I had a profoundly strange musical experience the other day. For a month or so, I’ve been feeling tired of my music collection, and I haven’t known what to try next. Nothing has reached out and grabbed me by the ears, but at the weekend I remembered that I’ve been meaning to check out some Jellyfish.
The reason for that is that a lot of musical threads I’ve picked up recently can be traced back to this band. To start with, there was Bleu, who I saw in support of Toad The Wet Sprocket back in 2003. I absolutely loved his album Redhead. One of the songs on the album, “Could be worse”, was co-written by Andy Sturmer, and I think that Bleu has co-operated with Sturmer on a few other projects as well. Andy Sturmer was the drummer and lead singer for Jellyfish.
Then, in April, Glen Phillips (formerly of Toad The Wet Sprocket, see above) released his excellent new CD Winter Pays For Summer, on which he is supported on several tracks by–guess who–Andy Sturmer.
So, hoping that they would break me out of my musical ennui, on Monday evening I finally downloaded their album Bellybutton from 1990. (They only put out two albums, the other one is Spilt Milk from 1993)
I skipped through the first two tracks, thinking, hmm, yeah, that’s okay. But I pulled up short on the third song: “The King Is Half Undressed”. The opening guitar riff sent a shiver up my spine. I recognized it. Then the drums came in, and the vocals, and the sense of familiarity grew even stronger. When the chorus burst out, I was in full-body goosebumps mode. Not only did I know the song, but it a favourite from many years ago. In fact, I’m almost certain I have it sitting on an old cassette tape in a box in our garage.
And yet I’d completely failed to recognize the band name “Jellyfish”. Weird. I’m usually pretty good about remembering music and artists, and around 1990 I was at a very impressionable age (first/second year of Uni) and a lot of the music I was listening to was laying down strong permanent associations. But also: from what I can find by looking around the web, Jellyfish made virtually no imact on the British music scene. So how did I know that song?
It gets even more interesting. It turns out that “The King Is Half Undressed” is not the only song I know from the album. I didn’t have time to listen to any more of it on Monday evening, but when I was in the car with Scott on Tuesday, we listening to the whole thing, and I knew three other tracks: “That Is Why”, “I Wanna Stay Home”, and “Baby’s Coming Back”.
But…how? Without any transatlantic success on their part, the only thing I can think of is that they must have been getting a lot of airplay when I spent the summer of 1991 in California. The station I listened to most was KFOG, and I reckon that Jellyfish’s music would have been right up their street at that time. But on the other hand, I bought a lot of (second-hand) CDs that summer (yay Amoeba!), and if I’d heard four tracks I really liked by an artist I hadn’t come across before, I’m sure I would have picked up their CD. But I didn’t.
I’m confused and disoriented. The music is tapping into a deep visceral pool of recognition, but I can’t make any conscious, intellectual connection with even actually hearing it or being aware of it before. It’s like a kind of amnesia. I’m feeling the same kind of cognitive dissonance as I did when I temporarily lost all muscle memory of how to tie a necktie. There’s just something wrong in my head.
(As for whether I like the rest of the album, well, it’s so-so. Apart from the four songs I noted above, I don’t think there’s anything on there that is likely to make my permanent playlist.)