Monday, February 9, 2009

1989: Luka / Just Like Heaven

The Lemonheads: Luka


Dinosaur Jr.: Just Like Heaven


The perfect set: two covers from a single emergent genre that arguably saved my social life.

I've gone on about Evan Dando here and there, but this 1989 Suzanne Vega cover was the true turning point for me. The familiarity of Vega's folk original gave me entry into the song, but I had just switched schools, and the cool kids at my new hipster school liked loud. From here, I would turn my back on folk music, adopt a new set of long-haired friends, and turn on to the fuzz and feedback of a whole new musical movement, formed in the halls of the very high school where I was getting my second chance.

Released on Lick, the Lemonhead's last indie record before signing to Atlantic, and a studio disaster -- the original band members were at each others' throats, and would break up after this one despite the new contract; the tracks were cobbled together from B-sides and previous sessions -- this is the raw, early lemonheads, not the mellow-by-comparison heroin dream that would follow, and Luka still claims my heart. You can hear the boiling waters of the post-punk grunge movement emanating from every lick. The original colored vinyl 7" only made it that much sweeter.

The 12" release of Dinosaur Jr.'s cover of The Cure classic Just Like Heaven provided a similar entry into the world of alternative grunge, while the coverage simultaneously allowed me a comprehensive opportunity to purge myself of my earlier, top-40 post-punk geekself through song transformation. To be fair, though, this wasn't a cover so much as it was a total destruction of song, from the stop-and-start style to the parody of anthemic guitar to the full-stop ending mid-chorus, as if the song and everything it stood for had burned out too quickly.

The song is now available as a bonus track on the re-release of 1987 album You're Living All Over Me, but the original 45 RPM release was pricelessly weird, its vinyl deeply etched with unplayable body organs and, oddly, a box of Rice Crisps on the B-side, the better to match the A-side thrash of long-haired screams and moans, the epitome of teen angst and rage against a culture we saw as wiped out and musically exhausted. The album cover was terrifying, too, featuring clashing colors and some sort of brain being consumed by a jagged adolescent-drawn maw; it spoke of violence and drug-addled rejection, like the music inside, and I was all for it.

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