Ned’s Atomic Dustbin - “Grey Cell Green”
I didn’t really have a Todd figure growing up — an accessible idol, a kid a few years older than me who despite living in my same town with the same basic set-up somehow transcended all that and became everything I wanted to be. There were the guys in the local band Effigy, I guess, all of whom appeared to own the Pailhead EP on cassette, but my own band Special Agent Gumby played shows with them so many times that our membership became all but interchangeable and thus the distance necessary to idolize them was lost. When you’ve gotten footlongs and slurpees with people at the 7-11 after band practice and then gone on to play a “Wish”/”Supernaut” medley with them at the battle of the bands at St. Anne’s, you realize they’re just folks.
The closet thing I can think of to a full-fledged Todd was a fellow with the improbable cool-guy name of Howie. Howie was a senior when we were all freshmen (I went to an all-boy’s Catholic high school one town over but still hung out mainly with kids from my local public HS), and he had two main distinguishing characteristics: He was inutterably handsome in the most early-’90s alt way imaginable (think Bobby Briggs from Twin Peaks, but taller and more inscrutable), and he had a leather jacket with the paint-splattery radioactivity-symbol logo of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin in blue on the back. We’d watch him swan around the parking lot and smoking section in that thing, watch totally normal preppy girls melt down at the sight of him, and think “Okay, Howie’s got it figured out.”
The funny thing is that Howie’s style was, in retrospect, nothing like the Neds’. It’s tough to imagine any of these long-haired tie-dyed thrift-store grebo guys sporting that Fonziesque leather jacket (which makes me wonder if he DIY’d it, which makes it even cooler). But! Howie’s benediction of the band gave them a pride of place in our personal pantheon of cool bands that was totally disproportionate to their impact in the real world, or their slot in that world’s canon. Ned’s melodic swirls and manic percussion and playing-treble-on-the-bass hooks and overenunciated vowels and bittersweet/sweetly bitter lyrics about romantic regrets and resentments became samizdat, a way for us to mark ourselves as both apart and elect. Since the altrock boom never really touched them, that never really went away, either. No need to worry whether Z100 would start playing “All I Ask of Myself Is That I Hold Together”! Ned’s was our little secret, and secrets are good to have and to share.