Friday, January 6, 2017

One Last Pick Thru the Bins, Volume 9: The Fluid, The Great Grunge Act You Never Heard



Look, cool was different back then...it was very singer/songwriter.

Unlike previous posts, I’m going pure nostalgia on this one (sensing a theme tonight?).

I only saw The Fluid once, and even then, I only half saw them. They were my favorite band at the time, or one of ‘em, but I had to work the one night they came to Seattle. Still, I bombed down from Capitol Hill to the OK Hotel immediately after my shift and loitered around the venue until I found I could hear at least some of their set out a back door cracked open to let out the heat. Some guy, either roadie or employee of the OK, let me hang around back and, as they wound down their set, he eventually let me in. It was a very 19-year-old experience, a time when the line between devotion and desperation blurred all over my life. Regardless, I didn’t smell worse than anyone else by the time I got in there, in spite of closing down a…shit, where was I working then?

As much as I loved the band, I don’t think I bought anything by The Fluid till I bought the vinyl for their Roadmouth LP about a decade later (this would be the early 2000s). At least a half dozen friends owned both Roadmouth and the Glue EP, so I could hear them as close to on demand as any sensible person would want. They put out something else while the iron was still hot, but, from what I remember, too many people described the album as “too close to metal,” a distinction that mattered at the time (e.g., close to the glam-rock era; look, I know, but, when you’re young, pointless distinctions are actual distinctions). Based on what I’m seeing on The Fluid’s Wikipedia page, I’m guessing that outing went by Purplemetalflakemusic, but I’ll never know because, 1) Spotify doesn’t acknowledge that The Fluid ever existed, and, 2) I have way too much work left on this project to dig that album out of Youtube, never mind a record store.

So, yeah, this will be the first time in this entire project where I don’t even attempt to go beyond what I have personally. And even there, it gets weird…

Some time ago, and I can’t even remember why I did this, I wanted to pass on a personal favorite, "Our Love Will Still Be There," over twitter, the sort of romantic “ballad” a rock guy would say to a rock chick before they rolled over to fuck in the recycling scattered all around the squat…I mean, after that, do I even have to explain how awesome this band really is? And I guess that’ the punch-line to the above: "Our Love Will Still Be There" is a cover. The original came from The Troggs (great band, btw), but while trying to unearth The Fluid’s version, I came across this acoustic Youtube video, which is thoroughly adorable. Meanwhile, The Troggs put out a version that fits their personal…idiom, while The Fluid’s version added the layer of grit that’s always caught my ear and still holds a place in my heart…good times.

That vibe defines The Fluid, if loosely. In my mind, they were a particularly great manifestation of “grunge.” That only leaves the question of what, exactly, grunge was. My interpretation has always been a blend of heavy metal and punk…and, there you have it: Wikipedia only switched up the verb (they went with “fuses elements of punk rock and heavy metal”). Shit. Thought was gonna be a lot harder. Look, without dramatizing the whole thing, can we all agree that living at ground zero of just about any cultural phenomenon, and paying $5 a night on most nights for the privilege of witnessing it (or, better still, the famous “8 bands for 8 bucks” nights that were seemingly all over as the 80s became the 90s), counts as something of a blessed life? Sure, it sucked after awhile, when all the bands starting sounding like some lesser version of the same thing, but it was a good time while it lasted. I tell ya, explaining time and place to people…absolute hell…

Getting back to The Fluid, they shared the fascination of their times – e.g., drinking, alienation, sex (getting it, or, more often, not), living desperate, and so on. Out of all their catalog (that I have easy, slightly screwed up access to), no song better frames their spirit than “Twisted and Pissed.” The opening line says it all: “He was the only son of a drag-queen dope dealer.” That song speaks to an idea that doesn’t hold so much today – i.e., the idea of people on the margin sneering at the people who live still further out – but, for all that, it talked about those same people with a sense familiarity, even understanding. While racially homogeneous (very, very white), the alternative community that existed back then tended to read its alienation outward, into a shared, if loose sense of camaraderie with anyone else who failed to fit in as well (even if the reasons weren’t, oh, anything but lifestyle, and reversible at the drop of a haircut and one good suit).

The Fluid could get political – see “Human Mill” and, arguably, “Fool’s Rule” – but, even then, the balance of the commentary is societal, addressed to dehumanizing systems, etc. “Cop a Plea,” another squirming, almost oily classic, fits that mold. I think that’s why their best songs went to the idea of getting your kicks within that debased system. One of The Fluid’s best, in fact, “Hooked,” kicks off Roadmouth. It’s a living, seething anthem to “fuck it” the idea of making the most of whatever good fortune falls in one’s lap, and one hell of a way to open any album (sorry about the muted audio…it’s like the 90s are the mid-70s)! Upon, uh, “reclaiming” a copy of the Roadmouth/Glue compilation, I see that’s buried way down at Track 12 (srsly?). At any rate, that’s a great song, find a better copy. “Girl Bomb” (also Roadmouth), hits the same vein, but through the eyes of a tongue-dragging beggar. With “Our Love Will Still Be There” (again, a song written in the 60s), those combine into a sort of revised manhood, awed by the feminine, but with a sense of female agency. (Maybe I just grew up in a family with three older sisters and that shit got beat into me, but every guy I knew had the same, rough sense with or without sisters, that this is(/was) how the world is.)

At this point in my life, I have a grand total of 15 songs by The Fluid in a digital-ready format. Spotify has buried them down a memory hole that not even the mightiest algorithm can rescue. I have my old Roadmouth vinyl in front of me and see that the mash-up between LP and EP left off “Leave It,” a song I loved a little less than everything else, but only because I loved the rest a fucking ton (and also which doesn't. even. exist. online. holy. shit, nothing does that!). When I look at those 15 songs, I see a couple songs to which, at this point, I have only weird, or lightly-nostalgic attachments – e.g. “Pretty Mouse” (seriously, is this just about a mouse living in a beer can? If so, NICE! And - what? - this one is MIA, too?)) and “Ode to Miss Lodge” (about…? It’s just sorta soaring and pretty).

All in all, I want to get at the idea that The Fluid happened at the right edge of grunge, e.g., when the idea of a band from Denver, Colorado signing for a Seattle, Washington label felt exotic. That small detail made the world look bigger. It expanded the idea that what I was watching in Seattle was happening all over. I knew that on some level, because I already knew about Husker Du, Naked Raygun, Dinosaur Jr., and The Lemonheads. Still, the sense that it was growing and expanding was incredible.

OK, that’s all on this one. Still, go find “Girl Bomb.” That song is goddamn awesome.

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