There is a strong connection between music and memory. Hearing a tune can transport you across decades, dump you bewildered at the foot of your parents’ driveway on a Big Wheel hearing Sweet Emotion cranking from the neighbor’s Camaro as it cruises by. People have such varied experiences in their introduction to music that I decided to channel Alan Lomax and collect these music-memories.
The Devil Made Me Do It: My introduction to music was through the Youth of Christ group my overzealous mom signed me up for. They had a long list of music guaranteed to send you to hell, and they played it backwards, claimed it was the devil exhorting you to worship Satan, but really it was just garbled sounds. There was tame stuff like ELO on the list. We got bussed to a weekend camp called Powercharges, an old “Circle C” ranch with dried up waterslides, and we sat inside all day getting yelled at that we’d go to hell for listening to rock music. After that weekend, I immediately headed to Kmart and bought all the taboo music on the list. I suppose I did turn out a little bit evil.
The Rosa Parks: First concert: Color Me Badd. First album purchased: Songs in the Key of Springfield. “Who needs the Kwik-E-Mart? See my vest, see my vest, Made from real gorilla chest... Like my loafers? Former gophers.” My hippie mom had the album, Free to Be Me and You, “Mommies are people, people with children. When mommies were little, they used to be girls. Like some of you, but then they grew...” Creepy huh? But an earlier musical memory is when I was four, Suzuki violin training was sweeping through town, so I got signed up for lessons. I told my mom I wanted to switch to cello because I liked its sound better. Truth was, I just wanted to sit down. I never told my mom that. She still doesn’t know.
The “Borrower”: Earliest musical memories are probably of what my sister listened to, which was teeny bopper stuff like New Kids on the Block. I never bought it, I borrowed it. I never bought the posters, I borrowed them.
Weird A(x)l Rose: I grew up listening to my parents’ music, 60s folk and 50s country, like Hank Williams Sr., Peter Paul and Mary. My mom was big into folk, and I learned to play on her guitar. I didn’t branch much out on my own, my first cd purchase was probably Weird Al Yankovic. In high school I was on the social planning committee for prom and other events; it was a pretty diverse group who didn’t really know each other. We had a secret Santa exchange and I received Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion II. When I got it, I was kind of like, wow, is this what you think white guys listen to? because it was so not my style. But then I ended up listening to it until the tape broke. Loved it.
The Closet Metalhead: “Why is your mom such a psycho?” my friends would ask when I was denied the ability to listen to their music. My older brother was kind of a nerd, so mom let him listen to whatever he liked: ironically, 90s rap. I was the problem child, so a close ear was kept on my listening habits. Luckily my mom left us alone while we were playing basketball, which is where I discovered my love for Megadeth and Metallica. My friends would let me burn their music and I used Christian rock cd covers to encase the heavy metal that lay within.
The Dream Machine Weaver: In the early 80s I made tapes from my clock radio, a Sony Dream machine I still use today to wake up to the sounds of NPR. I remember laying in bed, listening to that radio, enjoying the luxury of having my own room for the first time because my sister left for college. Beastie Boys’ Fight for Your Right came on and I jumped out of bed to dance in the dark, oblivious to the song’s ironic tone. Earlier memories include Alvin and the Chipmunks, hits like Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Chipmunks, I remember listening to that album while stuck at the dinner table because I refused to eat my fish sticks. I was also influenced by what my older sister listened to and luckily she had good taste, Tears for Fears’ Songs From the Big Chair remains a cherished album. My first concert was Poison when I was fourteen. My friend and I were dropped off at the amphitheater by her dad who then went to watch a movie, Tequila Sunrise. It’s probably the last concert at which I danced with such abandon. This includes the Grateful Dead (1994, Vegas) and Phish shows I reluctantly admit to attending.
The Roommate: My college roommate was worshipped for his musical collection. He had his finger on the pulse of the scene, hipping us to all the hot bands before anyone heard of them. When I moved in, I put up a huge Use Your Illusion poster above my bed - it was three by six feet. I lost a bit of cred with the roomie at that point. We were in the “getting to know you” phase with the other freshmen, and another friend came back to our room after playing basketball and rifled through our cd collections. He didn’t know any of my roommate’s selections, but my 70s rock collection got a lot of “Hell Yeah!”s.
The Hippest Dad: I have more stories about music than you have time for, like going to fourteen shows on the Uncle Tupelo farewell tour. Highlights from that tour include insinuating ourselves onto the guest list for most of the shows, the fourteen hour drive to Oxford, MS for a three hour show then a fourteen hour drive back through ice, dense fog, to return to college exams. But some of my greatest joy has been to share music with my daughters. Daughter One’s first concert was They Might Be Giants at the Variety Playhouse, and there was a tornado midway through the show. The storm caused the power to go out for a minute where we were, but it peeled a hole in Philips Arena. Daughter Two’s first concert was Futurebirds at the Candler Park Festival. I’m setting the bar high for these kids. My own first concert was Throwing Muses with Flaming Lips as the opener. Kristen Hersh scared me, so of course I fell in love.