Saturday, March 12, 2011

March 12: Mudhoney, "Touch Me, I'm Sick"

Artist: Mudhoney
Song: "Touch Me, I'm Sick"
Album: Touch Me, I'm Sick (7" single)
Year: 1988

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Though it does not make it any more right or understandable, within nearly every genre in the history of music, the "true" founders of a style rarely receive the credit or sales similar to that of later acts that largely copy their sound.  One can find clear examples of this within punk, glam rock, and blues among other styles, and this trend persists today, and was perhaps no more obvious than when the so-called "grunge" sound rose to prominence in the early 1990's.  While bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam may stand as the icons of this style to many, there is no question that both bands owe their entire careers to the pioneering sound of Mudhoney.  Far more aggressive and jarring than any of their followers, Mudhoney's sloppy, in-your-face style remains just as potent to this day, and it is the true bridge between heavy metal and indie rock that so many other bands have tried to find.  The other claim to fame that Mudhoney holds is the fact that they were the first band to ever release a single on the now-famed Subpop Records, and in their wake, the label became the mecca for up and coming bands.  Though their later records are certainly worth owning, it was in fact this initial single that stands as not only their best work, but easily one of the most important records in history.  Bringing an aggression and volume that simply was not being made elsewhere at the time, there are few songs that can compare to Mudhoney's pivotal 1988 single, "Touch Me, I'm Sick."

Within the first moments of "Touch Me, I'm Sick,"many of the influences on Mudhoney are apparent, and it is in this combination of sources of inspiration where one can quickly understand why their music was so revolutionary.  The quick-swinging, almost grinding guitars from Mark Arm and Steve Turner bring to mind the sounds of Black Sabbath crossed with The Damned.  There is a punch to their playing that was miles away from what other bands of the era were doing, and one can easily hear how this song drove the musical movement that followed.  The rhythm section of drummer Dan Peters and bassist Matt Lukin is equally impressive, and they are able to provide a similar blend of groove-based punk that one can hear in the guitars.  Like many of his followers, Peters sounds as if he is trying to destroy his drum kit on "Touch Me, I'm Sick," and his playing sounds far more forward in the mix than most drum tracks.  Within Lukin's performance, one can also make a tie to bands like Black Flag, as the way in which he almost seems angry with his bass is very reminiscent of the playing of the great Chuck Dukowski.  However, even though one can draw all of these influences out of their music, there is no question that this was a completely original sound, and it is that fact that makes Mudhoney so musically brilliant.  The way in which the song is almost uncomfortably loud and aggressive, yet beyond catchy is where their genius lies, and it was never more obvious than on "Touch Me, I'm Sick."

Along with his exceptional performance on guitar, Mark Arm also provides one of the most breathtaking vocal performances of his generation on "Touch Me, I'm Sick."  Bringing a screeching, almost wild performance style, there is no question that he takes much of his style from the great Iggy Pop, but there are traces of a number of other artists within his singing.  Regardless of these influences, Arm further separates Mudhoney from everything else that was being done at the time, and his aggressive, almost chaotic style is so unique that one simply cannot help but be completely captivated by his performance.  Many have argued that his almost over-done style of singing was somewhat a mocking of the hair-metal sound of the time, yet even if this is true, it detracts nothing from the power that Arm brings to the vocals.  It is this force with which he sings that helps the lyrics to appear in their finest form, and due to the style and rhythm with which he delivers them, they take on a strangely poetic feel.  The lyrics of "Touch Me, I'm Sick" are also somewhat haunting, and in many ways define the whole "rock and roll lifestyle" idea.  There is a brutal honesty that can be felt when Arm delivers lines like, "...I won't live long, and I'm full of rot, gonna give you girl, everything I got..."  It is also within the words on "Touch Me, I'm Sick" that the song takes on a dirty, almost menacing feel, and yet it is also what makes the song so anthemic.

Taking the sound, style, and substance of "Touch Me, I'm Sick" all together, it is no surprise that the song became such an underground hit, and once the sound got out, there was no stopping the musical movement that followed.  It was the impact of this song that turned Subpop Records into "the" place for new bands, and helped Seattle to, for a short time, become the hottest place for up and coming artists.  Yet there has also been a strong legacy for the song, and along with a massive amount of covers over the years, it also received a clear nod in Cameron Crowe's 1992 cult-classic, Singles.  In the film, the band Citizen Dick (comprised of members of Pearl Jam among others) releases an album called "Touch Me, I'm Dick," and to this day, the song remains one of, if not the most treasured song in the entire grunge catalog.  If one steps back and compares "Touch Me, I'm Sick" to the other music that was being made in 1988, it is almost laughable in comparison, as the aggression and pure noise that Mudhoney was making absolutely buried the efforts of the rest of the music scene.  It is perhaps due to this stark contrast in sound that the style caught on so quickly, as there were legions of music fans chomping at the bit for someone to save them from the bland, over-done world of "hair metal."  To this end, it is not surprising that Mudhoney remain so highly respected by "those in the know," and though they may not have received the overall credit they so clearly deserve, there is simply no other song from any point in music history that can even remotely compare to the sound and power one finds in Mudhoney's extraordinary 1988 single, "Touch Me, I'm Sick."

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