I am fortunate to have many interests and loves in my life.
One of them is Music.
I love music like it’s nobody’s business.
At least that’s what it says on my About page, anyway.
And it’s true. I love all kinds of music. I especially love Rock music—particularly of the Indie variety—and Bluegrass music—particularly of the Traditional variety—and Classical music—particularly of the Baroque variety—and Rap music—particularly of the Gangster variety. I prefer my music new as opposed to old and live as opposed to recorded. And I’m always a sucker for musical street performers—anyone who has the stones to put themselves out there in front of the unsuspecting and merciless public like that, regardless of what they are playing, regardless of how good or bad it sounds, will always get a grateful round of applause and a sympathetic buck or two out of me.
But when it comes down to it, I’m not really that picky at all about my music. In fact, I regard my relationship to music just as I do my relationship to food: It is absolutely critical for my survival and, if I am given the choice, I will always choose that which pleases my palate the most; however, when I don’t have the choice, I will thankfully eat whatever is on my plate and I will often ask for seconds.
In regards to music, my eyes are rarely, if ever, bigger than my stomach.
I have a decade or so worth of pleasant memories from my early youth of cheesy Top 40 Seventies music playing (streaming?) constantly on my family’s kitchen radio. The station on the dial back then was always on an AM station (the early Seventies was in the pre-FM era don’t forget) called CKLW, which was broadcast all the way out of Windsor Ontario, Canada.
That’s right, I said Canada. For those of you younguns who know nothing about the power of the AM signal and its history in shaping America’s musical soul, you might want to take the time to learn a little bit about it.
While an AM signal may be powerful, if you’re picking it up after it has skipped and reflected and refracted its way over long distances, like say from Canada across Lake Erie to Ashtabula Ohio, it sometimes—okay, it mostly—tunes in a little garbled sounding, a little shaky sounding, a little like these-crazy-Canadian-DJs-warble-like-they’re-aliens-from-outer-space sounding.
However, to me, that was part of its appeal.
It was pretty cool as a kid to listen to a radio station beaming in from a foreign country, crappy signal and all. It was as if I was the Repressed Underaged Dissident secretly tuning in to Radio Free Canada to listen for the songs with the secret instructive codes as I worked to fight and overthrow the Repressive Parental Establishment.
Okay…you’re right…as a kid I didn’t think about that kind of stuff at all.
That was just me as an adult projecting a somewhat skewed romantic idealism back on my very normal youth. It was more like that was the only station there was to listen to so that’s what we listened to. No romance there but when that’s all you got, then that’s all you know, and that’s all you expect, so I was perfectly content with the quality of the sound that I was listening to at the time.
I still can hear the station’s jingle as clear as ever (or as clear as an AM radio signal can be): “C-K-L-W, The Motor Cit-eeee…”
And let’s not forget those goofball schticky commercials they used to play: “…that Merollis what a great great guuuy!”
But I guess you had to be there to understand.
Listening to crazy silly Top 40 Seventies music non-stop between the ages of five and thirteen (I was 13 in 1978 and, if I remember correctly, 1978 was about the time that FM radio and a station called K104 out of Erie PA entered my life) had to have done some kind of permanent brain damage, no?
Yes, I suspect it was those crazy silly Top 40 Seventies songs pouring non-stop out of that tin-can-sounding kitchen radio that set the foundation for my love of music.
And I also suspect it was my mother.
My mother was always singing songs of her generation—partial clips of songs from Bobby Vinton – “Roses are red my love, violets are blue…” or Frankie Valli – “Dawn, go away I’m no good for you…” or Neil Sedaka – “They say that breaking up is hard to do…” or many other singers of the Golden Oldies era whose songs are forever embedded in my brain.
And she liked to listen to the radio and sing along and dance and happily shuffle and scoot around the kitchen as she cooked and cleaned.
When she sang along with the contemporary songs on the radio, she always would get the lyrics wrong and it would always drive my sisters and me crazy.
But in a good way.
I have to laugh now because I am completely guilty of driving my kids crazy for the same kind of reasons.
What is it about parents that make us so embarrassing to our children?
Speaking of embarrassing your children, not only did my mother like to dance around the kitchen by herself, she also liked to far too frequently haul me out onto the living room dance floor to dance the jitterbug with her. In retrospect, I suppose I actually enjoyed it…at least up until I hit puberty and transformed into one of those unbearable passive aggressive teenage turds. But by that time, the damage had been done: I was well on my way to becoming a music junkie.
And speaking of dancing, ask my sisters about our Saturday Night Fever living room dance floor moves.
As a teenager, I was pretty agnostic about music. For the most part, whatever was on the radio was good enough for me. But I did collect a few albums that I pretty much wore out, which, I guess, is indicative of where my musical preferences were first defined, and from which they were developed.
The first album I can remember really latching on to was my parents’ eight-track tape of The Beach Boys’ Greatest Hits. That album was an epiphany to me. Little Deuce Coupe, 409, I Get Around, California Girls…pure musical bliss.
As for eight-track tapes—what an unfortunate but necessary period in the evolution of music, I suppose.
I had many cassette tapes, but my favorites were anything by ACDC with Bon Scott as the lead, especially their “Highway to Hell” album, Van Halen’s self-titled first album, The Cars’ self-titled first album, and Rush’s 2112 and “Moving Pictures” albums.
All very much in the mainstream, I admit; but hey, in my view it doesn’t matter what stream you’re fishin’ your music out of as long as the fishin’ is good.
As an adult, many singers have left an impression upon me over the years, but there are three who were able to leave more than just an impression—with their voices and artistry, they were able to weave themselves and their music into the very fabric of my soul. A dorky-clichey thing to say, I know, but true, nonetheless.
The three singers are:
- Morrissey – the depressingly uplifting androgynous punk pop rock seething soul singer
- Tom Waits – the harsh-voiced hobo of haunting harmony
- and, of course, Kurt Cobain – the king of pain…excruciatingly painful and pleasurably addictive pain.
I could have almost just as easily listed Tupac and Beck and several singers who mean so much to me, but it is Morrisey, Waits, and Cobain who have made the biggest musical impact on my life and who most deserve my public recognition and admiration.
I am sure their publicists have called them all ready to let them know the unique and distinctive honor I have just bestowed upon them.
Well, perhaps Kurt has yet to receive the call.
You never know.
Okay, not a very original list, I concede. Probably a good chunk of folks from my generation would come up with the exact same three. However, I don’t so much see that as a knock on my originality as it is an affirmation of their power and influence on a critical, sometimes cynically so, and scarred generation that had to endure the unbelievably bizarre and oftentimes downright embarrassing pop music of both The Seventies (Bay City Rollers anyone?) and The Eighties (A Flock of Seagulls anyone?).
Back in the late eighties and early nineties when I first began listening to Morrissey, Waits, and Cobain, their individual styles were completely unique and their influence was at their greatest (Waits began his career began in the early Seventies as a jazzy cool piano crooner, but it wasn’t until the Eighties and his release of Swordfishtrombones when he began transforming his sound and really began hitting his stride; one could argue that Waits is still just as influential now, if not more, as he has ever been).
It was when I had just recently been promoted to adulthood status and was still learning the ropes of life when I became a devoted fan of each of the three singers. To me, back then, they were the most original mind twisting turning embarrassingly revealing artists I had ever heard.
Their indelible stain on my life is obvious and distinct.
My transformation from a passive listener of whatever pop crap corporate America shoved at me on format radio to an active seeker of new and visionary sounds began when I joined the navy in 1983:
– While attending my navy service school in Pensacola Florida, my first roommate, after a long, persuasive campaign, turned me on to such groups as Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, and Yes.
– A lifelong buddy who I met at my first duty station in Washington DC and who I am so thankful to have recently reconnected with online turned me on to the likes of Steely Dan and Supertramp and Led Zeppelin and insisted, and still does I am certain, on nothing but the highest artistic and technical standards in his music.
– But it was while assigned to my second duty station in Kami Seya Japan sometime in 1986 that my musical interests really began to, paradoxically, both broaden and refine. Again, it was another roommate who deserves much of the credit, and who also happened to be a “Cleveland kid” like myself (he understood all of my regional cultural references and even did a great impersonation of those ubiquitously annoying Rick Case commercials–“HI! THIS IS RICK CASE!”). I credit him for turning me on to two out of the three most influential musical acts in my life: The Smiths/Morrisey and Tom Waits. I never was able to be as demanding of my music or its sound as he was—I was and continue to be way too lazy for all that effort. Consequently, he once accused me of having a “barbaric ear” when I told him I couldn’t tell the difference in sound quality between his old stereo and his upgraded and very expensive, new stereo system (I assume I “developed” my barbaric ear by listening to and being content with that wonderfully crappy Canadian AM signal for so many of my formative years). Boy, was that a mistake. I don’t think I ever regained my credibility with him after that. But I definitely did learn to be more musically discerning from him, and for that, I thank him, as I thank all of you who have guided me and instructed me all throughout my musical evolution.
– It was during my last duty station in the navy that another enduring buddy of mine (surprisingly he endures even though he’s from Michigan—Aaaach! Spit!—sorry, had to get that nasty southern canadian taste out of my mouth after saying the “M” word) who, with his deadpan spot-on humor and hilarious outlook on life and (begrudgingly, and somewhat enviously, I admit) deep and broad and understated intellect, was always turning me on to some of that new and good stuff. Among other musical groups and singers, I give him credit and especially thanks for introducing me to a group called Cake (I also “blame” him for addicting me to a couple of my now can’t-live-without-authors, two of whom are David Sedaris and Tom Robbins…but we’ll save that discussion for another day and another overbearingly long and boring article about my literary reminiscences).
Since I don’t get around too much anymore and I do not have too many opportunities to make new friends who can expose me to new sounds, I am very fortunate to have such an intelligent and creative and gifted family. It is my wife and three children, each with their own unique tastes and deep love for exceptional music from whatever genre it may be found, who are now my constant goto sources for the new and the different and the good.
It is my wife who has instilled in me a love for all of the finer and refined things in life, and music is no exception. It is from her that I have become a classical music junkie. I can get lost for hours with the headphones on listening to Bach and Vivaldi and Mendelssohn and all of the other universal geniuses whose names I can never remember. And when I am not listening to them in isolation, it soothes me to hear my wife’s stereo, forever fixed on the local NPR Classical Music station, constantly floating out wonderfully timeless melodies into the atmosphere of our home.
And it is from my children’s influence and advice that I have grown to love and depend upon the likes of Bright Eyes and Modest Mouse and Blink 182 and Boxcar Racer and most recently Sun Kil Moon and Jose Gonzalez and I cannot wait to find out what they will turn me on to next.
And if I never discover any new music for the rest of my life, I will alway have my boys’ band The Northcoast to listen and groove to and to be thankful for.
Some say that rock is dead.
That is debatable.
But the possibility of discovering that next fresh new sound that will take my life in new directions is not debatable. That possibility will never die, at least not within me.
For it is those kinds of possibilities in life, musical and otherwise, that I live for.
Because I have so many interests and loves in life, life affords me so many possibilities.
Because I have so many possibilities, I have so much to live for.
And, since I have so much to live for, I am very aware of how fortunate I am.
Sure, I have had my share of ups and downs and I will continue to have them, but I have always been a fortunate man.
Just take one look at my beautiful family and my comfortable home and my supportive friends and my interesting work experience and and my enduring educational experiences and my distant travels and even my goofy dogs and so many other things that I call mine and that are priceless to me, and you will see my fortune and you will understand just how fortunate I am.
If you think I am talking about money, then you have yet to build your fortune.
I feel sorry that some people live such unfortunate lives.
If it didn’t make me feel so happy and lucky and, in all honesty, a little cocky, I could almost feel guilty for how fortunate I am and for how good life has always seemed to treat me.
But I feel no guilt because it takes hard work and commitment to build a fortune.
Yet I do feel thankful. Very thankful.
And I am especially thankful that Music is one of the many valuable shares within that vast and forever-inflating fortune called my life.
Yes, I am a fortunate man, indeed.
And yeah, I do love music like it’s nobody’s business…