Saturday, 23 July 2016

Music has charms to soothe a savage b(r)east

With all the doom and gloom happening these days--terror attacks, mass shootings, Brexit, renewal of Trident missiles and Trump (just to name a few)  I have been a bit overwhelmed by it all. And I feel that heavy feeling of stress/depression/anxiety I do what I have always done--lose myself in the music. 

Music is so important to me. It probably is to everyone. I have clear memories of musical awakenings--when you discover a perfect song or a band that you want to do nothing except play their songs on repeat until the record skips from constant use or the tape disintegrates (I am dating myself here). You know what I mean. The song whose lyrics spoke to you--the ones that could have been written by you. How did they know? Has someone else felt the depths of teenage angst like I feel? Is that what it means to be human? Is this what make me part of the universe?
Peter, Paul and Mary
My first exposure to music was through my parents. That's probably true for everyone. We had this amazing hi-fi. It was a beautiful wooden cabinet with speakers and you pressed down on the lid and it made a little pop! and the lid opened to reveal a turntable and a radio. Here I grew to love Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Silkie, The Kingston Trio, The Statler Brothers, Don Williams and so many others. There was also Joan Baez that I never took to and lots of Waylon and Willie that I could give or take. But I adored the hi-fi. I could spend hours pressed up against it, feeling the vibrations of the music-- the familiar pop of the needle as you started the record and the slight hiss before the music began and the mechanical thunk of the needle at the end of the record. I spent many happy hours singing into a hairbrush like it was a microphone to the Starland Vocal Band having *no* earthly idea what Afternoon Delight was about. I though it was about the fourth of July as there were fireworks.

I was healed once of a fever by that hi-fi. I had been very ill and I heard Blinded by the Light by Manfred Mann's Earth Band on the radio and I walked towards the hi-fi and laid my hand on the speaker right when the music does that bit that sounds like a roller coaster where it goes dun nun nun nun nun nun dooooOOOOOooo  and just as he sang the line the calliope crashed to the ground  I felt my fever break. Suddenly the achy-ness was less and I felt like I was getting better. I genuinely to this day feel that the song did it.
The Cowsills in their groovy matching gear
My mother had all her 45 records (that really dates me) from when she was a teenager. Here I discovered The Beatles (although the first one I ever heard was I am the Walrus and I recall thinking What is all the fuss about?) She had the song These Boots Are Made For Walking and this great song called The Rain, the Park and Other Things by the Cowsills (who were the model for the Partridge family) and this one called Hold Me, thrill Me, Kiss Me. I loved that one. I wanted to feel that way the song describes being driven "slowly out of my mind" by kissing. Later, as I did lots of kissing, it was more like boys trying to lick my tonsils in a rough "eating my face" sort of way. More like drive me out of my lunch rather than out of my mind.  She also had Dim Dim the Lights by Bill Haley and His Comets (of Rock Around the Clock fame) which was all about making out at a party (I sense a theme here--lots of earliest musical fantasies were about kissing at parties) and my favourite part was the nonsense words that sounded like  By-byong sung by a man with a baritone voice. I loved these and soon was adding my own modern ones to the collection.
As Casey said, "keep your feet on the ground, but keep reaching for the stars" 
I spent many a lazy Sunday in the late 1970's/early 1980's lying on a mattress in our storage room, drinking a cold coca-cola from a glass bottle (those were the days)  with a radio listening to Casey Kasem and the American Top 40. Here I absorbed and memorised songs and their artists. Here I first was awakened to the power of the music of my generation.

I bought my first 45 record with my own money from the mall and it was Le Freak by Chic. It was the Sixth grade and the song was hugely popular. I loved the infectious call of AwwwWWWW Freak Out! and spent much of that year discoing madly in my bedroom. You can watch the video here:
This song is responsible for creating in me a huge and unashamed love for disco. Spiderman rolls his eyes but when a disco hit plays on the radio I am up dancing like  a fiend.
Image result for cassette tape
But I remember when 45 records were not enough. All the cool kids had this new thing called a cassette tape. You might even be able to get a small portable player for your cassette tape! You could make mix tapes for your friends You could wait patiently by the radio for your favourite song to come on and then squeal when the opening notes started and you quickly fumbled to press PLAY. Consequently, all your favourite songs had a loud click-clack noise of you pressing PLAY followed by a DJ annoyingly talking over the beginning of the song, but you could record the song yourself! Stick it to the Man!

I still bought albums on vinyl. Mostly in the early 80's record shops still had just records.  Then I would tape them by putting my portable boom box up close to the turntable speakers resulting in a very inferior recording. Anyone else remember doing this?
Image result for violent femmes
the first Violent Femmes
I spent lots of teen years lurking around the various and sundry music shops in Alexandria. First there was only MusicLand which tended to be more traditional. Later Peppermint Records opened and they had some cooler, more risky stuff. I bought my Violent Femmes and Dead Kennedys on vinyl from Peppermint. There was also Camelot Records in the strip mall that had the Holmes. They had lots of cool stuff on cassette. Lots of weird and wonderful bands that i had seen on my new obsession MTV. I would obsessively memorise all the names of interesting sounding cassettes and watch for them on MTV in future weeks. I bought my Amazulu, The Fixx, Modern English and Wall of Voodoo on cassette from Camelot. They still did some vinyl--mostly old stuff they had on clearance. I once accosted my friend Danny and begged him for a dollar so i could buy a vinyl of The Beatles live at the Cavern Club from Camelot. He gladly did it and I was thrilled to hear them in such a raw, poorly recorded, scratchy form.

All through high school I was still buying music on vinyl and on cassette and religiously watching MTV. There was this influx of New Wave music that really moved me. It was perfect for an angst ridden teenager like myself (is there any other kind?) and I was consumed with it.

When I was at LC and had grown from an angst ridden teen to an angst ridden young adult, I used to love to come home for weekends or holidays and watch 120 Minutes  on MTV with my Mum and teach her about all the cool alternative bands that I loved. It was a good time for us--a time where we connected rather than clashed and I would teasingly quiz her about songs and we would stay up late and listen and talk. Those were good times.

For me, every song or artist has an association--a time, a place, an event. Every song transports me back. In many ways my musical tastes are still stuck in the 1980's. I think the years when we go through puberty are the years that define us--they sear the music into our brains. We *need* the music to help us cope with growing up and it defines how we feel about life. All of our first stirring of sexual awakenings happen with a soundtrack.  I started being awakened to the power of music in the late 1970's which accounts for my penchant for disco.

I thought it would be fun to share some of my favourite music in an A-Z format. With the advent of MTV, some songs are intrinsically linked to their video, others are not. Many I did not even know had a video because they came to me via a  mix tape that a friend or boyfriend made me.  Let me just say, I have a *lot* of favourite songs (hence why we are going alphabetically to spread them out), but I also listened to a lot of strange and interesting stuff as a teenager. I often knew the less popular/unknown songs by a famous artist because i bothered to buy the whole album/cassette and listened and fell in love with what didn't make the radio.

I hope you will discover (or maybe rediscover) a favourite song or artist from the playlist that I am planning. But be warned:

*There will be synthesizers (it was the 80's after all)
*There will be sad songs (I have a lot of Goth/dark wave influences) 
*There will be exuberant but unintelligible singing
*There will be lots of songs alluding to nuclear war (I had a real fear of the Cold War and began my political activism through these songs) 
*There will be songs/videos that tell a story (I am a sucker for these) 
*There will be earworms

Are you ready? Then strap yourselves in and turn your speakers up.

What are your musical influences?


  1. Great romp through memory and music! Rocked you to sleep as a baby with Peter, Paul & Mary. That little girl in the white lace dress on the cover of The Violent Femmes.......but when I heard their screeching "music" it was like OUCH! You'd laugh and say they were wonderful and I'd make gagging faces back. Good times, good memories.

  2. I don't remember the dollar or the incident, but oddly enough, I ended up buying that same album years later at a flea market in Hanau, Germany!