#463: Echo and the Bunnymen, "Heaven Up Here" (1981)

My favorite scene from the movie High Fidelity takes place during a busy day at Championship Vinyl, a record shop owned by Rob (John Cusack) and staffed by Barry (Jack Black) and Dick (Todd Louiso). In the scene, the three characters are each given a moment to do what, for me, is the best part about being into music: they get to turn someone else on to a band they like. They each have their own methods. Rob, store owner, maintains a respectable distance by playing The Beta Band’s Three EPs over the store’s sound system. He scans the room, watching people slowly start to nod their heads. Dick, shy and soft spoken, awkwardly chats up a girl about Green Day and segues to a discussion of their influences, ultimately stopping with The Stiff Little Fingers. Finally, Barry aggressively drags a customer around the store piling records into his arms each time the man admits to not having heard something. After finding out the guy doesn’t own Blonde On Blonde (RS500 #9), Barry hands him a copy and embraces him, assuring the customer that things are going to be OK. It is great. I suggest you watch it here.

I love how this scene depicts one version of discussions I’ve been having with my music-loving friends for decades. I know people who absolutely hate the way Dick and Anna immediately jump from Green Day to the Clash, as if those two entities can never touch. And for a long time I took issue with the idea that, somehow, the Jesus and Mary Chain picked up where Echo and the Bunnymen left off. After all, Echo dropped an album in 1997 and JMC did in 1998. It doesn’t seem like the passing of a torch, does it? But what I am leaving out is that, until 1997, Echo was on indefinite hiatus and JMC, with a newer, sleeker sound, did put out two record albums, 1992’s Honey’s Dead and 1994’s Stoned and Dethroned. Now, I’ve played those records and to me they don’t have a single thing to do with Echo’s big, soaring anthems. But it feels like I can engage this dialogue like I wold actual people.

Like the best talks about music usually do, the one in this scene clued me in to bands I’d never heard. And one of them was Echo and the Bunnymen. When this film was released in 2000, I’d certainly heard Echo songs. They feature prominently on both the Pretty in Pink and Lost Boys soundtracks. I loved both of those movies. So, yeah, Echo was around, but I wasn’t paying attention. But Barry’s manic insistence, his force when discussing music lineage, got me thinking. It planted a seed. Then, in 2001, I saw Donnie Darko, and that movie's use of Echo’s “The Killing Moon” in its opening scene took me a step closer. Then, finally, around maybe 2003, either an uncle gave me a mix CD with “Villiers Terrace” on it or he gave the CD to my sister and I stole it from her, but either way once I heard that track it clicked, and Echo became a band that I really liked. It took time and I had to get pushed from a few different places, but I found my way to something good.

Illustration by Annie Mountcastle

Illustration by Annie Mountcastle

That same year, 2003, is when the original RS500 dropped. My dad saw a copy at the grocery and gave it to me. I was 22 and home from school for Christmas and, being home with little to do, I obsessed over it. I read every review twice, I circled albums I wanted to hear by bands that seemed interesting. The issue was especially important then because by 2003, I had reached peak snob. I was really into punk and hardcore and shows in basements. I am sure you know the type. If my present self sat at a table with my friends from 2003 I doubt I could keep up, so insular and specific was our world. The RS500 started to chip away at a lot of my pretensions and gave me context for not only the music I loved, but also the music I hated. And sometimes context is enough to make a Honky Chateau or At Budokan seem listenable. This was good, I needed to lighten up or I might have turned into someone like Barry...only I would have been so much worse.

The scene in High Fidelity is three minutes long. In that short time, the dialogue references Echo and the Bunnymen, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Bob Dylan, Green Day, the Stiff Little Fingers, the Beta Band, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Serge Gainsbourg, and Joni Mitchell.  There are also clearly visible record covers from Bad Brains, the Mummies, Motorhead, and the Minutemen, and these are just the ones I can identify. It’s hardly a 500-album compendium. But it stuck with me. I got a nudge. Maybe without it I don’t vibe with “The Killing Moon” and maybe I’m not here right now typing this. It gets harder and harder to stay stoked on new tunes. So if you’ve heard something good, let me know. And if you see that Echo/JMC connection you’ll have to enlighten me, because it doesn’t make any sense at all.

—Steven Casimer Kowalski