Monday, March 05, 2007

I thought I
was dreaming...

I recently asked a friend, who's around my age, if he'd ever heard "Pink Frost," and he said no. Then I asked if he'd ever heard anything by the Chills. No again. I was shocked. Back in the 1980s, the Chills were one of the key bands among the college radio/fanzine set. Though they never had the same sort of breakthrough, they inspired as much affection as Robyn Hitchcock or IRS-era REM.

So, I asked if he'd ever heard fellow New Zealanders the Verlaines or the Bats. No and no. (I was working at Cellophane Square the day Kurt Cobain and his retinue came in and purchased the latter's acclaimed Law of Things.) I could've asked about the Clean or the Tall Dwarfs, but I didn't see the point. For whatever reason, he wasn't listening to the noise from NZ at the height of its glory. I also could've asked if he'd ever heard Split Enz/Crowded House, and I'm certain he'd have said yes, but then they made more of a splash on commercial radio and MTV.

The experience served as a reminder that you sometimes have to re-align yourself with your friends and associates to ensure that you're speaking the same language. It's easy to assume your peers grew up with similar stuff, and it can come as a surprise to discover that they didn't. If they did, you can take advantage of a form of critical shorthand. You go to a show, turn to your companion, and say, "Gee, these guys sound a lot like the Verlaines," and they know exactly what you mean (even if they don't agree). Same goes for records, movies, books, etc. When you take the expected commonalities away, you have to work a lot harder to describe things and to make connections between them.

The cool part about a lack of shared experiences is that you get
the opportunity to introduce your friends to things they might really enjoy. The not-so-cool part is that I'm at an age where I
like to reminisce from time to time. Increasingly, I'm finding
that I don't have a lot of friends with which to do that. At least
not when it comes to some of my favorite artists from the 1980s.

Which brings me back to the Chills and the video for "Pink Frost." Unlike the Shins, it may not change your life, but they came first (dammit!), and if you'd like to learn more about the pleasures of New Zealand pop, I can't think of a better place to start.

The Chills - Pink Frost (1984)

Endnote: Chills and Verlaines images from the AMG, video from YouTube. For more from the Chills, I'd recommend the singles collection Kaleidoscope World (1986). As for their Dunedin neighbors in the Verlaines, I'd recommend Bird Dog (1987). Unfortunately, both releases appear to be out of print.


Doug Orleans said...

I would have thought "Heavenly Pop Hit" was the place to start. But The Chills were before my time, I only knew about them from Justin Harwood being in Luna. (And yes, that's how I learned about Galaxie 500 too. At least I already knew The Feelies, thanks to "Sooner or Later" on 120 Minutes.)

kathy fennessy said...

You're right, "Heavenly Pop Hit" isn't a bad place to start, but it didn't leave as much of an impression on me. I remember the first time I heard "Pink Frost" on KCMU (this would've been around 1988). I thought, "Wow." I listened to it several more times before I noticed the lyrics. Then my reaction changed to "Whoa." I like it when a song tells a story, but it's so catchy, you don't even notice. I probably should've mentioned the Feelies in this post, so thanks for the reminder. Although I never got to see them in concert, I did get to see the Chills live on the "Soft Bomb" tour. They were quite good.

ratzkywatzky said...

In my defense, I *did* see Split Enz at the Showbox: 99 cent tickets, courtesy of KZAM.

On the other hand, I don't think I'd know Crowded House if they fell on me. (I know I'd recognize the songs; just couldn't name the band.)

On the other other hand, I do know Flight of the Conchords, New Zealand's fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo. (I always go for novelty records.)

On the other other other hand, how familiar are you with Santa Cruz's Wrestling Worms? Huh?

kathy fennessy said...

It gets worse. I shared a version of this story with my independent music list, of which Mr. Orleans is a member. Everyone had a similar tale, but in most cases they were talking about younger friends. Believe me, *you* know more about roots music than I'll ever know--probably a few other genres besides.

Tim Finn was a member of Split Enz with his brother, Neil. Crowded House was his own combo (and included Enz drummer Paul Hester). The first album has some neat stuff on it, like "Don't Dream It's Over," but I lost interest afterwards. They were actually more successful in the States than Split Enz. The two now perform as the Finn Brothers.

kathy fennessy said...

Please substitute "Neil" for "Tim" in the previous comment. Tim's the senior Finn.

Anonymous said...

Great post! The Chills, Bats and Verlaines...all great bands. Someone needs to reissue all of the criminally out of print Verlaines records.

Have you ever heard House of Love's cover of Pink Frost? Quite good!

kathy fennessy said...

Thanks for writing, Toby. That cover sounds great. I was quite fond of the first HoL CD (esp. "Christine"). And I was surprised when I found out how many Chills & Verlaines releases were out of print. I had no idea.

Anonymous said...

Kathy, Here's a link to that cover of Pink Frost by House of Love. After listening to it again, the original is much better. It's at least worth a listen.

House of Love - Pink Frost mp3

kathy fennessy said...

I like it! Thanks for the follow-up. I tried to track this song down at the AMG, but they didn't have a listing. But I did find out that House of Love are still around (who knew?).