Den McHenry

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In Praise of Weird Stuff

Published by Den McHenry

In which I remember how being the weird one in the family helped me become a little more weird.

Sometime in the 90s β€” between 1993 and 1995 β€” I was given something that changed my life in small but probably important ways. My aunt's boyfriend worked at a junkyard, and it was a good thing for the family, because we'd get car parts for free when we needed them. And we'd also get other things, like a banjo or an old autoharp, which I still have.

So one day my aunt gave me a travel case for audio cassettes. I think it was mostly empty, but it had, in her words, "weird stuff," that she thought I might be into. I was the artist in the family because I liked to read and draw comics, so I was probably supposed to know what was cool, but that was incredibly low bar. And I'd never heard anything like this.

Here's a pretty accurate drawing of me reacting to the contents of the case.

A cartoonish self-portrait of my younger self from the nineties, looking surprised as the band names the Grifters, Pavement, and Polvo surround my head.

I'm sure there were other things, but what I remember most were copies of Pavement's Westing (by Musket and Sextant) (Drag City, 1993), Polvo's Cor-Crane Secret (Merge, 1992) and the Grifters' now out-of-print debut So Happy Together (Sonic Noise, 1992).

I wasn't ready for it, but I knew it was more than just weird. It was noisy, sure, but it wasn't just noise. It was really my first glimpse into indie rock, and primed me both to seek out and to be able to appreciate the music that I still love most today. Without that chance gift of the mysterious cassette case, I may not have understood Guided by Voices or the Microphones, or gone back to discover Swell Maps or the Minutemen.

And so I'm writing this little letter to myself to say, "embrace the weird stuff." I guess David Bowie already said it: "turn and face the strange," but it's worth saying again.

"Stay open to new and different things," sounds like the most banal advice, but it works. One thing more than that: do new and different things, even in small, seemingly inconsequential ways. Small things may seem big down the road.