My punk rock pal Leech passed me a duped cassette of Singles Going Steady as a token of our new-forged friendship in October 1991.
Back in those pre-Altsplosion days, being a punk rocker often meant existing as a scene unto oneself — isolated holdouts or latecomers going through the motions in small local clusters or utter solitude. Occasional these scattered souls would gather for a show by some past-prime punk stalwarts, but (in my case, at least) insularity and mutual suspicion governed any interactions. The same mindset which drove folks into embracing an anachronistic subculture also tended to foster a weird marriage between purity test and impostor syndrome where the nagging feeling that you might be a poser projected outwards.
When you did finally get past those silly, self-imposed hurdles and establish genuine relationships, the initial exchange almost always involved each other’s musical tastes. Outside the canon of evergreen acts (the Pistols, the Clash, SoCal hardcore, the Ramones, the Dead Kennedys), punk shit had a minimal presence on the racks or was existed as expensively out-of-print aspirational objects. A new punk pal meant the possibility of getting access to some rare treasure known only by reputation or references in some old fanzine.
In Leech’s case, it was the Buzzcocks. I’d heard of them through Lipstick Traces, but had been unable to find of their releases, used or new. So Leech passed me a copy of their made-for-America singles compilation and I listened to it repeatedly during the first few months of the Fall 1991 semester.
This happened to coincide with my pre-Maura relationship with an freshman art major. We were fundamentally incompatible (she was exceedingly pretentious, I was a pass-agg monster) though that got lost in thrill of a new romance and rush of raging hormones.
Because I had Buzzcocks on the brain, my perceptions of that doomed fling were bookended by a pair of cuts from Singles Going Steady. At the start, in the full grip of giddiness…
…there was “Love You More” (which should’ve been a warning sign in hindsight). Then, in the bitter, confidence-shaking aftermath…
…was “What Do I Get?” Maybe it ought to have been “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve),” but my nineteen year old self wasn’t really wired for that level of introspection.
The synchronicity has indelibly fixed the band and that compilation to a very specific moment in time. I can’t listen to them without experiencing lucid flashbacks which completely evaporate any self-mythologizing backfill, leaving only a clear loss-less channel to the psyche of my younger, angrier, and dumber self…and stray bits like the smell of the Wheatley Cafeteria and the ambient smells of Jamaica Plain after the “No Name” Storm.
It’s an incredibly disconcerting feeling, but one that speaks to the power of the music and the strange ways in which we can internalize it. I don’t even consider myself a huge Buzzcocks yet I can’t think of any other artist or tracks capable of triggering similar experiences. (Though, to be fair, there’s a lot of old favorites I specifically avoid out of fear that that might.)
Pete Shelley is gone, but the strange magic of those tunes endures in my headspace…whether I want them to or not.