Thirty years ago, in the summer of 1988, the Dream Syndicate released the album Ghost Stories. Although the band was one of the defining acts of the Paisley Underground movement that spun out of Los Angeles in the nineteen-eighties — and produced at least one fount of major hits in the Bangles — the Dream Syndicate simply couldn’t catch a break. They were a strong presence on college radio, but a true commercial breakthrough proved elusive. And they had particularly bad luck with record labels, leading to several instances of dissolution and reassembly during the decade. A&M Records dropped them after their 1984 album, Medicine Show, and their next home, Big Time Records, folded shortly after the release of the follow-up, Out of the Grey.
Enigma Records gave the Dream Syndicate what would prove to be their final shot (at least until the following century brought on the improbably bustling procession of relatively obscure college rock bands making reunion records). With a big batch of genially morbid songs penned by frontman Steve Wynn, the band started working with producer Elliot Mazer, famed for his efforts behind the boards on some of Neil Young’s most beloved recordings. All those years of collaborating with rock’s notorious curmudgeon evidently shaped Mazer’s view of how things should proceed in the studio. He reportedly stirred trouble and fomented disagreements, believing toxic environments led to more striking art. For a band already worn out by the brutality of the music industry, it seemed this creative experience may have been the knockout blow. The Dream Syndicate called it quits the following year.
I didn’t know any of this when I sat in my college radio station’s air chair and regularly, eagerly pulled Ghost Stories from the new music rotation. I just knew the music was dandy, and, well trained to believe in albums as cohesive artistic statements, I appreciated the way the mildly grim, tenderly morose song titles (“Weathered and Torn,” “See That My Grave is Kept Clean,” “Someplace Better Than This,” “When the Curtain Fall”) were a proper reflection of the overall work’s title. As a teenager ludicrously pining for the days when I, too, could wallow in melancholy nostalgia, I was especially fond of “My Old Haunts.” The fact that the lyrics evoked bitterness about the remembered past (“So don’t sing me your songs about the good times/ Those days are gone and you should just let them go”) only enhanced my appreciation. At times, I was an odd fellow.
Listen or download —> The Dream Syndicate, “My Old Haunts”
(Disclaimer: I believe Ghost Stories to be currently unavailable in a physical format that can be procured from your favorite local, independently owned record store in a manner that compensates both the original artist and the proprietor of said shop. I am sharing its music in this space with the understanding that it causes no undue fiscal harm to any deserving individuals. I am also sharing it as an encouragement to go out and buy some music. Remember what’s great about discovering new music, and go buy some today. Although I believe my sharing of this track constitutes fair use, I do know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove this file from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)