Your Questions Answered, the Conclusion

Before diving into the last question, thanks to all of you who asked. Having a blog post to think about for whatever reason seems to help the rest of the day stay organized, and the way this week has run, any help keeping things going is appreciated. With any luck, I'm back on track and can do the next few weeks of the term under my own steam. Props to all of you.

With that said, the last question came from Samantha, who asked:
What was the first record album you bought?
Now I could answer that question directly, but it wouldn't reveal too much about me as there wasn't a great story behind why that album. There's data and then there's evidence, after all. So let me try to expand the question a bit.

So first, some back story. I really didn't start buying music until college. I'm a middle child of the Mtv (when it was music videos) generation so for a few reasons, I didn't need to buy much. The first was that I had an older sister who loved music and who was generally ahead of the musical curve. She was the Jimmy Rabbitte of our neighborhood: she knew when a band was just coming on (imagine Duran Duran just days before "Rio" hit) and she knew when they had outlived their welcome (think Duran Duran right around the time they recorded "A View to a Kill" straight up to today). And so I was able to poach her albums when she wasn't around or occasionally blackmail her into letting me borrow them when she was. And of course, there were some musical hand-me-downs, too. And for those things neither of us had, there was Mtv.

It'd probably also be worth thinking about this in terms of format. I'm old enough that I've lived through more than a few generations of musical technology. So I could talk about - and maybe you could infer some things from - the particular albums and formats I bought them in. And just for kicks, I'll throw a couple of other musical touchstones in there.

And before we dig in, a confession, an apology, and grounds for further inquiry all rolled into one: I am unapologetic about even my worst tastes in music. And so I offer no apologies and will feel not one ounce of remorse for what's about to be said, revealed, and/or thought about. I own a lot of albums, and I've only ever gotten rid of two of them in my time. I'm a bit like Rob in "High Fidelity" on that one. You can chart me musically, but you can't shame me. So, with that caveat, let's dive in...

First Vinyl: J. Geils Band "Freeze Frame"

So, the first vinyl I bought was J. Geils Band's "Freeze Frame." Say what you will, but even for me at such a young age - and probably my parents wouldn't have let me pick the album up if they'd known the song I wanted it for was "Centerfold" - but that album was great. The band had a tight sound, and I think there's a lot buried in there that I still like today. Maybe this was the first place, for example, that I consciously heard someone play a harmonica. And the video for "Centerfold" still kicks ass, if only for the drum roll at the end. Watch it, and you'll see all sorts of video precedents set - there's a hint of Robert Palmer's dancing models in the "Addicted to Love" video (and the ones that followed, and the first suggestion of just how cool a video Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher" might be.

First Cassette Tape: Run D.M.C. "King of Rock"

My first cassette tape didn't come too much later. But I'd jumped genres by then. Like white kids from the burbs for the next several decades, I wanted in on that "Other" action. Remember when rap music was fun? I still remember hearing this stuff for the first time. Suddenly, all the kids at the Southern Baptist middle school I went to were listening to it and trying to make sense of it. If you thought "Footloose" was cool in the 1980s, imagine it at a school where the sixth graders are listening to "ghetto music" and wanting do dance?

I went through two copies of this and one vice principal in about seven months with this. It was that good.

First CD: U2 "Rattle and Hum"

Technically, this was one of several CDs I bought all at the same time. Among the others were Def Leppard's "Hysteria" and The Cure's "Disintegration" and a blues sampler that had the first songs I remember loving by John Lee Hooker and Ray Charles on it (the songs, incidentally, were "Boom Boom" and "Drown in My Own Tears," respectively).

I don't have a whole lot else to say about this time period or those purchases except that it was right around the start of college, and music took on a whole different meaning then. This was also pretty close to the time where I discovered the joys of the mix tape.

With that, here's some bonus musical knowledge for you.

The First Album Someone Else Bought Me: Joan Jett and the Blackhearts "I Love Rock and Roll"

A gift from my sister, this album set the standard for rock and roll sexy for me. The only thing to touch it would be that little sidelong come-hither glance by Susannah Hoffs at the end of the "Walk Like an Egyptian" video. But honestly, what's cooler than Joan Jett casting aside the Runaways and bringing us this (incidentally, notice that she plugs her own song at the beginning of the video). Why do I love Sleater-Kinney or The Donnas or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or Be Your Own Pet so damned much? Why can I still somehow stomach songs by Courtney Love? It all owes to just how bad ass Joan Jett was in my formative years.

Best Mix Tape: Jen T.

Jen is, more or less, the one who got away (and I was, sadly, the one who needed to be gotten away from). But she did mix tapes right. This one had a cover with a penguin photo, and it got lost in a move someplace which seems somehow so tragically metaphorical that emo kids would shake their fingers and tell me to get a life. I can only remember about half the set list today, but this is the mix tape that all the mixes I've ever made for people aspire to be. Standouts from the mix include Tori Amos' "Winter," His Name is Alive's "Is This The Way the Tigers Do" and Meryn Cadell's "The Sweater."

The First Album I Bought That Wasn't Just About the Music: Thelonious Monk "Straight, No Chaser"

In college I took a jazz appreciation course, not because I wanted to be pretentious or anything but because it fit into my schedule, and I'd just enjoyed a Rock History course. And that course brought me all sorts of things. The use of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys made some country music okay (and led me to things like Lyle Lovett and Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams among others). And some of it was very easy. Who couldn't love Louis Armstrong? That tone, that speed, that voice. Jazz was easy to understand until the late 1940s, when things got funky for me. I liked what was happening but there was stuff that I just couldn't get. And the king of that stuff was Thelonious Monk.

I struggled with Monk like a good theory. I struggled with his music the way I still struggle with the idea that being literal in an argument with a girlfriend isn't the same as being rational. I struggled with it the way I struggle with the idea that people who say they're Christian can vote against welfare. I struggled far more than I needed to for such a class. And I still didn't get it until the instructor finally told me to stop thinking about it so much and just listen. Right there in his office, we sat down and put a song on, and every time I tried to say something, the instructor shushed me. And we listened.

And there, underneath all that confusion that Monk had invented just to trample me, there was something else happening. All that stuff that seemed like discord, all those bits that seemed out of place? They were doing something else - something related, but different. There was almost a second song hovering there. It was so big and simple a revelation that I left his office and went to my local record store and ordered the disc right then.

It was, as moments go, near transcendent. And it's the reason today that I'm nervous telling students not to take courses just because they fit their schedule. Who knows what you might find, right?


3 Responses to “Your Questions Answered, the Conclusion”
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Samantha said...

Now THAT's a response! :-) Thank you for sharing all of that.

November 23, 2007 at 9:46 PM
Sisyphus said...

I admire your complete lack of musical-taste shame ... even though I am shameless about some of my past musical history, there is even more that I have hidden deep in my dark and forgotten past. And I like all your stuff listed here (tho, to be honest, rattle and hum is the U2 album I like the absolute least).

Got any live-show stories then?

November 23, 2007 at 11:43 PM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

My live concert stories aren't great; I've seen some great shows but have rarely had that big moment that some people seem to have (I've got a friend who wound up backstage with Neil Young and Peter Buck a few weeks back, for example).

About as close as I get is having sat outside in 113 degree weather with no cover for Pearl Jam or having stumbled into four row center seats for Wilco/R.E.M. at Red Rocks, which incidentally got down into the 30s so that they had to bring out heating lamps for the band. Now that I think about it, maybe climate problems are what happens at shows since when I saw the Foos, it was in an unair-conditioned venue that probably hit the upper 90s during the show.

Those aside, I could talk about the best shows I've seen (or the worst).

November 24, 2007 at 7:20 PM