The Bands That Almost Got Away
Fleetwood Mac, x-ray spex, Belle & Sebastian

Fleetwood Mac, x-ray spex, Belle & Sebastian. Photos: Getty Images

Each week, Lizzy Goodman guides you through the dirty streets of rock and roll.

Lastweek I wrote about discovering late, and then falling madly in love with bands that others have been into for years. These columns tend to start as conversations with friends and fellow rock fans over cocktails at various dark New York bars. It’s cold. We drink a lot. Anyway, people had a lot to say about this bands-that-got-away theme. So I decided to ask a few musician friends if they’d ever had similar experiences. They had. “Someone gave me a copy of Belle and Sebastian‘s If You’re Feeling Sinister in 1996 and I was like, ‘What is this shit?’” James Iha wrote me in an email. “For my narrowly focused musical mind which was firmly planted in heaviness, the music and lyrics were bizarre and twee and the artwork seemed tossed off. B&S would continue to release brilliant albums (unbeknownst to me) until one day in 2002 I checked out Storytelling because my friend Nathan Larson worked on the score of the Todd Solondz classic movie of the same name. And then I finally got their brilliance, their smart razor sharp lyrics, their cool vocals. The songwriting was incredible and done with a small dash of punk (and the music is not twee!!). How did I miss it? I don’t know, my bad.”

Dean Wareham, of Galaxie 500, Luna and now Dean & Britta, had a similar experience with Fleetwood Mac. “As I high school kid I decided I did not like them,” he told me. “I was too busy discovering the Clash, the Cramps, the Ramones. I guess at that age you use your favorite bands to define who you are and how you feel, and Stevie Nicks was not who I wanted to be, or be with. But I slowly came to appreciate Fleetwood Mac. It started when my former drummer Stan Demeski played me their beautiful cover of the Beach Boys‘ ‘Farmer’s Daughter.’ And lately another friend has been sending me his favorites (admittedly mostly pre- Buckingham and Nicks) – obscure Christine McVie and Danny Kirwan-penned tracks that I am digging.”

Both these stories synch up with what I was originally psyched to explore – the idea that the discovery of new music is endless because old music can always be new to you. It’s the listener experience, the individual lives we’re all leading that generate infinite context for this music to matter. I love that. When I asked Kathleen Hanna for her take on this theme, she tweaked it a bit, and named a musician she discovered in part because journalists were always telling her they sounded alike. “I was on tour with my band Viva Knieval,” Hanna said, referring to one of one of her many awesome pre-Bikini Kill bands, “when I was first told my voice sounded like someone named Poly Styrene. I had no idea who that was as I only listened to hard rock and reggae at the time. Then in Bikini Kill, I heard the comment again and finally after a year of touring I asked my bandmateTobi [Vail] ‘Who is Poly Styrene?’ She made me a tape of X-Ray Specs. I was so flattered that I was being compared to her because she was so fucking great.” Perhaps you’re wondering, as I was, if Hanna and Styrene got to meet before Syrene passed away in 2011. They did. Sort of. “She came to one of our shows at the University of London and I mentioned that people compared us and said I was flattered but knew she was the better singer,” Hanna recalls. “I hope she heard me say that and wasn’t in the bathroom at the time.”

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