Every music fan should have one story like this.
It started for me in 1991, when I was in high school. With alternative rock making its way as far as Columbus, OH (we got a radio station in that genre a year earlier, with an odd no-DJ format in its initial months), I started videotaping 120 Minutes in order to catch some of the newer bands. Why_ 120 Minutes_? I didnt care for hearing an unfamiliar song I liked on the radio and then having to wait through three songs of dreck in the off chance that it might get back-announced. Plus, seeing a band in addition to hearing it afforded the chance to learn more in a shorter time. So I programmed the VCR (I was the one in the family with that skill) for midnight on Sundays, fast-forwarded through the dreck and grabbed what I could.
One particular Sunday had been a rough one. The following day happened to be a snow day, so I was home. After a few minutes surveying that show, I found the new group for which I had been searching for a while. The band was Lush and the song was De-Luxe.
A few weeks later, I bought Gala, a compilation of their EPs and singles up to that point, and learned a bit more about them. The guitars were sometimes overdriven enough to resemble Sonic Youth, but the fragile emotion of the songs was more like Joni Mitchell or Brian Wilson. Many in the press lumped Lush with another, more critically-lauded group, My Bloody Valentine, but while MBVs mastermind was a man (guitarist/composer Kevin Shields), Lush had a male rhythm section but two female guitarist/singer/songwriters, Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson.
One odd thing about Lush was that, unlike Mitchell or Wilson, their lyrics didnt make me pay attention. The main exception was Nothing Natural, the CD single following Gala, which had the words printed on the sleeve. It seemed like typical lovelorn girl poetry (building to a disturbing crescendo in the bridge: the knife inside of me/it turns just like a key) and I suspected that many of the other songs might be similar. It didnt matter, though. The guitars hung thick enough that only a few words poked through, and the chords brought home the feeling more than the words.
By high school, I was used to reading about music before buying it. Lush were new enough that there wasnt much around yet. By 92, Usenet had started happening, which helped a bit (although it also required wading through a lot of garbage). Before then, the main Lush resource was British music mags, from which I learned of Berenyi and Andersons fondness for booze. I found out that their first full-length record, Spooky, had hit the streets by calling a record store. Probably the last record I discovered that way. It may have also been the only record I ever put on for the first time with that fans please dont suck feeling. It didnt suck.
In 1992, Lush became the first band I ever saw live twice in a year. The first time, they came to the Newport Music Hall in Columbus. My high-school friend Nate (who I had also gotten into them) and I were hanging around when we saw Berenyi and the new bassist, Phil King, walking somewhere. Nate said hello and got Berenyi to wave to me. A good memory, although Im nagged by the idea that I may have been suckered by some Ohio State student with red hair. The show itself makes me wish I could choose my memories more, since about all that sticks in my mind is the mistakes a moment when Berenyi unaccountably stopped singing during a chorus and left Anderson alone doing ahh backing vocals and another bit where King had a mistimed entrance. (Its okay for him to make mistakes. Hes new, Berenyi said afterwards.) Other than that, I remember it as a fun trip through their best songs of those days.
A few months later Nate and I saw them again, at Lollapalooza. This was the beginning of the end. Everyone came early that year because the second band on the bill was Pearl Jam, who had broken big between when the shows were booked and when they took place. Pearl Jam, being a 90s hybrid of Led Zep and the Doors, offered the aggressive music which I should have know would steamroller away sensitive stuff like Lush when the struggle came for control of alternative rock. (Ditto for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, although I have to give them props for their headlining set that year any band that can reference Neil Young, Beefheart and Funkadelic within 60 minutes has something going for it.) Lush did a shorter set of mostly the same songs from the Newport, and seemed lost in the big shed.
I played Gala and Spooky a lot anyway for a year after that, but you can only play two records so many times. The next release was Split, in 1994, the year I gave up on alternative rock. Saying it sucked would be going too far, but it didnt have the magic, or as much of it, anyway. After that came Lovelife. Ive only heard one or two songs from that. I gathered it was Lushs attempt to jump on the Britpop bandwagon.
Then, at the end of 1996, the unhappy ending which I had feared in 91/92 came. It was a few years after it would have made a great difference to me, but it was still a shame. One of the members of Lush had fulfilled the suicide prophecy of Nothing Natural, but it wasnt Anderson or Berenyi. Instead, it was the presumed muscleman of the group, drummer Chris Acland, who did it. Lush broke up. Berenyi had a rumored solo album which, not surprisingly to me, hasnt materialized. Anderson has (had?) a new project, Sing Sing, but Ive never gotten around to checking into that, either.
Lush was the end of a chapter for me. It was the last band I got so far into while knowing so little, the last I followed hoping they wouldnt drop the ball. There have been new bands since then, but Phish, for instance, filled those same sheds with confidence where Lush floundered, leaving little doubt that there were thousands of other fans in whatever burg you lived in. I was older by then, too. Lush has rarely been in the Great Bands of the 90s overviews, but now and then I run into fellow fans. There was the time I saw that the Flaming Lips, for instance, had put a song from Spooky on their Late Night Tales mix CD. Or the time I mentioned them on a Grateful Dead (?!) forum and someone replied god I miss that band.
Every music fan should have one story like that, just as I think every Deadhead should have one story of getting a tape through trade rather than downloading, or every Phish fan should have a story of seeing them in a club. I have a few stories of the former category, and if I had acted a bit sooner I could have seen Phish at that same Newport in 93. But those stories are for another time.