Something I don't mind telling you: I had an Everclear T-shirt. It had a big neon green star on the front and said "White Trash and Proud of It" on the back. I didn't know that last bit till the guy came and took it off the wall, but I bought it anyway. I caught some snickers and hostile mutters when I'd sit on the number 7 bus crawling up Rainier or be standing in line at the old Rite-Aid downtown waiting to pay for a Snapple or whatever. Punk rock, baby: I was really fucking people's heads up out here. "I can hear them talking in the real world, but they don't understand." Still, I knew better than to let Moms see it, so that usual waist-flannel would actually go on my back when I sported the shirt within her eyesight. There's punk rock, and there's self-preservation.
I'd gotten hip to the Portland trio via an acquaintance whom I'd read till then as having zero taste to speak of—but he suggested I borrow his copy of their debut, World of Noise, released on Portland's Tim/Kerr. It was allegedly recorded for $400—an even smaller sum than it was said it cost to record Bleach—and sounded like it. The songs were precisely the kind of anxious, maudlin crap that spoke to my deep well of alienation and the life of star-crossed heartbreak that I imagined ahead of me. Art Alexakis's workmanlike rasp—tinged with that kind of brutish, budget John Doe honkiness—was great at exuding toughness and hurt at the same time.
Sparkle and Fade dropped in 1995—the same week that Christopher Reeve fell off his horse. I bought it at Sam Goody or Tower or (sigh) Cellophane Square with my Safeway money and listened to it on a skippy off-brand Discman. "Heroin Girl" was a legitimate smash of course, said to be a real story, but it wasn't, aside from "I heard the policeman say/just another overdose" (that was about Alexakis's older brother, who had died in 1974). "Santa Monica," possibly their most beloved song, always tugged on my heart's ligaments. I really used to swim out past the breakers with my mother, though down the boardwalk at Venice—and has everybody always felt like they're watching the world dying? I was homesick—"I just wanna see some palm trees."
I gave Sparkle a gang of burn through the remainder of the 1990s, but I must've burned out. It did indeed Fade for me, as I've barely thought about it since then. (Unless it was to make a joke about interracial-love jam "Heartspark Dollarsign," that ham-and-cheese-Hot-Pocket of a song, which—though I'd always kinda regarded it with a bemused cocked head, terrier style—I always appreciated. It felt like the closest thing in the canon of alt-rock to acknowledging a black person's existence aside from Mrs. John Murphy seeing them two balling in the bushes.)
Listening to the album two decades later, I'm happy to report that it's as familiar as my old bedroom and strangely salving. Even those sleepier bits, like "Strawberry" or "Pale Green Stars," that I tended to skip on my way to "Nehalem" I appreciate more today. Despite Alexakis's sullen she-hurt-me anger bullshit I can hear more clearly—having found plenty of it in myself as well, don't get it twisted—I find that Sparkle and Fade still holds up, a memorable mid-'90s time capsule of trashy angst poems that's probably soundtracked many a fortysomething dad's divorce. What was I thinking about at 15, listening to Alexakis talk about addiction, about restarting, about feeling like a whore? I guess it resonated with a certain unearned wistfulness I had back then—and obviously still have, just regarding 20 years' worth more of shit.
Today, my girl laughed at me while I blared the album on repeat—before emerging from our neglected record collection with her own copy of it on slimer-green vinyl, laughing some more. It's assuredly not cool to like Everclear, and today Art Alexakis is hardly spoken of like a beloved Northwest rock fixture. In 2009, the Portland Mercury called him "The Most Hated Musician in Portland" (which led to some good Courtney Taylor-Taylor jokes in the comments). I doubt that Craig Montoya or whoever is in this incarnation of the band— Alexakis, who recently, classily, said in an interview that he "was Everclear"—would have disputed the title. It might be meaningful that this 20th anniversary cash-grab tour is hitting a rock club like El Corazón and not Alexakis's usual casino circuit, but it all sounds pretty much like the life he always described: a better-days-behind-us one, taking regret and lost relationships as a given and hoping that you can (sort of) relate.