Saturday, May 3, 2014

Track of the Week: Mudhoney, "Touch Me I'm Sick"

I've read a lot of books about music, and one that's stuck with me over the years is Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life, a history of 1980s underground rock told through profiles of its most important bands.  I was too young and too distant from any musical underground in those years, but in the 1990s I listened to groups like the Minutemen, Husker Du, Minor Threat, Black Flag, and Sonic Youth because I all of my grunge rock heroes praised them and their influence.  I've been revisiting that music recently, and am amazed at how vital and fresh it still sounds today.

Mudhoney was one of the first of these bands to cross my radar due their song "Overblown" on the Singles soundtrack and the fact that articles about the Seattle grunge explosion always mentioned them as godfathers of the scene.  "Overblown" drew me in with its uptempo, frantic ranting, and the fact that lead singer Mark Arm was so bold as to attack the hype surrounding the Seattle scene to the point of declaring it "over and done" right at the time it was exploding.  On the basis of that song alone I picked up their next album (and first for a major label), Piece of Cake.  It's not a bad record, but not a particularly good one, either, and after that didn't really pay much mind to Mudhoney for awhile.

Azerrad's book piqued my curiosity about them, however, I luckily managed to find a used copy of Superfuzz/Bugmuff Plus Early Singles at my local record store.  I took it home, put it on, and was immediately blown away by the first track, "Touch Me I'm Sick."  It was the closest thing I'd ever heard to a Stooges song not bashed out by Iggy and the boys.  Brutal, loud, and trashy while still catchy, "Touch Me I'm Sick" is a reminder of the brilliance of those 80s underground acts that lived left of the radio dial.  It is entirely unfit for mainstream consumption in that the song takes the point of view of a creep, contains profanity, and features Mark Arm's yelpy scream-singing.  I hear the whole thing as a kind of parody of the macho braggadocio and posturing so beloved of the hair metal frontmen who dominated MTV back in 1988 when this song came out.

I still listen to and even love contemporary independent rock music, but it has become increasingly less dangerous and less threatening.  I can't stop listening to the newest War on Drugs Record, for example, but it's also something I would be totally comfortable playing around my parents.  "Touch Me I'm Sick" would mortify them.  Modern independent rock music has its origins in punk, and indie music's punk roots were much more apparent in the 80s than they are today, where they appear to be totally absent.  It is more and more the music of hipsters with refined tastes, not the disaffected and angry.  It's scarves and waxed mustaches, not flannel shirts and greasy hair.  "Touch Me I'm Sick" is a good reminder that truly underground music ought to make us uncomfortable.

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