By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
None of this was apparent to me when I first heard it 19 years ago. My friend Jean, who, alas, was decidedly not my girlfriend at the time ("Fifteen Blue," anyone?), was in the throes of a mad crush on Tommy in early 1985, which I found pretty damn annoying, frankly. For this, I dismissed the record every time I hung out in her bedroom and she put it on.
It sounded tinny and grating, and what the hell was with the half-assed ending of "Androgynous," anyway? Tommy this, Tommy that, Jean would say, blah, blah blah. So in a fit of jealousy, I swiped the cassette out of her boom box one day, hoping never to hear--or never let her hear--the record again. At least that's how I remember it. But a funny thing happened on the way to my adolescent envy: With Jean being frustratingly unavailable, I fell in love with the 'Mats.
And for good reason. For starters, Let It Be was full of adolescent humor. "Gary's Got a Boner" is funny enough for the Beavis and Butt-head set, and it rips off the Nuge's "Cat Scratch Fever" to boot. (A songwriting credit was given to the Motor City Madman in later pressings of the record.) But the line, "Gary's got a soft-on/But not for long, long, long" will likely crack me up well into middle age, when I'll sadly be popping Levitra and relating all too well.
So the record's fuckin' funny. But it's no joke; it's also really heavy, man. The pedal steel alone on "Sixteen Blue" is enough to make a dead man weep, and any machismo underpinnings found elsewhere on Let It Be (see "Favorite Thing," for example) are undercut by the most honest confession of sexual confusion ever plied to wax: "Brag about things/You don't understand/A girl and a woman/A boy and a man." Yeah, meathead, he's talking to you. And when Paul intones that "Your age is the hardest age/Everything drags and drags/It ain't funny/You ain't laughin' are you?" he's hardly speaking to only those among us waiting for our driver's licenses.
And there's no resolution by the end of the record, no absolutes or blacks and whites to jibe succinctly with the era of Just Say No. Westerberg has accrued a nice stable of tearjerkers--"Within Your Reach," "Here Comes a Regular," and "If Only You Were Lonely" come to mind--but the not-at-all concealed anger in "Answering Machine," the album's final scene, makes it the most resonant of all of Paul's lonely-hearts-club songs. Westerberg's alone again, and he's pissed that you're not around. He even hints that he misses you, and that's somehow not enough to get you to pick up the fucking phone.
The song ends with a loop of that friendly phone lady offering, "If you need help, if you'd like to make a call ..." that's slowed down and distorted. It's chilling. And it's also comforting, beyond any rationale. To this day, it rings true.
My choice of record stores evolved steadily between the ages of five and twelve. At five (in 1975), I begged for my first record at the Chicago-Lake Sears while on a trip with my Dad to pick up a lawnmower part: Heartbeat (It's a Love Beat), by the DeFranco Family. Then came the Woolworth at Southdale (in 1978), which had a selection that literally made me giddy until I was old enough to ditch Mom at Donaldson's and discover Musicland (1979) in the basement by the T-shirt shop.
As my bike trips began to range outside my neighborhood, I found the Wax Museum on Penn (1980) and Know-Name Records on Portland (1982). It was in 1984, however, that I reached my final evolutionary stop: My sister came home with a 12-inch single of Greg Kihn's non-hit "Remember." She had found it in the used bin of a record store that she and my dad had discovered while hitting garage sales on a Saturday afternoon: Oar Folkjokeopus. The very next Saturday, my dad took me to Oar Folk and the Electric Fetus in one afternoon.
While the Fetus was huge and the music selection was as vast and foreign to me as the bong selection, it was Oar Folk that felt like home right away. Giant homemade drawers with 45s (used and alphabetized!) by artists I had read about in Creem but never seen in Musicland's inventory. Record sleeves on the wall (somebody's personal commentary there on the wall!) and only music for sale (no posters, stickers, bongs, clothes), as if somebody else believed that nothing else mattered more than the music itself.
I came from the gearhead world. Saturday afternoons were usually spent helping my dad fix the family car or going to free impromptu parking-lot car shows. So I admired but instinctively stayed outside of the post-punk, new romantic Anglophilic world of edgier music. (Back in the day, we called it "college music.") With admiration, I understood why private nonconformists needed to go public with their own looks and opinions. Yet my inherent blue-collar utilitarianism left me thoroughly, desperately confused about how to make that happen to my body.