Rasputina, Rusty the Skatemaker

I’m sure it’s been 20 years since I last listened to this song but my body and my voice remember every note of it. Gather round and I shall sing every single word for you.

Rasputina was one of those bands that I somehow found on Naptser or Kazaa, in the heyday of peer-to-peer file-sharing. I really can’t overstate how much being able to mine other people’s music libraries helped me figure out who I was. There were no music stores in the town where I grew up, so I would read about bands on message boards and weird feminist websites and go digging around on whatever file-sharing service hadn’t been shut down that week, downloading mp3s and seeing what people who liked the songs that I liked had in their collections. I tried to explain this to students a few times over the years, and I’m sure my exhortation that “you, with your streaming services, you cannot understand how revelatory it was to suddenly have these sounds available at our fingertips (after letting them download overnight)” made me sound like a crank.

In theory the algorithms are there to spare us the labor of virtual crate-digging, but their libraries feel both too vast and too small, their parameters focused on replicating trends and vibes and not on finding songs that help me make sense of my heart. I don’t want to come across as nostalgic for the (admittedly often semi-functional) music-finding methods of the past, but I honestly find that I can never find the songs that I need in the way that I could when I was doing the very targeted, very specific hunting of the early 2000s. And while I obviously think musicians should be paid for their work, I also think one (just one!) of the terrible effects of capitalism is that we need to worry that musicians are paid for their work — that we can’t just play and listen and share and help each other create and find and dream the songs that help us figure out who we are without worrying about someone’s survival. And it’s not like the streamers have done anything to help with this.

I very unselfconciously loved weird songs like Rusty the Skatemaker at exactly the moment when I was most self-conscious about how weird I was. There is no filter or set of search terms that will surface imaginary folk songs about strange lonely girls, for strange lonely girls.