In 1995, when I was 16 and about to be a senior, I was hanging outside my favorite cafe in Albuquerque (since shut down), Uncommon Grounds. I think I was playing chess with my best friend, Jess, on the curb, because the cafe was closing and our game wasn't done yet. The cafe guy (we didn't have the term "barista" yet) came outside and asked me if I played drums. I said, no, but I was learning to play bass.
Good, he says, because we need one of those too.
He and some friends were in Albuquerque from El Paso for the summer; they were a bit older, just about to finish college at Columbia. They were really cool and had Nation of Ulysses records (years later, I would play in a band with Tim Green). They were renting a house with a big Swedish flag in the living room. A bit weirded out, but curious, I drove to the other side of town, the college strip of Route 66 or Central Ave., far from where my folks lived (I was a "Heights Kid" living up in the desert). I brought my bass, a pretty junky thing with a lot of puffy stickers on it. I had never played bass with other people.
That summer, the 3 guys and I wrote 5 songs in the living room. We called ourselves "The Swedes," because we practiced under the Swedish flag. The drum kit was taped together, and the microphone was hanging from the ceiling in lieu of a stand; it would zap you if you accidentally touched your mouth to it. There was always a little bit of danger in singing. One of the songs was about how I had been stood up for prom (yes, he just never came to pick me up; that actually happened). Other songs, like "Summer," didn't really have lyrics because, well, they are time consuming to write, but "Italian ice" makes for a good signal to everyone that it's time to change chords. That came from the breaks we'd take to ride bikes over to the Italian ice spot. We played two shows, one at a block party where we all wore motorcycle helmets. I also dressed entirely in powder blue, borrowing a pair of shorts with bicycles on them from the Bow Wow Records store guy, Mark. We also played once at Drop Out Records with At the Drive-In, what was then a no name punk band also from El Paso, friends with The Swedes and Arlo's cousin, Jake (pictured here with a half-shaved head; my head was shaved then too, but a bit less wrecklessly).
That was the best summer of my life. I wouldn't really see the guys again, except on my first visit to New York when I was 18. One is a Congressman now. I ran into Mike once and I'd see the main songwriter, Arlo, years later when he played in San Francisco at the Knockout. He left me a voicemail afterwards, 5 to 10 years ago, that I listened to again last night, describing it as a "summer of being open to music." It was. I have some other voicemails (on small cassette tapes) from the guys where they are joking around, reciting Galaxie 500 lyrics and telling me to come practice. I have a picture of us somewhere.
Anyway, here's our tape. It is really good. Arlo sent me the link to the old songs late last night. The last song might be my favorite, Don't Let Our Youth Go to Waste, for obvious reasons. It's a cover of Galaxie 500 covering Jonathan Richman. What strikes me in the tape now is a sort of joyful noise, which happens when you're making music together not as a band, but as people, strangers, with no expectations or desires beyond music itself.
-Julie Beth Napolin
released May 25, 2015
"What strikes me in the tape now is a sort of joyful noise, which happens when you're making music together not as a band, but as people, strangers, with no expectations or desires beyond music itself."