I’m still frequenting a handful of used-music haunts all over the city, but now I’m also rummaging through their cheap, last-chance vinyl bins. As a child of the CD age (and the desire to be a mock-hip rebellious young adult), old 33 RPM records suddenly seem pretty cool to me after I see one fetishized in The Crow, of all places. I spend $50 on a gloriously trashy boombox from Best Buy that actually comes with a turntable. The sound’s shit, and you have to control the needle arm by hand, but it works.

Within a year, I amass about fifty used records, most of them purchased for a buck or less--the most I spend on a single album is $5.00 for a pristine copy of Morrissey’s first solo record, Viva Hate (which I’ve probably only listened to in its entirety once). Whenever my friend Agnes comes home from college, I inevitably steer her towards an afternoon of thumbing through bins of decaying vinyl at Prospect Music or Half Price Books (a great Midwestern chain that sold much more than books). We have a blast sifting our way through piles of crap and kitsch for elusive, hidden gold, fighting over stuff like a copy of David Bowie’s out-of-print, first greatest hits album, Changesonebowie.

I start attending concerts semi-regularly, even going so far as to stand in a long, long line for R.E.M. tickets on a chilly January Saturday morning. The concert, part of the infamous Monster tour (where drummer Bill Berry suffered his brain aneurysm), didn’t even occur for another four months. While I’m glad I saw R.E.M. before they sadly began to really suck, the loud, corporate-tinged experience epitomized everything I detest about live shows (and for that matter, the Monster album, the band’s disappointing, misguided follow-up to my beloved Automatic For the People).

That spring, I also take the bus to Madison to catch They Might Be Giants (whose shtick is already starting to wear thin on me); their opening act, alt-beat-rock combo Soul Coughing puts on the best live show I’ll see in years. It’s certainly a more fulfilling experience than New Rock Fest on Memorial Day. Cashing in on the alt-rock zeitgeist, New Rock 102.1 presents their own day-long Lollapalooza at the Lakefront, and of course my friends and I all go. Violent Femmes, the most important band to ever come out of Milwaukee, are naturally the headliners. The rest of the line-up is decidedly a mish-mash of whomever the suits could get: has-beens like Faith No More and Duran Duran (the latter's offerings at the time were laughable renditions of “White Lines” and “911 is a Joke”), supposedly hot newcomers that went nowhere (the Caulfields) and one-hit wonders (Letters to Cleo, The Flaming Lips back when “She Don’t Use Jelly” was naggingly fresh in everyone’s memory). Weeks later, in a letter to a friend I described it all as a “pretty soulless experience”. In retrospect, it was worth it to see, on the pithy second stage, the Ramones in one of their final performances.

I eventually get a job working part-time as a desk receptionist for graduate student housing at Marquette--one of those cushy work-study gigs where you basically get to study while you "work". At first, I ask for mostly graveyard shifts (11:00 PM - 3:00 AM or 3:00 - 7:00 AM) because they pay a little more. The building (called The Biltmore) used to be a hotel, and the lobby is quiet and cavernous. Having just purchased a new, shinier boombox (with a CD player built in), I donate my old one to the front desk. I usually bring a handful of cassettes with me to every shift, listening to the Cowboy Junkies, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack and lots of cool jazz deep into the night.

I don’t have a new favorite band by year’s end; I couldn’t even tell you what my favorite new album of that year was (I start keeping tabs on this in ’96.) But I’m buying more music than I really should, even picking up around ten or twelve discs at Christmas break alone. In addition to Rocky Horror (which I play ad nauseam in my dorm room until it becomes glaringly obvious to everyone but myself that I’m gay), over the year I pick up stuff that I’m still fond of a decade later: PJ Harvey’s To Bring You My Love, Jill Sobule, Sam Phillips’ Martinis and Bikinis, and Bjork’s Post, just to name a few.