The Feelies – The Good Earth (1986)

During my freshman year of college I had a reputation as being the dorm’s computer guy. Not that I’m particularly savvy in that area but I was at least on the same level as a technically inclined 13 year-old. Once word spread that I knew how to “get the internet working” I was suddenly installing printers and doing virus scans for everyone on the floor. Not that I minded too much – it was a good way to meet cute girls and get free beer. At one point I spent three hours troubleshooting for some hunting bro whose computer was one of the most messed up I’ve ever seen – the thing was just completely slammed with viruses, to the point where it was effectively useless. Before I finished up some people knocked on the door to drink a few beers and play cards and the dude kicked me out, saying I should come back tomorrow. I did it because I’m a sucker, but it did hurt a bit…after all who likes beer and cards more than yours truly?

A month later I’m dicking around on my own PC before bed and I notice there’s a dorm network up and running. Not much there but a few mostly-empty share folders, but after some clicking around what do I see but hunting bro’s entire computer shared on the thing, totally open to anyone who could find it. Well 18-year old idiot prankster me wasn’t going to let something like that slide. It takes about 20 seconds to find the dirty pictures, cleverly hidden in “New Folder”. This is around the time of my newfound Aphex Twin obsession, so I decide the right thing to do is to photoshop the Windowlicker face on one of the pictures. Truly a disturbing sight. At the time I was amazed it even let me save it – I don’t know a whole lot about networks but I at least figured you wouldn’t be granting write access out of the box. I decide to pull the whole “take a screenshot of the desktop, set it to the background, and delete the shortcuts” prank, only to find you can’t really do that over a network. I deleted some of the shortcuts on the desktop but thought better of it and decided to put them back. Why am I screwing around with this guy, whose only crime is being (apparently) totally computer illiterate? But it turns out you can’t undelete things through the network so whoops, I guess they were just gone.

Sure enough he’d stopped me in the halls a day later, saying that all his programs disappeared and asking if I knew how to get them back. I wind up telling him that yeah, I deleted your shortcuts because I saw your entire computer on a shared network and I wanted to see what it would let me do, but couldn’t bring them back, blah blah blah…in retrospect I should’ve kept my mouth shut, because there’s no way to say that without coming off like a creep. I fixed him up and took his computer off the network and that was that. Or so I thought. About a month later I get a call from Public Safety asking me to come to their office. They start talking about some alleged computer hacking that’s been going around on campus and this and that and I honestly have no clue what’s going on. After a couple minutes I realize he’s talking about me, and I have to explain….no, no, no, there’s no hacking, the guy left his computer on the shared network and I deleted the icons, just a dumb prank. He sends me away but a week later I get another call saying they’ve chatted “with all relevant parties” and they’ve decided to press charges. Guess he found the picture. I wind up with a $400 citation for “Computer Use”, whatever the hell that means.

For the record I still don’t think I did anything illegal, or at least nothing that was going to hold up in Idiot Court or wherever I had to go to plead my case. Who’s going to uphold a big fine for deleting shortcuts, unless the victim wants to personally show up and describe what he found in his secret folder? On the other hand I don’t really know the law at all and thought there was a small chance this could be potentially serious, so I decided to be smart about it, talking to a friend of mine who just happened to be a lawyer. He offered to take up the case for a box of Magic cards, no joke. Long story short I didn’t pay the fine but I had to do 25 hours of community service, which in my typical fashion I put off until the last available week. I wound up spending it helping the grounds crew on campus, which basically amounted to picking up garbage and driving a pretty badass mower around the fields. But mostly garbage collection. I picked a bad week to do it, since it was getting cold and everyone was moving out, which meant a lot more trash and a lot more “why are you picking up garbage, dude?” I mean as cool as it was garnering a reputation as a “computer hacker” (I wish) it kinda blows your credibility when you’re picking up Pop-Tart wrappers and empty Mountain Dew cans outside the dorms.

The_Good_Earth_(The_Feelies_album)_front_coverThe Good Earth was my soundtrack to those times – I listened to it twice every day that week. Even now when I hear it I’m reminded of my brief stint as a garbage man. Music’s funny like that. I picked it up on a whim, too – I loved Crazy Rhythms but wasn’t really interested in the band. After all most of the appeal of that record was in their youth, nervousness, and inexperience; they felt like the sort of band that were bound to get less interesting as they went on. Plus they never really released a follow-up; The Good Earth came six years later, after the band had already washed out in a sense. I mean The Feelies had already broken up, splintering into a bunch of different bands (The Trypes, The Willies, and Yung Wu), then eventually reforming without their original drummer, and if you’ve heard Crazy Rhythms you know that’s kind of a big deal. Alas, the Feelies of ’86 were going to sound different than the Feelies of ’80 anyway, now that the band members were closer to 30 than 20, presumably becoming a bit less jittery and angsty in the interim.

The main difference here is that the sound is much warmer and pastoral, the aural equivalent of a sunny and windless day. You really do get the sense that this was recorded out in a barn somewhere in Kansas; on one track (“When Company Comes”) you can hear dogs barking and kids playing, which marks a big shift from the tightly-wound studio creation of the debut. The other thing is that the album just sounds good; maybe it’s all those acoustic guitars, those fun-as-a-jig shuffling rhythms, or Glenn Mercer’s mumbling, almost incomprehensible vocals. But whatever it is, the whole thing just sounds inviting – just as hooky as Crazy Rhythms, but without all the jagged edges. This sort of thing isn’t usually my bag, but when it’s done this well, it is. Ten songs, thirty-six minutes, and not a dull spot in the bunch. Certainly I’ve got my favorites – hard to argue against album centerpiece “Slipping (into Something)” as a career highlight, and the catchy-as-sin “High Road” and “Let’s Go” are the sort of tunes that I wind up sticking on tons of playlists. Plus, despite the overall softness in the sound here, I’m always surprised at how energetic and brisk a listen this is. Sort of the best of both worlds, in a sense. Hey, it made cleaning up garbage tolerable. Imagine what it can do for you.

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