…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
“Mistakes and Regrets”
Madonna / Merge / 1999
[ D R A F T ]
While the modern / alt rock radio format was arguably cratering back then, the smoldering post-grunge music scenes of the late nineties managed to usher in some very solid creative forces like Austin’s …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead. Trail of Dead and their artistic peers rose above glib subgenre labels like “emo” and delivered thrilling, transcendent rock that has aged well into the current day. Songs like 1999’s “Mistakes and Regrets” don’t sound out of place here in the early 2010s, where many of us are still feeling lingering doubts, distrust, frustration, and malaise left over from the end of the “False Reset” decade.
A fifties-ish friend who often (rightfully) takes me for a fool commented that my demeanor was zombie-like a few weeks back. For the record, I am on Lithium Carbonate (900 mg) and Fluphenazine (10 mg). (The lithium is prescribed to stabilize my undesirable1 moods and the Fluphenazine is indicated to pacify my erratic2 thoughts.)
But then seeking out numbness has been a common thread of the generational experience of a certain subset the Gen X/Y/Millennial crowd. This anaesthesia and release comes from many bromides; in my personal experience, prescription psychoactive medication has been a big part of cultivating my own numbness, impassiveness, and emotional disconnection.
I have come to know countless people born from about the mid-’60s onward who’ve been taking cocktails of prescription drugs — including things like behavior-taming ADD/ADHD drugs, mood-toning anti-depressants, mind-blunting anti-psychotics, emotion-dampening mood stabilizers and so on — since they were preteens or young adolescents. Many of us were middle-class and upper-middle-class kids struggling to grow up according to Old Boomer rules of straining for precocious adulthood and responsibility. We were somewhat sheltered “good kids” who were shuttered away from the same youthful indiscretions that our older siblings or cousins indulged in, the kids who came of age during the reactionary-cum-revolutionary ’70s and early ’80s who got to screw around and get high and experiment more fully with their reckless youthful urgings.
We unwitting Reagan-Youths-turned-Prozactive-Young-Adults had a different sort of deal than them. A lot of nineties music helped us Rx-doped youths tear holes through the prescriptive drug hazes we were in (and other insensate states of unfeeling and seeming unbeing). The beautifully raw, sour, damaged music of the nineties helped a few of us actually feel something — anything — again, even if it was just smoldering pain or smarting anger.
Among the various crowds I used to know, I came to sense over time that too many of us were quietly raging over something absent in our young lives — something sweet and natural and real — that we sensed was missing and perhaps not meant for us, something we longed for while we rushed headlong into the Boomer-to-Tomber ruts of our aging authoritarianistic parents, those loving antagonists and smothering protectors.
We sad kids of the nineties often found solace in music. Listening to certain strains of this music, you hear a blend of older decades of sonic and spiritual influences. There is even a hint of the sweetness and light of the fifties and the eighties in certain pop confections of that era, particularly at the opening and closing of the nineties, when the zeitgeist was turning. But much more present in many nineties songs is the passion and fury of the sixties and the spiritual slow-burn of the seventies.
These echoes should come as no surprise. Many musicians who thrived during the nineties were children way back during the tail-end-sixties fallout and fertile ferment of the early-to-mid-seventies (which was overall a surprisingly creative and reflective decade). Here are a handful of my favorites:
b. 1965......Black Francis, Björk
b. 1966......Stephin Merritt, Stephen Malkmus
.............Tanya Donnelly, Kristin Hersh
b. 1967......Kurt Cobain, Mark Robinson
b. 1968......Tricky, Thom Yorke, Kathleen Hanna
It can be argued that this essay3 is folly and vanity and that the last decade of the last millennium was much like any other before it. After all, the nineties witnessed the evolution and re-emergence of artistic ages and creative spirits seen in earlier decades. But since I was yet another sad, lost, heartsick youth during much of the nineties, I suppose it comes as no surprise that I often remember the saddest, most heartsick melodies of those times most fondly and dearly during these times of loss and searching.
* * *
Just for reference, here are the lyrics to “Mistakes and Regrets.”
If I could make a list
of my mistakes and regrets,
I'd put your name on top
and every line after it
’cause every inch of hope
becomes a world of shame
I’ve had to walk through
each and every day
And if I screamed ‘you were wrong’
at the top of my lungs,
you would never return
all the faith that I’ve lost
And there is nothing left to say
that has not been said
If I shouted, you wouldn't listen
I don’t think it’d even sink in
If you forget how to feel
reach inside your chest
Is there a heart beating?
Is there just emptiness?
Footnotes to self:
1moods (and states) undesirable among my circles of family and friends
2thoughts that are too erratic when (a) they become too disorganized and disjointed, and (b) I break with consensus reality, no matter how mad that collective reality seems to me and those like me
3a form of expression which few of my friends will probably see, despite all of my sad little invitations; yes, my fairweather friends always reject me at every turn even when I turn to them for the most rudimentary sustenance and answers; I must start walling myself off to them again to protect myself from their cool apathies and their cautious distances; putting myself even in the periphery of their existences will only spur me to find myself alienated and alone and fearing again; I am alone and feel I will always be alone at my core; I must remove myself from lifeless, numb, overcautious people before I go mad once more; I just cannot be like them, I’ve tried it again and again and again and again and I can’t do it anymore; why can’t they let me be myself, mad and happy and (((FINALLY NOT HATING MYSELF FOR NOT BEING LIKE THEM))); the true, worst madness for me is the slow numbing madness of forcing myself to be what I cannot understand and repeatedly seeking out those who I can’t seem to feel the same tenderness for anymore; I cannot trust people anymore; they want me numbed again so I’m like a tired old ragdoll; I am alone and this is all a trap set up for me, their glib reassurances wear thin, they repeat things they read and hear and do not think about all of the crueler possibilities; they do not know this slow death and panic like I/we do; I cannot do this all over again; I must leave here somehow