During a recent move to a new home, I ran across a box of albums from my younger days. I didn't have time to go through them right away, so as I packed other items I began reminiscing about some of the favorite music of my adolescent, formative years (1972-1978). There was much to consider, as the music itself was always enhanced by the attendant joys and tribulations of total absorption with rock 'n' roll: Staying up late to watch The Midnight Special or Don Kirschner's Rock Concert; gazing at mind-blowing album covers and poring over the lyrics; hiding a copy of Creem magazine in my school locker; mowing two extra lawns just to afford a double album; the stark terror of attending that first live concert; the heartbreaking revelation that a close friend doesn't like the same bands. Through this mental exercise (a kind of name-that-tune, name-that-year quiz), I worked myself into a rather self-congratulatory mood, pleased that I possessed, as a teenager, a sophisticated appreciation of Neil Young, The Velvet Underground, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Harry Nilsson, George Harrison, T. Rex, and Todd Rundgren. What a cool kid I must have been.
On the other hand, to fully understand the past, one must remove the rose-colored glasses and gaze instead through the harsh lens of empirical evidence. That evening, I sat down and compared the albums of my afternoon reverie with what was actually in the sad little stack I had rediscovered. The contrast was, shall we say, somewhat disappointing, and it led to a troubling conclusion. For a portion of my life, I was a vain revisionist engaged in a hipness-quotient competition, constantly doing damage-control on the history of my earlier musical preferences. In other words, there was the music I told peopleand convinced myselfthat I once listened to, and then there was the music I actually owned.
As this puts me in both a confessional and nostalgic mood, submitted for your perusal are a few one-to-one comparisons of what I should have been listening to during my youth versus what I was actually listening to.
How shameful is that? I'm just glad that such an egregious misjudgment happened early, insomuch as it's best to go ahead and get the worst out of the way. In any event, during the summer of '73, Bowie's magnificent "Space Oddity" could be heard frequently along the AM dial, and by the time school was back in session, classmate Phyllis Stewart and I agreed that it was the greatest song ever. I figured the Ziggy album might be even more spaced out. During lunch one day, however, Phyllis explained to me that David Bowie was "a queer." I wasn't sure what this meant, musically speaking, but something in her tone spoiled the Major Tom magic. Throw in the fact that I had seen Grand Funk on television twice, and I suppose my choice at the record bin at Woolworth's was inevitable. Can you hear me? I'm your captain...
Like most of the kids in my neighborhood, I kept a small transistor radio strapped to the handlebars of my bicycle. It was usually tuned to any station that held "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" in heavy rotation, because the song somehow made me feel like I was riding a little faster. I even spent an entire Saturday trying to determine what a "hubcap diamond-star halo" was, and how I might somehow attach one to my bike's front wheel. For that reason alone, the T. Rex album should have been my next purchase at Woolworth's, but one Saturday night I sat gape-jawed as I watched Alice Cooper on Don Kirschner's Rock Concert and I guess I got carried away. (Despite MTV's proud boast, thanks to The Midnight Special, Rock Concert, and similar programs, video was killing radio stars long before 1981). There was another overwhelmingly appealing facet to School's Out: the album cover opened up like an old-fashioned school desk and "inside" were the various items that I assumed the young Alice Cooper must have kept in his own school desk. In the bottom corner was a comic book titled Lovely Liberace. Hmm, another rather troubling matter, vis-a-vis the David Bowie problem. Oh well, the title cut still rocked, and I defy anyone to find a more appropriate anthem for a seventh grader.
The Stooges' first album, arguably the most ferocious and thrilling record of the primal/feral rock subcategory, was released in 1969, but I didn't drop a needle on it for a full decade. Talk about another year with nuthin' to dobut again, no excuses here. One of my neighborhood pals had an older sister who was tuned into everything cool. At the time, however, I assumed that all her posters and albums and magazines about bands I had never heard of indicated that she was completely out of the loop. Although she loaned me an issue of Creem magazine that featured an article on Iggy Pop, I didn't even finish the second paragraph, because the Stooges' record had been collecting dust for almost three years in the bin at Woolworth's. That, to my narrow mind, seemed like what the folks at Billboard would regard as a negative indicator. Such idiocy explains my tragic purchase of the Paul and Linda McCartney opus, if such an act can be explained at all. So while I was listening to "Jet" and "Helen Wheels," (hell-on-wheels: Paul, you wordsmith!) my friend's manifestly hip sister had "1969" and "No Fun" roaring from her stereo.
I still believe "Harvest" is one of the best songs Neil Young ever wrote or performed, but I was 25 years old before I owned the album. There's really no excuse for that, but there may be a reason. The last week of my seventh-grade school year, an older sister of one of the "cool" girls in the neighborhood threw a party at somebody's house. I never learned whose house, but the entire evening had a "mama told me not to come" sort of vibe. I saw things I hadn't ever seen before. At one point my best friend, Ben Johnson, led me through a living room full of sickly sweet smoke and necking teenagers to a big Magnavox stereo console, unfolded a double album, and dropped the needle on the darkest, most infectious music I had ever heard. Swirling keyboards, rolling percussion, and some trippy, Delta slide-guitar work churned up a dreamy blues number called, appropriately enough, "Dreams." The gravelly vocals suggested that the singer really did have the blues, and maybe a few other problems as well (troubled "artists" had instant cachet during this period, thanks to the deification of Jim Morrison and the antics of Keith Richards). As the song progressed, suddenly I was a much cooler teenagermerely because I happened to be standing there while that sound enveloped my psyche. Prior to that moment, conventional wisdom held that a good song made the guys in the band cooler, but this Allman Brothers sound convinced me otherwise; this lesson would be useful down the road. Consequently, Young's best record remained in the bin at J.C. Penney, and I took home the Duane and Greg opus.
Page 1, 2