When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.
-- Henry David Thoreau
Picture this: carpool-driving-road-warrior mom (call her LP) is on her way to pick up her Toddler-in-Residence from summer school. Radio playing. Loudly. Natch. A familar guitar riff pops out of the speakers, followed by a driving beat. Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”. LP drives circles around the school, singing along lustily, as is her habit, until the very long-ass song is complete. She is late to collect her young charge as a result. But the disapproving stares were worth it.
I was discussing the impact of the music of one’s youth on a internet forum recently with some lovely bright folks somewhat younger than I. Discerning music fans all, they were rightfully bemoaning the fact that the hallmark songs and sounds of their generation are poppy, cotton candy-esque and ultimately disposable. I feel for them, as the music of my youth had a profound influence on me -- and honestly, on who I am today. So, in that spirit, I took a little walk down memory lane.
During that time in my life -- those young adult years -- it was the early 1980s.
At that time, I experienced...
...Prince wowing everyone with Purple Rain;
...Michael Jackson and Thriller (which is arguably one of the great albums of all time, despite the fact that he's descended into disturbing madness and deviant behavior, effectively destroying any relevance he might have had today);
...the Commodores being funkycoolsoulful;
...the Rolling Stones still being relevant -- Tattoo You is splendid, even the ubiquitous "Start Me Up" -- a song I must crank up to eleven, even to this day;
...Genesis and Abacab changing how I listen to music, hearing the nuances;
...my eternally beloved Police, also changing how I listen to music -- with my brain in addition to my ears;
...the emergence of my too-cool-for-school R.E.M and their fellow Athens musicians, the B-52s (who I saw on a bill with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and the Who. Strange combo, great concert);
...the intelligent timeless songwriting of Billy Joel;
...my re-introduction to the classics of the 1960s, thanks to The Big Chill. I went through a brief phase when I didn’t listen to anything released after 1970 -- not a conscious choice, but just the frame of mind I was in. The Kinks. The Mama and the Papas, The Beatles. The Stones. The Monkees;
...the igniting of my appreciation of classical music thanks to Amadeus;
...the birth of my passionate love of jazz overseen by Al Jarreau and his seminal Breaking Away album and cemented by Harry Connick and the soundtrack for When Harry Met Sally;
...a young woman named Madonna who made some damn catchy dance music while capturing the attention of a nation with her brash style and cheeky attitude (and oh! those big-ass hair bows, skirts paired with leggings and jellies with ankle socks -- man, did I think I looked cool as shit in that getup...)
...the unexpected treasures found on college radio, where cutting-edge, inventive, experimental music was played, current mainstream trends be damned. I don’t live in an area where such a station exists at the moment, so I have to work a little harder to seek out those bands and artists who aren’t overexposed on Top 40 radio but whose fresh approach to music I crave. Never would have discovered Squeeze if not for college radio. And my life would have been just a smidge less complete.;
... the birth of MTV. When it was a renegade channel playing nothing but music videos. And what I watched religiously. Even while studying. (Which explains a bit about my GPA.) Duran Duran. The Fixx. Michael Jackson. Culture Club. Men at Work. Hall & Oates. The Go-Gos. The Bangles. We could actually see the music, sometimes portrayed in a very no-nonsense fashion, sometimes presented cloaked in the abstract, obscure or just plain weird. Anyone remember the Wall of Voodoo “Mexican Radio” video, with the guy’s face emerging from the bowl of beans? Who thinks up this stuff? And why didn’t they share what they were smoking when they were in the “creative” process?
Video didn’t kill the radio star.
It just forced him to hire a stylist.
I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.
-- Albert Einstein
Memories intertwined with music are everywhere, especially during those impressionable young adult years. I was thrown out of a high school dance for singing, along with my incorrigible buddies, all the words to Jimmy Buffett’s “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw?” very, very loudly. Acapella. My long-time boyfriend liked to listen to Kenny Rogers (sad but true; can't hear "Lady" to this day without feeling a little twinge of first love) while we made out and steamed up the windows of his Honda Civic. I hear Joe Jackson’s “Breaking Us in Two” and instantly go right back to my freshman year dorm room.
The opening notes of Hall & Oates’ “Out of Touch” reminds me of the boyfriend of a sorority sister of mine with whom I shared a fairly intense mutual crush (lots of lustful, knowing glances and serious, serious flirting), clandestinely acted on only once, but very memorably so. Sheila E’s “The Glamourous Life” puts me in the backseat of my college roommate/best friend’s vintage diesel Mercedes sedan, motoring down the road for a weekend away in Jacksonville. The Psychedelic Furs’ “Love my Way” sends me straight to a late night alterna-dance club called The Vatican which reigned for a short time as the place-to-be-after-2-am in Gainesville in 1986.
"(Keep Feeling) Fascination" by the Human League reminds me of a Friday afternoon spent dancing on a wall in the front yard of a neighboring fraternity house located on one of Gaineville's main drags, beer in hand, the other hand waving to cars (many with people I knew in them) as they rolled by. Springsteen’s “Glory Days” has me sitting on a bar stool at my favorite watering hole, drinking a Killians Red out of my special numbered bar-regular mug, eating a chicken salad sandwich and waiting for Jeopardy to come on at 11:30 pm, after spending the evening at the Journalism School. Sting singing “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free" reminds me of spending a Saturday afternoon during a Labor Day weekend in that same bar, spending my laundry change on beer, casually waiting for Hurricane Elena to hit the west coast of Florida.
INXS’s “What You Need” takes me back to late nights working on an intense Student Government campaign, where I was the communications guru whose primary job was tailing a bright but totally unfocused candidate in hopes he that wouldn’t say or do anything stupid. Especially after a couple of beers. And Heart’s “Alone” reminds me of the deep, unspoken, unrequited love I had for said fellow, about which I always suspected he knew, but never did anything about.
Music is nothing separate from me. It is me... You'd have to remove the music surgically.
-- Ray Charles
For every connection I just made, I’ve got a least a dozen more. Music is so much a part of me. I’m not the greatest musican or music scholar. I just know what I like. And am passionate to a fault about it. And I keep music around me as much as possible. My iTunes is rolling right now as I write this. Love & Rockets “So Alive," to be precise. Hypnotic song with a very sexy underbeat. Oh yeah.
I now realize how much of my life is defined by music -- where I was when I heard a song; what was playing when thus and such happened; why a set of lyrics can instantly make me happy or melancholy or thoughtful or joyous. And my musical tastes were truly defined during that critical young adult period in my life. When I was figuring out who I was, what I wanted, where I would go, the songs around me became ingrained. And I still listen to them today. As well as innumerable other songs discovered since. My iPod is a bottomless well, ready to hold any aural pleasure I can find.
And as I review the songs of my youth, the melodies of my soul, the lyrics of my psyche, I also can see the Bright Young Thing I used to be, just briefly. But just long enough to recognize her. And like what I see. Long enough to remember who she is and to subsequently motivate me to reaquaint myself with her. She's still here, in me. Never left. Hate how long it took me to realize that. I just gotta find out where's she's been hiding and make her relevant again (and hip... always gotta be hip.)
The cliche of the soundtrack of one’s life is strikingly accurate. At least in my experience.
And just as characters in a musical spontaniously break into song, so do I.
And if they don’t, they should.
They’re missing out on one of life’s greatest joys if they don't.
Na nanana na nanana na na
na na na na nana.
Ah ah ah...
(“Dyslexic Heart” by Paul Westerburg)
Music is the vernacular of the human soul.
-- Geoffrey Latham