Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Mission of Burma – "That's When I Escaped My Certain Fate" (1982)

Can I count on you
If I fall apart?

In Greek mythology, the Fates – or Moira – were three ugly old women who appeared three nights after a child's to determine the course of its life.  

Clotho, who spun the thread of life, decided who was born and when.

Lachesis, who measured the thread of life, determined how long each person would live.

Atropos chose how a person would die and cut the thread of life with her shears at the appropriate moment.

The Fates
Some of the ancient Greeks (including Aeschylus) believed that even Zeus and the other gods who lived on Olympus must submit to the Fates.  From Prometheus Bound:

Chorus: Can it be that Zeus has less power than [the Fates] do?
Prometheus: Yes, in that even he cannot escape what is foretold.

Others (including Homer) believed that Zeus and his fellow Olympians had the last word and could overrule the Fates.

Clint Conley, the Mission of Burma singer and bass player who wrote "That's How I Escaped My Certain Fate," falls into the later category.  

At first, it appeared that Conley was wrong, at least vis-à-vis the fate of Mission of Burma.

Mission of Burma then
Mission of Burma formed in Boston in the spring of 1979.  Within a matter of weeks, they were appearing regularly in rock clubs in Boston and Cambridge, where they drew enthusiastic crowds.

They released an EP (Signals, Calls, and Marches) in 1981 and an album (Vs.) in 1982.  "That's How I Escaped My Certain Fate" was the last track on Vs.  

The critics loved Vs., and it looked like Mission of Burma might become a very successful indie band.  But Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos had other plans for them.

Shortly after Vs. was released, guitarist Roger Miller announced he was leaving the band due to his worsening tinnitus.  

Tinnitus is when you hear sounds even when there are no external sounds present.  It's often referred to as "ringing in the ears."

Tinnitus is usually caused by exposure to loud noises.  Mission of Burma was notorious for playing extremely loudly at their live performances.  Miller wore earplugs plus the kind of sound-limiting headphones that shooters wear, but to no avail.  

Miller described his tinnitus in a magazine interview:

In September a middle E appeared in my left ear.  And in December a C-sharp below middle E appeared in my left ear.  In my right ear, a slight sharp E began in October.  They're forming fairly interesting chords that never leave.  When it's quit at night, the notes are screaming.

The band's final live performance was on March 26, 1983, at the Paramount Theatre on Staten Island, where they opened for Public Image, Ltd.

Mission of Burma now
But Mission of Burma reformed in 2002.  They've toured steadily since then, and have released four studio albums.  

I saw Mission of Burma in June 2008 at the Black Cat in Washington, DC.  I went with my oldest son, who gave me tickets to the show and a homemade Mission of Burma CD for my birthday the previous month.

Here's an excerpt from the DCist's review of the show:

The band may now be firmly entrenched in middle age, but don't tell them that there's a mellowing process that's supposed to go along with reaching your fifties.  Saturday's show was quite possibly the loudest we've ever heard at the Black Cat, as Burma showed all the younguns just how to blow the roof off a venue.  Fans close to the stage would have done well to ask guitarist Roger Miller to borrow an extra set of earplugs.

Of course, Burma's volume was always legendary, and a big part of the reason their star burned out so quickly during their first iteration, as the floor-shaking decibel levels had taken a serious toll on Miller's hearing.  Since their return in the early portion of the decade, though, sacrificing that cacophony has never been part of the deal; turning down the knobs would have made them an aging curiosity, cashing in on a reputation that never got them much aside from a lot of posthumous adoration.  But with amps humming at full bore, they're as vital as they were nearly 30 years ago.

That night, Mission of Burma played the songs on their one and only pre-breakup album, Vs., in order.  I had been listening to that album for a month's worth of bike rides, so I knew those songs backwards and forwards.  For me, that made the show a very satisfying one.

By contrast, when I took my son to see Sonic Youth in 1998, they were kicking off a tour to promote their new album, A Thousand Leaves.  That album was so new I didn't have a chance to buy it before the concert, so I was hearing every song for the first time.  

I rarely respond to music immediately – I need to hear songs at least two or three times before they start to grow on me – and being able to familiarize myself thoroughly with the Mission of Burma songs made all the difference.

AOL's Mandatory.com website has this to say about "That's How I Escaped My Certain Fate":

It makes absolutely no sense that (a) Mission of Burma wasn't as big as Nirvana and (b) this song wasn't the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" of 1982.  There's so much energy and amazing lyrics in this song that my brain can't compute how f*cking awesome this song is. . . . Which is why it's on our list of the 100 Most Underrated Indie Songs.

As an example of the "amazing lyrics" to this song, here's the first verse:

This might be your only chance
to prove it on your own
Tulsa's not that
Tulsa's not that far

Tulsa's not that far from Joplin, Missouri, where I grew up, but it's a long way from Boston.  I have no idea what inspired Boston native Clint Conley to give a shout-out to Tulsa (which is also known as "T-Town" and "The 918").

Here's "That's How I Escaped My Certain Fate":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

No comments:

Post a Comment