Before anyone unfamiliar with the record gets all up in arms, let’s step back a bit. I’m not saying you aren’t an upstanding individual; my contention is simply that, without any other evidence, you can’t be completely trusted. I understand that’s a bit obtuse, so perhaps a bit of anecdotal evidence is in order. After the jump, a true tale of sketchy head-shots, Hungarian dance troupes, secret ninjas, Home Alone 2 hats, and how I used On Fire to keep myself from getting stabbed by a new roommate.
After quietly searching for someone for weeks, I finally took the plunge and asked my good friend Craig if he might know, say, 60 total weirdos interested in strapping up for a year of living with the world’s most renowned audio adventurer. Turns out the Internet knows more people than I do, and some of them are very scary. After ruling out the 48-year-old dude who sent me a (very bad/bald) headshot, the girl who liked to wear a Home Alone 2 cap everywhere she went, a Hungarian dance troupe (seriously! I kinda considered it), and about 40 or so other definite no’s, I was left with the email addresses of 13 total strangers that seemed, at first glance, to be at least somewhat sane. But how to know if they were secretly psycho? Sure, I planned to invite them over, but they’d inevitably be on their best behavior.
You wouldn’t stamp a marriage license based on a first date (unless you’re Britney and your new hubby has the same name as someone on Seinfeld), so how can you safely sign a one-year lease based on a meeting that lasts only a few minutes? Said simply, I needed a way to be sure that the person I chose wouldn’t stab me in my sleep.
And so it was that I decided to employ Galaxie 500’s On Fire, perhaps the greatest shoegaze record ever released. Affected? Absolutely. Mana to the raging malcontent? Sure. But still, it’s soft, psych-y static, na-na-na-na interludes, and mournful Gen-X melodies steam like a warm, soothing liquid — soup for the dirty, downtrodden soul. And, unlike so many similarly angst-ridden records released in the late ’80s and early ’90s, On Fire underpins its discontent with a sense of unshakable spirituality.
Whereas records like Nevermind amplify angst, dropping it like a SCUD on fellow individuals and institutions, On Fire understands that unhappiness is ultimately internal. That’s not to say it goes all Goth — no, unlike our face-painted friends, the band understands that universal sorrow is best addressed in private, with detached, introspective analysis. The record doesn’t deny reality: It recognizes that things can get shitty, but reminds us that mankind endures — it’s what we do — and if everything actually is meaningless, then acts of rage, anger, or overwhelming unhappiness are equally devoid of meaning.
So how does this relate to my prospective roommates? My thought is that a natural passivity accompanies one’s acceptance of a relatively privileged plight (this is, perhaps, related to the “slacker” tag that would plague the flannel folks, but it’s not the same thing). In other words, it’s my hypothesis that anyone who knows and likes On Fire is unlikely to act in a fit of unbalanced rage. I’m not saying its advocates can’t be dark, depressed, or even a little off, simply that they’ve reach a healthy understanding of reality, and, more importantly, they have not succumbed to a hopelessness that’s beyond redemption (the main thing that causes people to go all stabby stabby on their new bunk buddies).
* * *
It was 4 p.m. when I flipped the LP for the fifth time. I’d scheduled an appointment every half-hour for the entire day, and I was coming up on my eighth applicant. Despite numerous volume adjustments and several repositionings of the stylus to highlight particularly iconic tracks, not one person had made mention of the bona-fide classic left spinning all day in the background — all they seemed to want to do was ask slightly sketchy questions: “Where’d you get these really nice kitchen knives?” Ax murderer. “How much can the neighbors hear?” Rapist. “How’s the water pressure?” Rubber duckie enthusiast?
These were clearly the kinds of people that don’t know, or like, On Fire. They were filled with unspoken rage, and you could feel it seething in their questions. So, OK, maybe I have unfair expectations (and a pressing sense of paranoia) but, still, they will not be my new roommates — like you, dear reader, who in all likelihood does not know the album, I simply cannot be sure they’re not about to snap.
No, my new roommate was selected at 4 p.m. in what will become the ultimate test of the above-outlined theory — a living experiment if you will. I suggest to you — at the risk of a double-dog jinx — that my new roommate will neither maim nor murder me. How do I know? Because he not only identified the record (a sure sign of my continued safety), but asked me if I’d heard the band’s cover of Joy Division’s “Ceremony.” The only question now is whether or not he’ll have me. You see, despite the fact that I’m clearly upstanding (or, at worst, only a little sketchy), I’ve now got a dirty little secret all my own: I hadn’t heard it.