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On becoming an Anglophile

Jul25

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Because I began my freshman year of college toward the beginning of the nineties, my music collection was filled with what you might expect for a white kid who, while living away from home for the first time, decided that she was the first person in the history of the world who ever had to face the struggles of life, and did it ever suck: a lot of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins, and every album by Tori Amos. I attended a religious university, though, and because I had to take at least one course per semester on scripture — sometimes as many as three — the heartbreak in Kurt Cobain’s voice was to me what it would sound like to violate all the ten commandments at the same time.
But American music was more of what filled in the spaces, and the bulk of the cassette tapes in the dashboard of my used Honda were mixes of British pop music, songs from Blur, Oasis, Pulp, Elastica, Suede, and Lush. My best friend from high school had introduced me to Britpop, had given me a stack of magazines and newspapers he’d brought back from England the summer before we started college. At the top of that stack was a cover spread of Liam Gallagher, the notoriously rude lead singer of the band Oasis, and he was making an obscene hand gesture at the camera. I soon found out that this hoodlum could actually sing, and that the Britpop sound was more meaningful to me than any church hymn I was ever forced to sit through. But more importantly, these people liked to drink and fight and call each other horrible names in the press. It was worth it to follow this music if only to see if any of them would end up floating in the Thames without a head.
My fascination with Britpop would eventually lead me to apply for a spot in my school’s Study Abroad program in London. While I was there, while I lived for four months not 200 yards from Kensington Palace, I looked up every spot I could find that bore any significance to Oasis, a band whose music featured a vocabulary with the range of seven words that rhymed. One of the happiest moments of my time spent in a country that gave us many of the world’s greatest literary poets was the day I realized that the hotel trashed by Liam Gallagher and his brother Noel, as immortalized in the song “Columbia,” was only two blocks from my dormitory. I think that was the first time in my life when I exhibited age-appropriate interests and priorities, and not those of an 80-year-old nun.
Perhaps the most important musical discovery I made in college was Radiohead, and the fact that they have played such a significant role in my life makes me embarrassed to say that I came into their music relatively late, well after their second album was released. It has taken me years to admit this among certain people, people who have the history of music memorized — including the alphabetical listing of every song by The Doors — because the ability to catalogue that information is more crucial to life than the ability to breathe. I used to be in love with a few of these people, and while I always admired their taste in shoes, I was sad to learn that many of them could perfect this obsession with music because of all that time they didn’t waste on other things. Like showering.
The second Radiohead album played the soundtrack to the lonely walks I took to class during the bitter Utah Winter, walks often accentuated by freezing sheets of snow that would lodge into the collar of my coat. Thom Yorke’s voice was the most ghastly sound I had ever heard, but it struck a certain frequency that perfectly reflected what I was feeling about going forward with my religion: total uncertainty. That album seemed to understand better than any friend I had in real life what it felt like to be caught in a trap, to feel cold and alone and very afraid. When I finally graduated, finally got in the car and left that life behind, that album was playing on my car stereo, was leading me gleefully into Hell, a place I had heard about in songs.

About the author

Heather B. Armstrong

http://www.dooce.com/
Heather B. Armstrong was a regular contributor writing about pop culture for us at Dooce Plugs In. You can read her daily at her blog Dooce.


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