Meandering memories with The Stone Roses


Sometimes I fantasize
When the streets are cold and lonely
And the cars they burn below me
Don’t these times fill your eyes
When the streets are cold and lonely
And the cars, they burn below me
Are you all alone?
Is anybody home?

It was 1990, and I was in the full throes of my short-lived but passionate anglophilia. I tried to remake my suburban American life in the shape and form of something entirely different, and what better way to make anything new and beautiful – and most importantly – different – than through music? What different sound could I find that could firmly establish this otherness without the freedom to go be a part of some otherness? These were slow times when overexcited teenage musical discoveries were like hard-fought battles with near-exclusivity the spoils.

Lucky for me, I had been obsessed with reaching out into the wider world through my penfriendships, and exchanged letters with Peter, a bricklayer from Durham, England. I will never be able to express the mania, madness, joy that washed over me when his parcels would arrive, filled with cassettes (!) of exactly this otherness I had desperately sought. The first tapes he sent: The Stone Roses’ first – and in fairness near-only – album (the second could never live up to that debut). It transformed everything. He continued to send me more tapes of everything that characterized the ‘Madchester’ scene and other music from the same period. I felt like I had stumbled into a goldmine into which only I had access (it was a while before America was fully on board, and even if enclaves of people embraced this music, it was not as though it made its mark on my community).

I distinctly remember a day, walking home from a PSAT or SAT practice test (or something like that – a Saturday morning sacrificed to standardized testing, in any case), with “Made of Stone” playing on my Walkman. Is it overstating it to say that everything seemed different to me after that time? In some way, it was. It was – even if other friends adopted the music and we shared it – an assertion of my own tastes and identity outside of that of my friends. The first step toward something different. Sure, that something different did not turn out to be moving to England, which, in my youth, I long believed I wanted to do. But it was a big stepping stone to figuring out tangibly that there was a much bigger world out there with a lot of different kinds of people in it. Some of them were working as bricklayers and writing letters to fawning American girls. Some of them were making music and going to raves in a depressed late-80s Manchester.

Today, returning from Manchester, where I spent a few days with my brother seeing The Stone Roses reunion, seeing the iconic Haçienda transformed into apartments and generally taking it all in, I am starkly reminded of how I felt, how it was, to feel such intense feelings about music, about the sense of place (the sense of wanting to be in a different place). It’s been 26 years since I walked through the streets of the town where I grew up, overcome by and elated at this new sound – these new possibilities.

Today I am wandering the streets of Oslo, bound by sun and a few clouds, wondering in some way how I got here. In life, that is. Scandinavia was nowhere on my radar back in 1990, and yet this is where I feel happiest and at home. And listening to the Roses as I walked around the sun-dappled Oslo train station and opera house, I create new and very different memories around these same songs that carried me through suburban American streets and experiences. The songs are the same but are no longer the ones that made me feel lonely but understood – and held the promise of different ‘othernesses’ – and now hold this bittersweet nostalgia in every note and word.

Of course with nostalgia there is also the past – whatever happened to the northern boy bricklayer Peter, who introduced me to all of this and spoke in an accent I could not begin to understand? My best friend from that period, too, where has she gone? I thought of her so much as I wandered Manchester and saw this concert we would have killed to see when we were 15. I know neither she nor I are the people we were then, but the heartstrings were pulled. Hard.


The Stone Roses & other life misunderestimations


An acquaintance, a somewhat disgruntled worker, who was shown the door in her organization recently went on a tirade, listing off all the magnificent things she had supposedly brought to the company. All were fabrications or deluded personal perspectives on tasks she had ‘accomplished’. In a fit of fury, she insisted, “I have been misunderestimated.” This, erm, “word” perfectly encapsulates who and how she is. Trying too hard to be articulate and coming out sounding like a babbling moron in the process. Mis – under – estimated? If that were a word at all, how would it apply? That as a native English speaker, you don’t know how to use English (despite working in a communications department)? (For what it’s worth, “misunderestimate” is a classic Geo. W. Bushism.)

Thinking this morning about these vainglorious declarations of “misunderestimations”, I grant that I underestimated how glorious indeed seeing The Stone Roses live would be. I’m just returning home from the UK, where my brother and I have spent a few days seeing the Roses in Manchester. What could beat seeing them on their home turf and taking a look around the stomping grounds of some of our favorite musical artists? For nostalgia’s sake alone, it seemed like a good idea. In fact I counted on it being primarily nostalgic. I don’t think The Roses were ever known in the old days for being consistent and reliable, and I did not think that that 20 years between their breakup and today would have changed that.

But it did.

Now, I have never been the kind of person who enjoys standing in huge crowds of people enduring drunken idiots. I have never stood in an English crowd of idiots (their weird herd-hooligan mentality comes out even in this musical environment). I’m tempted to blame my advanced age, but then I remember with some displeasure that I felt this way when I was 20 as much as today. I simply hate crowds, especially stupid ones, and adding alcohol makes it 100 times worse. I also do not find the same things “fun” as other people. This would be an endurance exercise, not one of sheer pleasure.

We went to the venue very early – hours before it opened – to ensure that my brother could get the merchandise he wanted. Then we wandered off in the industrial estate area where the stadium is and found the most strangely placed, overly ornate Thai/Indian restaurant right in the middle of it (Vermilion). We went inside and were the only ones in the place, being showered with the dedicated attentions of an overeager French waiter who was so excited to interact and show us the revolving table in the adjacent room that he nearly knocked over some wine glasses in the process (“spin that wheel!”). It was surreal, making the whole thing memorable and laughable. Also, it was a good thing we ate a bunch of food because once we did actually get inside the stadium, we staked out our spot and didn’t really move again for seven hours. (Our feet have not thanked us since.)

The day started with The Buzzcocks, followed by The Coral, then Public Enemy and finally The Stone Roses. From the moment they went on, the crowd was rapt and all their previous shenanigans did not matter (e.g. throwing half-empty cups of beer and cider and shit into the air, which half soaked me at one point and really pissed me off). There is something truly uniting? Transformative? about sharing the same experience with a massive group of people who are all there, living and loving the same thing with equal intensity. No one was indifferent. Everyone knew all the words to every song and freaked out in unison. The intensity never abated. I have been to many concerts in my life but none with that sustained intensity and fervor and sheer engagement at every moment, particularly not at a concert of that size (smaller gigs in smaller venues for bands with a small but passionate following will seem a bit like that but on a much smaller scale). I guess scale is what I am talking about – I have never seen and experienced something like that, being right in the middle of it.

It was amazing and well worth all the hassles. And I guess my doubts about the Roses’ efficacy and staying power were misunderestimated. 🙂 Haha.