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Four questions: Pigpen, Half-Rack

[Pigpen - Half Rack]

Artist

Pigpen

Title

Half-Rack

Original Release Date

May 7, 1993

Purchase Date

Fall 1993

What is the memory you most associate with this title?

I jumped on the bandwagon of shopping for music on the Internet really early. How early? Amazon hadn’t even launched when I was sending checks to complete strangers on the rec.music.marketplace group on USENET.

CD Connection had a TELNET interface where you could buy albums at warehouse prices. Interstate taxation hadn’t yet become an issue, although the markup to ship to Hawaii was obscene.

As terrific as Tower Records was, they couldn’t fit everything in the store, and they couldn’t cater to someone with tastes as esoteric as mine.

I bought Halfrack on the Internet, most likely from CD Connection. I knew it would take Tower weeks, if not months, to stock it, so I cut out the middle man and got it myself.

What was happening in your life when it was released?

In May 1993, I was preparing to move back to Honolulu after spending two semesters in New York City on the National Student Exchange Program.

This program allowed students to attend another university in the country while paying either the in-state tuition of the host school, or the in-state tuition of the visitor’s school.

I had wanted to go to the Mainland for college like a number of my high school friends, but my family couldn’t afford it. My parents’ combined income put us out of reach of financial aid, unless I opted to take out loans, which my mom insisted not happen.

I didn’t appreciate the gesture at the time, but I’m glad for it now. I have no student debt, and I’m sure I would be in a worse financial position now had I saddle myself with it.

What was happening in your life when you bought it?

The Internet wasn’t just the World Wide Web. Before the web gave the internet a graphical user interface, there were mailing lists, newsgroups, talk daemons and IRC.

And I was exploring anything music-related through these command-line interfaces. I sold and bought CDs on USENET. I developed friendships with people I would never meet through a shared love of Duran Duran. I chatted with high school friends if the finger command revealed they were online many time zones away.

I also started to shift my academic focus away from music and onto journalism. I wrote a few reviews for the Hunter College newspaper when I lived in New York, and I liked the experience so much, I kept writing for the paper at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

The seeds of this web site were pretty much being sown right around the time I picked up this album.

What do you think of it now?

I have to admit I didn’t listen to Halfrack as much as I could have at the time. V as in Victim followed shortly afterward and quickly monopolized my listening time.

Halfrack set the tone for what would follow, including moments of tenderness next to controlled chaos. At five tracks, it whetted the appetite for more, and even 25+ year later, it’s an astonishing piece of work to behold.

The influence of Naked City is inescapable, which means it will always be a perpetual favorite.

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Four questions: Toni Childs, House of Hope

[Toni Childs - House of Hope]

Artist

Toni Childs

Title

House of Hope

Original Release Date

June 25, 1991

Purchase Date

August 26, 2016 for the CD. I would have bought the cassette version around the time of its original release.

What is the memory you most associate with this title?

My bus commute from home to the University of Hawaii. It usually took the length of the album to finish.

What was happening in your life when it was released?

I would have been taking summer classes at UH at the time. I actually deferred my entry to college from fall 1990 to winter 1991 because I was burned out by my senior year in high school. My mom also had gone through heart surgery, so she needed help to recuperate. The summer session of 1991 was my way to catch up.

What was happening in your life when you bought it?

I had bought Toni Childs’ debut album and liked it enough to get this second album, probably right when it was released in 1991. I didn’t like it enough to get it on CD till I spotted it at Lifelong Thrift Store, where I bought it for $0.10 during the monthly CD sale.

I wanted to go college on the Mainland like my friends, but my parents couldn’t afford it. I got over my disappointment fast enough when I started my music classes. I also started my first job that year, working at the circulation desk of the A/V center in the undergraduate library. In short, I was taking those first few steps into adulthood.

I would later discover how much in tuition my parents were paying — let’s say, significantly less than the years of Catholic private school leading up to it — and I’ve been thankful ever since for never acquiring student debt.

What do you think of it now?

It took me a few spins to warm up to House of Hope, but Union is definitely the better album.

The music on House of Hope takes a darker turn, and when I rediscovered the album in 2016, the contrast with Union struck me.

I even questioned how I had grown to like the album in the first place. However much I liked taking more responsibility for my life in 1991, it was under a cloud of heartbreak. One of those friends who went to the Mainland for college was the first person with whom I fell in love.

I’m sure I was in a more receptive state of mind for an album that dark.

 

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Four questions: Sarah McLachlan, Touch

[Sarah McLachlan - Touch]

Artist

Sarah McLachlan

Title

Touch

Original Release Date

Oct. 11, 1988

Purchase Date

Approx. 1989

What is the memory you most associate with this title?

I read about Sarah McLachlan in a Pulse! magazine article that linked her with Sinéad O’Connor and Tracy Chapman. I didn’t actually make the leap till I heard Touch playing in Jelly’s Books and Music, and I asked the woman behind the counter who it was.

The woman turned out to be Claudette Bond. In 1992, I recognized her onstage at Pink’s Garage with a band called Spiny Norman. They were opening for another new band called Smashing Pumpkins.

What was happening in your life when it was released?

1988 was my junior year in high school. Before I got into McLachlan, O’Connor and Chapman, I had gotten into … musical theater.

The high school band director floated the idea of programming Jesus Christ Superstar for the football game half-time shows. A rather unconventional priest at my family’s parish had a habit of showing movie excerpts to demonstrate ideas in his homilies, one of which was Jesus Christ Superstar.

I borrowed the soundtrack from the public library and got smitten with Andrew Lloyd Webber. He could clearly write a tune, but in those moments between showstoppers, he had rock bands playing dissonant music straight out of Prokofiev. That was the gateway drug to stronger, weirder stuff.

What was happening in your life when you bought it?

I probably didn’t pick up the cassette till 1989. At the start of high school, I had tried to ingratiate myself with the so-called cool kids by listening to the same music they did. By the end of high school, my tastes had diverted further than some faculty members.

My musical theater phase subsided to make way for more post-punk music. And all the things adults were telling me about how I would eventually feel for girls … wasn’t happening for me.

What do you think of it now?

History has not been much kind to Sarah McLachlan.

Her albums litter the dollar bins and thrift stores, and in the same way I used Carole King as shorthand for milquetoast music of the 1970s, McLachlan has become the same kind of cudgel for music of the 1990s.

But I also followed McLachlan’s albums throughout the ’90s, and I don’t feel the promise of Touch was realized.

Her operatic training set her apart from Chapman and O’Connor, but that smoothness let labels steer her in a safer direction. The last single I liked from McLachlan was “Building a Mystery”, but it was no “Vox”.

Touch is the album you must own if you had to pick up a Sarah McLachlan album.

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