Monday, January 24, 2011
American Grungefiti: 1977-1990, Part 1
Maybe our personalities and interests are branded on our brains from the beginning. We don't change that much. I've always been a loner, obsessed with music and the written word, a lover of absurdity, full of a blinding hatred of sports, always feeling like I haven't been given the complete instructions about how to do anything, dismayed at my own cruel streak, put at ease by a good movie, bad at making good things happen for myself, lazy and ambitious, jealous and empathetic, naive and jaded, able to easily memorize trivia, slow at math, good at making friends but pretty terrible at instigating romantic relationships, too often stuck inside my own head, bored by sports fans, organized religion, and small talk, lover of foods high in saturated fat, easily discouraged by how rigged life can be, fascinated by other people but too hypercritical of their flaws, able to cultivate that sense of entitlement that comes from being the oldest child while despising any other sense of entitlement, a late bloomer who gets what I want but only after a long, long, long wait.
I've always loved music. My mother, a young mother with her first child, quickly learned to strap the headphones on me to calm me down, shut me up, get me to relax and nod off into sleep. My connection to music was intense, still is. I don't know why I connected with it so strongly. My parents weren't particularly avid music fans in the years I lived with them, though my mother was a huge Monkees fan as a young girl and she's had particular favorites throughout her life (Carole King, Bonnie Raitt, Lucinda Williams, Leonard Cohen (though I get the credit of introducing her to the last two)). My dad likes most music when it's playing but has no interest in buying albums, following any musician's career, or seeing live shows. It's something pleasant in the background for him. My mother spent more of her free time reading than listening to music, and my dad always went to the television. I remember my parents having a small collection of records and eight-tracks, though I think I played them more than they did. The only eight-tracks I remember were a Ringo Starr solo album and The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour soundtrack, which was playing when the eight-track player went kaput, eating the tape and spitting it out onto the living room floor. A disappointing day for me. The vinyl consisted of a small, random assortment of the popular music of the era. I remember Rod Stewart, Roberta Flack, Anne Murray, and some K-Tel country and pop compilations. The three I listened to the most were the Beach Boys' Endless Summer compilation, Billy Joel's 52nd Street, and Chicago's first Greatest Hits album. I would sit on the floor, headphones on, listening to "25 or 6 to 4" over and over again while staring at the cover. I couldn't get enough of that cover (see above). Maybe that cover is a metaphor for my life. I try to make something happen, but it never quite reaches fruition, often being upended in a comedically tragic hijink that has the potential for whatever-the-fuck mirthmaking or a pavement-smushed corpse. I never once made it through Side 2.
My real musical education happened through top 40 radio, TBS's Night Tracks program, my mother's three brothers, my cousin Pat, my friend Clint and his older siblings Jason and Jenny, and my own insatiable curiosity. I sucked up everybody's particular tastes like a sponge, accounting for my (mostly) permanent catholic (little-c) taste (excepting 6th and 7th grades, when I was exclusively into metal). I lost the taste for big-C catholicity pretty early, but that's another story. Well, maybe not. Maybe I never connected with my Catholic upbringing because music was my religion. Once you hear Diamond Dave-era Van Halen, among many rocking others, the Stations of the Cross lacks a certain amount of pizzazz and blistering guitar pyrotechnics. Why confess to a priest about punching your brother when you could confess to killing a man while singing along to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody"?
Speaking of "Bohemian Rhapsody," I once disappointed my entire 8th grade class by ruining an urban legend of a madman living in the abandoned old schoolhouse a mile outside of town. We were told by some high school kids that this madman had molested and murdered two children in the basement and left some demented ramblings on a blackboard. During a friend's birthday party, we climbed in a broken window with some flashlights and looked around. "There it is," someone shrieked. "There's the weird message on the blackboard." We read it, people's minds were blown, and then I ruined everything by pointing out the message's origins. "Dudes," I said, "Those are just the lyrics to a song by Queen. 'Bohemian Rhapsody'? Ever heard of it?" This was pre-Wayne's World. The few holdouts finally admitted defeat when the movie came out and made the song a hit again. Deep down, we all knew the story was bullshit anyway. If we truly believed some guy wanted to rape and murder us and was actually there in that abandoned schoolhouse, only, say, three of us would have climbed in that window. You know, those of us who enjoy madman murder/rapes. Later that night, we had to run from the cops, and I jumped a farmer's fence to hide and almost got kicked by a horse. I need a Freddie Mercury anthem about that, something in the vein of "Death on Two Legs" crossed with "Ogre Battle" with just a pinch of "In the Lap of the Gods ... Revisited." Maybe call it "Thunder Stallion (Horse of Pride)." Somebody exhume that man's corpse and clone him. We don't have enough Freddie Mercurys in this Sufjan Stevens age.
I'm running long and need to do other things before I go to bed, so I'll continue this discussion later. I'm going to write about each of those formative music-exposing entities I mentioned earlier and how they affected me as a child and maybe I'll make it to the 1990s, my original goal, in a couple years. Good night and, remember, if it's too loud, you're too fat. Wait, I got that mixed up. It's only rock and roll, but I want to make love to it, kill it, and eat it to make its unholy power live in me forever.