Belly — King
You’re reading an article from a guy that’s trying to re-acquire 97 autographed albums from his youth so I’m willing to bet that you have some records that are special to you. Belly’s second album, King is special to me.
I’ve been thinking about this post for a while, but I needed time to process what this project was about and how I could give this album it’s due. (Spoiler alert: I can’t) I also thought about waiting to write about it until after I got in contact with the Australian woman who purchased my copy. (Why did I decide to sell internationally?!?) I have plenty of time since she’s on sabbatical and not answering her work emails right now, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, I was gifted a copy by the woman who bought my Veruca Salt LP. It seemed like a good time to try to tackle this one.
The album was released on Valentine’s Day, 1995. (A few months before I broke up with my girlfriend of three years, but I’ll get to that.) The cover is a piece of art on it’s own and immediately drew me in, even without hearing a note. Chris Bigg’s utilization of gambling imagery (spurred by photos taken by drummer Chris Gorman) — dice, card suits, pool balls and dominoes — along with the gold color gave the record a “Vegas” feel. It would’ve been in place hanging on the wall of a casino in the movie “Swingers”. Bigg says the band came up with the name ‘King’ after seeing his designs.
I bought King without hearing one song. In the pre-Internet/pre-Spotify era, you had to go to a record store if you wanted to hear an album in its entirety before buying it. By 1995, I had a group of trusted music critics whose ears were similar to mine. Combined with the trust and knowledge of the staff of my favorite record stores where I was on a first-name basis, I didn’t have to waste valuable shopping time listening to full albums — usually two songs did the trick. When I got home, I put it on the turntable and pressed ‘record’ on my tape deck so I could make a copy to listen to in my car. King hit my ears at a critical time in my life. I was already in the grip of depression — distancing myself from my girlfriend, growing more disgruntled at my job, and burying myself in my various obsessions (music and baseball) to keep even darker thoughts temporarily at bay. The music sounded incredible — the perfect blend of pop and rock. The songs were quickly memorized, the basslines immediately practiced (although I never mastered them), and the cassette became a constant companion in my Jeep.
As I sunk deeper into depression, I reached a point where I felt I was a burden to those around me and kept trying to withdraw so they wouldn’t be equally sad or depressed in my presence. I thought I was trying to protect them but I ended up hurting them instead. My actions, even though they had the best intentions, ended up hurting those closest to me. Tanya Donelly best described how I felt about myself at the time with two simple lines:
“On every track I’ve fractured every back/ Thinking the point was to step on every crack”
That lyric is so simple yet so complex. There was so much that could be read between the lines, or completely dismissed as just a clever rhyme. After about a month, I knew that whenever they came to town, I was going to see them. Fortunately, they were coming to the State Theatre a month later. In those days, I got off work at 2:30PM and instead of driving home and back to downtown Detroit a few hours later, it was easier (and cheaper) to just hang out downtown. This gave me the opportunity to wait by the venue to get my album signed. A couple of days before the show, the newest issue of Rolling Stone came out with Belly on the cover. A rep from the record company brought posters of the cover to the venue and hung them all over. She gave me one as my girlfriend and I waited for the band to arrive for soundcheck.
Tanya, Tom, Chris and Gail couldn’t have been nicer. They chatted with us for a few minutes, signed every album, flier, poster and magazine that fans presented.
The show was excellent. It was the first time I witnessed bassist Gail Greenwood’s nonstop energy. Watching her pogo and headbang onstage while Tanya and Tom Gorman played their guitars methodically, I realized the contradiction that was Belly. They did rock, but the singing was so sweet (often in direct opposition to the subject matter) and the lyrics so layered that all 3,000 people in the State Theater probably had 3,000 different perceptions of the band. I scored Tanya’s set list after the show and looked forward to their next Detroit appearance.
In the months that passed between Detroit-area Belly shows, my depression and a selfish need to constantly feel validated caused me to push my girlfriend away for the last time. And immediately start the process anew with another woman. (Which predictably ended with BOTH of us pushing each other away.)
The guilt over my breakup combined with a self-loathing about not being a good enough person for my new girlfriend made the rest of 1995 a bit of a roller coaster. By the time Belly returned to the Michigan Theater in October, the band was on the verge of breaking up and I was on a road that led to diagnosis, therapy and medication for my depression.
“Red, you look tired. You look older than your mother…..Red, in your slumber, you look younger. So much stronger…..”
Through the years, I’ve kept coming back to the King album. Not just for ‘Seal My Fate’, but for ‘Puberty’, ‘Super-Connected’ ‘Red’ and the rest. The whole album captures the range of emotions I have felt in the throes of depression while still being upbeat enough to provide optimism that I will put it in my rearview mirror for good.
Shortly after the Michigan Theater show, Belly broke up. Until…..
Last February they announced their return and subsequent tour. There wasn’t a Detroit show, but there was one on a Saturday in Chicago which meant I could go without taking a day off work. I got to the venue early and met an incredible group of welcoming fans who all had a detailed story about what Belly meant to them. They all held out hope for a reunion and once it was announced, many attended multiple shows. I’m forever grateful that I made the trip and I can honestly say the 2016 show was better than both 1995 shows I saw.
I would see Lush two days later in Detroit. By then, I think I’d already decided to get my records back. I got to know so much about myself with the help of those records. I have to at least try to get them back.