Welcome to Shelf Life, a new bi-monthly series by Ryan Bray. More than a column, Shelf Life is a piece of my personal history that I’m sharing with you, one culled together by seeking out and getting reacquainted with the lost treasures I’ve found while combing through my collection. Each installment will shed some light on my connection to a particular artist and record.
“When I’ve got the music, oh I’ve got a place to go.”
– Rancid, “Radio”
Some people will never forget the first time their dad took them to see a baseball game or the name of the first girl they kissed. I remember that shit, too, but also among my list of unforgettable firsts was my inaugural trip to Newbury Comics. Not only do I remember the date (October 17, 1995), but I can grace you with all of the particulars. It was Saturday, and it was raining steadily. I had about $20 in paper route money to blow, and I was going record shopping. Little did I know at the time that it would be the first of thousands of dollars I would drop in that exact shop in the Five Corners in Braintree, MA, over the next 17 or so years.
My dad and I hopped in the car, and pretty soon I was like a caged animal set free to run wild in his natural habitat. I remember the layout of the store, how the racks were lined up horizontally across from the front door. I remember being so overwhelmed by all of the music that was in front of me that I forgot what I had come there in search of to begin with, a feeling I’ve grown quite accustomed to over the years. And, of course, I remember what I bought. In one hand was Frogstomp, the debut record from Aussie teen grunge idols Silverchair. “Tomorrow” was all over MTV and radio at the time, and taking that home was my top priority. In the other hand was Let’s Go, a record by another band that piqued my curiosity on the strength of a few cursory spins on MTV, a quartet of ugly, leather-clad East Bay punks called Rancid.
Silverchair got the first spin, and I’ll be honest: Frogstomp rattled around inside my budding alt-rock brain like crazy for a good four or five months. Let’s Go, however, was the album that spawned my love affair with the band that’s revved up my purist punk rock heart for close to 20 years. I had picked it up almost as an afterthought, having had just enough money to pick up a second CD, and to this day, it’s one of the single best musical purchases I’ve ever made.
From top to bottom, Let’s Go‘s 23 tracks ooze with gnarly, ’77 street punk fury. I can easily categorize the record as such in hindsight, but at the time, I had no fucking idea what any of that meant. I hardly even knew what punk was. I just remember getting goosebumps listening as the band pulverized its way through song after song of bruising yet melodic neo-punk anthems. “Nihilism” grabbed me by the throat right at the start, and the record refused to let go until the music finally went silent at the end of “7 Years Down”. I loved everything about the record, from the singles (“Salvation”, “Radio”) to Tim Armstrong’s trademark rasp and slur and Matt Freeman’s rolling bass lines that ran wild over all the mayhem.
I’ve been listening to the record a lot in recent weeks in preparation for this column, and it dawned on me that Let’s Go really was the record that got me started on this wild goose chase we call record collecting. Pretty much every record I’ve ever bought I’ve bought with the hope of recapturing the thrill that came with listening to Let’s Go for the first time. Many have come close, but nothing has been able to truly match the rush that came when Rancid first crashed my CD player.
But beyond the music itself, Let’s Go has a larger part to play in my own personal musical history. In a lot of ways, the record changed the way I thought about music. Rancid wasn’t my first musical crush (that honor belonged to Nirvana), nor were they the first punk band I got into in a real way. In 1994-1995, Green Day was the band that ruled my small corner of the universe. Dookie was (and is) an amazing record in its own right, but there were bigger forces at play. If you were a sixth grader at South Intermediate School, you liked Green Day or you didn’t matter. Liking Green Day wasn’t a statement about your musical tastes, it was practically a requirement. First and foremost, listening to Green Day was about being cool. Rancid was riding a wave of popularity at the time, too, although the swells of popularity weren’t nearly as big as they were for Green Day and The Offspring. But I hardly noticed. All I knew was I loved Rancid, and for the first time, that was all that mattered. It didn’t matter to me if one person or a thousand or a million people were with me, because I was all in.
Looking back, that was a pretty big sea change in my musical development. Let’s Go and …And Out Come the Wolves shortly thereafter marked the first time I felt comfortable liking what I liked just because I liked it, and that willingness to accept music on its own terms blew the doors wide open for me. Pretty soon, I was digging deeper into punk and independent music, and shortly after that I was checking out local music and supporting local bands. With Let’s Go, music became much more than a fad or something to talk about with the other kids at lunch. It became, I don’t know, much more of a life thing. That said, that mohawk I sported in seventh grade was a bad move in retrospect.
On the next installment of Shelf Life, I’ll put down the guitars and drums (briefly) and hop behind the ones and twos to talk about one of the defining records of the late ’90s big beat movement.