The first Can song I ever heard was "Oh Yeah." I was about 19 and in college, living with nine friends in a place we called Towers. It was the most inspiring space I've ever lived in--the top two loft-like floors of a beautiful old building in Cambridge. Every square inch of wall was splattered with paint, with drippy, waterlogged murals in intense, oversaturated colors. All sorts of surreal objects that shouldn't be hanging from ceilings were precariously suspended from the ceiling. We had a disco ball and a spotlight running in the living room constantly--24 hours a day--which grew increasingly interesting as the disco ball began shedding mirrored panels and the motor started wearing down. Our living room housed three gigantic aquariums, including a 100-gallon tank that my good friend Blake fashioned into a transparent table crammed with surly, technicolor fish. The cavernous bathroom was kept pitch-black; we wallpapered it in aluminum foil and had strobe lights running nonstop. For a good two years, our freezer was stocked with stuffed clown dolls that had been "liberated" from the thrift store. The living room had huge glass doors that opened onto a massive balcony overlooking the Charles River, making for a sweeping, wide-screen view of the Boston skyline and the water. The view was partly blocked by a grand old tree in the courtyard below, so you'd stare out at the twinkling city through this dense overgrowth of branches, through these spiraling patterns of lush green leaves. There were always people milling about in our living room, and we always had random visitors--an endless parade of characters popping in and out. Our heroes were typical addled retro teenage ones, I guess--David Bowie, the Velvet Underground, and Hunter S. Thompson--and we knew every minute aspect of their respective careers so well, memorized every stylistic tic, every lyric, every line, to the point where it actually felt like they were right there with us. To drive people out of our living room that we didn't like, we would blast a tape of horrible VU demos that we actually got pretty fond of by the end. We didn't yet know Can.
Back to "Oh Yeah." I was sitting in the living room on a hazy summer evening. There was no one around, which was strange--there was always someone hanging out and avoiding work, or at least someone passed out on the cold bathroom floor. And then "Oh Yeah" started playing. I was sitting in the living room on the ugly orange plaid couch, a '70s relic we couldn't bear to throw out even after part of it caught on fire. The big glass doors were open, and I was staring out at the skyline. It had started to rain. It was raining harder and harder, the way it does in summer where it starts raining intensely and then stops just as suddenly. The sky was getting darker. I wasn't sure where the song began, because it starts with what sounds like a thunderstorm and rain. Everything melted together--the sad weird keyboards, the apocalyptic-yet-comforting beat, the eerie mumbles, the way the rain looked, how surreal the rain looked, through those half-open glass doors, the storm clouds gathering, the labyrinthine guitar solo, the cryptic incantations, the heavy breeze filtering into the living room, the disorienting up-and-down bassline. It was so physically overwhelming, so colossally overpowering, that I thought I was going to be sick. And then with a clap of thunder it was over.