Tuesday, September 1

Olden Days

My brother and I tend to communicate most during my morning commute. His kids are off to school and his wife teaches so it's usually a good time to catch him for a minute. The other day we were discussing his recent acquisition of an album collection from one of Dad's old buddies who had finally decided to get rid of his rather bulky album collection. If Michael (my brother) and I have one thing in common its a love of music... well, that and The Dodgers. Both loves come from habits my parents established when we were kids but seem to be long gone these days.

Michael brought the 4-5 boxes of albums home and began searching through them. He found lots to love in the collection. While he was flipping through the records his kids crowded around and asked what those were and what he was doing. He told me he tried in vain to explain the lost joy of buying and listening to records. He described the olden days of spending hours in a record store listening to new releases over the store sound system and carefully selecting a new record to buy with the limited allowance he had. He told them about his favorite old record shops (Poo Bah's, Record Jackpot, Moby Disc, Rhino and Tower) and how after a shopping spree he'd bring home the new record (s) and listen to them over and over again while reading the liner notes and lyrics. He went on to tell them about the ritual of listening to albums with friends, of sitting in a sea of records and covers on the floor while you talked and laughed with your best friends. He then got sort of sad thinking that they'd never have that experience. Record stores are barely hanging on and flipping through CDs has never felt the same as flipping through racks of records. And forget about admiring album artwork. Talk about a lost art! Kids today may listen to an iPod mix of music but most are busily hunched over their phones texting friends and ignoring the ones right in front of them. Michael's right, those days are over and it's really too bad. I know I sound like a granny lamenting the lost days of radio but I believe that while technology has done a lot of good it has also robbed us of some pretty nice times.

I grew up in a very loud house. There were only four of us but we were loud. Much of this was due to eclectic tastes in music. My Dad loved classical, Mom leaned towards show tunes and Waylon and Willie, I liked pop and rock while Michael liked rock and, later, punk. Like I said, it was loud at our house. Up until the age of about 10 my Dad would wake us up with Wagner playing on his old Fisher stereo to about 11. Our beds would practically bounce across the floor it was so loud. Dad liked us all up and at 'em by about 7:00 am. At the time it bugged me but it did eventually make a morning person out of me. I got to know a lot of classical music. Dad would play Copeland and ask "What do you hear?" I'd shout "A bird!" or "A storm!". It was actually pretty cool. Because of Mom I happen to know most of the words to Funny Girl and The Red Headed Stranger. Kudos to both ma and pa!

When we got older Michael and I would share much of our music. I always say that when college sent Michael and I our separate ways it broke up one of the best records collections around.

Michael and I are less than 2 years apart so we had some friends in common. I remember very well sitting on the floor of Michael's room with the all of the lights out except for his red lava lamp at our parties while he played DJ. We listened to Pink Floyd, The Cult, The Sex Pistols, The Beastie Boys and God knows what else. I remember hating Bruce Springsteen until the day Michael sat me down and said "Dude, I'm telling you you're really going to like this. I think you're a Springsteen fan waiting to happen." He played "Thunder Road" for me on Dad's stereo and waited for my reaction. He was right, I fell in deep love with Springsteen that day and spent the next decade going to every Springsteen concert that came to town. I also got way into REM, U2, The Replacements and bunch of obscure college bands who later disappeared.

To this day Michael knows what music I'll like. He occasionally sends me suggestions via iTunes, but again, it's just not the same as having him sit across from me waiting for my reaction.

When I was in high school I liked to turn off all the lights in my bedroom on the night of full moon. I'd open the sliding glass door that led to the back yard, lay on my back, hang my head out the door and listen to music on my headphones while staring skyward. I can't remember the last time I did anything remotely like that with my iPod. I mean I listen to my iPod when I can't sleep but it's not the same. I did, however, turn off the tv while writing this and turned on my Moody mix. (What's a Moody mix you may ask? It's my favorite iTunes playlist full of stuff like Beck, Air, Muse, Hem, Keane, Portishead, Richard Hawley, Wilco, Zero 7 and lots more. I bet Shandon and Norm are wondering where the hell was that playlist on our last road trip, since I made them listen to my 70's mix. Sorry guys! Better luck next time.)

My brother and I used to also make killer mix tapes. (Don't worry, I won't go off on a lost-art-of-mix-tape-creation here, but I remember it well.) One mutual friend still has one of those mix tapes and says her kids know every song on it. She tells me that it's worn thin and is now barely audible. I can't believe it's still hanging on. I now make mix CDs for that friend. About a year ago she called in a panic. "Lucy! My kids don't know who the Beatles are! Can you make a mix CD of your faves for us?" I told her that not knowing the Beatles was child abuse and promptly made her a killer mix. I am happy to report that her kids now have a clear understanding of the Beatles. It was the best intervention ever.

I still have all of my vinyl, Beatles and all. I've even kept all of embarrassing records. Unfortunately I'm in need of a turntable. I got a great portable turntable for Christmas a few years ago but the needle broke (Michael?!). I now want one of those turntables with a USB connection so the music can be transferred to my iPod. Ironic, huh? A friend at work is encouraging me to get a Kindle but I think a turntable might be a better investment at this time in my life.

I recently filled a thumb drive with music for my niece and nephew that my brother would not approve of. My nephew lost it. That or my brother disapproved so heartily that he made it sleep with the fishes. I'll never know. Either way, a thumb drive is no replacement for a well compiled mix tape and I know it.

It's strange, on one hand I love the portability of having my entire music collection in one little device. I often think about how the concept of an iPod would have blown my mind when I was a kid collecting my babysitter's cast off copies of Tommy, Captain Fantastic and A Night at the Opera. On the other hand I miss sitting on the floor (it was always the floor wasn't it?) with friends talking and laughing while listening to those old records. Maybe I'll get that turntable and start having listening parties when I buy my condo. Hmm, we'll all have to sit on the floor since I won't have any money for proper furniture. Come to think of it, that really doesn't sound so bad does it?

Last weekend I caught a segment on Wilco on CBS Sunday Morning. They showed the lead singer jamming on guitar in his son's room. Later in the segment I saw that kid race across screen with a copy of Television's Marquee Moon tucked under his arm. I now know what the phrase "It made my heart sing" means. I thought that Jeff Tweedy might be the best dad in the world. He's my people. With dads like Jeff Tweedy and Michael out there maybe there is hope after all.


kb said...

Excellent post! Can I tell you that it made me slightly teary to read about your old bedroom, listening to music, etc? What a dork I am! Lots of music and lots of concerts. Remember getting lost going to Elton John? And the stoner family at the Journey concert? And what was that Tubes song title that we totally messed up? Great memories!

shandon said...

*happy sigh* There's nothing like the feeling of sliding a brand new record out of its paper sleeve and putting it on the turntable for the first time.

I recommend getting a new turntable. I got Sean one for his birthday last year, and one of the first things we listened to was one of my all-district junior high school choir records. I heard my 13-year-old self playing the piano on songs I couldn't even remember! Great fun.

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