They made me realise

Why My Bloody Valentine isn't anything to dismiss: a fan's sonic memory

This is an "I remember" groupie story about My Bloody Valentine. But I'll try to tap into Joe Brainard's conciseness and make certain my nostalgia has a point.

Two decades ago, when Om was a London three-piece named Loop, and Dave Segal, Michael Segal, and I were writing, typing, photocopying, and stapling a music zine called You Can't Hide Your Love Forever, the Segals and I drove from Detroit to Toronto to join an audience of 20 or 30 Canadians at MBV's first-ever North American show. We wanted to hear the instrumental bridge of "You Made Me Realise" — the precise recorded moment when MBV rose above C86, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, and Dinosaur Jr., thanks to a guitar sound that levitated, compressed, and then shattered.

That night, that portion of that song was something different: a literally dizzying five-minute hurricane of noise.

When MBV played Detroit a week later, we hung out with Kevin Shields, Bilinda J. Butcher, Deb Googe, and Colm Ó Cíosóig upstairs by a piano at Saint Andrew's Hall and interviewed them about the Lazy days of 1987's Ecstasy and Strawberry Wine and the studio sleep deprivation that led to the breakthrough of You Made Me Realise (Creation, 1988) and Isn't Anything (Warner Bros./Sire, 1988). Loveless (Creation, 1991) was still just an idea. Back then, Simon Reynolds, whom I interviewed for the same zine, was the group's vanguard critical champion. In Melody Maker, he'd cite the French feminist theory of Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray, and Julia Kristeva, replacing academic jargon with playful alliteration when discussing the soft-focus gender-blur of MBV's music and the way it even reshaped the phallic sound of the guitar. In imitation of Reynolds and in thrall to MBV, I'd write about the "noisebliss nosebleeds" they could generate, and compare their sound (on Isn't Anything's "All I Need") to a giant heartbeat during a nuclear blast.

Some scoundrel has nicked my copy of Reynolds's 1990 book Blissed Out: The Raptures of Rock, but I don't need him, Cixous, Irigaray, or Kristeva to point out why MBV were ahead of their time in 1988 and perhaps still are. Strip away their awesome sound and you'll discover that MBV matter-of-factly brought gender equity to rock. This achievement seemed beside the point because the sound that bloomed from their masculine-feminine dynamic was so absolutely, identity-meltingly innovative. Sonic Youth and the Pixies included women playing bass, but MBV had guitarist-vocalist Butcher quietly facing down a life-threateningly abusive relationship in Isn't Anything's mammothly funereal "No More Sorry," and the strapping Googe bringing a more muscular, dyke-in-a-white-T-shirt brand of bass to your face from start to finish of every song. No other band had MBV's pleasure principle.

The last times I saw MBV were in 1991 and 1992. I went to a concert in wintry Chicago where Babes in Toyland opened, a billing that attested to the onset of riot grrrl and the fact that the United States was about to reach Nirvana — two "revolutions" that in some ways were regressions from MBV. Then I moved by Greyhound from Detroit to San Francisco, where I saw them twice — the more memorable concert taking place at the Kennel Club, now the Independent. There, the instrumental passage of "You Made Me Realise" expanded to hallucinatory dimensions, stretching for five, then 10, then 15, then 20-plus minutes. The shuddering layers of distortion piled one on top of another. A guy next to me went berserk in the maelstrom, screaming himself hoarse until his frayed vocal cords were just another part of the apocalyptic, self-annihiutf8g sound. It was an SF acid freak-out, hold the tab, no drugs necessary (not that I hadn't done more than my share).

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