Archive for the ‘The Jesus and Mary Chain’ Category
The beginning of my freshman year of college dovetailed with the release of the first Jesus and Mary Chain album, Psychocandy, and it felt like the answer to my prayers: music that was raucous enough to validate the punky look I was going for but melodic enough that I could actually stand behind it. The band’s name was mildly blasphemous—when someone asked what music I liked, it was the name I said first, and if my interlocutor hadn’t already heard it he or she usually raised their eyebrows. The members of the Jesus and Mary Chain wore black clothes and dark sunglasses, the style that I most emulated. The clothes were hard to do—most American shops were still filled with Day-Glo colors in 1985—but with a bottle of Paul Mitchell spray my mom didn’t want I was able to train my hair into a little mushroom cloud, the way they did. I wrote the band’s name in pen on the outsole of one of my Converse Hi-Tops. (I don’t remember what I wrote on the other—The Three O’Clock, probably, but that’s another blog post.)
In October or November of that year, my friends Mike and Joel and I got tickets to see the Jesus and Mary Chain at the Channel, a rock club by the Boston waterfront. Mike told us details he had read about the band’s live shows: that they didn’t speak but turned their backs to the audience, that the music was ungodly loud and brain-searingly feedback-drenched, that they played a twenty-five minute set. And as it turned out that was pretty much the size of it, although, in the band’s defense, they only had written about twelve songs or so, and most clocked in at around two minutes, so there wasn’t much else they could do. Still, I was crazy about them. This memory just came back to me and makes me cringe: At the end of my freshman year, in the middle of finals, I went to Newbury Comics and saw this super-huge and amazingly cool Jesus and Mary Chain poster that I desperately wanted. I didn’t have enough money, though, and I was afraid they would sell out of this poster—I was always telling myself that if I didn’t get some coveted object right then and there, it would sell out. And this particular poster had come from England! I took a couple of textbooks for a class whose exam I had not yet taken and still needed to study for and sold them back to the school bookstore, just so I would could have enough cash buy the poster. No, I didn’t do so well on that test, but it was for a science class, so it’s doubtful I would have performed much better with the textbooks.
The next year the band’s less feedbacky second album, Darklands, came out. I bought it, I liked it a whole lot, and then I lost interest in them. I didn’t buy their later ’90s albums. I heard one more great single, “Sometimes Always,” a duet with Mazzy Star’s singer Hope Sandoval, which got a lot of play on the radio, and there may have been other great Jesus and Mary Chain singles around this time. But the group was pretty much done for me. I frequently go back to music from that period of my life, but theirs has survived the least well. Jesus and Mary Chain songs were catchy and often breathtaking, and they had the power to get under your skin, but they couldn’t really get to your soul. They ran through their tropes—girls, drugs, sex, candy, death, darkness—in three minutes, singing in low, ominous tones, and none of it was remotely scary, which is probably why I was able to like it. (I don’t handle scary so well.)
I was thinking about the band the other day, and intended to write an atypically disparaging post—Earworms comes not to bury but to praise. Then I watched these videos, and realized that I was missing the point, or part of the point, of the Jesus and Mary Chain. It was only somewhat about the music. It was also about how pretty they were. It’s no surprise that I don’t get the same rush listening to their records that I once did, because when I’m just listening I’m not getting any visuals. In the “Just Like Honey” video, they pose like male models in one of those pretty-boy short films Bruce Weber occasionally makes to promote clothes or perfume. In the Anton Corbijnesque “Sometimes Always” clip, the Reid brothers wear cowboy hats and stagger drunkenly around the Southwest. Seeing their videos, and how great they look with their pouty lips and tight pants and translucent skin, I think that the music sounds better, and now I like them again. As often happens with music, a lot has to do with the package, and with the Jesus and Mary Chain, the package was great.