Saturday, October 3, 2009

"96 Tears" by ? and the Mysterians (1966)

This tinny little recording is iconic for oh, so many reasons. They talk about how it started 'garage rock', or even punk rock. It gave a generation of people something to play in organ showrooms, and ? himself is even lauded as an early Hispanic American role model.

All of which is good and well. For me, though, the thing that's wonderful about "96 Tears" is how truly democratic it is. It's completely anonymous, so simple that anyone can play it, utterly devoid of alienating showboating or anything that a musical education could give you.

Yet it's indelible and it's immediate. It doesn't tell you the meaning of life, but it does lift your spirits. It's just fun. The fact that it's so anonymous that the band name is deliberately so is exactly the pont (as is their status as 'one-hit wonders'). There's a famous line that not many people bought the Velvet Underground's albums but all those who did started bands. I love VU, but I wonder if their intellectual freak-outs actually convinced as many people to think, "Hey, I can do this too" as this little ditty. It is easy to imagine this being the sound of any amateur band in any city in the world at any time since the 1960s. There are hundreds of bands in the world that sound exactly like this. Some will get better. Many won't. It doesn't matter because if ? and the Mysterians (whoever they even are) can come up with something lieke this, so can they.

Music is all about dreaming anyway. Bruce Springsteen made a career writing about it. These people probably only made a few hundred bucks but personified it.

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