I don’t know what I was doing in 1998. But it must have been awesome, because I can’t remember one goddamn moment from that entire year. It was clearly a dark time for many; this was literally true if you happened to live in New Zealand (as Auckland suffered a 66-day blackout) and metaphorically true if you lived in America (as Osama bin Laden declared a jihad against all Jews and Crusaders, a policy that would later prove problematic). However, the craziest thing I don’t remember about 1998 is cultural: For some reason, music didn’t exist that year.
Oh, I suppose there must’ve been some music in 1998, but not enough to make anyone care. According to rock critics who lived in places like Brooklyn, New York, and “communities akin to Brooklyn,” the best record of ’98 was Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. According to a rock critic who lived in a one-room apartment on 42nd Avenue in south Fargo, North Dakota, the best record of 1998 was Cat Power’s Moon Pix, but that guy was almost certainly lying. The sonic cupboard was rather bare. The genius who was supposed to save rock that February was Marilyn Manson, a man who appeared on the cover of Spin looking like a forlorn Morlock fashioned from Play-Doh and strawberry yarn.
Now, it is important to note that I am a reactionary Marilyn Manson apologist; he’s more interesting than all the people who criticize him, and he’s probably produced more good songs than Lucinda Williams and Cat Power combined. The summer I moved to Akron, Ohio (oh yeah — that’s what I was doing in 1998!), Mechanical Animals was about to be released and everyone was talking about Manson’s autobiography, The Long Hard Road out of Hell, which is also why he was on the cover of Spin. The reason everyone in Akron was talking about the book is that Akron is 23 miles from Canton, the alleged hell that Manson had to take the long, hard road out of (this road is technically I-77 North, but that would have made for a less evocative book title).
People living in Canton did not particularly dig their native son in 1998. Whenever I’d write stories in the local newspaper about Mr. Manson walking around on 70-foot stilts and smoking human bones, readers from Canton would inevitably call me at the office and say, “Why must you besmirch Canton’s reputation by wasting ink on this transvestite hooligan? Our fine community has many other things to offer, such as the Pro Football Hall of Fame.” This was actually a valid point, because the Pro Football Hall of Fame is more underrated than Lucinda Williams and Cat Power combined. But there’s what always confused me: Maynard James Keenan was raised in Ravenna, Ohio, which is 20 miles from Akron. Yet every time I’d write a “local freak makes good” article about him, I’d merely get 19 voice mails from kids saying, “Tool rules. Tool rules. ‘Parabola,’ fucker!” I suppose this random, anecdotal evidence proves that Ohioans are dangerously capricious. No wonder Bush won.
But anyway, here is my deeper point: 1998 was the worst year for music since 1929 (a.k.a. “The Year Sousa Sold Out”). I will concede that my research sampling for this pronouncement is relatively small, as I am only using one issue of one rock magazine that came out that particular February. But just look what was in Spin that month: an expose on the possibility of NASA landing on Mars (really); a feature on the world of professional figure skating (really!); a profile of jungle artist Goldie. As you can see, none of those stories are remotely related to music. There was even an investigative piece under the rubric “Who Killed Rock Radio?” — an issue that music magazines are legally required to confront every 2.5 years. Do you remember rock’n’roll radio? Have you ever been moved by the spirit of the radio? Are you somehow not aware that radio has the potential to be a sound salvation and to (possibly) clean up the nation? Oh my God! Commercial radio is not playing enough cool music! It seems to be broadcasting derivative rock anthems that appeal to broad, casual audiences who might buy the products advertised during the commercials.
Because, you know, it’s commercial radio. Which is why it doesn’t cost anything. You’ve ruined my life, Clear Channel. I’m moving back to Ohio so that I can read daily newspaper stories about Tool. ‘Parabola,’ fuckers!