My friend Tim and I saw The Vines in concert twice, once in July 2002 at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the second time at the Agora sometime in 2003. They sucked both times, but we loved their music so it didn’t matter. When we saw them at the Rock Hall it was part of some MTV thing, a show or something I think, which is funny because by 2002 MTV had not played a video for at least 5 years by then. Oh, and they had a bar in the lower level where the concert was, so I was drinking straight Jack Daniels. So my memory of the show is a bit fuzzy, though I do remember that they were not very good. Craig Nicholls seemed to be doing a great Kurt Cobain impression, and there was a lot of weird flailing around and throwing instruments and shit. Same thing at the Agora show, where there was even more of that, plus lots of crawling around the stage. We all figured Craig was fucking wasted.
Now we know that he has Asperger’s Syndrome. So I feel bad for saying that he was a cracked out mess. I mean, he did smoke a lot of weed back then, but he was not a mellow pothead onstage, so I figured he was on something more potent. Despite their shitty performances I did love their music. They were part of The Great 2002 Rock & Roll Revival that included The White Stripes, The Hives, and The Strokes. As I had become a Foo Fighters fan three years earlier I was more open to listening to new music than I had been since the 1980s, and I was quite excited that there were so many bands doing straight up rock & roll without all the pretense. 2002 was a great year for me as a music fan.
Highly Evolved is one of those albums on which you can hear many influences, and that makes it awesome. There are obviously inspired by Nirvana, but I do hear other folks in there as well, like Pink Floyd. “Highly Evolved” sounds very Nirvana in vocals and music and lyrics. The way Craig screams the chorus is totally Kurt.
If you feel low
you can buy love
from a pay phone
I don’t feel low
I’m not sure who the song “Homesick” reminds me of, but it’s a nice, mellow tune. There’s a little bit of “Comfortably Numb” in there, not that they stole anything directly from it, but the chill factor is there. “Get Free” is the next song, and it was their biggest it. Very, very Kurt the way Craig screams throughout, especially at the end when he yells “move outta California.” It sounds just like the end of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” when Kurt screeches “a denial.” And the “She never loved me/Why should anyone” is also straight out of the Kurt Cobain How to Write Angsty Lyrics textbook. And I love it.
This is one of those fucking great screaming songs that you cannot help but get all worked up over. It’s kind of like Blur’s “Song 2.” Just fun, loud, annoying shit.
“Country Yard” also has a lot of Nirvana in it.
I’m tired of feelin’ sick and useless
Then speakin’ every other way
Gluin’ my eyes together girl
Might be the right escape
It reminds me of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box.”
“In the Jungle” starts off with a slower version of the opening guitar riff from Blue Öyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” and then it mixes in some Revolver-era Beatles and more Nirvana. “Mary Jane” is Pink Floyd all over, but I hear something else I cannot quite identify. “Ain’t No Room” starts off a little Oasis-y, but as soon as Craig starts singing it’s straight up 70s New York garage punk.
There ain’t no room for me in the city
The lights go down but it look so pretty
So take me away from the corner
Let me hide away in the fauna
With something at my side
It’s got that bored, fuck-it-all-let’s-have-fun sentiment that I dig.
“1969” is an ode to being stoned. And why not? Really, lots of people get fucked up claiming they’re “trying to reach a higher consciousness,” but this song really talks more about the desperation and paranoia of being high than any spiritual revelations one might achieve. Craig sings that he wants to get stoned and “look round at my soul,” but then he says something quite different.
I’m hearin’ voices in the trees
and seein’ footsteps in the rain
I just wanna die before I lose my dol
I have been cryin’ in my sleep
‘cause I don’t know where I’ve been
I just wanna live to see another day
Well, that sounds fun, right? I have never been high. Well, let me take that back. I never took illegal drugs. I used to drink like crazy. I was stoned on Ativan after going to the ER a few years back. I was having severe trouble breathing and finally went to the ER since I had no job and no insurance. They diagnosed me with GERD, which I now know is not what I have. I was having a lot of anxiety over not having found a job four months after getting my Masters Degree, and I was running out of money. In the past I had had similar trouble breathing during times of extreme stress, so I figured that’s what it was. Shortly before they released me they gave me Ativan to help me relax. I drove home, and by the time I got there I was totally out of it. I remember charging back and forth in the living room, my upper body folded down as if I were top heavy. I did that for five or ten minutes, not sure. I posted some stuff on Facebook that made no sense either. It was also 3 in the morning, so I was cracked out tired and high.
Oh, and there was the time I was put on Geodon for depression or bipolar (which I am not) or whatever. I felt drunk and underwater. Needless to say, I only took that a few times. Meds never helped with my emotional issues. Getting my shit together did.
And it seems that Craig has gotten his shit together. These days autism is diagnosed properly, and those who previously were thought to be out of control or just crazy or bad can get the medical attention they need. It must be a relief not only for the families of those with autism and its related illnesses, but for the individual as well. People like Craig who are highly artistic, as many with autism are, can be easily dismissed as just cracked out rock stars—that’s what I did back in the day. He’s lucky to have the creative outlet of music, but the spotlight he was put in when Highly Evolved made The Vines stars aggravated his then-unknown condition. He got into therapy, got diagnosed with Asperger’s, and stopped smoking weed. Not everyone is able to do that. Kurt Cobain had chronic stomach pain that he used heroin to ease. Who knows what would have happened had he been able to get a proper diagnosis and treatment?
Sorry to get so heavy. Highly Evolved is a great album. Before writing this blog it had been years since I listened to it. I am glad this is what I chose for tonight, because it really takes me back to all the great music of 2002. I do not think about all the drama I had going on in 2002—and there was a lot! Thanks for being awesome like that, Vines.