October 31st, 1995. The date holds no historical significance, no momentous events occurred, no documents signed ushering in new ways of thinking. No one was killed.

October 31st, 1995, however, holds a significant place in my personal history. I was a sophomore, first year out of the house, scuffling through Chaucer and a term trying to learn French. My flat mates were a couple of old high school friends, and like all high school fashions their charms quickly wore thin when we moved away together.

October 31st, I left them to play Dungeons and Dragons and eat four-dollar pizza and went down through the rain to the Erb Memorial Union, the centrepiece of student life at the University of Oregon. On the bill was Belly and the Catherine Wheel.

The previous summer I spent at my parent’s house, shoulder tapping for beer, saving up what dough I could for the big move. I worked nights at a non-descript deli, and in spite of the decent reception of the local college radio on the house stereo, I was forbidden from listening to anything other than contemporary alternative rock stations (because I was not about to listen to adult contemporary…). I knew Belly from an outdoor show a couple of years back, but I’d only heard one song by the Catherine Wheel, 'Heal' which was a magnificently urgent spin on appetizing hard rock. Needless to say, the bill was enticing. At the very least, I’d learn something new.

As I walked into the EMU ballroom for the show, I was flabbergasted. Expecting a crowd, I found almost no one, only a few pale-faced liberal arts students and hard rocker girls who were there to catch a whiff of Bruce Dickinson’s cousin. This was my first lesson in the significance of Halloween on the party circuit.

When the Catherine Wheel took the stage, I was pressed against the rail. My arm managed to get free and naturally I extended it into the air, fist pumped as lights dimmed. The hundred or so attendees were the most ardent show-goers in town, shouting and stomping feet for the openers. Rob Dickinson stepped to the microphone, wheeled around so that his back lit, slender profile faced the open room and the band started in on 'She’s My Friend' and the night was on. They played two hours. During their encore of 'Black Metallic' I stepped into the cool rain, closed my eyes… and melted.

Down the street from the University was a killer music shop, House Of Records. A couple of days after worshipping at Rob’s feet, of swooning through their whirling, genre bending hard rock, I went in search of the album. The denizens of House, as we called it, were encyclopedic in their knowledge of music. Had I brought a Zappa record to the counter, he would have steered me toward Frank’s contemporaries. Yet on this day, I brought him a still shrink-wrapped copy of 'Chrome' and he, with a heathen’s lusty smile, pulled back his tight curls and said in a voice, barely above a whisper:

“You into shoegaze?”

I nodded, yeah. Of course, I had never heard the term but that zealot of obscuria led me down a path in the store to a darkened corner stack and suddenly, I was spending all that saved up dough on 7” singles, picture discs and out-of-print records that drove my Croce/Zeppelin loving housemates crazy when I’d crack a Samuel Smiths and turn up the volume. The long drones, warbled melodies and beautifully indistinct vocals that didn’t so much sing as emote were antithetical to their rock experience, but it filled mine to the brim, completing a puzzle that I first opened when I pledged allegiance to Morrissey in the back of a flat bed Ford on my way home from wrestling practice.

Some twenty years later, 'Still in a Dream' drops on my doorstep and what felt like a cold case investigation, assembling breadcrumbs from a musical genre took another step toward solution. The five discs are, by nature, an incomplete history, but they stand as a solid document on what the genre stood for, whether it’s the post rock gorgeousness of the Cocteau Twins ('Cherry Coloured Funk') or the splattered guitar mess of bands like the Swirlies ('Park the Car by the Side of the Road') and Jane From Occupied Europe ('Ocean Run Dry') there is a wonderful array at the listener’s fingertips.

The box set includes classic bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain ('Rollercoaster') and Galaxie 500 ('Tugboat') and more than a few bands I never found (or could afford) like 14 Iced Bears ('Surfacer') or Kitchens of Distinction ('The 3rd Time We Opened The Capsule”'). Even stateside contributors line up for a crack, Mercury Rev ('Bronx Cheer') and the Flaming Lips ('Talkin ‘Bout the Smiling Deathporn Mortality Blues') offering some needed context. What makes 'Still in a Dream' so fun to explore is how the curators steered clear of obvious hits, or the temptation to overload the collection with multiple tracks from the bigger stars. This is box set is foremost about the genre, about the love of its nuances and that cannot often be said about a collection of such tall order.

My search for the ultimate shoegaze play list never quite finished. Perhaps that’s the mania in the music obsession, the seizure of sweet leads to a search for even higher hanging fruit. This box set breaks the dam on memories, fills holes in my collection, and opens me up to other sessions rifling through the old record bin in search of nuggets.

Maybe I’ll drive down to House Of Records and see how they’re doing. Maybe that Pale Saints will finally be in stock.

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Commenting On: Profile - Still in a Dream

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23668 Posted By: David (In A Shoe)

Nice story thanks Erick

For me all music changed when I first heard Kitchens of Distinction. Never have I heard such expertly engineered and mixed music. My own suspicion is when their music hit the scene all the others took notice and realised they had been outdone. Patrick Fitzgerald and Julian Swales have a musical connection that is unearthly. Kitchens recently released album Folly after a 17 year break proved it once again.

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