‘Our Band Could Be Your Life’: The Playlist
I thought maybe I’d blacked out for a few minutes. Sometime in the late ’90s, I was sitting on my couch watching a multi-part documentary about the history of rock. It got up to punk — and then skipped directly from Talking Heads to Nirvana. But no, I hadn’t temporarily lost consciousness and missed the part about an entire decade’s worth of deep, rich and profoundly influential underground music; it simply wasn’t there.
Indignant, I thought to myself, “Someone should do something about this!” And, in true DIY spirit, I decided to do it myself: I wrote a book called Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991 (Little, Brown, 2001), which told as much of the story of the ’80s indie scene as I could pack into a mere 501 pages.
I wrote the book to right a wrong of omission, and to provide the backstory to my previous book Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana, but it’s hard to predict the impact of things like books, and before long, musicians of all kinds were telling me how much the book inspired them, even if they weren’t into all or even some of the bands in the book. And it’s been like that ever since, right up to the present day.
So when I began thinking about a long-overdue audiobook version of Our Band Could Be Your Life, I thought it would be great to have musicians who were inspired by the bands in the book, or the book itself, read the different chapters. It would show that the spirit of those bands, and maybe of the book itself, lives on — there’s a legacy there.
So that’s why Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy reads the Minutemen chapter and Sharon Van Etten reads the Dinosaur Jr chapter and the Decemberists’ leader Colin Meloy reads the Hüsker Dü chapter and so on: there’s a lineage, a line of inspiration, even if none of those musicians sound like the bands they’re reading about. (The book even made an impact on a couple of non-musicians: novelist Jonathan Franzen and comedian Fred Armisen, both of whom read chapters in the audiobook.)
And that’s why musicians as disparate as Stephin Merritt, who leads the urbane, sublime Magnetic Fields, and Corey Taylor, the leader of the exultantly brutal rap-metal band Slipknot, appear in the same audiobook: the music from that era has a longstanding and wide-ranging legacy.
So here’s a playlist of two songs by each of the 13 bands in Our Band Could Be Your Life. I chose a kind of “greatest hits” selection with a bias toward songs I singled out in the book. And, in the spirit of Our Band Could Be Your Life, it’s taken solely from the bands’ catalogues on independent labels. If you like what you hear, by all means dig deeper: there’s much more where that came from.
(Photo Credit: Haley Dekle)
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