Okay, in all of those cases, we can at least make an educated guess. It was Spring 2005 and I was assembling a Mix CD to bring with me on a school trip to New York City. For whatever reason I deemed it appropriate to create only one 17-track disc featuring the songs that, for whatever reason, I would absolutely need to hear over the course of the five-day trip. Some of these songs are bona fide classics. Some are then-recent faves. Many are bizarre entries that just fascinated me at the time. And three of them are by KoRn.
As I've said before, prior to starting this blog, I was a bit of a musical scavenger. I wasn't plugged into any scenes, especially not in high school, and in many cases I actively avoided listening to the music that my friends liked. Part of the listening experience was that sense of discovery, that moment when you heard a song that you knew you needed over and over, after hearing it somewhere, anywhere, in the world. In many cases, the source of the song was the radio: the classic rock station my dad always played in the car. Even then it was rare to hear anything for the first time on that station, so one morning when I heard the precious, self-important piano plinking and somewhat overwrought, melodramatic delivery of Bob Geldof in the Boomtown Rats' "I Don't Like Mondays," I was intrigued. Learning the story behind it, that the title was a quote from a girl who had shot up a playground (the event being summarized by the song) sealed the deal, because I was a sucker for a good backstory in a song, it helped reaffirm that a real weight could be borne by lyrics and melody. To this day it's the only Boomtown Rats song I've ever heard. I don't think I need to hear another.
Likewise, "For Your Love" was the first Yardbirds song I ever heard, despite hearing them get namechecked in every biography of Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin (and other bands they influenced, like Aerosmith.) It didn't really carry the rough-hewn blues sound I expected, being a dark, ominous pop song built around a thundering harpsichord and a chirpy-yet-nervy harmony vocal. This was not a band that seemed comfortable being pop stars. Still, it's a weirdly dynamic tune. Then there's U2, who I was trying somewhat seriously to start liking after years of feeling they were overrated during their All That You Can't Leave Behind era. I still can't tell half of their pre-Achtung Baby songs from each other before the chorus, but I got a kick out of "I Will Follow," their first single. I liked the idea that the first thing they did was also the best. The song also has a couple of big brothers on the record: the undoubtedly great "Comfortably Numb," and "She Sells Sanctuary," which was at the very least familiar to me from car commercials, but I don't know why it was on my mind in 2005.
There are earnest, high-spirited moments on the mix, like The Spoons' "Romantic Traffic," a delightful bit of 80s Canadiana Pop Fluff that was always being played on MuchMoreRetro, and Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed," which I can't even remember having a particular fondness for, but also there was a great deal of misery in the mix. There's the gloomy "So Far Away," one of my favourite Dire Straits songs (as it invokes a mood without trying too hard to tell a story.) Then at the end comes the Zombies' enigmatic "She's Not There," a tune I didn't realize I had been looking for since my youth, after hearing it remixed in Kill Bill Volume 2, and at the beginning is those is "We Gotta Get Out of this Place." I first heard this lesser-known Animals track in, of all places, Fahrenheit 9/11 the previous summer, where it was used for comedic effect. This is such a cool, beaten-down song, a perfect Animals vehicle. It's striking how many of these songs relate to place, travel, or distance. This is almost certainly not intentional.
There's definitely no sequencing going on here. I think this list was assembled by literally going down the list of my mp3s alphabetically. The reason there are two Rolling Stones songs separated by the Cult is that "Honky Tonk Women" was probably listed as being by "Rolling Stones" while "Rocks Off" was listed as "THE Rolling Stones." As I said, I was all about first impressions back then, and I still remember the first time I heard "Rocks Off" (again, in my dad's car.) Not only were those raggedy, lopsided horns striking, but it was memorable because there just weren't that many Rolling Stones songs you were likely to encounter out in the world for the first time. You'll hear "Sympathy For the Devil" a hundred times before "Rocks Off" once.
All told, this mix CD represents every decade from the 60s to the then-current 2000s, in the form of a recent Beck song, the speaker-busting, booty-shaking "Epro" and a tune off the Killers' debut album. I was slow to embrace the Killers, maybe I haven't even, but I first heard "Mr. Brightside" when I was traveling for a funeral. That shit sticks with you. That context makes everything seem deep and poignant. You know what else I once heard on the way to a funeral? "Reelin' In The Years" by Steely Dan. How's that for a mindfuck?
(Note that the "Mr. Brightside" I wound up with was a weird, stripped-down alternate version, because that was a thing that happened back in the early days on downloading. Not that I ever knew the difference, until last year. I like mine better.)
Which brings me to the KoRn issue. They already had a whiff of "been and gone" by 2005, when I was 17. They were popular with angsty teens in the late 90s, when my older brothers and cousin needed something loud to blast. And I went along with them, like the bratty little brother. But when you're 17, and your sense of the passage of time hasn't fully evened out yet, anything more than a few years old is fucking OLD. So when I was in the car with my friend Josh, and he popped KoRn's Greatest Hits into the CD player, I thought he was fucking kidding. I may have been an angsty teenager (as angsty and acne-prone as they come!) but I had standards.
But, like most angry music, it was a convenient thrill: something loud and abrasive and faux-deep I could plug into my ears to drown out the world. It's not like I was suddenly a baggy jeans wearing nu-metalhead, a convert to the gospel of Jonathan Davis, I'm not sure if I ever decided whether I thought "ADIDAS" was meant to be a joke or not. But as a pure listening pleasure, I had no problem putting it in there between Dire Straits and Pink Floyd and Paul McCartney and the Spoons. It was a concrete thing, not a trend I was following. I made a choice to reach back and pull them forward into my 2005 mix. (Besides, I've already praised their "Word Up" cover elsewhere.)
The fucked up thing is that it largely all seems to hold together. Listening to it all now, it has a strange mix of the cool, the overblown, the ragged, the quirky, brutal and the soft. What I like about this mix, exemplified by that weird fistful of KoRn in the middle, is that this is the music that a teenager chose for himself. It has very little to do with the year 2005 (and the songs from that year held up quite well.) It has no care at all for the original context and contradiction between the various songs. It's just a bunch of shit I picked up, like a musical magpie, and kept in a bag together, whether they sat well or not.
Nowadays, I get music from word of mouth, from internet links and workplace buzz. And it's helpful... but boring. There was such a treat in having a private stash for myself.