Monday, July 18, 2016

Tonic Week: My "Lemon Parade" Story

I was on the verge of turning thirteen as the summer of 1996 progressed, old enough to have developed an affection for music, but too young to have a fully developed sense of cynicism. My main outlet at the time was still Top-40 radio, which had yet to succumb to the ills that now plague it. Good music was still propagating the charts, and I was more than happy to suck up as much of it as I could. The endless repetition that now seems quaint and absurd was then a blessing, an opportunity to hear my new favorite song regularly, before the idea of being able to access any music ever recorded at any time was barely a thought in someone's mind.

I filled tapes with these songs, trying to dutifully gauge the lengths by estimation, ensuring my mixes would not cut out the best parts of songs, nor would they require ten seconds of an out-of-favor song from remaining in between the favored sons. As I was compiling one of these tapes, I found myself succumbing to the obsessive part of my personality. I had taped a new song, cleanly and perfectly, and without any thought I found myself listening to the screech of the tape rewinding again and again, so I could hear that song even more often than it was on the radio.

That song was the most played song on all of radio for a year, and I still reverted to my tape to hear it more often. That song was "If You Could Only See", and it was my first exposure to a record that would fundamentally change me.

I would not hear "Lemon Parade" in full until a few years later, as "Sugar" was preparing for release. Acquiring music was more difficult in those days, and I did not have a taste for collecting CDs at that point. Having been burned by singles that led me to disappointing albums several times before, I had let the album slip by. I have come to realize that missing out on the album at its release was the best thing that could have happened to me, because even with two years of extra wisdom and musical experience, I wasn't ready to hear what the album had to offer.

My initial listen to "Lemon Parade" was not positive, or at least not as positive as it would later be. Compared to the shimmering pop of "Sugar", the earlier album was a darker, dirtier bit of rock music that clearly formed out of the stew of post-grunge. In my headspace at the time, that kind of music was the last thing I wanted to hear, so "Sugar" seemed to be the clearly better record. But, since I lacked a large collection of albums to fill all my waking moments, I returned to "Lemon Parade", giving it plenty of chances to correct me.

Slowly but surely, I began to see "Lemon Parade" in a different light. Instead of sounding like an album that was riding the last frayed strands of grunge's coattails, I heard a batch of songs that had more in common with classic rock, filtered through the dingy aesthetic of the mid 90s. In that light, despite the fact that I did not have any background with the bands that inspired Tonic, I began to appreciate the album more with each time I spun it. Within a few months, it would grow from being an album I would have tossed aside, to being one of my favorites.

That was true to such an extent that I was convinced to pick up an instrument. I got a guitar so that I could learn how to play some of those songs that I was obsessed with. I did eventually commit some of those riffs and chord progressions to muscle memory, but what happened was more important than that. As I learned Tonic's songs from the notation on the internet, I saw patterns that sparked my own imagination. Tonic, and "Lemon Parade" in particular, inspired me to begin writing my own songs.

In fact, "Lemon Parade" became the blueprint I would use to learn how to write songs. In my mind, that was the album I was always trying to create for myself, and though I have never come close to reaching that height, I do believe that I have managed to write songs that for a few moments live up to that legacy. Along the way, I realized that the music that was innate within me, the music that flowed out without my trying to guide it, was molded from the form of "Lemon Parade". It was unconscious, but through my own creative explorations, I realized that Tonic had early on hit upon the exact formula of music that spoke to my heart.

Over those years, my love for "Lemon Parade" grew, to the point where it was second only to the album that made me love music in the first place. Tonic was my favorite band, and even their disappearance after "Head On Straight" wasn't going to discourage me. With every song I wrote for myself, it became ever clearer how much Tonic had meant to me, how much they still did.

And now, twenty years removed from that initial contact, I find myself looking back and wondering what I would be like if I hadn't heard "If You Could Only See" at just the right time in my life. Without "Lemon Parade", I certainly would not have become a songwriter myself, I more than likely never would have known the feeling that comes from coaxing music out of a guitar, and I may not have ever fallen in love enough with music to become the fan and writer I am today. Simply put, "Lemon Parade" may have changed the entire trajectory of my personality. Even now, twenty years later, I still put on "Lemon Parade" and feel that same rush. I still marvel at how "If You Could Only See" captivates me like few other songs ever have, at the powerful melancholy of "Soldier's Daughter", at the powerful rhythms of "Wicked Soldier". Time has not taken away the spark of youth when it comes to "Lemon Parade". I hear it now as sharply as I ever have, and it means just as much to me.

"Lemon Parade" is my favorite album, and now will likely always be.

No comments:

Post a Comment