It was 1985. I was 17. I was given a dorm room at UC-Santa Barbara and a new roommate from deep in the Inland Empire, Canyon Country to be exact. This guy proved to be quite a piece of work. When he learned that there was - gasp- a gay guy amongst us on the dorm floor, he took it upon himself to write a charming note that said "No fags use this stall, I don't want AIDS", and taped it in the communal bathroom. He and his pal would pour several bottles of liquid paper into a bag on a Friday night, and then violently huff it until they drooped over, while the rest of us sat in shocked silence while nursing our Meister Brau cans. Ah yes, to be young again. This particular nihilist also turned me onto one of my favorite records ever, the DREAM SYNDICATE's "The Days of Wine and Roses", which had come out a few years before but which I'd only read about and seen in stores (it somehow seemed to miss the orbit of my teenage college radio station, which was probably a little too stuck on English post-punk to notice the dozens of incredible American bands making noise at the time). I think I can forgive just about anything he ever did - including the time he wouldn't let me walk within 5 feet of "his side" of the room because I had a cold, or when he would open our door by putting his hand under his shirt to protect himself from germs - because he gave me the gift of knowing about this singular masterpiece.
I think it's probably fair to say that I've spun this record more than any single disc outside of the FLESH EATERS' "A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die". From the thumping single snare intro to “Tell Me When It’s Over” to the abrupt static-sharp end to the feedback swirl of the title track, “The Days of Wine and Roses” is rootsy American indie rock’s shining moment of the 80s. The album traffics heavily in multiple VELVET UNDERGROUND-isms, from choppy guitar to targeted feedback whine to complete & utter lyric lifts like the opening to “When You Smile”. Back in the early/mid 80s you’d hear a lot of talk about how the nascent indie bands of the day, particularly many the ones from LA, were heavily influenced by 60s acts like The Byrds, the Stones and some of the harder psych bands, and actually this sound was often dubbed “college rock” due to its frequent play on American college radio. But I always figured that tag was applied to safer, more genteel acts like R.E.M. or THE THREE O’CLOCK, and a band like the Dream Syndicate, with a real hard edge and squalling sound, only got that tag because their key influences were so obviously 60s-based as well. Anyway, this album busted the band into the hearts of many, and it wasn’t long before you found rock-n-rollers the world over pining for guitar god Karl Precoda or for winsome bass player Kendra Smith (who unfortunately left the band after this record). Europeans in particular ate it up, as they so often do, sometimes years before Americans rightly figure it out.
I was playing the expanded CD of this recently and I had a few thoughts. First, that opening single snare on the all-time classic “Tell Me When It’s Over”, the one that precedes the shredding psych guitar line that defines the song? Which is all of one second long? It’s TOTALLY MUTED on the CD. It’s lame! On the LP it was loud, hard, and in your face – here it’s almost gone. What a bummer way to start the listening party, but at least it's only a second. Other than that, though, the CD sounds just like the record, which is to say pretty goddamn great. They were kind enough to tack on most of the band’s debut 12”EP on their own “Down There” Records (the “green EP”), as well as some revealing rehearsal takes + the lost 45 from Steve Wynn’s early solo act 15 MINUTES. Like for instance, the song “That’s What You Always Say”, easily one of this amazing album’s top songs, gets 4 different versions going back in time to that weirdo, drum-machine-driven 15 Minutes single, and every time it was recorded it just got better, and it’s great to hear it taking shape in reverse order. The LP version, of course, was by far the best. Those EP tracks actually sound really stark and demo-ish in comparison to the LP, and while that's often a compliment, this time it's not. If they'd broken up after that first EP they'd be thought of as just another pretty good paisley/roots/garage act of the day, like NAKED PREY or solo RUSS TOLMAN, but "Wine and Roses" is just full-tilt overdrive on everything that made them so wonderful. I anticipate it being among my Top 10 favorite albums until the day I die, and I hope you get a chance to appreciate it as much as I do if you don't already.