It was 1994 when my formative years of music appreciation began. I'd always loved music before that, and have always loved it since; it has been a most major part of my life. But there's something about those junior high school days, the mid-'90s, when everything was so intensely relevant. Music was an all-encompassing experience.
I'm not sure if it is because of my age, or because that era of music was especially poignant, but nothing has ever mattered more than it did then, despite what amazing, sometimes better, music to which I've been exposed since.
At a time when CDs were a fairly new format and I had a little desktop stereo with detachable speakers, I could hear music in a way I hadn't before. I began listening to rock radio and spent my lunch money in record stores. I would go to shows at the community teen center and make mixed tapes for my friends. We would talk about music together, we became inspired to listen to music from past generations and would gush with one another about the ABBA or Queen or Doors albums we'd ordered from Columbia House, and our horizons were broadened. It was an era not only of heightened appreciation and accessibility of music, but of discovery. I imagine many others of my generation would say the same.
In 1995, I bought Tripping Daisy's I Am an Elastic Firecracker. The main single off the album, "I Got a Girl," played frequently on the radio, and it was good. It was electric, it was melodic, and bandleader Tim DeLaughter used the word “bitching” in the bridge. To a 13-year-old, that's all it takes — power chords and naughty language. That’s rock 'n' roll, babe.
Yes, you heard me correctly, kids. DeLaughter wasn't always donning robes for The Polyphonic Spree. Until 1999, the Texan was rocking out with the alterna-nation, wailing out fuzzy verses with the best of them. The radio hit was a gas, but like many major label singles, it did not speak well for the album as a whole. Elastic Firecracker was not the light-hearted lark "I Got a Girl" suggested. That song was a fun introduction, but the meat of the album is in the grunge-infested guitars bleeding all over the remainder of the tracklist.
I was a dork in 7th and 8th grade. I didn't know how to dress well, boys didn't like me and the popular kids made fun of me. You could say I've always sort of ran with the outcasts. Music was some of my favorite company. While I can say that many of the other CDs I owned had more meaning to me, Tripping Daisy became part of a pretty regular after-school routine I had.
I'd get home, put Elastic Firecracker in the machine and switch on my Sega Genesis to play "Toy Story" with the volume on my little 13-inch TV turned all the way down. It was so frequent that I could actually time the game by where I was in the CD. Woody would leap through Andy's bedroom catching stars during the driving chords of "Rocketpop," and sometimes the bouncing of his spindly legs would move along perfectly with the echoes of DeLaughter's shouts. I'll forever associate the goofy smile plastered on his face with Tripping Daisy's lyrics. "Well all is great, and everything's nice, with H.R. Pufnstuf by our side," Woody assured me.
Keyboard mimics theremin at the opening of "Same Dress New Day," shuffling in soft percussion to act as a resting period for the record's prevalent hard energy. Things return to their frantic norm with "Raindrop," which delivers a pop-driven bridge packed between the grating licks. "Noose" ventures into psychedelic country (which the band revisits for closing track "High"), led by bass and guitar while DeLaughter quells his voice before bursting out a chorus of robust yelling over heavy drum hits. The album's most ambitious tune is the nine-minute epic "Prick," which covers the rock spectrum, including a booming drum intro and outro, a jazzy bass line and a few grandiose guitar solos following the halfway point. Oh, and 13-year-old me would also like to note the word "fucking."
Sadly, Tripping Daisy broke up in 1999 after the untimely death of guitarist Wes Berggren, but their rock lives on, and DeLaughter will forever remain my favorite deputy.