This article first appeared in Three Hundred Sixty Degrees, a fanzine I wrote for while living in San Diego, in 1993. The magazine was published by Jeff Motch. I thought I’d repost it here as it was just brought to my attention that Girlfriend has just reached its 20 year anniversary. I’ll blab more at the end.
Mecca. Jerusalem. The Coach House. People make pilgrimages at crucial times in their lives, and mine was to the latter to meet Matthew Sweet. Mohammed. Christ. The hyperbole may weigh heavy upon his shoulders, but he will always be sort of a savior to me. About one and a half years ago I had musical differences with the band I was in (read: I got kicked out) and I started to wonder about my abilities and talents. Maybe some people don’t care about how well they might do what they do, but I was kind of let down. “Evangeline” was the song that kicked off my gospel – I heard it on KCR. In reading the liner notes, I found that Matthew played nearly every guitar on the album, bass included, and wrote and sang every song. The idea that I could be like that, almost a one man band, appealed to me in my feelin’ sorry state.
As a result, I sat in my apartment a lot, trying to write something slightly cohesive, while experimenting with guitar leads over the Richard Lloyd/Robert Quine lead guitar on “Girlfriend,” Sweet’s breakthrough album. I learned how to play guitar much better, more or less, thanks to that album. I then acquired the “Girlfriend” CD-5 and “Goodfriend,” a promotional CD that showed more of Sweet’s talent – home versions of songs with him playing drums as well as lead guitar. Mix his so-depressing-they’re-uplifting lyrics with some personal problems I was having at the time, and yeah, I basically thought the guy walked on water. I even thought of writing a letter to him, but didn’t, thinking “Why would he care what I had to say?”
So then I heard a new album was in the making. I called Zoo to see if I could get an interview, and they were pretty warm about the idea. Almost five months later, after attempting to get something together, after the release of his album and two videos, after much patience from the people at Zoo, after thinking that it would never happen, I found out he would be playing the Coach House, the closest he would get to San Diego for a long time. I set the interview up, showed up for the post-soundcheck chat and sat down with a personal hero.
“Why aren’t I reading _his_ words, then?” you ask. “Why all the hero worship? I mean, that’s so uncool, you geek.” Yeah, I know. But in the mad, zany, kooky world of karma, I must have made fun of a retarded kid or smiled when I heard somebody I didn’t like died, because the pause switch on my tape recorder was on for most of the interview. Justice had been done, and I felt like King Geek Boy in front of someone who healed my lovesick mind more than a few times. He couldn’t have been nicer, telling me to have his record company reschedule another interview, but the steam had been taken out of me. Most people would jump at the chance to talk to their hero again, but I felt that there wasn’t any point. (I really want to stress the fact that I’m completely rational about these things, I mean I never expected him to invite me on-stage or anything, but those are the things you dream about, and I don’t think I would’ve felt happy with anything less. You could say I have unusually high hopes.)
Things I did learn about him (mostly from memory and a bit of taped stuff, so don’t sue me):
- He was interested in Mitch Easter, the producer of “Radio Free Europe,” not necessarily R.E.M., when he met them after a show in Nebraska.
- He met Lloyd Cole through Fred Maher, his longtime friend/collaborator. Lloyd suggested doing a one-night Beatles cover band.
- MTV didn’t really like his video for “Ugly Truth Rock,” which was a tribute to a movie I can’t remember. He ended up directing the video after arguing with the co-director.
- The strange organ-like sound on the Sweet Relief benefit album is a backwards and sped-up steel slide guitar.
- His song on the No Alternative album is “Superdeformed,” the B-side to “Girlfriend.” And speaking of that, he did meet the “Teenage Female” girl once, although she no longer writes.
- Some of the tracks on the album version of “Someone to Pull the Trigger” were recorded at the BBC session that appears on “Goodfriend.”
- An actual quote? Okay.
Is the stuff you write really as personal as it sounds?
“Well, it’s personal, but it’s not technically personal, so you can’t think each thing was happening to me in my relationship. But the feeling in the song is personal. It’s kind of a hard thing to describe to people, the difference. I’m not saying it’s not personal, but it’s not autobiographical. Except emotionally.”
He didn’t seem to have a clue as to what was happening with how the record company was releasing his singles off Altered Beast. Not that he’s stupid, he just didn’t know what song they would release next, nor could he confirm or deny rumors of a box to hold the five singles from the album, color coded to match the five different CD covers. It seemed like he still doesn’t have much control of what’s happening around him regardless of the fact that he’s the sole creative force.
So what does it all mean? Well, I don’t think people should “kill their heroes.” Then we’d have nothing to aspire to. I learned that heroes are people, too, and as dippy as it sounds, I guess what I mean to say is that I think musicians go from being excited that other people like their music, over a media-hype publicity edge, to a place where they know these kids look up to them, but they’re people after all, and can’t they have a few minutes to themselves? I think if he had known how I felt going into the interview, Matthew might have told me to settle down a bit, that he doesn’t like all the attention, that he’s a very shy person from Nebraska who happened to get lucky. Very lucky. And that it may happen for me someday, but it may not. It may not happen for him any more, but that might be okay. And that while a savior can help, he can’t cure all that ails you, so don’t expect him to.
Yeah, I’d still like to play with him someday, but on equal terms. Which means either he’s comin’ down
or I’m goin’ up.
The Aforementioned “More Blab”:
I don’t think I’ve looked up to people in the same way since then. I might admire someone’s talent, but I don’t really have any “heroes” per se.
“4 : an object of extreme admiration and devotion : IDOL“
That’s pretty hefty to lay on someone. As to why it’s sports figures and musicians and actors a lot in our society, I don’t know. They’re the ones we see all the time. But I think it takes some growing up to see that everyone’s fallible. Like that episode where Bobby Brady idolizes Jesse James and then has a dream where Jesse kills the whole Brady family. Jesse went from Bobby’s object of admiration to…just another guy, doing what he was doing to get by.
Matthew Sweet had no idea what he meant to me then, nor what he means to me now. He’s just a guy, doing what he does in order to get by.
Final thought: I think everyone needs to work on themselves, and if possible, to be a hero to themselves. Looking outside yourself won’t work. It can provide a guide, but everyone ultimately needs to stand on their own.