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Ten years ago…

March 30, 2010

“The first in a quarterly series”: I may as well do something with these obsessive lists I’ve been making for the entirety of my adult life, so here we go: the records and books I was listening to and reading, respectively, ten years ago.

Records I was buying, first quarter of 2000: there are seventeen of these, and for the most part I seem to have been catching up on things I had already heard elsewhere (the first two Suede albums; Nevermind), or thought I should have, such as Tricky’s Pre-Millennial Tension (oh, that title! That hateful late-nineties portentousness!). There is an Oasis record in there: more unwelcomely, it was their fourth one, at the time it was released, because I was still hoping they hadn’t cocked everything up (they had). Primal Scream’s XTRMNTR and Smog’s Knock Knock. The Chemikal Underground fifth anniversary CD: that takes me back — it was given away free at the evening of live shows at the Glasgow Garage to mark the occasion, thus the only time I ever saw the Delgados, Mogwai, Arab Strap and Bis on the same bill, compered by John Peel. Two albums by Bowery Electric (no-one remembers this band, and their sound is extremely dated, shoegaze on Beat and trip-hop on Lushlife, but I liked them). Sebadoh’s excellent Bakesale. And the standout among these titles, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, which I must have bought on a whim (or good advice), having never heard it, and which as of the first four drum taps and the great scorch of noise that ensued, became what I still call ‘my favourite record ever’.

I listen to it as I’m typing this, and strangely it doesn’t make me think of 2000, or even ‘the 2000s’. There isn’t an experiential memory attached to it, as there is to Suede and XTRMNTR; though I do, I suppose, think of being delighted when its songs turned up on the soundtracks of Lost in Translation and the bizarre vampire film Nadja, and of retreating from the MBV ‘comeback’ gig at the Roundhouse in 2008, my ears about to burst. The all-consuming sound is of something monolithic. I don’t suppose I think in terms of ‘favourite record of all time’ any more (and if I do, I think automatically of the music I was buying around that period, thus making it more ‘most formative listening experience’ rather than favourite as such), and there are certainly more recent records I listen to more frequently than Loveless, so I suppose that’s the nostalgic element, the memory of that phase when I was ‘building a record collection’, the delight on happening upon such a wellspring of influence for the contemporary music I was enjoying, the knowing on first listening to it that it was going to run with me for ten years and more, and I’d always turn it up till it drowned out everything else.

Thus to books. I was immersed in studying for my finals at the time, thus the appearance among the 83 (!!) I devoured in the first quarter of 2000 of titles like Shakespeare’s Queer Children, New Essays on The Crying of Lot 49, and, er, Timon of Athens (got me through my Shakespeare paper, that one: I like to imagine the examiner was surprised that anybody had bothered to write about it). There’s a fair amount of crap in there — it certainly wasn’t wall-to-wall academic stuff, as attested to by the fact that I’ve long since given away books by Michael Marshall Smith and Carrie Fisher, and something called The Breeders Box, set in the clubs of New York and probably one of the worst books I read in all of that year. What stands out on scanning through this list? Lucky Jim, The Secret Agent, John Cheever’s Collected Stories (all books among the handful I re-read in the following decade); Angela Carter’s Wise Children, the kind of book one regrets never being able to read for a first time again; Ratner’s Star (no-one else’s favourite Don DeLillo but mine); and the excellent anthology of ‘secret’ gay literature, Pages Passed from Hand to Hand, which probably also helped me through my finals by broadening my reading, albeit in a very particular direction.

It’s nice to identify those writers I read for the first time, who became favourites over the following years — Cheever, Muriel Spark, A.L. Kennedy — and those who didn’t: Raymond Carver, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Faulkner (who I should probably try again, now that the loathing I felt for As I Lay Dying has largely subsided). Then there are those writers I last read a decade ago, an often surprising list: if questioned, I probably would have sworn I’d read some Virginia Woolf in the last decade, but evidently not; likewise Evelyn Waugh, T.S. Eliot, Jane Austen and David Foster Wallace.

I think what’s most surprising about this list is that there isn’t anything among these titles that I don’t in some way remember: some sort of association lingers about all of them (okay, maybe the ultra-academic ones have a sort of generalised cloud of exam-anxiety surrounding them). Probably the same mind-set that has me make these lists ensures some memory, however minimal or evanescent, attaches to them. Which makes me worry: what happens when I inevitably look again at these lists — title, author, date, nothing else — and realise I’ve started to forget?

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From → Books, Music

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