Apart from the music itself, though, something else lay behind my affection for the ‘90s, something that I’ve come to believe is often the unacknowledged guiding factor for most anyone who writes about music in terms of your level of engagement with the subject at hand. When you’re writing regularly, when you feel you’re part of things—part of “the conversation,” if you will—music sounds better. It’s not just that you hear more, you’re more alive to what you hear. Even if, as in my case, it’s one tiny corner of the conversation, and what you say never leaves the room.
Radio On made all of that happen for me through the ‘90s, becoming the backdrop to a most entertaining decade: scandals everywhere, a pretty good approximation of LBJ in the White House, and Top 40 hits that seemed important enough at the time for extra-close attention from the revolving assemblage of 15 or so enthusiasts who helped me fill the pages of each issue.
[from the introduction to “Some Place Back There”]
“I’m Too Sexy,” Right Said Fred
An historic record—after 10,000 rock stars who look like total dicks, a couple who look like actual penises. Sad to say, but I’m too prudish for this song. I’ll happily mother-fuck-this and motherfuck-that along with the most obscene juvenilia, but this makes me blush. I check the front mirror and I’m blushing. I still draw the line at the t-word when I sing along—I always trail off to a mumble when they get to the t-word. But I’ve long since been won over, rendered giddy enough to abandon whatever feeble attempts I was making at figuring it out, trying to decide if it was the most preposterous thing I’d ever heard or if some very clever people just wanted me to think that. I rarely get anywhere with such pur-suits, I should know by now that the distinction’s hardly worth making, and anyway it gives you the answer right in the song, the verse that goes “I’m too sexy for my hat/This is the most preposterous thing you’ve ever heard.” (You have to listen closely, that second line sounds a little bit like “What you think about that?”) There’s the most puzzling moment in the video when the guitar player—the guy who totes around the guitar—sits on a stoop and appears to be seasick. This seems to be triggered by a woman who passes by. Obviously this song was meant for Tom Jones and somehow got mixed up with Van Morrison in the mail. “What’s New Pussycat?” 1965—7.0; “Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!” the Bosstweeds, 1965—8.0; “Can Your Pussy Do the Dog?” the Cramps, 1986—5.5. (7.5)
[Radio On, 1991]
“Pretty Noose,” Soundgarden
The most bracing heavy metal I’ve heard since at least “Sweet Child O’ Mine” (with which it shares a piercing bit of echo off the top, “alright-alright-alright-alright” taking the place of “cry-iii-iii-iii”) and, for all I know, all the way back to “Black Dog” or “Whole Lotta Love.” The sound of it hits me as a dozen different contradictory things at once: dense, clean, chaotic, beautiful, concise, brutal, just one big wash of drone and clang and swirl. Most of all, it has what “Sick as a Dog” and Hüsker Dü’s best songs had, the thing that Me-tallica’s kind of heavy metal never has, and what I didn’t think “Black Hole Sun” had, either—some chime to it, some Byrds. I play it in the car all the time, and it affects me the same way that this kind of music, at its best, has affected me ever since I was a teenager: I look out the window at everything that’s going on—a man walking his dog, someone buying a paper, kids hanging around a store—and it all looks absurd and slightly surreal. The song becomes soundtrack music, slowing the world down and turning everything on its head. (8.0)
[Radio On, 1996]
Other Radio On reviews included in Interrupting My Train of Thought:
- “Sabotage,” Beastie Boys
- “Pets,” Porno for Pyros
- “Insane in the Brain,” Cypress Hill
- “Creep,” Radiohead
- “Jump Around,” House of Pain… + dozens more