The things we treasure when we’re young are often the most formative. For me, it was a black Sanyo cassette/radio combination with one speaker and an appetite for D batteries. This little radio provided access to the world that would smother my overactive and chaotic mind: all request radio, an hour block of programming on one of the few FM stations it could pick up. You had to know the phone number by heart to get in on time, as people would rush to call in and request the banal songs they would hear on an endless loop the rest of the day anyway. Not me though, I was focused on a singular task: making mixtapes from songs I was able to record off the radio.
There was a song I was chasing that I had heard in passing on numerous occasions, but hadn’t managed to time the pause/record button just right to capture it to add to the perfect tape I was compiling. That white whale was “Everything Zen”
It was getting regular airplay, but I never managed to quite grab it in time for what I was sure was the ultimate mixtape. I took the phone off the wall, carefully running the coiled cord into the computer room and shutting the door. Absolute silence was necessary to dial the 7-digit request line with one hand, the other carefully poised over the Pause/Record button on the radio.
My sister (who was far too cool to call a request line and also owned her own CDs) made fun of me so badly for this that she eventually regretted destroying my meager levels of self-esteem, buying me a copy of Sixteen Stone on CD and gifting me a Sony Discman with Electronic Skip Protection to listen to it on.
“Everything Zen” was one of two singles by Bush circulating rock radio in 1994. They landed so hard with their debut album that a Canadian band sued them for naming rights, causing a brief stint of referring to them as Bushx. “Little Things,” the other song making heavy rotation early on, would cement their status as the band through which I could work out my anxieties.
I fell into that record. Bush was heavy, angry, tender and sometimes nonsensical. They jumped emotions so rapidly throughout Sixteen Stone, it spoke to my own emotional state as I suffered through waves of puberty as an anxious and sad child with an internal dialogue that didn’t know when to stop. Years later, I would understand this as ADHD, but at the time I just thought it was normal that my brain was never quiet.
We got our first home computer in this era too. A grey Tandy 386 machine my dad got from RadioShack. It was a status symbol. The neighbors looked on in jealousy as he lugged box after box into the house, unpacking the components that made up a home computer. It was also unwieldy enough that we had to devote an entire room to housing it.
You don’t really think about your feelings of anxiety and ennui when you’re a kid in a concrete sense. They just hang there in the room, like a dust cloud that follows you endlessly. I had an endless barrage of questions about myself, the world and the intersection of the two, but I was afraid of them. So I stayed busy.
Our erstwhile home computer and my Discman worked in tandem to help me avoid the demands of my increasing anxieties. I learned how to open up and tinker with the Tandy, replacing some RAM here, installing a SoundBlaster 16 card there. My lifelong addiction to gaming started on stacks of 3.5” floppy disks and interactive CD-ROMs. They were a busy task that I could lose myself in, providing a space where my internal dialogue mattered less than the goals on the screen. In the halls of the house, I felt in the way or in need of direction. Idle hands make concerned mothers, and I was always supposed to be productive, despite my desire to just be.
A friend passed me a shareware copy of DOOM 2, and that combined with Sixteen Stone meant that I no longer needed to leave the safety of the computer room. Headphones became a permanent part of my general attire. AA batteries lived and died by the hundreds as I poured myself into endless days of shooting demons and avoiding thinking about any of the reasons why I felt unsafe anywhere outside of those four walls.
Songs like “Comedown” paired neatly with the internal anguish I was feeling. When Gavin Rossdale sang “I don’t want to come back down from this cloud / It’s taken me all this time to find out what I needed,” he was speaking directly to me and the tools I developed to feel safe.
Nothing hit quite like “Glycerine” though.
The standout ballad at the tail end of the record has lived on as arguably Bush’s most famous hit. You can just hear the string section usher in the chorus. It played at school dances, and kids put it on mixtapes for their crushes, despite it not being an overly romantic song. No one really knew what it was about (you can still barely make out what Rossdale sang), but that didn’t matter, it was a ballad. Ballads are what you put on the end of a mix to let people know you’re deep and serious.
In my early teen years, I often felt lost, alone and unsure of who I was or was supposed to become. Late at night, when I was forced to turn the computer off and go to bed, I would lie endlessly awake with my headphones on, hitting the back button just one more time to play “Glycerine” again. The truth behind the lyrics didn’t really matter. “Glycerine” felt sad and hopeful, like there was a whole life ahead of me where I would fall and fail, but ultimately find redemption.
Bush gave me a companion in my abject frustration — an outlet into which I could insert my need to just be angry, to announce my frustrations, feel like a failure and not find judgment. I just needed to let those feelings be known. Hearing “Everything Zen” that first time gave me something to strive for and to focus on. The oft-repeated days spent waiting for the song I knew I needed, the one that would make everything complete. Sitting there with my finger on the pause button, just waiting to release it, hit record, find perfection and keep going.