As a kid, I went everywhere with my mom. We traveled all over town in our Mercury station wagon, listening to a variety of 8-tracks, including Rachmaninoff, “My Fair Lady”, and a shit-ton of Dionne Warwick. By the age of 9, I knew the words to every song from every 1960s musical, and could sing along with Mom and Dionne on every tune that Burt Bacharach and Hal David ever wrote.
I had a little turntable that we got at the Green Stamp store, but it wasn’t nearly as good as listening in my brothers’ rooms. They had speakers!
They would not indulge my musical tastes from that time (I was big on the Archies!) but would sometimes allow me entrance into their inner sanctums to listen to whatever they were listening to. This provided a much-needed balance to my near-constant exposure to Broadway musicals and easy-listening radio.
I’m a child of the 70s – the youngest of four. My three brothers were 9, 7, and 6 years older, which in kid years meant a chasm between me and them. But I liked their music. My rock and roll soul began to form while listening to Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, CCR, or the Stones, courtesy of Brother #1. Down the hall came the strains of The Temptations, The Spinners or Al Green, when Brother #2 was home. If it was Jethro Tull, Frank Zappa, or Argent blasting through the walls, Brother #3 was running the turntable.
Once I got to high school, all three brothers were grown and gone, but someone had been kind enough to leave behind a record player. Good thing, too, as my mom was getting hot and heavy with Barry Manilow and Carly Simon. It was dicey there for a year or so, but I finally got a driver’s license and my own little piece-of-shit car with an 8-track player. By the age of 16, I had achieved musical freedom!
Mostly, I listened to whatever my peers were listening to – the Eagles, Boston, Queen, Zeppelin, Chicago, Fleetwood Mac. Because of my exposure to my brothers’ music, however, I bravely ventured off the Top 40 path now and again. I loved Shawn Phillips, although no one in my circle of friends had ever heard of him. He played at a club in Dallas and I had to drag a guy I was dating to see him. It was my first time to see a musical act in an intimate club setting. I had to use a fake ID to get in, which was both terrifying and exhilarating.
But so worth it! To me, the music was amazing. My date was still not impressed, and was pretty pissed when, at the evening’s end, I wouldn’t provide sexual favors in return for making him sit through a show he didn’t want to see. I’d bought the tickets, but he’d been plying me with alcohol all evening, all for naught. Shawn Phillips won my heart that night.
Finally, my record player and I headed off to college, where I listened to Rush, Yes, and Supertramp. But soon, I stopped paying attention to music and got busy falling in love with the wrong person. He was athletic and blond and pretty. Maybe a little dumb. He was very pious. I was not.
We pretended to be each other’s everything for over a year. In the end, though, his piety, or my lack thereof, did us in. He would have married me, he said, if only I had seen the light and accepted Jesus as my personal savior. He’d told me from the get-go that he couldn’t marry a girl who would end up in hell. It was not acceptable for a good Christian boy to marry a heathen, particularly a Jewish heathen! Fornicating with one was okay, as long as you prayed afterwards, but marriage? It just wasn’t done. I was too young to fully appreciate this hypocrisy back then, but the lesson stuck with me.
But soon, I met the right person. He was nothing like my first true love. He was a cowboy. He was not even remotely pious. He drank and smoked and shot pool and he made me think about having sex and NOT praying afterwards. He was really smart, and ruggedly handsome, and a little dangerous. I’d never been involved with a bad boy before. I thought he was perfect. Well, almost. He listened to country music. I wasn’t a big fan, but I could tolerate it. And surely he could be trained.
When I married him a few years later, I refused to walk down the aisle to the traditional Wedding March. It did nothing for me. I wanted epic music, something momentous to suit the occasion. I chose composer Jeremiah Clarke’s “Prince of Denmark March,” because it gave me goose bumps. That’s the mark of an epic piece of music – if it makes your hair stand on end, then it’s reached inside of you and touched your soul.
I get this feeling when I hear the finale of Saint-Saëns’ Symphony #3 in C Minor, Opus 78. When Shawn Phillips hits those high notes on “What’s Happenin’ Jim?,” I feel it. When I listen to the opening note of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes”, that funny sonar ping, I feel it. And every time I hear the first simple guitar notes at the start of the Foos’ “Come Alive,” I feel it. That little rush of anticipation comes over me, because I know I’m about to hear something amazing and grand. Something…epic!