"love feels good when it sits right down
puts it feet up on a table
and sends a bowl around
ain't nobody gonna see eye to eye
with a girl who's only gonna stand collarbone high
rain's gonna come in fair-sized drips
we're gonna go to heaven wearing paper hat ships..."
"Rollerskate Skinny" - Old 97's
My first rock'n'roll memory dates back to my days as a five or six year old, stuck at a train crossing, my father blasting the radion as it played "Hey Jude," swaying his head side-to-side and yelling, at the top of his lungs, "na, na, na, na na na na, na, na, na."
Of course there was immediate concern he'd damaged me, my Nana's exalted one, with this display of vulgarity; my virgin ears and all, and anyway, my dad could do no right with my Nana at point, hell, he could have shit out a bowl full of fifty-ounce gold nuggets for the family to spend as they pleased and she woulda complained that they didn't smell good enough.
But of course I survived, forty years later my ears still seem to work fine, but then again, maybe that's where I got fucked up good and proper, once and for all.
Dear Old Dad tried to do the right thing, not much longer than the Hey Jude episode. He got into - gasp with me - classical music by about 1975 or so.
Soon enough, rock'n'roll was nowhere to be found in the family sedan (a light green Ford Fairlane, for the record). Not that there was very much rock'n'roll to be found on the radio back then; there were the stations playing the bland shit that passed as rock back then, and there was a station or two playing top-40, which I absolutely loved, in secret of course. I would have died to save the lives of the Bee-Gees at that point,
Anyway, Dad may have had no compunction about smoking Garcia Y Vega cigars for hours on end with only his window open a crack, but goddamit, he wasn't gonna raise no rock'n'roll Philistines. We'd all drive around, choking on cigar smoke and getting all edju-ma-cated on the smooth sounds on WMHT-FM, 89.1 on your FM dial.
He and my mom took me and one of my sisters on up to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center one mid-70's August night to see the Philadelphia Orchesta. My Dad was a smart guy, he had a Ph.D. and all, and we all sort of took out cues from him; if he thought it was good, we thought it was good, and if he thought it was stupid, we all thought it was stupid.
So we went up there and sat under the summer sky and watched the Philly masters tear it up, as it were. It sounded OK, it was fun, I mean, it was a warm summer's night and we'd gotten to escape the projects for a few hours to listen to some music, so I felt good about life.
On our way out we ran into the local high school principal and his wife and their daughter, and we all got to discussing the show.
For some reason, I guess because as like a nine-year old or so I felt a deep-seated need to say whatever the fuck came into my head, I said something like, yeah, well, it was good but I still would rather see Fleetwood Mac.
Well, in certain spots of the SPAC lawn area I swear you can feel the cold chill that broke out between us after I said that.
The principal's daughter protested, saying that a rcok band could not withstand a power outtage. She really thought she had me, and I suppose she did, but, never one to quit when I was behind, I dug in my heels and launched into a full-throated defense of my preferences, saying that Fleetwood Mac was perfectly capaable of laying down a set using only acoustic instruments.
My folks clearly wanted me to shut the fuck up, and so did the principal, his wife, and his daughter. But I felt backed into a corner; I knew rock'n'roll mattered more than the scribblings of a bunch of old dead European guys, and hey hey, my my, I was gonna let everyone know my ten-year old ass was right.
I switched schools after seventh grade, and musically, at first at least, that was as bad as the conversation with the principal's daughter. I came in thinking Donna Summer was the shit, and my new classmates thought she was some sort of bad joke. They didn't wanna hear about no hot, hot, hot love, they wanted to hear about what the Classic Rockers of the day had to say; Roger Waters was regarded as a profit and the fine folks of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, and Bad Company were seen as some sort of geniuses, as assinine as that latter thought sounds to sensible folks of modern times.
I tried, I did, to like what everyone else did, yeah, baby, ELP and Zep, rock on. But secretly, I fucking hated it. Brain Salad Surgery, are you fucking kidding me?
I felt lost, I knew I had to leave Top-40 and disco behind, I mean, shit, they were burning disco records in baseball stadiums at that point, but I figured, secretly of course, that they could take their classic, or progressive, or whatever they called it, up their collective assholes.
At some point in the middle of my high school years, a guy I looked up to, he was tough and a good athlete and all that, was carrying around a cassette tape, shit, remember cassettes, anyways, on one side it had the Pretenders and on the other it had the Clash, and timidly, I asked him if I could borrow his tape. I'd heard "Brass in Pocket" and "Train in Vain" at this point, but nothing else from either band.
"Don't break it," was his answer. "And give it back to me in a couple of days."
And then I went home and put the tape in, and I played the Pretenders first, and that was one thing, it rocked my world, but at some point a day or two later I put the Clash side on, and that just blew my fucking teen-aged mind. I couldn't believe my ears. This was what I had been waiting for since that night on the lawn arguing with the principal's daughter. This was the Promised Land. "White Riot." "White Man in Hammersmith Palais." "London Calling." I remember asking my Dad what he thought of their political comment, and he sneered at me, "WHAT political comment," and though I knew he was smarter and more educated than me, I also knew he was wrong: I knew he had failed to see the point, and more importantly, I knew there was a point, and one that mattered. And there's nothing quite like knowing you know something your dad doesn't, is there?
In college, for awhile, I had a foot in both camps: I had a friend who was a diehard Springsteen fan, and another who worshipped at altar of Mark Knopler and Dire Straits, and I listened to both artists feverishly, but I also felt myself slipping into something else, something in those days we called, sometimes, "college radio" stuff. The Cure enticed me, the Smiths enthralled me: shit, what could sound better to a mucho sensitive college boy that the sounds of violins and a froggy, high-pitched voice singing, "if a ten-tonne truck, kills the both of us, to die by your side, what a heavenly way to die?"
By the late '80's I had veritably drowned in what by then was known as the "alternative" scene. I had developed especially strong hankerings for, besides the Smiths, the Replacements, the Feelies, the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Mekons, Billy Bragg, and, especially, the Waterboys.
By that time, I had developed enough self-awareness to start contemplating what my musical tastes said about me. I knew my music was a mere lifestyle choice, and that I was a good little consumer, just like everone else: only diff was I was buying shit less people bought. I knew I wasn't undermining a fucking thing, no matter how much the lyrics I listened to tried to convince me otherwise.
And now, here we are, all these years later.
I got some hard-earned, according to me, at least, wisdom. Not too many people my gen, my age, have buried - literally - a wife, as I have.
And I still need my tunes, and tonight it's something I couldn't have even imagined twenty years ago, tonight it's the Old 97's, I'm a little hurt, the hole in my heart is acting up tonight, and I need some tunes, and I got some headphones on, and there's a guitar solo screaming off in the distance, and it sounds good, real good, and, sorry, dad, I just started "Rollerskate Skinny" for the eighieth time tonight, and it's giving me something that all the classical in the world couldn't give me. I don't know what that says about me, Dad, but it is what it is: only rock'n'roll's gonna save me tonight, and I'm gonna go get another glass of wine and let the rock'n'roll music save me.