The year was 1996. Summer 1996, to be more exact.
I was a young lad of seventeen, a single year of high school between me and freedom from the parental units. This was to be my final summer of Magic: the Gathering, the collectible card game I’d started playing two years earlier and my main hobby at the time. (I would spend most of the following summer playing Diablo on my brand-new PC.)
Like any high school kid, I had a summer job. I’d spent the previous summer working first as a bagger, then a cashier at the local supermarket, but decided not to return to that particular slice of occupational purgatory. Instead, I wrangled a position as a temp worker at Sensible Solutions, a small software-packaging company housed in the Plymouth industrial park. Most of what we did was fold CD-Rom packages and stuff them with CD-Roms and FAQ pamphlets—or as my friend John called them, “Fah-cues.” The particular software we were packaging for most of that summer was Juno, a free dial-up email service. I think at one point SenSol was actually listed on the packages as the HQ for Juno.
I had a few different jobs in high school and college, but none were as wonderfully bizarre and memorable as my brief stint at SenSol, as we called it. Forget The Office; SenSol was peopled by grotesques that would put a Sherwood Anderson novel novel to shame. A good number of high school friends also worked at SenSol that summer and well all had our own unique experiences with the bizarre people who worked there.
1996 was also the year that the alternative music I’d listened to for half a decade was beginning to die out, replaced by a more mainstream rock style. Ska and swing would enjoy a brief resurgence of popularity before nu metal would become the next big rock movement (and then died a swift death to make way for whatever they’re calling the music played by the White Stripes and the Strokes and the Hives and so forth).
So 1996 was a transition year in rock music, and since the radio was always on at SenSol, the songs of that summer became ingrained into my head. Years later, I burned a CD for my friends with a number of those songs. Even now I can listen to that CD and instantly smell the tang of burning cellophane and the dusty scent of freshly-printed FAQs.
In case you’d like to take a trip to summer ’96 yourself, here’s the track listing:
1.) “Counting Blue Cars” by Dishwalla – This one wins the “Ironic” Award for Most Overplayed Song that summer. It’s not a bad song, though.
2.) “Stupid Girl” by Garbage – One of my favorite songs on the disc. Such a weird song, but catchy. What the heck is that straw-sucking sound during the “don’t believe in fear” verse?
3.) “Machinehead” by Bush – Personally, I heard this one way too many times that summer (and every year since then), so I skip over it more often than not. It seems to me this was overplayed even more than “Everything Zen” or “Glycerine.”
4.) “Tahitian Moon” by Porno for Pyros – One of the more eclectic tracks, it’s also one I strongly associate with 1996 since you hardly ever hear it on the radio these days. Listening to it recently I decided it’s an even better song than I realized.
5.) “Standing Outside a Broken Tollbooth with Money in My Hand” by Primitive Radio Gods – You remember this one; it had the old B.B. King sample in the background, saying, “I been downhearted baby, I been downhearted baby, ever since the day you left, ever since the day you left.” Like “Machinehead,” this one was overplayed and isn’t that great a song, but I had to include it.
6.) “Bulls on Parade” by Rage Against the Machine – Yet another ubiquitous song, and one that still gets airtime today. Probably one of my least favorite RATM songs though. “Come wit it now!”
7.) “Who You Are” by Pearl Jam – I had to throw a PJ song in there, and this was the only single that was even close to a radio hit that year.
8.) “Again” by Alice in Chains – One of their final singles before they broke up, and yet again, not exactly one of their classics. But like “Tahitian Moon,” this song slams me into summer ’96.
9.) “Natural One” by Folk Implosion – This song kicks ass. Possibly my favorite song on the album. It’s smooth, catchy, and cool.
10.) “Until It Sleeps” by Metallica – Metallica made its first album since the Black Album in ’96, and this was the first single off of it. I still like this song.
11.) “Your Woman” by White Town – Okay, I admit it, this is a 1997 song. It’s more of a hidden track. It’s here is because it was an important song among my high school friends—kind of our unofficial anthem senior year.
I’ve often thought about putting together a “high school history” CD, with all the weird and random singles I can remember from those days—like “Seether” by Veruca Salt; “The Window” by the late Josh Clayton-Felt; “6 Underground” by the Sneaker Pimps; “Sex and Candy” by Marcy Playground; “Cumbersome” by Seven Mary Three and so forth. It would be a much bigger project. For now, I can simply revisit 1996 whenever I want.
Which isn’t all that often, really.