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The first time I heard Guided by Voices was from a radio show called Not Radio in NU-107 Manila.

Guided by Voices group pic

Late Discovery

This was not the early days of GBV. This was in 2001. It was strange for me to know that it was only later I discovered about a band that existed long ago. I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t listen to it until 2001. I didn’t know GBV had existed in 1987 and in the hey days of Grunge music.

When indie bands like Sunny Day Real Estate, Sebadoh, Superchunk, Archers of Loaf among others were promising at those days (obtained from a friend’s SUB POP, Matador, order collection through his mom in the US), Guided by Voices was kind of remote to us little group of rock listeners. Maybe because of the inaccessibility of its songs in my country.

I was entertained immediately the first time I heard The Official Ironmen Rally Song in NU-107’s Not Radio. It reminded me of the unpopular new wave songs I listened in the 80’s. A combination of post-punk melody and mellow, pop ballad. Then followed “Closer You Are” and “Blimps Go 90.”

Indie Rock Rules

Guided By Voices put mainstream rock into a monotonous, redundant state. It should have made the music industry embrace a creative idea without considering the financial implications. GBV revolutionized rock n roll since Nirvana in 1991.

The intriguing thing was that it didn’t quit during the Grunge days in the 90’s, unlike most bands these days only stayed together from 3 months to 3 years. Guided By Voices have been together for 31 years. Vampire on Titus was even released during the overwhelming success of Nirvana’s Nevermind.

It was a band that probably make other alternative bands, even indie bands, say oh wait a minute, can we do that? Probably a product of envy to both alternative greats and new, promising bands of today.

The Prolific Robert Pollard

Robert ‘Uncle Bob’ Pollard has written over 1,600 songs. 500 of them were released under the name Guided By Voices. Most of their tracks are short, really short. Some are two-minute songs. Some don’t even reach the second stanza 2 minute-mark. Others are little over a minute, even less than a minute.

The most number of songs they’ve made for an album is 28, in Alien lanes. The album won’t reach 1 hour if you play them all straight. There are songs that are four, five minutes, from their other albums, but only a few. Most of their songs can reach up to a little over 2 minutes in max. Those one-minute songs–even less than that–sometimes deprive you from a moment of pleasure. But that’s the way it is.

Lo-Fi King

GBV has a formula in creating a song without compromising the band’s character. It has done it in each and every song, one after another. The quintessential lo-fi identity of Guided By Voices what made the band more unique in its form, that put them into a respectable, critically praised, rock icon. This creativity makes music engineers realize that they don’t need a good technology to make a hit song. Their songs are like diamonds hidden in a vault. That when you get them out and play, they’re priceless.

Being a musician for more than ten years, I was struck in awe with GBV. It woke me up from mediocrity and laziness. Guided By Voices put a mark in my heart from those years of regret of not having GBV as my influence and have not listened to it in my adolescence and college years.

My only fault was I lived in the Philippines.

The Hypnosis

Today, when I listen to each of their songs it makes me want to play them over and over again. Not because of the obvious recall and melodic harmony but because of the hypnosis as though I am listening to Beatles’s songs.

Uncle Bob’s British vocal tone and Sprout’s easy, power chord progression you can say you’re listening to a song from The Beatles’s White Album (or The Who’s hit songs) with a mixture of Nirvana’s Nevermind teenage guitar riffs. The songs are extraordinary pop melodies without losing its punk attitude. There are mellow, love songs. There are also fast and moderate danceable punk rock tunes.

I didn’t know the meaning of the lyrics of the songs. I just didn’t care. When I hear some words like someone tell me why, I want to start a new life, I can’t terrorize I can see terror in your eyes, and shoot yourself in rock n roll, I’m contented. They easily hypnotize me that they bring my mood into another level as if I’m taking a drug, not to mention, of course, I drink Uncle Bob’s spirit most of the time while I listen to GBV.

Every song is great; every song has its beauty; every song is an epic; every song is a single hit song; every song tells a story; every song is a favorite. Every song is like they put so much effort into it but actually it was made so easy and naturally as if they’re just playing a weekend ball game with their families.

I can’t imagine myself knowing all the meaning of the songs in an American way of life. If I did, what could have been the result of my life today? I probably would have swallowed it and forget about the realities of life and get drunk everyday. But it’s not suppose to be that way.

Right now I am content with just hearing the melodic words, chain smoke rings, at times I wish I were dead, bitter fish in crude oil sea, the club is open, zip your legs in smooth rubber.

The Magic

GBV has a different kind of magic. Not just the one that keeps a band together. But it’s something that’s already within them, especially to Uncle Bob, something they’re born with it and dedicated their lives into it. Uncle Bob used to joke when asked how he manages to write tons of songs in a short period of time. He would respond: “Well, what can I do I’m guided by voices?”

A magic that not only prolongs a band. A magic that gives pleasure. A magic that makes you think life is beautiful despite the madness and injustices. That is the real magic of GBV.

But that magic doesn’t stays forever in a band. In case of GBV and Uncle Bob I believe the magic doesn’t go away just like that.

Too bad and too sad that the band has just broke up. I remember they broke up in 2004 and it didn’t affect me in any way. Probably because I hadn’t dug the music well at those times. I hadn’t yet appreciated what Uncle Bob did to the music industry and to the fans. I hadn’t yet appreciated the effort and the prolificacy of Uncle Bob. The passion I had underestimated. Not until Uncle Bob quit his band for good.

Today I love Guided By Voices more than ever before. I never met them and never knew so much about them. I am not the right journalist to say good things about one of the greatest bands of all time.

I am just a fan, expressing, saying to Uncle Bob, thank you very much for the music.

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About the author: Nonoy


A former musician who branched out his interest in creative writing and the World Wide Web.

He writes fiction on his spare time.


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