Bootleg City: Ride in Cambridge, March ’91

Last week in Bootleg City, it was discovered that Mayor Cass had gone missing after what appeared to be a New Year’s Eve celebration in his office. The only clue to his whereabouts was a tawdry smear of lipstick left on a plastic cup in his office. Which brings us to … this week!

Another week had gone by. Another week with no sign of Mayor Cass. The Bootleg City Police Department seemed oddly unconcerned when I called. “How can you tell the difference between when he’s gone and when he’s there?” cracked Sergeant Buckingham.

He has a point, I thought, but I quickly shook that cynicism out of my head. The citizens of Bootleg City needed Mayor Cass, dysfunction and all, to keep them balanced, secure, and swimming in Hall & Oates rarities.

Out of ideas and feeling hopeless, I returned to the mayor’s office, hoping to find more clues. To my surprise, a freshly written letter was sitting on the chair behind his desk. In his signature scrawled handwriting, Mayor Cass had penned the following missive …

Dear Citizens of Bootleg City:

I’m sure you’ve all been wondering where I’ve been these past few weeks. The reality of my situation is slightly embarrassing in hindsight. You see, right after Christmas I was having a nightcap or three at my usual watering hole, where, over a stale dish of peanuts, I met a woman. But not just any woman — a mysterious Spaniard named Anita, who bewitched me with her deep brown eyes, deeper-set cleavage, and an ability to match me whiskey for whiskey.

Enchanted, we talked all night.

I brought her back to my office for a “real” American New Year’s Eve celebration, which she loved. And on a whim I followed her back to Spain, where we spent ten glorious days basking in the sun, feeding each other grapes and drinking glass after glass of wine.

I was in heaven. I was in love. Life was full of rainbows, unicorns, glitter, and stardust.

But one morning, as we lay idly on her balcony munching on aged cheese and imported nuts, we started discussing the ins and outs of our blossoming relationship. It was there that I discovered something hideous, the ultimate — and only — deal breaker I have: Anita couldn’t stand Simply Red.

My absolute favorite music in the entire world — and it repulsed her. She turned the dial the second “Stars” came on the radio and felt nauseous even thinking about Picture Book.

I was crushed. I knew immediately it was over. I couldn’t live with any woman who didn’t share my love for Simply Red, even if they had been force-fed to her the past 20 years in a way they never were on my side of the Atlantic.

Stunned, I extracted myself from Anita’s lithe frame and began packing. As you might imagine, the plane ride home was long and fraught with heaving sobs. I returned late last night.

I hope you’ll take me back after my adventure, Bootleggers. My heart is broken, my spirit is crushed. Bootleg City is the only place I feel any warmth and affection. I’m not sure if I can go on without its unconditional support.

Sincerely,
Mayor Cass

I reread the letter several times, trying to make sure I was interpreting it correctly. A tryst? A tryst? Mayor Cass had abandoned his constituents for nothing more than a hot piece of ass?

Disgusted, I left his office. To think I had actually cared about the whereabouts of that shallow, brains-in-his-dick bureaucrat. I climbed into my car, called the police to cancel my missing-person report, and left Bootleg City as fast as I could. Contrite as he was, I had finally lost what little respect I had left for Mayor Cass. I hoped that he and his vinyl collection would be very happy together — alone.

Before Radiohead revolutionized music, the members of Ride were Oxford, England’s reigning egghead pop stars. Formed in 1988, the quartet cited the House of Love, My Bloody Valentine, and the Stone Roses as early favorites; in hindsight, it’s not a stretch to say that Ride was a direct amalgamation of the three. Naturally the band became, albeit reluctantly, the poster children for the trendy shoegaze movement, due to its juxtaposition of ear-blasting, Sonic Youth-style noise freakouts, candy-coated pop hooks, and indelible melodies.

Ride’s influence, however, reverberated long past its relatively small catalog, which is comprised of a few EPs (two of which were collected on 1990’s U.S.-issued Smile), four studio albums, and a ton of compilations. The first two albums, 1990’s Nowhere and 1992’s Going Blank Again, are essential, but things started getting dodgy and less interesting on 1994’s Carnival of Light and became downright dire by the time of 1996’s Tarantula.

But in the early ‘90s few bands could touch Ride’s volume — or its penchant for catchy, noisy swirls. “Twisterella,” its highest-charting single on the U.S. alternative charts, resembled Teenage Fanclub, while songs such as “Taste” and “Natural Grace” could compete with any jangle-pop gems. The mighty, eight-minutes-plus “Leave Them All Behind” is simply magnificent, its stacks of psychedelic harmonies and vacuum roars of distortion coalescing in utter bliss. And then there’s the stripped-back “Vapour Trail,” which somehow never charted but might be Ride’s crowning achievement — it’s a late-afternoon sunbeam with yearning vocals and a lovely string coda.

After the band split under acrimonious circumstances in ’96, main songwriters Andy Bell and Mark Gardener continued to make music. Bell formed Hurricane #1 (known here for “Step Into My World”) before eventually becoming the bass player in Oasis, and Gardener formed the band Animalhouse, a stepping stone for his solo career, with Ride drummer Loz Colbert. In recent years he’s collaborated with the Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Morning After Girls.

However, here’s my favorite story about Gardener (who, incidentally, is one of the nicest, most generous people I’ve ever interviewed): In 2005 he released a solo record, These Beautiful Ghosts, with backing from the Oxford band Goldrush. Anyone who bought a special edition of the album was promised a bonus DVD, to be handed out once finances allowed Gardener to make it. I bought one.

Several years passed, and I only occasionally remembered the promised addition. But sometime last year a package from an unfamiliar address showed up at work. Puzzled, I opened it — and inside was the DVD, along with a handwritten note from Gardener. A stellar guitar player and a gentleman of his word — it doesn’t get much better than that.

The following Ride show from March 4, 1991, at the Cambridge Corn Exchange in Cambridge, England, has a stellar set list that hits all of the band’s career highlights up to that point. Although the sound’s a bit muffled, Ride’s essence shines through.

Intro
Polar Bear
Unfamiliar
Like a Daydream
Drive Blind
Vapour Trail
Beneath
In a Different Place
Perfect Time
Sennen
Taste
Today
Decay
Dreams Burn Down
Chelsea Girl
Seagull