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I’m fairly new here and not sure what the rules are about content. I get that center-right, as this site is advertised, implies politics, but my mind ran contrary to the fate of the Republic. I’m thinking right now about music and how I came upon the stuff I like.
For too long all I heard on the radio was gaga, or googoo. My formative musical years were dull, like most people in high school during the eighties or any other time when a palate was presented to you by someone else. DJs had an iron grip on what we heard. There were good songs, but formulaically so. I had my predictable rebellion where I listened to Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, and The Grateful Dead and considered myself cultured in the small sphere in which I inhabited. But I was buffered.
Then I went to camp.
My 12-year-old self, along with a cadre of compatriots, were roused daily by a pre-recorded reveille blasted through a WWI surplus speaker system. The entirety of Monteagle, TN, could hear it and no doubt they hated us for it. But we were kids. Nothing woke us up. So our friendly councilors, armed with a boom box, made sure we got up.
They would play at maximum volume songs I had never heard before. The Violent Femmes’ “Blister In The Sun,” UB40’s version of Neil Diamond’s “Red Red Wine.” These were get-the-hell-out-of-that-bunk songs played at crummy side table shaking volume. You do not sleep through a Gordon Gano rant.
What struck me was that I had never heard either song before. I thought I was pretty savvy for a pubescent know-nothing, but here was a world of cool sounds that I didn’t even know that I didn’t know about.
I think one of the counselors was named Kevin. Probably Kevin. Anyway, I asked likely Kevin how he found these bands. They weren’t on the radio. Billboard said nothing about them. How did you get hold of this? He told me that when I got back home I needed to find an independent record store and simply ask the clerk what I needed to listen to.
In the mid-eighties, Odyssey Records on 6th Ave. South in Birmingham, AL had the honor of employing a guy who got suspended from Shades Valley High School in December of ’67. At the time, Shades Valley was a catch-all for students around the metroplex. If you were in an unincorporated area, you went to Shades Valley. It got a reputation because if you got kicked out of anywhere in the area, you went to Shades Valley. It didn’t make a lot of CVs. That said, the place has made a U-turn. They have a program within the school that is somehow a separate school that shares the same campus and WaPo ranked them 9th among America’s most challenging high schools.
That guy got suspended because he put the flag at half-mast when he heard that Otis Redding died. You can imagine that when I came in and asked what I should be listening to, per my camp counselors instructions, I left with an Otis Redding’s Greatest Hits album. My listening life has never been the same.
I’m not claiming any esoteric library. Most of what I listen to is pretty accessible by today’s standards, but stuff you would have only known about in the ’80s because some weird kid had a t-shirt.
Otis isn’t the punk or alternative that I listen to more often than not, but I’m now a sucker for Motown and Atlantic Rhythm and Blues. Always will be. That suspendee turned me on to so many other bands — Pixies, R.E.M, Sex Pistols, The Pogues, Linda Ronstadt and Warren Zevon by extension, and so many more. My kids can sing along to most Supremes songs. I got approving looks in the hardware store checkout line when my son sang along to the piped-in “Ziggy Stardust.” On a whitewater trip, my seven-year-old made friends with the river guide because of The Joshua Tree.
I’m all over the place musically, but I can track my tastes back to a 17-or-so-year-old camp counselor and a really nice guy with a mar on his permanent record.
Life is odd.Published in