Okay, I’ve put it off as long as I think I can. Here’s the landmark. It may get a bit long.
I don’t know how many of you know me very well. I’ve been here close to a year and a half, and I’m just getting to my first landmark. I’ve never started a thread that’s gone over two pages. Pretty poor record compared to most, I know. But if any of you have come to know who I am (in fact, who the hell I am), you’ll know that I’m a bit of a music buff. In fact, much of my life has been set to music. I’ve got very specific tastes and a constant thirst for something that will inspire me. As it turns out, a lot of my most vivid memories are directly related to pieces of music. One of the reasons I’m so attached to my record collection is because much of the music is tied to memories of events that made me who I am. So I’m going to list some of them. Rather than focusing on my favorite works, I’m going to try to focus on the songs or albums most closely associated with memories, good or bad. And I’ll try to keep it short, but I can’t guarantee anything.
The Police: Synchronicity. This is the very first album I ever owned. I got it right when it came out in 1983. I wasn’t yet 9 years old. It’s a source of a great deal of pride that I started off my musical life with one of the greatest albums of all time. But if you want to know the truth (and I don’t think I’ve ever admitted this before), I didn’t know what was going on at the time. I remember being in Houston visiting my dad. I have a very vague memory of walking around the side of a swimming pool when my dad, probably tipped off by my brother to an appropriate gift, gave me a cassette tape. I really didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t much care. If he hadn’t given me that, though, I’d have been left to my own devices and I’d have had to suffer the indignity of admitting that my first album was, if I recall correctly, Control by Janet Jackson (a tape I bought when I was about 11 and, some years later, destroyed with a hammer.)
INXS: Kick. This is the first album I ever associated with pop culture. It came out when I was in 6th grade. Everyone had it. The radio played it constantly. People had T-Shirts adorned with the cover art. It became linked in my mind with the cutting edge of coolness. There’s a part of my brain that’s still hard-wired to think of it this way, and when I consider the fact that it’s no longer the hippest album on the planet, it always surprises me a little and makes me feel old.
Benny Goodman: Hits. When I was in sixth grade I started band. I didn’t know what instrument I wanted to play, so my mom chose for me. She drove me down to the house of a neighbor who dealt in musical instruments and declared, based largely upon the cost of a tuba or a saxophone, that I was to play the clarinet. And so I did. I played it through high school and into college. But I never got very good at it. The instrument sounded so squeaky, and it was so difficult to make a clean note, that I never wanted to practice. Even when I heard professionals play, it always sounded wooden and reedy. I was totally uninspired. Whenever I had to play in a concert or a parade, I’d just silently finger some notes and hope no one would notice.
Many years later I was at a thrift shop and I saw an old vinyl record of hits by Benny Goodman. I didn’t even know what instrument he played, but I was trying to develop an interest in jazz, and I had a quarter, so I picked it up. When I played it I felt as though the window had opened and the finger of God reached through and touched me. I never knew a clarinet could sound so sweet, smooth and soulful. I wept at the time I had wasted when I could have been learning to play like this. Unfortunately, by the time I reached this epiphany I’d entered the last few months that I would ever play clarinet in a band. But my playing improved more in those months than it had in all the years prior, just enough to bring me up from worthless to the low end of mediocre. I’ve never played with a band again, but I have played in church and for special functions. And although I’ve played piano, organ, percussion and bagpipes in groups, I always think of myself as a clarinet player solely because of the influence that Benny had on me.
Yes: 90125. I have a brother who is five years older than me. He was never very nice to me, and he ended up being a drug addict, a skinhead and a professional loafer/sponge. I haven’t talked to him in about 10 years because I can’t handle his caustic hatred for anyone different than himself. He’s the one who taught me, when I was just entering elementary school, that I should finish the pledge of allegiance with the phrase, “…with liberty and justice for only white men.” I actually did this for a couple of years until I figured out what it meant. But, like all little brothers, I grew up with an abject and unconditional worship of he that preceded me. Once, when I was about 12 years old, he got me a copy of 90125 for Christmas. It was a couple of years old, but I recognized "Owner of a Lonely Heart" from the radio, and I probably would have liked it anyway. Coming from my brother, however, I considered it the word of God. Yes is a good group, responsible for a few incredibly good albums, several decent albums, and their fair share of the most pretentious crap that’s ever been recorded. But I took my brother’s benediction as a sign that they were the best band of all time, a view that carried me clear through high school. I eventually bought every one of their albums. They were the first band I ever saw live. I was about 18 years old before I would admit that they had ever done anything that wasn’t the essence of holiness and truth, or that anyone playing any instrument from any other band was more than10% as good as anyone who had ever been in Yes.
My junior year in high school Yes went on tour. They were coming to Las Vegas, which was less than two hours from where I lived, and all my friends were going. But it was on a Sunday, and I was living in a very strict Christian household. I asked and begged and pleaded to go to the concert. I assured my parents that my life would end otherwise. Finally my step-dad decided to compromise with me. He found a copy of their tour schedule and found out that their next stop was a Tuesday gig in Los Angeles. So, in one of the most selfless acts I’ve ever seen anyone perform, he put me in the car on Monday and we drove 12 hours to Los Angeles to see Yes on Tuesday. He took three days off work. We listened to every single cacophonously progressive one of their albums on the way down, and although he was not a fan, and it must have driven him absolutely mad, he never said a word. The concert was the most transcendent experience of my life to that point. They had the nine most prominent members of their band from all its various incarnations, and they played in the round on a rotating stage. Trevor Rabin got his American citizenship on the day of the concert, so he played his solo in front of a giant American flag. I’d never been so happy in all of my life. And it all started with a gift that my brother doubtless doesn’t even remember giving.
Alexander Courage: Star Trek Original TV Soundtrack. While I’m on the subject of my step-dad’s selfless acts, I may as well bring up something else he did for me. I spent most of my pre-teen and teen years obsessed with science fact and science fiction, an obsession that hasn’t entirely left me to this day. These were the days before any of the Star Trek spin-offs when the only Trek you’d ever find were the original episodes in syndication. I watched them religiously. When everyone around me was trying to be like Jesus, I was trying to be like Spock. So when I found out that they were holding a Star Trek convention in Las Vegas, I begged my dad to take me and he consented. He thought it was all fairly silly, but he drove me all the way down there anyway. I saw the nerdiest people I’d ever laid eyes upon dressed up like cast members. I met Nichelle Nichols. I saw sneak previews of footage from what would become one of the most hilariously disappointing experiences of my life: Star Trek V. Then we went to a Super Wal-Mart-sized room full of more merchandise than I thought existed on the planet. My dad gave me $20 to spend on anything I wanted, so I bought a Star Trek comedy tape (featuring Kevin Pollack, although I didn’t know who he was back then) and the soundtrack to the episodes “The Cage” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” I don’t know what happened to the comedy, but I listened to the soundtrack until it went to pieces. It was the first of the countless soundtrack albums that I would own. Last year, after being without that album for over a decade, I found it sold online direct from the manufacturer. I ordered it immediately. It wasn’t as great as I thought it was at 14, but I still remember every single note of the entire album, and it takes me straight back to the room full of nerds, whose ranks I would eventually join.
Led Zeppelin: II & IV. Warning to music lovers. You may find this next story physically painful to read. Continue at your own risk.
When my uncle Kenny was a teenager in the ‘70s, he was in a band. My grandma never let him grow his hair, so whenever I looked at the band pictures he had, he was easy to spot as the nerdy, preppy looking kid in the crowd of stoned hippies. When he moved out of his parents’ house to go to college, he left his record collection and all of his guitars in his room. Since as early as I can remember, whenever I visited my grandparents, I always used to go into his room with my brother and play his records on his old broken-down record player. It soon became my favorite part of my visit to my grandparents’ house. Even after my brother stopped coming with me, every time I went to see them I’d ask if I could go play Uncle Kenny’s records. A great deal of my present musical taste is a product of the time I spent flipping through his albums and laying on his bed listening to them. He had mint condition vinyl copies of albums by Rush, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, and many others. It was the first time I’d ever heard these people, and to this day hearing Dark Side of the Moon or “Do It Again” always evokes memories of his small damp basement bedroom with the faux-fur bedspread and the wood-paneled walls.
I generally saw my grandma when I went to Provo (a four hour drive from my home in St George) on visits with my dad and my step-mom. On one of these visits, I happened to be at my grandma’s house at the same time as Uncle Kenny. He hadn’t listened to his records in ages. Meanwhile he’d earned a considerable fortune and replaced all of the albums on more modern media. So, seeing how enamored I was with the collection, he took me downstairs as I was preparing to leave, flipped through the stack, and presented me with copies of Led Zeppelin II and IV. Two of the most amazing, famous and influential albums ever made, in mint condition original pressings. I didn’t have any idea how to respond. It’s still one of the nicest gifts anyone had ever given me.
On the ride home I could think of nothing else. I wanted to show them to everyone I knew. I felt like Cartman, preparing to mock Kenny and Kyle when he finds himself in possession of something amazing that they could never have. When my mother asked me about the trip, I pulled out my prizes and showed them to her before I told her anything else. I expected her to be as excited as I was. How naïve. Little did I know, my mother had spent the time that I was away reading a book by some self-righteous religious crackpot that details all the Satan-worshiping tendencies of any musician who refuses to play easy listening or Christian rock. And you’d better believe that Led Zeppelin was on the top of the author’s reactionary music-hating list. My mother laid one eye on my records and proclaimed that such things would not be in her house. I saw the look in her eyes, and I knew there was no way she would reconsider. I asked her to at least send them to my grandma’s house to go back in Uncle Kenny’s record collection. But she snatched them out of my hand and took them into our garage, where she broke them into several pieces, tore up the covers, and threw them in the dumpster.
I’ve never completely forgiven my mother for that, and I’m sure my Uncle Kenny has never completely forgiven me either.
Alan Parsons Project: Tales of Mystery and Imagination / Queen: A Night at the Opera. When I was in my last two years of high school, I joined the debate team. And to my surprise, I was good at it. I don’t know if I’ve ever really been good at anything else in my life, but I was good at debate. Prodigiously good. Not because I’m a good debater, but the rules of high school policy debate came to me like the ways of Arrakis came to Paul Maud’dib. The first time I went to a debate tournament I made a dude cry. I had one of the best records in the state, and scholarship offers from every college in Utah. Unfortunately, though, I hated it. I couldn’t stop doing it because I’d never found something that I was so good at. But I hated all the competition. There was way too much stress over something that, in the end, meant so little. I came to discover that you could find evidence to prove absolutely anything—anything—no matter how stupid or illogical. And in the end, no one ever changed their opinions. It was a futile art. So I never took it seriously. And neither did my partner.
We started to do things just to amuse ourselves. We’d go shopping at thrift stores to find the ugliest plaid bell-bottomed corduroy leisure suits and hideous thick ties with knots as thick as our fists. We’d quote Vanilla Ice and The Little Mermaid as evidence. I once used all of our preparation time for the round to go outside and play in the snow. My partner would make obscene slurping noises as our opponents tried to read their speeches. While most of our opponents mapped the rounds’ arguments in explicit detail on legal pads, we’d jot down quick notes on our hands or the backs of Taco Bell menus. We cross-examined our opponents with funny accents. And, despite it all, we’d still win. It was infuriating. No matter how much we made people hate us, we still won. Finally, in our second year, we made the state finals. I didn’t feel like debating, so I sent in one of my friends who had never debated before in his life to take my place, and we lost. Our coach just about strangled me, and I guess I deserved it.
Debate did do one thing for me, though. Before I debated, I had pathological stage fright. I once had to give an oral report in school. I spent days and nights preparing it. But when the teacher called on me, I couldn’t bring myself to stand up in front of all those people, so I told him that I wasn’t ready and I took a D in the class. Another time I had to give an oral report and I passed out before I could say a word. Then I discovered debate. The first time I laid my hand to the pursuit was at a summer debate camp in Price, Utah. It’s a tiny town with a tiny college in coal mining country. I had joined the debate team at the very end of my sophomore year in high school, and spent two weeks in Price that summer. It was the longest I’d been away from home in my life. I grew my first goatee, and my family barely recognized me when I returned.
That debate camp was the first and only time I’ve ever lived in the dorms. I had a few friends there, but they were in different halls, and all the people around me were strangers. I was forced to make friends. I’m an introvert, so that’s not easy, but it happened. I don’t know if I ever made so many friends so quickly. I took to the other nerds there with ease that astonished me. I was in the first year class. I found everything that the teacher was trying to tell us completely intuitive and obvious. So, surrounded by my new friends, I began being a bit of a smart ass. We’d make wisecracks in class. We passed notes and chortle loudly. I would count the number of times that my teacher said “um” or “you know” during their lecture and show it to her when class was over. I guess she thought I was the ringleader, so she decided to make an example of me. We all had to pair up, but there were an odd number of students in the first and second year classes. So my teacher decided to humble me by moving me up to the second year class and making me perform a demonstration debate in front of the novice class. It would have worked, too, but we won. Quite easily. It was a high like I’d never felt. I was so worked up by the fact that I’d finally found something that I could do well that it never crossed my mind that I was doing it in front of other people. At the end of camp I competed in a nine-round debate tournament against all the second year students, and we came in third out of what must have been 20 or 30 more experienced teams. By the time I’d realized that I was speaking in public, the stage fright had vanished. And it’s never returned.
It’s odd now… I remember one friend I made at that camp more vividly than anyone else, but I can’t remember his name or where he was from. We did practically everything together during those two weeks. We explored Price from stem to stern. And we found that we were both rabid prog-rock fans. I loaned him all of my Yes and Rick Wakeman albums. In return, he loaned me A Night at the Opera by Queen and Tales of Mystery and Imagination by The Alan Parsons Project. I’d never heard either of them, but I now know them backwards and forwards. And every time I hear them I still think about sitting in a small stinky dorm room in Price with a kid whose name I’ll never remember.
Chase: Chase. I mentioned earlier that I was in band throughout high school. Our director was, I am convinced, one of the laziest people ever to have worked in the teaching profession. Now don’t take me wrong; teachers are some of the most hard working and underappreciated members of our society. But occasionally someone slips into the classroom who would be more comfortable at home collecting welfare checks. If there were a hall of fame for lazy teachers, his shrine would be right at the entrance. Several times a month he’d just skip work. He’d always just call in and tell one of the people in class to take charge so he wouldn’t have to use a sick day. And even when he did come in, half the time he’d just go into his office and play us some of his old ‘70s funk records and sleep. There was one band in particular whose albums we all loved. Whenever he got into one of his record-playing moods, we’d make him play Chase. They were like a regular disco band but with five of the screamingest trumpeters you’ve ever heard. And their lyrics were absolutely hilarious.
I had a friend in high school who was a trumpeter. He was one of the most eccentric people I’ve ever met. He used to practice his trumpet for hours. But the only thing he’d practice was trying to hit notes so high that he’d shatter glass. He loved the screaming trumpet sound. I always ended up getting into trouble when I was with Cory. Once we took a stuffed armadillo, a fake hand and a big goofy rubber mask and went all around town taking pictures. We even ended up at the hospital. We put the armadillo in a wheelchair and took a picture of it being wheeled down the hall. We visited people we didn’t know and convinced them to put on the mask and pose with the armadillo for a picture. Once he convinced me to sneak out of my house at midnight. I didn’t know what he had in mind, but we ended up driving to Las Vegas to gamble, and came back before my parents woke up. Cory bought a truck, painted it purple, and cut the top off with a blowtorch so that he’d have a convertible. He got soaked every time it rained, and he’d come to school wet and pissed off, like it wasn’t his own fault. He put a huge sound system in it, and he’d drive around the high school playing the Chase records he’d copied from the band teacher. You could hear those screaming trumpets for miles away. The sound is unmistakable. I haven’t seen Cory in over 5 years, but every time I hear Chase, I can see him driving around in his purple homemade convertible.
Deep Purple: Highway Star. I had just started my senior year by the time I got my drivers license. I got a cheap car. All I wanted was something with an automatic transmission and a tape deck, and I got a 1985 Dodge Colt with those two things and precious little else. My best friend got his license on the same day as me, and he got a Ford Pinto. Our two cars together must have cost about $1000, but we’d never been so excited. I went over to his house, and we decided to celebrate by driving into town. But we both wanted to drive. I’ve never seen Lee so insistent on anything. But finally neither of us would give in, so he drove into town in his car, and I followed him in my car. It still makes me laugh… most of my social activity today consists of trying to pawn driving duties on anyone else who will haul me around. But I couldn’t get enough of it then.
I’d been planning my first drive for years, and I’d settled on every detail, including a song. So when I got in my car for that very first drive I put in my Deep Purple tape and played the song “Highway Star.” It’s still a tradition. Every time I get a new car, that’s the first song play in it. Something like a luck charm.
Well, I’m just barely through my high school years, and I’ve gone way over what I could ever expect to hold anyone’s attention. If you’ve read this whole thing, let me know and I’ll mail you a cookie. I think I’ll just save the rest of my life for post #2000. Anyway, I hope you’ve learned something about me, and that it hasn’t been too tedious. Thanks for reading.
SHE DID WHAT? How could she have destroyed Zepplin II and IV!?! I have those two albums framed in my room. I also have a guitar that Jimmy Page actually used! I don't let ANYONE even breathe on those things.
Anyway...Nice choice of albums. Of course, I haven't been alive long enough to remember a lot of those bands. I have little to no interst in any music made after 1994.
I am ready for my cookie. I really liked the way you presented you life. Music is a huge part of my life so it helped me relate. I play classical double bass and have a recording of a bass player playing the Bach cello suites. There are parts of them that I am convinced show you heaven. It definatly has inspired me. I really enjoyed the part about the debate team. It somehow struck a chord with me.
Posts: 1015 | Registered: Aug 2004
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I had a band teacher once that told me that Wynton Marsalis was last-chair trumpet player all through high school until he picked up some Louis Armstrong albums. Those inspired him to start practicing, and now he's probably the greatest living trumpet player on the planet. It's amazing what a good album can do for you.
Anyway, I was a little nervous to write something on a forum peopled by such great authors. I appreciate all the nice comments. Thanks.
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I had two friends in high school who were exactly the same as you with the debate thing. Quoting from various pop culture sources, using prep time to make fun of the other team, you name it, and still winning. You guys are crazy.
Ahhh! I can't believe how much of your material is stolen directly from my life experience! You'll be hearing from my lawyers after they get done with the Napoleon Dynamite people.
Honestly, I was exactly you in debate. Only I wasn't in debate, I was in extemporaneous speaking, where you get a half hour to write a speech on a political topic. When I quoted Obi-Wan Kenobi in my finals round and still placed second at state, I knew that it was just too silly to be continued with and quit after my junior year.
I love the musical outline, though, and am so glad you shared it. You and Zemra will always be among my favorite Hatrackers, and not just because you were the first ones I ever met.
May we be privileged to be around for many more!
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I've got plenty of Rush stories. I actually wrote down all the pieces that evoked memories and was foolish enough to think I could fit them all into a single landmark. By the time I got to the point where I left it here, I realized I'd better quit if I wanted anyone to read it. But I've practically got my next landmark or two written already, and there's plenty of Rush in them. Fear not.
It's nice to hear how many people had high school forensics experience. I had no idea I was in such good company, although I might have guessed.
You're also doomed to forever be one of my favorites. Our little U2/ Steely Dan battles in the lyric thread were initially responsible for getting me hooked on this place, so it's kind of a given. I'm looking forward to your landmark. 6 more posts....
Thanks again everyone for the comments.
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(((speed))). Of course, I stopped listening to music pretty much after the Bangles sold out. But it's the experiences it links you too, the compassion of your step dad and the wanton paranoia of you mom. That's awesome.
Posts: 11017 | Registered: Apr 2003
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Speed, I really enjoyed reading your landmark. Synchronicity was the first album my brother ever purchased. He bought it as a gift for our other brother (then in his early forties) from both of us, and he had to sit me down and explain why this was the album to get, not any other. The only one cool enough.
You bring back good memories. mostly, though, I just like getting to know you.
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