Shopping For Records: Beatles & Slint — Thoughts on Anniversaries and Box Sets

Do you remember the moment the natural course of your mind had suddenly been disrupted by a piece of music?  For many, it was February 9th, 1964 as a well-known television show host introduced the most important band in the world to the thousands of enthusiastic American youth.  Two such youths were my Mom and Dad, and their love of this band would be passed to me.  

Growing up a fairly introverted suburban kid interested in sci-fi, superheroes and art, my more vivid memories as a child involved a radio, an album, a cassette or a music video.  Before I understood that my head was being completely undone and rebuilt by much of what I'd listened to as I grew up, I'd become attached to my Dad's record collection, which was a long set of LPs that seemed to span the length of our third floor bedroom.

I spent a lot of time up there, mostly listening to Beatles LPs while slowly being changed.

My very beat up U.S. editions of A Hard Days Night and Beatles '65.
My wife bought these for me a couple years ago at a yard sale.

As you get older, you find out that you are a part of a generation and that, in order to define yourself and your involvement in it, it becomes important that you learn your music.  This is the point in my life when I felt current, relevant—like my experiences (as mundane as they may have been) meant something.  I mattered somehow.  In light of my personal growth, it was essential for me to completely dismiss the past and The Beatles were a part of that.  In the face of everything my parents' generation stood for, and the relative ease with which they would both lambaste and/or casually shrug at much of what I was into musically, I felt trivialized.  The fact that twenty or thirty years' worth of musical evolution, (proto punk and glam, metal, the punk explosion, new wave, indie rock and hardcore, post-punk, hip hop), could be ignored because The Beatles had already happened, and this was something no subsequent generation could either improve upon or ever hope to erase from the annals of pop music history, continues to infuriate me.  The Clash had sung that "phony Beatlemania had bitten the dust" and that should've wiped the slate clean.

The Beatles, though, still mean so much.  They're still an undeniably strong presence in my life.  But, they're so heavily incorporated into the fabric of music as it's understood today, it's almost more dignified that they disappear so that other music be allowed to matter.

Beatles 8-Tracks: A Hard Day's Night, Yesterday and Today and Revolver, (the U.S. version of
Revolver does not feature the track, "Dr. Robert.")  These were given to me as a Christmas gift.

I can say this because 09.09.09 happened: the complete overhaul of The Beatles' discography in both mono and stereo.  This was to be the definitive representation of their work, technologically and audibly exact.  I reviewed the entire set for No Ripcord that year, analyzing the band's progression, how they'd cultivated a new era of musical understanding within the frame of rock n' roll and youth culture.  And once this was out, we should've been finally ready to move on.   

Now, I'm speaking twenty or more years after being a musical demographic as my "music" now qualifies as "classic."  So, over the last couple years or so, I, and those also of my so-called generation, have become the targeted marketplace for reissues, documentaries and box sets.  I am officially where the boomers were when I was misunderstood, finding my era's worth repackaged and sold to me in expanded sets meant to entice and settle my nostalgic entanglements with my "wonder years."  Still, hearing about an expanded version of Slint's Spiderland sparked some excitement.  Hearing about The Beatles' U.S. Albums box set did not.

Spiderland was released by Touch and Go Records in 1991, the same year that Nirvana broke out with Nevermind.  Slint seemed a blip in terms of the actuality of the band's career, (which spanned two albums and one tour), but Spiderland is considered essential to the direction underground rock n' roll would take as more and more record labels started to notice its existence and impact.  Many deem Spiderland superior to Nirvana's landmark album, the credit assigned it having diminished as time has passed and much of the era's lesser-known works having gained some overdue acclaim.  With an arbitrarily conceived 23rd anniversary coming up, Touch and Go is issuing a pretty extensive version of the album, (you can check out the details here.)

As an independent release issued by an independent label (which is still mostly defunct), it's likely that Spiderland's resurfacing will be treated with a certain level of respect and care, ultimately a concern with any true labor of love, (a commonality amongst those who endeavor to issue art for art's sake).  It's almost safe to say, even two months prior to its official date of release, that fans of Spiderland will be happy with the treatment of Slint's material.

With the U.S. Albums, however, I feel as though the regurgitation of an inferior product following the U.K. remasters is in poor taste.

Capitol Records, once the heads at the label had realized that they needed to market the fuck out of what would be their highest-selling acquisition, created their own series of Beatles releases through haphazard assembly.  Less the creative progression of a band than the successful marketing of a complete lack of understanding and blatant disregard for art as it stood within the context of its time, this is what is being sold to commemorate that night in February that meant so much to those lucky enough to witness it; stripped of its meaning but churned out for a hungry populace.*

As far as Spiderland, it serves as a recipient of generous hindsight; an album that should've meant more following the final step in the mainstreaming of underground and indie rock subculture. It remains a cornerstone, reputable and authentic in that no major labels were involved in its genesis. It hit when it was supposed to, but found little purchase with those of us still under the spell of Nevermind. While Nirvana opened doors for me, (and I will always be grateful that they allowed me to find my generational identity and dispel the myth that boomers had some unshakable claim on rock n' roll), they were often not opened quick enough. Other times, Nirvana had inadvertently opened the wrong doors, their influence manifest as a run of "Alternative" bands brought to our attention through major label indifference—a flood of imitators more than happy to don the crown of "next Nirvana."  Thinking about that whole time now, I feel as though I was subjected to the same critical lack of understanding that led to the careless disassembling of a creative and monumental progression only known to be associated with the most important band in popular music.  See how damaging it can be to devalue your young and those precious things that are supposed to enrich their lives?

Letters From A Tapehead

*A great article featured in the The Independent by writer, Andy Gill, details this. 


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