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The Records That Changed My Life
By Jon Dolan
It’s been almost 20 years since Dayton, Ohio fourth-grade teacher Robert Pollard began recording as Guided by Voices. "My parents and my ex-wife were telling me to get serious about my life," he recalls. "But I told them this was a hobby. Some people go fishing, we’re doing this." Then his hobby became a career, and Pollard a beer-slugging indie-rock hero. As he prepared for the release of GBV’s 16th and final album, Half Smiles of the Decomposed, the 46-year-old Pollard walked us through his unique prog-punk past.
THE BEATLES - "I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND" (Capitol, 1964) "My dad bought me this record after I saw them on Ed Sullivan, and I played it incessantly. I couldn’t believe there was actually a group of guys who could grow their hair long and just play this kind of music and have girls chase them around. We used to pantomime in front of our class in second grade, and then we’d go out on the playground and little girls would chase us. It was a good time to be alive."
ThE DOORS - "THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER" (Elektra, 1968) "There was a 7-Eleven that had a rack of cut-out 45s. I got ‘The Unknown Soldier.’ It had this picture of Jim Morrison, the ‘young lion’ photograph, with no shirt, and I’m going, ‘This looks pretty wild.’ At first it threw me because it was somewhat progressive and weird and the lyrical content was anti-war. My dad said, ‘What are you doing buying records by that guy? He exposed himself.’ I didn’t know what exposed meant. And he said, ‘He pulled his willy out.’ So I’m, like, ‘Wow!’ I thought it was pretty cool."
KING CRIMSON - IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING (Island, 1969) "My dad joined the Columbia Record Club and I got this. First, I couldn’t get into it because the songs were so long and jazzy, but after a while I got into a complete prog-rock phase. Later, when things started happening for Guided by Voices, people were like, ‘What do you mean you like Genesis?’ But that’s all I knew about; we didn’t have hip record stores in the Midwest. I’ve tried to write epics, but I’ve got a short attention span from working with kids for 14 years. We'd record a song and I'd go 'That had to be ten minutes long'. And we'd play it back and it's like four minutes".
THE WHO - WHO’S NEXT (Decca, 1971)
"My favorite album of all time. The Who was totally my model. We’re the drunken Who. I was at the show in Cincinnati where every one got trampled. I had a broken arm and I went by myself. It was pretty hectic, but it didn’t seem any different from the shows at that time. Back then the concerts were, like you saw Heavy Metal Parking Lot? The whole arena would be a cloud of pot smoke with people passed out and puking and cherry bombs being thrown. It was a magical time."
DEVO - Q: ARE WE NOT MEN? A: WE ARE DEVO! (Warner Bros., 1978)
"When punk came in, I was kind of turned off by it, but then a friend of mine played me this album, and it just scared the fuck out of me, to the point where I thought music was steering off into an evil direction. But I kept listening, and it just blew my mind how good it was. To me, it was progressive rock because it was taking music in a new direction."
WIRE - 154 (Warner Bros., 1979) "
Eventually, I went full-on into post-punk. I cut my hair short and got kicked out of the metal band I was in. 154 was a bolt of lightning. When we started we wanted to sound like a bunch of different bands. The songs were going to be short, sound like they were recorded in a bunch of different places. That was the Wire influence.
R.E.M. - CHRONIC TOWN EP (IRS, 1982)
"The thing that turns me on is when I’ve never really heard it before. Michael Stipe’s voice was so different. It reminded me of Peter Gabriel’s, and I was intrigued by this whole ‘mystery of the South’ and all that shit. There have been a few bands where I’ve totally absorbed myself into their world, and R.E.M was one of them. I see Peter Buck occasionally, and I’m always blowing smoke up his ass about how much they meant to me."
DINOSAUR JR. - YOU'RE LIVING ALL OVER ME (SST 1987)
"J Mascis is just an amazing guitar player. He smokes, but it's 'melody smoke'. When we used to record, I'd bring in guitar players, and to indicate what I wanted them to play, I'd do it with my mouth. I called it melody smoke. [This record's] brutal - but with those beautiful songs underneath."
THE BREEDERS - LAST SPLASH (4AD/Elekta 1993)
"I met Kim Deal around the time we were getting a buzz about us. Before I met her, I was totally into Last Splash. I loved that record, and I was infatuated with the fact that there was a chick from Dayton who was making great music and was in the Pixies."