You never forget your first.
My first “real” concert, sans adult supervision–standing-room-only–was Ned’s Atomic Dustbin at Roseland Ballroom back on January 22, 1993.
At 16 years old, this was the night that everything changed. I became an addict, hooked on live music. Sure, by this point I had already seen Madonna, C&C Music Factory and Vanilla Ice live, but that was just music.
With Ned’s, my alternative rock universe came into focus as I moved beyond a suburban kid with creative vision and morphed into a young adult who became unafraid to express his uniqueness.
As I looked out across a sea of humanity, bodies hoisted towards the sky, knees flying through the air, I realized we were all more than plaid-shirt wearing “weirdos.”
The Ned’s show was validation that I was not alone.
I found my people.
And the music spoke to me.
After all, this tour begged the question, “Are You Normal?”
In a sea of tightly-wound grunge, Ned’s arrived at the right place in the wrong time–and I loved them. Still do.
Was it the English accent-laden melodies? The driving thump of two bass players (who the fuck has two bass players!?)? The songs felt equal parts upbeat and aggressive–relatable teen angst at its finest.
“If I don’t know what’s cool, will you call me a loser? If I don’t bend the rules, will I stay a loser?”Selfish, ned’s atomic dustbin
“Grey Cell Green” infected my body, forcing me to “dance” just a little bit harder, and in my mind, “Kill Your Television” was a perfectly logical viewpoint. Today the sentiment would translate to “Murder Your Phone.”
Elbows to the mouth, Doc Martens to the head. Who cared. This was youth in a bottle, and I knew it. Breathing in the smoky/patchouli-basted air, I knew right there, on the floor of the ballroom, that the rest of my nights, for all of eternity, would be filled by rock shows.
A full year after the concert, I quoted Ned’s in my high school yearbook.
“Here I stand a self-made victim.”Intact, Ned’s atomic dustbin
When “The Galaxy,” in all its superlative glory made its way home, and my parents thumbed the pages looking for the bold, forward-thinking proclamation their firstborn declared, they were beyond miffed.
It was one of the few times that I felt my parents’ anger, confusion, and disappointment: How could their “smart little boy” put such weak words (victim mentality!) on the permanent record? As if a future employer would decide not to give me the opportunity of a lifetime because I felt wounded by high school. Who didn’t?!
It was just a simple homage to a wonderful alternative 90s band and a genuine statement of how I felt. I guess I thought school was a choice, that my suffering could have been avoided by going another route. This battle with “control” was a foreshadow of the issues I would encounter later in life, a story for another time.
“My childhood obsession is my record collection.”Suave and Suffocated, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin
If the Ned’s show sparked my addition, it was the Village Voice that fanned the flames. The weekly alternative newspaper became the guidebook of my life. With no Internet (at least not like today!), what other way was there to find out about upcoming shows? Well, aside from a blackboard behind the register at your local record shop.
Sifting through every single line of text, searching for the obscure band that I loved opening for another unknown band that someone else loved, became a past time.
And like any impressionable, free-wheeling teenager, I had to play the part.
What followed the concert were endless weekends at Domsey’s Warehouse in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I’d spend hours traversing the 30,000 square-foot thrift store, scoring Kangaroo sneakers, velour Izod shirts, high-cut baggy jeans, argyle socks, and any other garment that allowed me to express myself.
It would always end the same. I’d hoist my new found couture over my shoulders and head back to Queens on a jam-packed F-train. I can still smell whatever bleach-ridden cleaning agent they used on the merch they sold!
I vividly remember being with my parents at the Tower Records on East 4th and Broadway when I finally tracked down the elusive foreign Ned’s release, Bite. It was an album that was rushed to market in 1990 by the band’s former label. My parents generously shelled out twenty-something dollars, and I couldn’t wait to get home to drop it into my stereo. I also grabbed 0.522 which featured a cover of the Bay City Rollers’ tune “Saturday Night” which was produced for the 1993 Mike Myers comedy So I Married an Axe Murderer.
As I put more concerts under my belt, my love of that first Ned’s show never faded. A couple of years later, when they released their new album, brainbloodvolume, I was disappointed. The 3-year wait felt like an eternity. And by 1995 I was a college man with vastly expanded musical preferences. I listened to the album over and over again, coming back to the same conclusion time and time again: it was just OK.
This was a feeling of record-release mediocrity that I learned to get used to through the years. In fact, it still happens today. Sometimes your favorite bands don’t deliver. Sometimes your musical tastes/needs change. But no matter where my music preferences land, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin will always have a special place in my heart.
After all, “All I ask of myself is that I hold together.”