I love getting obsessed about a band. It doesn’t happen like it used to when I was young, and thank god. I don’t have the time that I did back then, nor do I have the willingness to dive into a hole for months on end. For instance, I was about 19 when I decided that I wanted to “figure out” Bob Dylan. I knew some of his more well-known songs and liked them, but had been curious why he was the legend he was. I didn’t doubt it or anything, it was just that I was ignorant to the reason. This was how I found out about a lot of artists, hearing them on a soundtrack maybe, and eventually reading about them in a magazine, or having a friend mention their name. I’d then find a way to hear every one of their albums and do my best to spend a week or two on each one. It took a while with Dylan because there was so much by that point. I think it was right after the “Time Out Of Mind” album. I hit the used CD shops, basically gave them my latest paycheck — because I was young and I could — and then dove in. Led Zeppelin and The Doors were a lot easier because they had fewer records that were all compiled in box sets. You can form your opinions a lot quicker with bands like that — and then you can inform your opinions on anyone within earshot. It drove my girlfriends mad. And this was how I spent the majority of my 20s. Amazing I had any girlfriends at all.
By the beginning of my 30s, I began to play with the rules of the game a little bit. Instead of tackling their entire catalog, I would instead just concentrate on their less popular years. Dig into the albums that were panned or looked over. I had noticed that these records usually had some of the best stories behind them. These were not the albums that happened when everything was working out for the artist. They were the unfocused ones or just the uninspired ones. But a lot of times, they were also the ones that had some gems on them that no one seem to have paid any mind to.
You know that moment where one of your favorite unknown artists breaks out and has a hit … then everyone knows about them and you’re all protective and a little bit jealous? This game was like the reverse of that for me. It was like I was taking something back that everyone else had decided was trash. It was something that I’d get to keep for just me without worrying of its hit potential, without concern that it would eventually be overplayed with every bro in their dorm room blasting it with their beer in hand. It wouldn’t be cheapened because it was already cheap.
I began to notice how often I liked the sophomore record. There have been a lot of bands unfairly judged in some part because of overexposure of their debut. By the time the followup came, no one wanted to hear it because no one wanted to hear their voice ever again. Or the sound was time stamped and every kid that picked up a guitar that year decided they were going to start a band that sounded exactly like that, which sucks for the band that started it, because that can basically be the death knell. “Sorry, you were too successful. Go away.” There are so many instances of that happening. Artists continue on their own time without the same fanfare, continue to put out records to whatever fanbase will listen, and maybe it’s really great, but most of us never know.
I found myself in an Iggy Pop mood last weekend. I knew The Stooges records, “The Idiot” and “Lust For Life,” plus a few of the singles from later records, but it hit me that I had no clue what those failure albums throughout the ’80s and the lesser celebrated of the late-’90s sounded like. So that’s I’m doing now. Becoming an Iggy Pop expert. Because I fucking love music and I want to hear all of it, and then I want to find the songs I missed that I fall in love with and then hear them as much as possible for a while. Because it’s what I do, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
Kyle Meredith is the music director of WFPK and host of the nationally syndicated “The Speed of Sound.”