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Beat Happening - Music to Climb the Apple Tree By

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Artist: Beat Happening

Album: Music to Climb the Apple Tree By

Label: K

Review date: Aug. 7, 2003

Beat's B-Side Redux

Twenty years ago three friends had an idea for an international pop underground, a place stylistically and musically rooted in punk rock's great ideal where the only rules are those you set yourself. Well, Beat Happening made good on their ideals and last year's extensive box set Crashing Through is only part of the proof. Like most "scenes" of the early and mid-’80s, Olympia gestated for years, developing its own localized touches and idiosyncrasies that would form its foundation.

Just look at the bands influenced by both the Beat and Calvin Johnson's K record label – Nirvana, Superchunck, Ida, Bikini Kill and a score of others owe a debt to this little band that could. Much like England's Young Marble Giants (one of the band's influences), Beat Happening helped broaden the definition of what a punk band could sound like. With limited musical competence and a lot of desire, the Olympia Washington trio celebrated on a superficial level the innocent joys of hugs, Hello Kitty, and holding hands. Underneath the idyllic parade of cake walks and hot chocolate, however, lays a darker irony which found the band dealing with a lot of the gender and personal politics that were later championed by the Riot Grrl movement. With hindsight it's a bit easier to see that Beat Happening took the step that say, Paul Westerburg hinted at with "Sixteen Blue", "Androgynous" or "Swingin' Party", which was to write songs that embraced a more vulnerable stance than the mohawk 'n' leather crowd we were accustomed to. All this aside, it was the music that Bret Lunsford, Heather Lewis and Calvin Johnson created that was at the core of the entire K Records aesthetic. Music to Climb The Apple Tree By collects rare and out-of-print singles along with compilation tracks from the span of Beat Happening's career. Originally released as part of Crashing Through, Music to Climb serves as both an off-the-cuff greatest hits package for new listeners and a nice way to save $70 for die-hards who already own all the band's albums, but want the rarities. Though time has been more than kind to off-kilter rave-ups like "Dreamy", “Secret Picnic Spot" and "Zombie Limbo Time", it has turned "Tales of Brave Aphrodite" and "Foggy Eyes" into near punk classics.

With Lewis' airy, Mo Tucker-ish vocals and forlorn lyricism, "Foggy Eyes" showed a generation of woman from Julie Dorin to Edith Frost that they could write songs just as inspired as the boys could. On the flip, indie rock luminary Calvin Johnson musters all the brooding, baritone crooning he could find for "Tales of Brave Aphrodite". Plucked from the Screaming Trees / Beat Happening collaborative EP, "Tales" finds Johnson perfecting the sensitive, yet eccentric indie boy image that he's mastered. At the end of the day, Beat Happening were many things, but most of all they were a cool band that wrote original, if not odd songs.

Ironically, in many ways the songs on Music to Climb The Apple Tree By have already proven their staying power. Though the band never won a big battle like Nirvana did, Beat Happening may have won the war. Just listen to the music.

By Paul Burress

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