The Afghan Whigs were one of my first lessons in rock-n-roll; liking what you want to like without any regard for what other people think. Post-Nirvana and pre-Pavement, I still hadn't learned to articulate what I liked musically; I just knew I was tired of pretending I actually enjoyed bands like Sponge, Candlebox and Stone Temple Pilots. In these early years when I was first discovering rock-n-roll, I relied on a friend as a barometer of whatever definition of cool I was trying to form at the time. In 1993, Gentleman dropped and the single of the same name got buzz bin attention. "Gentleman" had what few bands had since Nirvana; soul. But when I first saw the video, probably on 120 Minutes on MTV after midnight, I knew I liked it, but I didn't know why. It had a different song structure than what I was used to but to me, the single stood out in the post-grunge wave of singles that, in retrospect, I can't believe were more popular, mostly because frontman Greg Dulli could actually sing. I wish I could find the original video I saw past midnight more than 15 years ago but this is the best I can do: a very very young Jon Stewart introducing the band on his MTV show so long ago.
I remember asking said friend what he thought of the Afghan Whigs. Being the same friend who championed Seven Mary Three and Silverchair and all the other post-grunge crap, he merely shrugged his shoulders. But before he could even finish shrugging, the tall, black, basketball-playing jock in our class had overheard and his eyes lit up. "Gentle men!" he said, and I still remember how he said each syllable as if they were three separate words. "You like them?" I asked, and instead of replying, he started singing.
Your attention please
Now turn off the lights!
Your infection please
I haven't got all night!
He sang with a certain sneer and snapped his fingers and I discovered a beat in the song I hadn't noticed before. "Dude can sing," he said. When my friend changed his tune and admitted that he did like them, I knew I was onto something. I bought the CD and while I only occasionally listened to it (man, "Fountain and Fairfax" still kills me), I found myself coming back to it enough to buy Black Love when it dropped in 1996. While Gentlemen was placed very high on many best-of-decade lists, it was Black Love that made me a lifelong fan, a soundtrack to dark romance noir film that was never made. I don't know why I've never heard "Going to Town" on the dance floor:
I admit I am not very intimate with 1965, the last Whigs album, nor am I as acquainted with the Twilight Singers as well as a self-professed Dulli fan should be, and my venture to the Gutter Twins was unmemorable. As far as his other musical ventures, I'm much more fond of his work imitating John Lennon fronting the alt-rock supergroup on The Backbeats soundtrack, and the Afghan Whig's choice in covers is unparalleled. Any rock band worth its salt can cover The Clash or The Smiths (which the Whigs have done, practically in their sleep) but it takes a special band to cover Barry White, Martha and the Vandellas, New Order, The Supremes, Hole, Al Green, Patti Smith, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Billie Holiday and, my favorite, "Creep," which throws an added curve ball when you realize they're not covering Radiohead, but TLC.
Top 5 Most-Played songs by the Afghan Whigs on my ipod:
"Creep" (TLC) - (24 plays)
"Going to Town" - (22 plays)
"Crime Scene Part 1" - (20 plays)
"Fountain and Fairfax" - (17 plays)
"Come See About Me" (The Supremes) - (16 plays)