – Yer Country
37. Zeke – Death Alley

Napster

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A the dawn of the new millennium, Napster was at the forefront of a huge shakeup of the music industry. Suddenly, every song you’d ever imagined listening to was available for free. The 60s had free love, but we had free tunes, and it was a dream come true.

I’m counting Napster along with the other influential albums, because, to be honest, it (and its other P2P contemporaries) did more to inform me about music than any single album could. The days of paying $20 for a few songs, and hoping that the rest of the album was decent, were officially over. The only real barrier for entry left, was how much patience you had for dial-up internet.

I first heard about Napster in the spring of 2000, from the same friend that introduced me to Fat Music Vol. IV. He told tales of a computer program that let people download, and share all the music in the world. To top it all off, the entire thing was free.  The whole idea seemed too crazy to be true, but I couldn’t wait to try it out.

The program itself was really user friendly. The simplicity of just typing in the name of the artist/song you wanted, then having it just show up was pretty mind blowing at the time. You’d get a list of results arranged by audio quality, and whatever connection speed the uploader was running on. Normally it would make the most sense to go with the highest sound quality, but there was a bit of a catch back then. High quality meant bigger file sizes, and bigger file sizes meant longer download times. Now, patience was only part of it. The biggest concern was that the longer something was downloading, the more likely it was that someone would call your house, and instantly kill your internet connection. Downloading “Stairway to Heaven” can get pretty stressful, when it’s your 20th try, it’s 90% downloaded, and you’re positive that your grandmother’s going to call at any second.

Putting the technical limitations aside, Napster gave me an unheard of freedom to discover new artists and genres. It even had a built in chat, with different rooms for more genres of music than I’d even heard of at that point. An innocent question of, “What is Ska?” in the Ska chat room resulted in an impromptu essay about what Ska “means”, from someone that I can only assume, was the founder of the hipster movement.

Those first few months of using Napster were pretty incredible. Even people with 14.4kbit connections were happily sharing their music collections with the world. The legality of the whole thing never really occured to me at the time. I mean, this was before Metallica let us know that, surprisingly enough, all this swapping of copyrighted material might be considered piracy by some.

The popular idea at the time was that Napster was costing the music industry a fortune. I can’t speak for everybody, but if it wasn’t for Napster, the record company execs would be walking around with a lot less of my money in their pockets. Without the financial barrier for entry, I was free to check out a ton of bands that I’d heard of, but wasn’t really familiar with. Bands like Guns N’ Roses, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, The Eagles, The Who, Green Day…. Bands that I’d go on to spend a good chunk of real, honest-to-goodness cash on.

With all this newfound music, I set out to develop my own version of the Big Shiny Tunes series. Soup Mix volumes 1-4 (and its spinoff brand, Soup’s Punk Mix) were an ever evolving anthology series, that gave a pretty good snapshot of my musical tastes at the time. Mostly consisting of equal amounts The Offspring, AC/DC, and Goldfinger, the mixes would go on to bring in more genres and artists over time.

I didn’t own a CD burner at the time, so I had to get a friend of mine to actually burn the CDs. Since there was a charge of $10, and a lengthy bike ride associated with the creation of each Soup Mix, I put a lot of time into the pre-burn process. After designing the cover art, I’d spend hours writing out all the songs I wanted, then doing some hardcore math to whittle down the run-times to come under that 80 minute mark.

Once the songs were picked, I started to really focus on flow. Taking extra care to make sure that the transition from one track to another was never jarring, no matter how many genres and tempos I wanted to cram on there. Lagwagon and Buffalo Springfield don’t just go together without a bit of planning after all.

Napster wouldn’t last forever, but Kazaa and Morpheus picked up the slack for the remainder of high school. Gradually the music sharing scene lost that bohemian spirit of music for everyone, and became a bit more about surprise viruses and spyware. It was nice while it lasted though.

Fat Music Vol. IV: Life in the Fat Lane

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For me, this album was basically the Big Shiny Tunes 2 of punk music. A collection of some really great songs, and a snapshot of a time where Punk music was on the cusp of big mainstream success.

In a bit of a repeat theme, my introduction to Fat Music Volume IV involved after-school PlayStation sessions. The differences being, this was a different friend, we were playing Twisted Metal 3, and there was approximately 100% more German punk music involved.

Life in the Fat Lane put me in that coveted position of knowing all about the coolest bands that nobody else had heard of yet. The “yet” part was the key point, because there’s that implication that at any time, one of these bands could become immensely popular. For the most part, that didn’t happen, but I still felt like I was holding the keys to the cool kingdom on my way into high school. I was all set to be “that guy” who could be relied on to spread the knowledge of Lagwagon and Swingin’ Utters. This also, for the most part, didn’t end up happening.

I did, however, end up bonding with a future best friend over our mutual love of Me First and the Gimmie Gimmes. Nothing quite says “instant friends”, like a shared appreciation of Rogers and Hammerstein played really, really fast.

1. Lagwagon – May 16
2. Mad Caddies – Road Rash
3. No Use for a Name – Coming Too Close
4. Sick of it All – Pass the Buck
5. Consumed – **** Called Maurice
6. Swingin’ Utters – Promise to Distinction
7. Good Riddance – Heresy, Hypocrisy, and Revenge
8. Frenzal Rhomb – Do You Wanna Fight Me?
9. Strung Out – The Exhumation of Virginia Madison
10. Avail – Taken
11. The Ataris – San Dimas High School Football Rules
12. Tilt – Old School Pig
13. Goober Patrol – Part Time SF Ecologist
14. NOFX – The Plan
15. Snuff – Keep the Beat
16. Screeching Weasel – Dummy Up
17. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes – My Favorite Things
18. WIZO – Quadrat im Kreis