Monday, May 20, 2019

What I've Learned About Music In Sixty-Four Years

Sometimes it seems my entire life has been about music. That's not really true. I'm not a weirdo. I have and have had a life. It would be more accurate to say that music has been my backdrop.

Sure, as a kid it was all about music ~ listening to music on the radio and on 45's, whether bought or borrowed from my older sisters and brother. But when you're a kid, how much, really, do you have to fill your brain with? Basically once you learn to read, there's not a lot of interesting endeavors. I wasn't studying the old master's paintings or developing the next vaccine.

I was one of those odd kids, maybe a bit precocious. I honestly don't remember a time when music didn't gush through my veins. I recall peculiar songs from when I was barely two, the ones my parents liked, like "How Much Is That Doggie In The Window" and "Catch A Falling Star".

By the age of five, music was everything to me. My big sisters collected records and our kitchen radio was always on. My sisters did The Twist on our kitchen linoleum. Music was different then ~ not segregated. Our local radio station played everything. I didn't even know there were different genres. It was just "music".

The hugest influence on my youthful musical development was my big brother. He was nine years older and a teenager who was tuned in to the tasty crackling hits of the early-to-mid 1960's. He also had money to buy LP'S. By age nine I was crossing the bridge to Poppler's Records to purchase a 45-RPM record whenever I'd collected enough pennies to afford one. One. If you only have enough money to buy one record, it's an excruciating decision. Because of my brother, I was exposed to music I was too poor to purchase for myself.

When I began my singles collection, it was mostly The Beatles. It's not that The Beatles were the only act, but they were the utmost. Honestly, nobody else came close. I'm not sure who discovered The Beatles first, my brother or me, but I think it was me. By third grade I was smuggling my little transistor radio to school with me, and I distinctly remember having a very serious conversation on the sidewalk after school with Cathy Adair regarding this new group called The Beatles. "I Want To Hold Your Hand" was the current hit, but I sort of liked "She Loves You" better, although it was hard to choose. Each had its virtues.

Cathy and I knew that the guys in the band were named John, Paul, George, and Ringo, and we'd seen pictures of them in our fan magazines. Clearly Paul was the cute one, so I decided he was the singer on The Beatles hits I liked the best. Imagine my surprise when I learned that my favorite Beatle, voice-wise, was actually John.

My brother, on the other hand, was bringing home LP's. When I heard The Beatles' Second Album (yes, that was the title), I was amazed they could write such great songs. I had no inkling the songs on the album were mostly covers.

I continued on my Beatles journey, skipping to Poppler's to buy the single, "Day Tripper"/"We Can Work It Out". Meanwhile, my brother bought Help!.

"Help!" was a revelation to me. It doesn't make many people's lists of their favorite Beatles album, but it's mine. I was obsessed with it. Granted, the drill was, once my brother left the house and once I watched from my bedroom window as his red Ford Fairlane zoomed down the road, I sauntered into his room and pilfered two or three of his albums and slipped them on my tiny record player and listened to my favorite songs over and over. Then I carefully placed the LP's back on his shelf in the correct (memorized) spot. 

To me, the tracks on "Help!" naturally lent themselves to a musical, so I created one. I was ten. This was most likely my first foray into creativity.

Then later that same year came "Rubber Soul". 

In reality, "Rubber Soul" is the best Beatles album. "Help!" is my sentimental favorite, but this is The Best. After each Beatles album, I was ravenously hungry for the next. I salivated when I saw my brother bring this one home and I couldn't wait for him to drive away...

Discovery is a hazy memory. Probably the last time I was chilled by brand new music was 1993. And that was a fluke. "Rubber Soul" is practically perfect, and was especially perfect the first time.

In '65 The Beatles were still a band; not simply a group of solo writers. "Rubber Soul" isn't perfect ~ what album is? There are some clinkers. Even though there was a song named after me on the album, I honestly didn't care for it. John was at his strongest on the LP, although Paul had a couple of nice songs. But there's no denying that the most enduring Beatles song of all time is John's:

Revolver was released in '66, and frankly, I was disappointed. It did have some classic songs, but only maybe two.

Then I moved on.

Life changed, The Beatles changed; I had other priorities. But every September 10 I bought my brother the latest Beatles album. I owed him for all those Saturday afternoons when I'd purloined his Beatles LP's. It was only right that I paid him back. But he'd changed, too. He was married and didn't care that much about The Beatles. When I asked him how he liked the Sergeant Pepper album, he said, "It's okay." I was kind of hurt because I had little money and yet, as tradition dictated, I'd plunked my money down to purchase the album for his birthday.

It's not as if The Beatles were my only musical inspiration, ever. There's much more to come in future posts.

But they were, well...basically, everything.

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