Pop Goes the World: Trash Can Sinatras, “The Genius I Was”

Written by Music, Pop Goes the World

He describes their music as “like oxygen,” so it’s only fitting that David Medsker should devote an edition of his Pop Goes the World series to the Trash Can Sinatras — specifically “The Genius I Was,” a track from A Happy Pocket.

First of all, Happy Birthday to my brother Steve, and happy birthday and CONGRATULATIONS to my friend Heidi. (She got engaged yesterday, woo hoo!)

As our own John C. Hughes astutely observed in a Popdose column from last October, there really is no such thing as a casual fan of the Trash Can Sinatras. If you like them, then their music is oxygen – you simply cannot live without it. Starting with their 1993 album I’ve Seen Everything, I became one of those people; the first time I heard “Hayfever,” I was so blown away that I nearly fell out of the shower. It wasn’t until three years later, though, that I discovered that there were others stricken with this condition.

I have a hard time remembering exactly what the Internet looked like when I first started toying around with it in 1996. I actually remember doing very little surfing; the only thing I did was look for the email addresses of the fan lists for my favorite bands. There was the Magical Armchair (Ben Folds Five’s list), the extremely dedicated crew behind Firedancer (a Duran Duran site), and what was easily the most insufferable group of jackanapes ever assembled, the Jellyfish fan list. But then I found the list that would ultimately change my life: the fans of the Trash Can Sinatras. The people on this list were unlike any of the other band lists. They were funny. They were polite (though there was one listee, a college girl from Arizona, that heckled me nonstop). They were generous (people would routinely buy things for other listees, and people were rarely stiffed). They were simply good people. In fact, it was there that I met one Will Harris, who would ultimately become not only one of my closest friends but a co-worker; my first act as Senior Editor for Bullz-Eye was to bring in Will as freelance writer. He’s now a full-time assistant editor, and has done more for the site than I ever will.

Anyway, we TCS listees were stoked because the boys were finally going to release their third album, A Happy Pocket. Unfortunately, the album was not set for release in the States – the boss of their label Go! Discs, Andy MacDonald, was supposedly not the band’s biggest supporter – so scoring an import was not going to be easy in those pre-Amazon times. I don’t even remember how I ultimately scored a copy; I’m guessing one of the other listees saw a bunch of copies in a store, bought them all and sold them to us at cost. All I know is that after the first spin of the album, there was one song I absolutely could not get enough of. And neither could the other listees.

“The Genius I Was” is about as atypical a Trash Cans song as you are likely to find. Instead of focusing on singer Francis Reader’s love for wordplay, his vocals take a back seat to the most hypnotic riff the the band has ever written. Indeed, if the song has a lead instrument, it’s David Hughes’ bass, which is normally subservient to the Trash Cans’ jangle-riffic guitars. They even dabbled in a little studio wizardry by adding a flange in the break. Where did this song come from? Thirteen years later, I still don’t know the answer to that question. There is nothing else in their catalog quite like it. It’s clearly them, of course, but it is also a pleasant detour.

Soon after we all got our paws on A Happy Pocket, someone took a poll of our favorite TCS songs of all time. “The Genius I Was” ranked in the top three. I’m willing to wager that if we did a recount today, it would remain in the top three. It’s just one of those songs. Good luck finding the album that spawned it for less than an arm and a leg, though; A Happy Pocket is selling for $54 and up on Amazon. Whew. Good thing I got a copy when they were still good and cheap.

Trash Can Sinatras – The Genius I Was