Someone tell me why I do the things that I don’t wanna do
When you’re around me I’m somebody else

They must rank up there with the greatest opening lines of all time. But it’s not St. Paul singing them, it’s St. Bob (no, not that St. Bob). We’re talking here about Robert Pollard, lead singer and main songwriter of Dayton’s lo-fi heroes, Guided By Voices. Their story is well known: Pollard spent the 80s as a fourth-grade school teacher by day and an alarmingly prolific indie-rock guru by night, before finding cult success in the early 90s with GBV’s Bee Thousand. GBV’s albums typically contain around 20 songs, many of which are under 1:30 in length, ranging in audio fidelity from answering-machine to voicemail level. But the overwhelming quantity doesn’t necessarily equate to inverse quality. When Pollard is on, no one brews a more potent mix of power chords, surreal poetry and faux British accents.

Much of GBV’s charm has to do with digging through the mess to discover the (many) miniature masterpieces. That, and filling in the missing (or inaudible) parts with your imagination. As pretentious as it sounds – and GBV are the opposite of pretentious – they take “listening for what’s not there” to a whole new level. And their sprawl is endearing; there’s something beautiful about the coarseness, something liberating about the immediacy and lack of self-consciousness. These guys really let it all hang out.

“Teenage FBI” is the product of a brief flirtation with a major label just before the turn of the century. Cars frontman Ric Ocasek coaxed them into high fidelity for Do the Collapse, a record which many of the true believers promptly (and naturally) disowned. A decade down the line, I think we can safely say that it’s a pretty terrific record, full of top-notch songwriting and inventive arrangements, with not nearly as much (soulless) sheen as it was accused of at the time. They would best it on their next release, Isolation Drills, but that’s neither here nor there. It should be noted that the version of “Teenage FBI” that has passed into indie-rock canon is not the Ocasek-version (with the keyboards) – it’s the original, shorter take from the Wish In One Hand… EP (1997).

You may be familiar with the song via its use in the two greatest teenage sleuth TV shows of the past decade, “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Veronica Mars.” It also makes a suitably salty salute to what we’ve been writing about the last few days, namely, the multiple personality aspect of the human condition:

Someone tell me why
I do the things
That I don’t wanna do
When you’re around me… I’m somebody else

Someone tell me why I act like a fool
When things don’t go my way
When you’re around me… I’m somebody else

There is good reason I guess
Having it once gone too far
When you clean out the hive
Does it make you wanna cry?
Are you still being followed by the teenage FBI?

Someone tell me why
Someone tell me why I do the things
That I don’t wanna do
When you’re around me
I’m somebody else
Someone tell me why

This post is dedicated to Caleb Maskell. Oh, God Bless You!