In 1996, I was just starting my obsession with indie rock. Up to that point the farthest outside the mainstream I'd ever ventured was Son Volt or Wilco, neither of whom were really pushing the envelope at the time.
I didn't make a conscious decision to switch my allegiances from Pearl Jam and Soundgarden to Pavement and Sonic Youth, it just sort of happened.
Perhaps the biggest influence in this move away from the radio and MTV's Buzz Bin was Lou Barlow. A scrawny, whiny singer who happened to for about a month have one of the most played singles on the planet, "Natural One" with his side project Folk Implosion.
Recorded for the soundtrack to Larry Clark's controversial 1995 film "Kids, "Natural One" is a pseudo hip-hop track, with woozy synths and a heavy back beat, and completely unlike anything Barlow had ever recorded.
But the song was the impetus for my interest in Barlow and in his main project Sebadoh. For a guy steeped in classic and modern rock, Sebadoh was a revelation. Half heartfelt indie classics, written by Barlow, and half noise rock directed by Barlow's partner in crime Jason Lowenstien, Sebadoh was an exercise in the opposite sides of the indie rock coin. By the time of their 1996 release Harmacy, Barlow was responsible for a slew of classic songs.
I'd never heard a songwriter with such emotional honesty, admitting to lying to his significant other in "On Fire" but justifying it "'cuz I know you are lying too."
The song "Willing to Wait" was what really brought me into the Sebadoh fold. A complete admission of defeat, "Willing to Wait" is Barlow telling a woman he dreams of being with that he's willing to wait for her while she dates another guy.
The lyrics are heartbreaking and pathetic at the same time:
"When you see him again
tell him everything that you told me
tell him that I'm still your friend
and maybe you'd like to see me again
I'm willing to wait my turn
to be with you"
As a 16-year-old boy, desperately in love with a friend's girlfriend who flirted with me but always went back to him, no song more accurately described my feelings.
Harmacy also featured Barlow's greatest addition to the pop music cannon, "Ocean." Instead of his normal, mopey "why don't you love me?" lyrics, Lou is smarmy telling his girl "so I'm leaving you to you or someone else." Rather than being downtrodden, Barlow is emboldened by being the dumper rather than the dumpee. The music is exuberant and the lyrics are what every guy who's ever been brokenhearted wishes he could say.