songbook: only happy when it rains

In M|H’s weekend feature, songbook, I’ll be looking at some of my favorite songs. Some I haven’t listened to in years, some I keep in regular rotation, but all having in some way informed my life, my taste, and and how I view music.

Garbage – Only Happy When It Rains

Oh, Shirley Manson, guiding beacon of my early teens. For years Shirley was the epitome of cool to me – a red-headed singer from Madison, she was someone I could be, someone I practically was (minus the whole being an adult and having a recording contract thing). Whenever a dress-up occasion presented itself, I’d comb the stores for a pink or blue shift dress to match the ones in this video (around 8th or 9th grade I finally acquired a black one and paired it with knee-high platform boots – thanks 90s!). I’d eye boxes of hair dye, wanting to transform my naturally strawberry-blonde locks to deep scarlet. My infatuation went much deeper than Shirley Manson and copying her looks, though. I loved Garbage’s self-titled album.

My first memory of Garbage was seeing them featured on an MTV segment where a girl from Madison was getting a makeover. The show took her to Ragstock, which at the time was strictly totally awesome used and vintage clothing instead of the weird mish-mash of over-priced tees, mesh body stockings, and hats with animal ears it is today. MTV played the video for “Only Happy When It Rains” and I was immediately in love. I actually caught the video minutes before leaving for Madison; at the time my family lived in a small town about twenty miles southeast and we were going to shop or for an appointment or some such banality lost to time. What I do remember, though, is that we didn’t go downtown to Ragstock as per my request. Parent’s just don’t understand.

Garbage dominated my sixth grade year, both on my stereo and in my life. A poster of them crowding around a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame hung prominently in my bedroom – I had bought myself the poster after buying it for my first boyfriend. He had copied Garbage onto tape for me early on in our “relationship,” adding to his awesomeness and cementing that I made a good choice in which boy to sit next to on the bus and talk to on the phone. I’m pretty sure I’ve still got that tape somewhere.

“#1 Crush” from the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack kept me going through seventh grade, and in eighth grade Version 2.0 came out. I bought it the first weekend after its release, making my parents drive me to the next town over so I could get it on sale at Best Buy. At the beginning of tenth grade, Garbage played with Lit for the MTV Campus Invasion Tour. The year before eighth grade my family had moved to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Bethlehem was large enough to have two high schools, and each Halloween the schools played each other in football. The Garbage concert happened to fall on the same night as the game, and I couldn’t convince any of my friends that seeing Garbage was a better idea than repeatedly walking the track around the football field. I would have gone alone, but my parents weren’t too keen on the idea of driving me up to Lehigh University and dropping me off to spend the evening by my 15-year-old self. I’m still slightly bitter.

As high school progressed, Garbage became less central to my music taste. They never disappeared though, and got a bit of a boost in college. I came back to Madison to attend the University of Wisconsin. With Smart Studios still in operation, rumors of band sightings were rampant. A former room mate served Shirley Manson green beans at Whole Foods, and I stood in front of Butch Vig, Duke Erikson, and Steve Marker when the Yeah Yeah Yeahs came to town. Late in my college career, Garbage played a show at the Orpheum, and I finally got to see them and lay eyes on Shirley for myself. All the love from 1995 came flooding back, and seeing them live is still one of my favorite concert memories. Now, years later, one of the band members and I frequent the same bar – I see him about once a month. The excitement should have worn off by now, but it hasn’t – I still get that rush of adrenaline as the pre-teen part of my brain fails to quite believe that adult me is cool enough and lucky enough to be in the same place.