Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at email@example.com.
This week’s question is an updated take on the issue we debated a year ago for 1983 week: What 1994 pop-culture event would you like to go back to either experience again or check out for the first time?
I might still have a little bit of Brazilian fever, but I’d really love to go back in time and check out the World Cup in America. I remember watching the cup as a 13-year-old and fairly shitty soccer player but, sitting in Cleveland, I was too far from the action to actually go see a game. Now I’m in Chicago, I’m older, and I’d definitely love to tie one on and lock in to a game in the States. I would have especially liked to see Diego Maradona play in his last World Cup, even though he was an older, fatter, wheezing version of what he once was by that point. And even the U.S. team wasn’t that terrible that year, what with Cobi Jones, Tony Meola, and Alexi Lalas, who I’m totally convinced is Benjamin Buttoning 20 years later. Plus, backup goalie Brad Friedel is from my hometown, so I’d totally have an in.
I can’t remember the first time I saw Elliott Smith perform live, but it was definitely later than 1994, and each time was increasingly frustrating, because as he got bigger, crowds got louder and less attentive. I remember seeing him play at Metro in Chicago once; half the set was acoustic and for half he was backed by Quasi. People were shushing assholes during the acoustic part. Anyway, I wish I had seen him in those earliest days, when he was playing in people’s living rooms, taking a break from Heatmiser to explore his quiet side. Maybe I’d follow him and watch him play living rooms across America.
I’d like to see The Lion King for the first time. I remember being floored by it at the tender age of 8, but the dozens of times I re-watched it before the age of 12 have ruined my ability to revisit it again without prejudgment. I’d like to experience that for the first time again—the animation, the story of the prodigal son coming home to find he was not so prodigal after all. Maybe I’d be put off by the Hamlet references, or disinterested in the musical numbers. Or maybe I’d love it as much as I did as a kid—I don’t know. But I think it would be fascinating to get the chance to do that—especially because in my biased opinion, The Lion King is Disney’s most technically brilliant animated film. It might be worth doing just for the time-capsule experience of my entire family sitting down in the theater and watching the same film without complaining, which probably hasn’t happened in 20 years, anyway.
Being from Southwest Ohio, I never wanted for opportunities to see Guided By Voices up to and including their “last tour ever” in 2004. But I would have loved to experience the camaraderie, high kicks, and copious beer consumption at a hometown show in 1994, years before I was old enough to convincingly talk my way into rock clubs. 1994 was the year Bee Thousand broke and the year before Alien Lanes, the record whose relatively princely five-figure advance changed the band and their fans (being from Ohio, we learn to have low expectations), and the excitement must have been palpable. It would also be nice to have one of those hand-numbered Propeller LPs lying around.
Mine would require both time travel and geographic relocation from my Texas hometown, but I’d like to have seen one of the handful of U.S. dates that Blur and Pulp did together during the fall of 1994. That year was one of real ascendancy for both of them, as well as for the Britpop invasion: Blur had just released Parklife, its big, brash, boys-keep-swinging breakthrough; Pulp was working out the songs that would make up its own defining statement, Different Class. Both Damon Albarn and Jarvis Cocker were still young, swaggering, and suspect of both fame and America—and for Cocker, it was the first time Pulp ever performed in the States, which I can only assume led to various amusing asides. I eventually got to see both bands much later on (Blur at SXSW in 2003, Pulp in London during its most recent reunion gigs), but I can only imagine what it was like to see them at the heights of their powers, with a bunch of Americans who didn’t know what to make of it.
I first saw Pulp Fiction nearly a decade after its initial release, during a pre-college summer in which my friends and I caught up on all the “important” movies of the recent past in order to appear like campus sophisticates the following fall. (Or at least that’s what this super cool guy was doing…) But by 2003, I’d already absorbed the film’s most iconic moments through other media: The Jack Rabbit Slim’s twist contest was sanitized and repurposed so quickly, CGI ants were doing the Batusi no less than four years later. A disparate collage of influence and homage like Pulp Fiction ought to be run back through the pop-culture meat grinder, but a part of me wishes I hadn’t been 9 years old in 1994, and could’ve therefore taken in Pulp Fiction in a theater full of moviegoers unprepared for the adrenaline shot, Christopher Walken’s “The Gold Watch” monologue, and the great vengeance and furious anger of Samuel L. Jackson.
In 1994, I was a 5-year-old with a penchant for all things horror related. My love of the macabre began early in life when I was sort of accidentally allowed to watch Puppet Master. From then on I would request “pooky movies,” because I was apparently too young to correctly pronounce spooky. This was probably why I was directed toward Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, because although horror-tinged, it was appropriate for a child and might make my parents feel like they hadn’t completely messed me up. I adored that show so much that I named the family cat Ickis, and I would happily be transported back to a time when Nickelodeon animation was just starting to rev up and my parents were on top of things enough to watch the October 30th premiere with me in anticipation of my favorite holiday, Halloween.
It’s been 20 years since Shudder To Think’s Pony Express Record came out, and I still can’t shut up about it. The 1994 glam-prog-post-hardcore masterpiece only gets better with age. Still, I wish I could experience it for the first time all over again. I’d been a fan of Shudder To Think for a few years before Pony Express Record came out, when the band sounded a lot dreamier and belonged to the roster of Dischord Records, home of Fugazi and so many more of my favorite bands in the early ’90s. The album was not only Shudder To Think’s leap to a major label, it was an insanely brave move into frontman Craig Wedren’s deeply twisted, psychosexual, falsetto-delivered poetry. The band was already plenty weird before Pony Express Record came out, but the first time I heard it, my jaw hit the floor. I’ve since become intimate with its peculiar, soulful deconstruction, but that initial shock of utter non-recognition was like a cleansing burst of fireworks to the brain.
If I could experience absolutely anything in 1994’s pop culture? I’d be on the set for Spike Jonze’s video for the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” Lovingly recreating cheesy ’70s cop shows in service of the best video ever made looks like one of the most fun things anyone ever did. I’m not asking to play one of the fleeing crooks or anything—I’d happily run the craft services table or handle re-gluing fake mustaches for the chance to rub elbows with the ’90s’ coolest collaborators at the peak of their respective powers. Also, I met Ad-Rock briefly in 1995, so now I’d have something to talk to him about instead of just nervously nodding politely.
I’d like to see one of Johnny Cash’s concerts in support of American Recordings. That album was such a tremendous return to form. Here was a country music icon who had been left in the dust after trying to move forward with the times and failing to come across as even remotely comfortable while doing so. So what did he do? With the help of Rick Rubin, he went back to basics with his sound while mixing up his material with old standards and newer songs with tonally-appropriate lyrics. In turn, he became a star all over again while also inspiring numerous other commercially-stunted singers to try the same maneuver. Why I’d really like to experience it all over again, though, is because I bought my parents tickets to see Cash perform at Chrysler Hall in Norfolk not long after that album came out, and when they offered me a chance to go with them, I said, “No, you guys just go ahead and enjoy it together.” If I’d had that opportunity to see him again, realizing this time that he wouldn’t make it back to our area again, you can bet I’d be much more selfish with my response.
After years of poorly received albums, reality TV appearances, and a jukebox musical, it’s safe to say that Green Day has spent whatever cultural cachet they ever had. But in 1994, there was nothing more dangerous, exotic, or tantalizing to me than the band’s mega-popular album Dookie. I mean, it even had a sort of swear word, right there in the title! Going back and listening to the album now, it sounds like Baby’s First Punk Album, but for 10-year-old me, raised exclusively on my dad’s old Paul Simon and Billy Joel records, it was the first intimation that music wasn’t just something you sang along to on car trips: it could be angry. More importantly, it could be cool.
Nerd alert! I’d want to go back and catch They Might Be Giants touring their underrated album John Henry. This is probably a waste of time travel, as I have managed to see TMBG nearly 50 times since my first show in 1996. But I saw plenty of landmark 1994 movies theatrically due to my wonderfully permissive parents; I was only a few years behind on other key 1994 albums; and for all my TMBG-following over the past two decades, I’ve still seen them do a smaller percentage of songs from John Henry (their first album recorded with a full backing band, and one of my favorites of any artist) than any of their other proper albums. Rather than waiting years for them to re-integrate a song or two back into setlists that must cover an increasingly storied career (as they did a few years ago with the beautiful “The End Of the Tour”), I’d prefer to see “Stomp Box,” “Sleeping in the Flowers,” and “Out Of Jail,” among others, played all together at the height of the moshing epidemic. Through the power of the They Might Be Giants Wiki, I can even narrow it down and say that their Halloween show at Irving Plaza or perhaps their Dec. 9 gig at the New Orleans House Of Blues are particularly strong candidates; maybe I could go and follow the band around for a month or two around then, and catch some other alt-rock staples on my off days. Plus, putting myself back at a few 1994 TMBG shows would probably disrupt the space-time continuum less than any number of other options.