Song 10: The Lemonheads, “It’s A Shame About Ray” (1992)

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As I wrote the other day, the Lemonheads’ It’s A Shame About Ray was one of my introductions to indie rock. I didn’t discover it until a couple of years after its release, when I was in Oregon for my grandmother’s funeral. I’d heard the band’s cover of “Mrs. Robinson,” so while I was at the mall with my sister and cousins, I idly picked up Ray. My ever-generous cousin Rob grabbed it from my hands and brought it to the counter. I suppose I have him to thank for all the sticky-floored rock clubs and Guitar World tablature that followed.

It’s A Shame About Ray isn’t much like “Mrs. Robinson,” which at first disappointed me but quickly intrigued me. The songs have melodies that wouldn’t sound out of place on Beatles records, but they also have that distortion and Juliana Hatfield’s loping bass (and perfectly disaffected vocals). I remember being surprised that it was okay for acoustic guitars to be paired with (to my ears) hard-edged electric ones. That was Evan Dando’s stroke of genius, really—these songs, so well-written to begin with, come alive due to that organic, tangible element as a foundation.

A few years ago, Ray was reissued with a disc of acoustic demos, and they work just as well as their finished versions, because these are, at heart, old-fashioned singer-songwriter songs. They’re mostly confessional songs about relationships, whether with others or oneself. “I’m too much with myself, I wanna be someone else” sounds just as appropriate to a 33-year-old as it does to a 14-year-old.

The Ray song I always come back to is the title track. “I’ve never been too good with names” is just a great opening line. Until today, I always thought the last word in the line that follows, “the cellar door was open, I could never stay away,” was “awake,” which tells you something about my listening skills; either way, that’s some creepy imagery. I love this song’s vague sense of nostalgia and sadness, and the way it ends with “I’ve never been too good with names” and adds the gut-punch of a punchline, “but I remember faces.”

Speaking of nostalgia, what makes me sad about disappearing record stores is the lack of artifacts. I stuck the longbox from this CD in my eighth grade locker (trying in vain, no doubt, to prove my coolness), and someone from my homeroom added real lipstick to the woman on the cover. The longbox traveled to different lockers and my bedroom wall, and I finally threw it out years later. Music, like everything else, evolves, develops, and changes. Some things need to go away.

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