Once upon a time, in 1995, I listened to Throwing Muses’ “Bright Yellow Gun” more than a hundred times.
That song resonated in my twenty-something life as I embarked on a journalism career at Arkansas’ only statewide paper during the Clinton presidency and attempted to balance a relationship with a most conservative guy with late nights of throwing darts and drinking beer with cute photographers. Perhaps, it was these lyrics that best summed up my life at the time: “To keep me tame, keep me awake / I have nothing to offer but confusion / And the circus in my head / And the middle of the bed.”
“Bright Yellow Gun” was the only single released on Throwing Muses’ album, “University,” which celebrates its 20th anniversary this month. Hailed by critics as the Muses’ finest recording, this album still calms me in an unexplainable way when my life is in bedlam.
Throwing Muses was never a household name. They were an indie band started by two kick-ass girls – Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donelly – in 1981 in Newport, Rhode Island. Both girls, who were stepsisters, were lead singers for the band. So certain of themselves, they created their own label, Blowing Fuses, to release their debut self-titled EP in 1984. That got the attention of an indie label, and by 1991, they had landed a record deal with the then-mega label Sire Records (once the label of Madonna.)
As happens when a band breaks, so comes the break-up.
On a UK tour with the The Pixies, Donelly, who would later also create the band Belly, co-founded The Breeders with Pixies member Kim Deal. And, alas, the Muses were fractured. However, that didn’t stop Hersh from continuing with her original band and recording new albums including “University,” an album of powerful chaos amid moments of calming control.
Britain’s NME calls the music on the album a “fierce, direct form, tapping into the alternative rock boom while hanging onto their weird structures and indomitable character.”
In 1995, I was desperately trying to break out of writing about deaths as the feature obit writer at the newspaper. The features department heard my pleas and allowed me to write occasionally for them including reviewing “University.”
I wrote then of the album: There’s something to be said for a song that sticks in your head for days while phones ring and fax machines beep. Throwing Muses’ edgy, swirly “Bright Yellow Gun” seeps into your brain like that. Slowly, deeper, until you are kidnapped by it and you begin to wish the compact disc inventor had never created that repeat button. But other songs do exist on “University.”
The next two prove just as addicting — “Hazing” and “Start,” in which lead singer Kristin Hersch surrealistically sings, “I climb you as I grow older; by 50 I’ll ride on your shoulder.” Hersch writes most of her lyrics with this espresso-clove cigarette influence – it’s coffeehouse poetry at its darkest best. Take “Crabtown,” a dreary song of “scatter days like spray champagne … Lost my head on Regret Beach.”
Eventually, all the songs on “University” mesh together like bubbles in bath water, but it’s a nice feeling when you immerse yourself deeply into Throwing Muses’ 14 iridescent songs.
I’m not sure twenty years later I could say it any better.
Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Echo Ellis: Adventures of a Girl Reporter,” “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt” and “1000 Best Bartender’s Recipes.” She writes frequently for The Christian Science Monitor, The Economist, and numerous other publications. Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker.
To schedule an interview with Suzi or book her for a speaking engagement, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watch the official video for “Bright Yellow Gun”.
Seven best Throwing Muses songs.