Returning to Guided By Voices' album "Bee Thousand" on its 20th Anniversary

How Robert Pollard Changed My Life

June 20, 2014 / by / 132 Comments

There have been numerous times in my life where I have been told that “this band will change your life.” Usually, the life changing band in question would be the requisite four guys in hipster clothing that make up the latest indie band of the moment. Sometimes, the band would fail to really gel with me.

Rarely, there would be a band that I actually really enjoyed, like when my AP Stats teacher introduced me to the Dirty Projectors.

But never has a band that was supposedly going to change my life actually change my life.

Maybe it’s because I’m just a cynical sourpuss, but I like to tell myself that it’s because I need to discover a band on my own terms for them to create an impact that changes my existence. A band needs to find me in the right, unexpected moment to get at my core and fundamentally alter it.

I was organizing my dad’s CD collection1 early in my sophomore year of high school2 when I saw Guided By Voices’ Bee Thousand out of place near Yaz’s debut Upstairs at Eric’s.3 Before I placed Bee Thousand in its rightful place,4 I decided to download it onto my iPod because I needed a change of pace from The Suburbs. When I sat down later that day to listen to the record, I got upset that no one ever told me that Guided By Voices would change my life.

I was still pretty insufferable when I discovered Bee Thousand. I was a depressed, perpetually nervous boy who hid behind a thin veil music snobbery. Do you remember the kid who would post song links on facebook while making fun of whatever was popular at the time? Yeah, that was a favorite activity of a young Joshua D. Razo while he was sitting in his room pretending he knew what The Pixies were really about. It wasn’t until bus ride after bus ride listening to Bee Thousand that I began to chill out into becoming a semi-normal human being. Robert Pollard’s beautifully constructed melodies mellowed me during a particularly high-strung period of my life. Before I heard “Hardcore UFOs,” I used to sit down on the bus with contempt for whatever my schoolmates were listening to on their ride. “UHHHHH. He’s probably listening to Prince Royce or Don Omar or some shit.” I’m 100% sure that I’ve had this thought before. After Bee Thousand though, whatever my classmates were listening to didn’t matter. I was too entranced in a masterpiece to care.

Listening to Bee Thousand now, I see all the songs as brief opuses that allow me to feel a full spectrum of emotions in ninety seconds. No song on the album does this more perfectly than “I am a Scientist.” It’s a perfect song. I didn’t realize that anyone could summarize all of my feelings and all of my insecurities in under three minutes but Pollard did it. “I am a Scientist” will forever remain untouchable in my book because it never fails to resurface the pain and triumph of being fifteen when I listen it.

It wasn’t just “I am a Scientist” that I made about my situation. I’m sure I misinterpreted every lyric of this album to fit whatever emotional need I needed it to fit over the past four years. The thing about Bee Thousand, however, is that it begs you to interpret it from your perspective. From young hipsterdom to whatever the fuck I am now (I like to think of myself as “Dad Cool,” like the type of Dad that has tattoos and likes baseball a lot), Bee Thousand carries with it the weight of my misspent high school years and the wonder and hope that is my future in college.

I can’t thank Robert Pollard and the GBV lineup enough for beginning the process of chilling me out. On this album’s 20th anniversary, they are playing a free show at a Chicago festival. I will be out of the country on that date, so I can’t say so to them myself.5 It’s probably a good thing, because I would have likely cried in front of my heroes which, sadly, is a recurring motif in my life.