I love music. My introduction was in the 70s as I was growing up and it developed into a broad selection. The only songs that I remember from my childhood encapsulate the time: “December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” by The Four Seasons and “The Theme from Mahogany: Do You Know Where You’re Going To?” by Diana Ross or “On The Radio” being sung by the one and only, Donna Summer. Everything was about having a party and enjoying life or melancholy wishful-thinking. As I got older, my tastes became more defiant. In high school I easily listened to Samhain, The Misfits, and Slayer just because I was rebelling against some random thing or maybe I was just expanding my horizons. Even if the songs were not my cup of tea, I gained a new respect for music, even though in retrospect, some of those songs I heard were hardly mystifying. Topics generally ranged from anger to angst to turmoil to suicide to self-loathing. Quite a mix of topical views that my age–at the time–embraced. What I managed to love about music was its malleability, it’s way of conveying various emotions, interpreting those emotions and translating them into a form that would reach a mass audience. Back then–I might add–no matter what the feeling was, there was a sense that songs did have a point. In my opinion, the 80’s changed all of that with the genius invention called MTV and its new way of expressing creative ideas in visual form. Now that was when it played music videos ad nauseum. But being from that generation, I related to this new art form and once again I gave it a hug while mindlessly muttering the catch-phrase: “I want my MTV!”
Before I tackle you with my view of the transition, let me first set the stage. Most kids my age: about thirteen and a half had never seen anything remotely interesting when it came to music. Oh sure, we’d ogle the paper sleeve of our favorite 45’s and marvel at the artwork on the cardboard covers of the LP (which sometimes had ‘surprises’ in the brochure-style folds and creases–yea!), but we never had an intimate view of the band who sang. The only time you could catch performers was on American Bandstand, the Soul Train, Solid Gold (with the Solid Gold dancers!) and late-night talk shows like The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Then on some random day, my best friend, Barbara called me all excited. She asked me to tune into a television station still in its infancy (UHF) that aired music videos at 3 o’clock every day after school. You have to understand that there were maybe four major channels at the time: CBS (Channel 2), NBC (Channel 4), ABC (Channel 7), and WPIX (Channel 11). The color television set was a privilege to have and shared by the whole family, which meant that Mom & Dad got to watch whatever channel they wanted and you had to live with it. By this time, smaller sets were becoming more and more frequent, so I finally got my hands on my very own small black & white television. And the way that I felt back then about having my own tv, you’d of thought I landed on the moon or something. The way my tv set was made, there were two dials. One was to manually (yes, manually) change the television stations. The other was to tune into a different frequency. Which meant that just by setting the channel to the UHF, didn’t mean that you were already tuned into the station automatically. No. You had to skillfully maneuvre past the channels with nothing but static and handle some vertical hold issues. And the only way to get the station was by changingthechannelsonthetvthisfast, but when the picture came up miraculously, you felt as though you were witnessing The Dawn of Man. The very first music video I ever heard, which played at the start of the program (which was called something simple like Music Hits or, Best Hits or Greatest Hits–a little help here?) was “You Spin Me ‘Round” by Dead Or Alive (but really I think this link is pretty intriguing because it shows the evils that plastic surgery has rendered on poor Pete Burns, lead singer of Dead Or Alive). That period of my life was especially influential because it helped me realize why popular music was, well, popular. That’s when I got to be well-versed in Duran-Duran, Cyndi Lauper, Michael Jackson, The Go-Go’s, Adam Ant and countless others. Back then, even Willy Nelson was cool thanks to a little duet with Julio Iglesias about girls they’d loved before.
In high-school, MTV was my poison. I spent countless hours glued to the tv set much to my parents’ chagrin. I bathed in their music video countdowns (uh, minus Carson Daly, thank you). Their mix of VJ’s from Martha Quinn and Kennedy to Kurt Loder and Adam Curry became our familiar friends. We stayed up all night to watch Headbanger’s Ball Liquid Television. The music videos could have been corny, but they were memorable: Tawny Katane somersaulted on the hood of a car, Madonna rolled around in belly-button revealing clothes, Prince got out of a bathtub while doves flew about. The music was synthesized so every song sounded like it being heard through a funnel. It was light, cheery and all about decadence and fun. MTV couldn’t have come at a better time. Everything was in neon colors and brights! The way to listen to it was in tape form, so you’d go to the mall, buy a bunch of Memorex and get your friends to “dub” you bootlegs that cost nothing. The sound quality wasn’t great, but you just were excited to hear the new tunes that it didn’t matter. It also promoted comradery because you couldn’tbe angry at your best friend for too long if you really wanted her to record U2’s, “The Joshua Tree” album, now could you?
When I entered college, though, my tastes started to really change. I became more aware that The Police didn’t just sing, “Every Breath You Take”, but had a host of other albums I’d never heard of. Going to the college bookstore was like a spelunking expedition. You could find tapes dirt cheap with artists you may not have even heard of. My new obsession became R.E.M. and I played the heck out of their “Green” album–just ask my sister. She’d gotten tired of me raising the volume to play, “Get Up!” every morning before school. I think she still hates me for that.
I know this is going to sound weird, but I discovered Pink Floyd in college. Yeah, it’d taken me that long. It happened in one of my favorite English classes where a young girl named, Apricot Bigglesworth (not her real name) made friends with me. I say friends, but really, college was a strange place that involved lots of people who really didn’t care what you did or didn’t do. Apricot was no exception. We weren’t chummy outside of class, but in class, we were friendly. She was kind of like a star you couldn’t pin down and I was all moody-blue. At least, that’s the impression I wanted to give off even though others were probably more aloof to me than I was to them, but hey…college. Born in the wrong time period, Apricot was all-hippy-all-the-time. She’d come to every class with two props: oranges and coffee. An odd mix to be sure, but she was an individual. One day, I asked her about her weekend and she described some kind of trip she’d been on (after smoking reefer) and how enlightened she became, at one with her music. I’d never smoked anything, so I wondered what the heck the girl was talking about until she nonchalantly handed me one earplug on her earphones. The rest was trippy, man. She had single-handedly introduced me to one of the greatest bands of all time: Pink Floyd. “Oh yeah. I’ve got all sorts of albums in my basement. They’re all originals, man. Yeah. You should so, like, see the psychelic colors that show themselves on my wall when I’m listening to it. It’s great. Then came a little bit of The Beatles, some classic Rolling Stones, and a touch of Led Zeppellin. My eyes had been shut to the mysteries of the universe and now came the flood…
In my sophomore year, I interned for Angel Records which handles the classical music scene in Manhattan. Twice a week I traveled to 8th Avenue in New York and began my education in classical music. I ended up falling in love with Hildegard Von Bingen, mainly because I had to package hundreds of those cd’s for sale. It was a complex origami nightmare and I was so glad to leave after 3 months in Corporate America. It was there that I realized that music was transitioning into a marketable, packagable thing. No matter how haunting an aria was, it was still who was on the cover that sold the record. I listened to The Scarlett Pimpernel, the soundtrack from Annie and traditional symphonies, and even got to meet the great Itzak Perlman (even though I nearly ran the man over). But I digress…
Over the years as I’ve gotten older; the music (like me) has changed. I’ve grown accustomed to more mellow grooves and indie-type jams. I want songs with substance and lyrics worth a damn. Hence, my love of Johnny Cash (and not that Walk The Line stuff, more of his American Recordings hymns) and the new Bruce Springsteen sans E-Street Band. Reflective, inviting and challenging moralistic odes that feed my soul. On my yukebox play some deep meaningful ballads, some creations by Radiohead or Bjork that are a fusion of lyrical and haunting. And toss in a little Coldplay for good measure, but only if it starts becoming too much of a downer. You with me? Then, let’s party like it’s 1999! C’mon, you loved that song, too!