I had been looking for a used copy of Mike McGonigal’s Loveless in the 33 and 1/3 series for a while, and I finally picked one up today. I had seen the manuscript in DJ Safi’s hands a year ago (which she raved about), but today was the first time I sat down with the book. Even though I am not quite finished Third Coast or the Fats Domino biography I have been working on for a year, I started Loveless at the end of work today, and finished it in a few hours. It is a short book devoted to the My Bloody Valentine album Loveless. It is quite brief, and a quick and amiable read. What I appreciated most about the book were the quotes from Kevin Shields and the other band members that came from interviews they gave Mike in 2005/2006. There was always so much mythology around that record, that I appreciate the inside view.
Loveless is one of those records that has become canonical, but I remember when I didn’t know anyone who even knew who My Bloody Valentine were. I had made a cassette tape of their EPs in 1991 and I would play it for anyone who would listen. The most common response when “To Here Knows When,” the first track, came on? “Your tape’s messed up. It must be warped.” And then it would be pulled and someone would put on Metallica or Black Sabbath.
I discovered the band through the British music weekly Melody Maker, and I was fortunate enough to find promo copies of all their releases for a few dollars each in the Spring of 1991. I was intrigued by their unique sound, but wasn’t completely sold on them until I found a promo copy of the Tremolo EP when it came out. Upon listening to “To Here Knows When” in my bedroom, I realized that My Bloody Valentine were now my favorite band. I devoured all their post-Bilinda Butcher-joining-the-band material, and eagerly awaited the release of the Loveless album, which I copped at Eugene’s House of Records the moment I saw it on the shelves. I feel like it is one of those records like the Beastie Boys Paul’s Boutique, where so many people slept on it at the time, but now everyone claims to have always loved it. Sales figures alone put the lie to such claims, and there was no illegal downloading messing with the figures back then. For many years Loveless was by far my most-listened to album, and most likely to be listed as my all time favorite album. As much as I listened to albums like The Dirt of Luck, There’s Nothing Wrong With Love, and The Fox when they came out, I still don’t think it has been supplanted as the centerpiece in my personal sonic mythology. Some of the shows Stereolab put on during their Emperor Tomato Ketchup made me consider if they hadn’t edged out My Bloody Valentine as my favorite band, but they never had a record with the overall lifetime impact on me as Loveless.
For years I read about all the abandoned sessions that followed Loveless. I always wanted to hear all the results, even if they weren’t up to Kevin’s standards. There were reports of a drum’n’bass album, a death metal album, etc. Now that I have long since given up, and never expect to see another My Bloody Valentine record, something will probably come out. I was so disappointed with the Kevin Shields’ tracks on the Lost In Translation soundtrack, that I am fine with him never releasing anything else again. The inclusion of the utterly sublime “Sometimes” on that soundtrack showed just how pedestrian and worthless the new tracks by him were. Having spent many years experiencing private transcendence to that song, I felt that asshole-ish horror of forced sharing. “Oh no, now every schmuck with a hard-on for Scarlett Johansson will buy this soundtrack and have this song.” Private transcendence sullied by ignorant public consumption.
I went up to Seattle with friends and saw My Bloody Valentine at the Moore Theater in the Summer of ’92. It was the best show I ever saw, and the worst show I ever saw. There were tables selling earplugs in the lobby, which I had never seen before. I took the hint and for the first time ever, bought some ear plugs. We caught the last throes of Yo La Tengo’s set, and judging from the crowd response, they were great. (Years later I was able to confirm how amazing they are when I caught them at the Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.) I wished the band order had been switched, because we had to sit through the entirety of Buffalo Tom’s craptastic set. I never liked them (to put it mildly), and they had no business being on a bill with My Bloody Valentine. The show was LOUD. Every song seemed like two alternating chords played really loud. The drummer and bassist (Colm and Debbie) thrashed around like maniacs while Kevin and Bilinda stood perfectly still. No vocals were audible the entire show. I am not even convinced the mics were plugged in. I read an interview with the band that was conducted after the show, and the interviewer complained about how there were no vocals. Kevin claimed it wasn’t intentional. All of the melodies on the album were faintly audible, but since they did not appear to be related to what anyone was playing on their guitar, I imagined it must all be triggered samples. Here I was, wondering how they were going to recreate these fabulous sounds live, and I learned that they weren’t going to, instead playing two chords accompanied by samples. The songs were mostly only able to be differentiated by the rhythm track. If you recognized the rhythm, you could tell what song it was. My friend had learned the bass part to “Feed Me With Your Kiss” prior to the show, and claimed they didn’t play the many repeating parts the way they are recorded.
My friend Rick had told me how My Bloody Valentine would play the noise section from “You Made Me Realise” for twenty minutes live. We timed them, and sure enough, it was twenty minutes. I was down in the pit the whole time. I took turns putting earplugs in, and pulling them out, because I didn’t like how they altered the sound. Eventually I got one stuck down my ear canal, and I had to wait until we were staying at someone’s house in Olympia later that night, before I could get it removed. While they were playing the noise section bright white lights shone out at the crowd. People stared around at each other, confused and in pain. I started wondering what going to hell was like. I wondered if it wasn’t a dramatic transition, but entirely subtle. I imagined that we were all already in hell, and that hell was simply this period of noise, in this space, strung out until infinity. Well, I wasn’t in hell, and they finally finished the song, and no one asked for an encore, but simply shuffled out stunned. One of my companions spent the night tripping and listening to Loveless on his headphones. I didn’t own headphones, and never listened to music on headphones. As many times as I had listened to Loveless, it was always on a stereo. “It’s all about the headphones. You gotta listen to it on headphones.” I still haven’t tested his theory.