Do you remember when the record reviews in Sassy
magazine were good? When I was fifteen, you could find a couple of decent albums in there every month. I can remember saving up spare cash, or begging my parents for it, and then spending it at Natural Sound on the latest sounds of teen alienation. No wonder my older sisters thought my taste in music stank. Still, every once in a while, a Sassy
would point me to a real gem: point in case, Michelle Shocked's Short, Sharp, Shocked
Now, the cover has a picture of Michelle being held by a helmeted policeman in what appears to be a very painful pressure point restraint. One of my older sisters looked at that cover and instantly assumed that it would be a full tape of angry noisecore. This album, instead, is an earnest, stripped down collection of songs about the lonely lives of small town kids. I listened to it almost constantly, and related to it so throroughly that I sometimes have a hard time separating my memories of highschool from her lyrics. And then my older sister, the one who had sneered at the cover, heard the tape for the first time. She was shocked, shocked I tells you
, that she actually liked a record that I had bought. And for some reason, right about that time, my copy of Short Sharp Shocked
disappeared. I consoled myself by sharing the Pixies' Surfer Rosa
with the entire neighborhood, and eventually moved on to other musical fields. When Arkansas Traveller
came out, it filled all my Michelle Shocked needs for a long time. I didn't really think much about the the first album for years.
Last week when we were in Lawrence for Thanksgiving, my brother-in-law gifted me a copy of Short Sharp Shocked
. I hadn't listened to it in years, but it instantly transported me back to highschool. I felt the lift that I used to get from the song "Hello Hopeville." This is a song about running away, something that I wanted to do almost every day at my Catholic highschool. Every day, the song ran away from home just for me. Also, the song "Making the Run to Gladewater," about a thirty minute beer run, was nothing like I ever experienced in my own teenage life. However,I did dream of a day when I would have enough friends to lose the toss and have 15 minutes to make a thirty minute drive.
But, for me, the song "Memories of East Texas" is the one that remains most poignant. Listening to it now, I wince at how thoroughly I appropriated the lyrics of this song into my own personal psychodrama, especially this verse:
Memories of east Texas.../
Looking back and asking myself/
what the hell did you let them break your spirit for/
you know, their lives ran in circles so small/
and they thought they'd seen it all/
and they could not make a place/
for a girl who's seen the ocean...
At the time, I really did think so much of myself that I equated the loneliness that I felt with possession of some grander vision. Now, my classmates did not live in what most people would call small worlds. Some of them have moved on through some very expensive educations to prominence in professional fields, as did I. However, I experienced highschool as a very constraining place. I saw my peers as living lives ruled by clothing labels and drunkenness. As someone who had little fashion sense, and less social sense, I never did feel like there was a place for me in the grand scheme of my school, and that until I got out of there I would always feel alienated and weird. This song takes me back to a place and time where I could blame them
for how weird I felt, for their smallness and lack of vision. I could still dream that I would escape, that I would someday find myself in the land of people who read Tolstoy for fun, of brainiacs and bookworms, where we would all get the attention that we so craved and talk about stuff that really mattered to us (a wish that proves that axiom that when the gods want to curse you, they give you what you want
). It would be years before I finally realized that if you want a place in the world, you have to carve it out for yourself. I'm happy with the place that I've made for myself, and proud of my accomplishments. And I'm a little embarassed for my teenage self, and the pomposity with which I used Michelle Shocked's music as a lens on my own life. Still, it's nice to visit with that teenage self, nostalgic for the days in which I actually believed that I could escape who I was, and reemerge into a world in which I was truly appreciated.
Bye-bye, baby girl, I know they're gonna treat you wellwellwell.