Garbage is my favourite band. That would make Shirley Manson my favourite female artist. However, she’s not alone. Chrissy’s at the party, along with Pat and Patty, Joan, Janice, Annie, and the Heart sisters. Sheryl came a little later with Melissa, Alanis and Sarah. I love the women who have rendered rock the way I like it.
But Shirl’s my girl, has been since I first heard her sing. She fronts the band Garbage, with Butch Vig on drums, Duke Eriskson hits the riffs on guitar along with Steve Marker who also plays keyboards (talented guy!).
I think it was #1 Crush that first caught my attention, from the Romeo and Juliet soundtrack, the one with Leo DiCaprio and Claire Daines, the gangsta one. If I was Juliet that’s the song I’d sing my Romeo. I have Push It on my iPod and I play it when I run. I go faster.
As I sit and compose this post, I’m playing Absolute Garbage, a compilation of their best songs, released in the summer of 2007. I got it for Christmas that year and spent New Year’s Eve with a bottle of wine and hours and hours to play my new cd. Yes – I was alone, but I was happy. I remember trying to write up my own liner notes as the night wore on and the bottle ran out. Pages and pages of ink was spilt trying to capture the right tone as I played the songs over and over, louder and louder. But I’m not a rock critic and I know nothing about music except that I like it. I turned to the expertise of Peter C. Murphy and what he had to say about the band on the liner notes:.
Instead of sticking to some reductivist manifesto, Garbage seemed to be inventing a set of notional criteria for a futuristic music that didn’t exist yet.
Garbage are a hybrid entity, even by rock ‘n’ roll standards. Although they’ve filled stadiums and sold over 10 million albums, they still don’t fit, and their music speaks to others who don’t fit.
I guess that’s why I like it.
What I love about these songs is the darkness lurking just beneath the surface. Some songs have a manic quality that mirrors the hectic pace we live in, trying to cram-jam everything we can into the space of seconds. Other songs have a heartrending pathos – Milk, #1 Crush, You Look so Fine.
When I Grow up has the exuberance of childhood in its upbeat pop sound and hope in the future: “When I grow up, I’ll be stable”, yeah, right. I keep telling myself that.
What is it we get from the songs that we love? I look to music for inspiration, for a vision of a better world, as an expression of social protest and as a cry for humanity. Some songs make me cry every time I hear them. Some inspire me to think beyond myself. Some I wish I wrote.
The songs written by Shirley and the boys plant woman in the 21st century, as an agent of her own actions. She sings of love; yearning, finding, losing, the whole gamut, but with an emotional rawness that pulls at the soul. “It’s All Over But The Crying” is what the betrayed woman feels.
Shirley takes her sisters to task in Stupid Girl and calls it like many of us see it. “A withering putdown” is how Murphy puts it. “All you had you wasted.” It’s the anthem for a generation. “Can’t believe you fake it.” You can take that for what you want.
And of course, I’m Only Happy When it Rains say it all.
I was in Edinburgh in the summer of 1999, visiting family and doing some research. It just happened to be the opening of the Scottish Parliament. It wasn’t planned that way; it was serendipity. When we arrived in the city centre from the airport, we ran into throngs of people pulsing through the streets, excited celebrants of a new era that rang in Scottish independence. I stopped to watch the big screens set up under Edinburgh Castle as Sean Connery and his wife emerged from the opening of Parliament. I heard the Queen was there too, but I didn’t catch a glimpse. I was proud to be Scottish lass and I felt fortunate to be there for such an auspicious occasion.
I was travelling with my partner at the time, and we had plans to have dinner with my aunt and uncle that night. He had some work to do before the day ended so I made my way back to the bed and breakfast to wait for his return.
I was flicking around the stations on the telly when I saw Shirley’s face on the screen. I stopped and watched. Seeing she’s an Edinburgh lass, I wasn’t that surprised, I thought, wow – that’s too coincidental! – but I was happy to find something that I was interested in watching while I waited for my evening to begin. She talked about her childhood and how she came to catch this gig with Butch and the boys. I was mesmerized.
Later, as we made our way over to my aunts flat, we found ourselves again in the crush of the crowd gathered at the base of Edinburgh Castle, this time for a free concert in the park. There were all kinds of people, from families to punk rockers, having a blast hanging about the street. I asked my guy, I wonder whose playing? as we pushed past the crowed, anxious not to be late for dinner. But we didn’t stop to find out.
Dinner was fun, but my uncle by accident split a glass of red wine on me. I was wearing a black skirt so staining wasn’t an issue, but once you’ve been covered in wine, well, it gets sticky and kinda smelly so when we passed through the crowd on our return and I wondered again, maybe we should see who’s playing, we didn’t stop to bother. It was getting late and we had just arrived that day so we just kept on going but I had this sinking sensation that my life had become old and boring.
The next day when I went down for breakfast and saw GARBAGE in big letters on the front page of the paper, I knew they weren’t talking about the refuse left over from the celebration. That was when I knew for sure that I was definitely getting old and boring. And let me tell you, I’m too young for that.
Yes, I had walked right through a free Garbage concert. That was the closest I’ve come to seeing them play, and now we all know that I didn’t. That was the third time I lost out on an opportunity, and they haven’t toured now, in years. Some would say they have broken up. But I remain hopeful that one day a new cd will hit the charts and a tour will be scheduled and there will be NOTHING that will stand in my way for tickets. In the meantime, The Trick is to Keep Breathing…