Proud to tout P.M. Dawn, 17 years later
Certain aspects of my youth I'd like to forget. Acne. The silver station wagon I drove to high school. An awkward moment in seventh grade during which I realized that Melissa Berglund was sitting in the seat behind me as I trashed her ability to make funnel cakes. (We'd just come from Home Ec.)
To most, it would seem that I'd also want P.M. Dawn's sophomore release, "The Bliss Album …?" to accompany my embarrassing remembrances into the darker reaches of my brain.
But such is not the case. I can't banish "The Bliss Album …?" to the place I put tetherball losses and voice cracks because I think "The Bliss Album …?" is really, really good. So good that, if pressed, I would admit that the record would safely find a home in my all-time Top 20 albums list.
There are those who will read the preceding sentence and assume that I'm joking or that I'm stating that I like "The Bliss Album …?" in the same way that I might say that I like "Three's Company." That is, in an ironic, this-is-cool-because-it-sucks kind of way. But alas, I am not. I'm writing that I like "The Bliss Album …?" because I like "The Bliss Album …?" I like it because it's at once messy, joyful, genre-spanning and beautiful.
But I also like it because it reminds me of who I once was. And of who I might be again.
For the uninitiated, P.M. Dawn is/was brothers Attrell and Jarrett Cordes. Their first album, the 1991 sample- and sap-heavy "Of the Heart, of the Soul, and Of the Cross" was a moderate success, buoyed as it was by "Paper Doll" and "Set Adrift On Memory Bliss."
The follow-up came only two years later. "The Bliss Album …? Vibrations of Love and Anger and the Ponderance of Life and Existence" was best known for its MTV-friendly hits, "I'd Die Without You" and "Looking Through Patient Eyes."
Then, after creating musical perfection, the Dawn found time to release two more albums before a massive stroke paralyzed the left half of Attrell Cordes' body. The band then resurfaced several years later on the NBC television show, "Hit Me Baby One More Time," winning that show's $20,000 for-charity prize.
But before cranial artery events and reality TV, I knew P.M. Dawn only for being awesome.
I just couldn't tell anyone.
Even at the height of uncool, I intuited that I needed to guard my affection for the group. Just as it isn't cool for music writers to admit they like P.M. Dawn now, it wasn't cool for high school freshmen to admit they liked P.M. Dawn then. So I kept my lust for songs like "Beyond Infinite Affections" off "The Bliss Album …?" to myself. Or, if not to myself, to the four walls of my basement bedroom and the eardrums of the other five people living in the Shirley house.
There is, of course, a sense of nostalgia attached to "The Bliss Album …?" It makes me think of the summer I bought it, which was dominated by weekly, mile-long hikes to the yard of an absentee landlord who paid my brothers and I the exorbitant sum of $45 to mow the yard of her country house. It was a happy summer, and some of that happiness attached itself to the album.
But nostalgia doesn't explain the album's staying power. Other artists from the '80s and '90s remind me of good times, but I'm not going to stake my reputation on a claim that Jon Secada was underrated.
"The Bliss Album …?" has stayed a part of my life for other, more complicated reasons than simple nostalgia.
When I was a high school freshman, I was still a child. It would be years before I would have to shave. I was built like supermodels are, assuming that we're discussing female ones. (My first driver's license stated that I was 5-foot-10 and weighed 120 pounds.) And I was much more worried about the fate of the Kansas City Royals than the girls I might convince to go with me to the homecoming dance.
Nonetheless, even at 15 -- even as a kid -- I had begun to develop into the person I would become.
I like "The Bliss Album …?" because on it can be found experimentation (a zany cover of The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood"), beauty (the harmony on "Ways of the Wind"), and ridiculous, over-the-top genre-smashers like the completely underappreciated "So on and so On." (Note: "So on and so On" is quite literally one of my favorite songs.)
And I like "The Bliss Album …?" for many of the reasons that I like rock albums: The brothers Cordes bare their souls for all to see. Sure, sometimes those souls contain sappy love songs and misplaced anger at people who have questioned their rapping bona fides. But whose souls don't contain such things? (Feel free to, as appropriate, substitute "integrity," "responsibility" or "prowess with a plow and a team of ox" for "rapping bona fides.")
But most of all, I like "The Bliss Album …?" because, in creating its songs, P.M. Dawn shows the listener who they might have been as kids. And because I was still very much a kid at 15, "The Bliss Album …?" reminds me of who I was when I was 15. Not just because I bought the album when I was 15, but because I was, in many ways, more "me" when I was 15 than I was when I was 25.
We all get screwed up in our paths through life. We go to Sacramento State when we should have tried for Stanford. We follow a girl to Detroit when we should have stayed in Miami. We decide that three years of binge drinking will serve as a substitute for human interaction.
And then we get through our slumps and return to who we really are. In some respects, who we really are is who we were when we were kids. Most of us are nice. Most of us want to be happy. Most of us like M&Ms. It just takes some time to remember that.
As I move on to new stages of my life, I find myself doing the same. After a long time away, I'm learning who I am again. Oddly enough, "who I am" is someone I already was -- the 15-year-old who listened to wacky P.M. Dawn songs and worried less about a long-term plan and more about what's for supper.
I'm glad that I'm finding my way back to the boy I once was. I'm disappointed that it took so long but I'm happy that -- as I do that finding -- I'll have guides to get there.
And I'm glad "The Bliss Album …?" is one of them.
Paul Shirley has played for 13 pro basketball teams, including three NBA teams: the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns. His book "Can I Keep My Jersey?" -- which is available in paperback -- can be found here. He can be found at Twitter (Twitter.com/paulthenshirley) and you can e-mail him here.
About Paul Shirley
Paul Shirley has been a frequent contributor, writing about music for The Life over the past year. This is his final column.