Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The tide's gonna turn and it's all gonna roll you away.

Over at xtcian, Ian has written a history of his musical tastes. After reading it, I told him it was something everyone should do, so now I'm doing it. You should, too.

When I was a little kid, we mostly listened to my parents' music, which, lucky for me, was pretty cool stuff. I fell in love with Leon Russell by age 2, and requested him by name--"Play Yeon!" There was also a lot of Beatles in there, which has continued to be true throughout my life. A little Janis Joplin here and there, some Judy Collins, Maria Muldar. And a lot of classical music, too. I used to love to go to bed to the sounds of a record of Clair de lune and other French music of Debussy's era. And one year we painted our dining room, living room, and hallway, all the while listening to the soundtrack to Amadeus over and over and over and over. And over. My dad stacked the two record set on our turntable's spindle and let them play: you got about a CD's worth of music at a time that way, although I cannot believe it was good for the records.

I also had my own records as a kid: a lot of Disney recordings, including collections of famous songs from their movies and also book and record sets, where you could listen to the story as you read along in your book. "Turn the page when Tinkerbell rings her magic chimes, like this!" My favorite of all of them was Peter Pan, though my love of the music from that movie was wrapped up in my love of the story, which my father had read to me so many times that the paperback copy fell apart (though I still have it, bound in string). You might not believe me, but when the Peter Pan record was playing, our living room couch magically transformed itself into Captain Hook's ship. It's true!

I started collecting 45s when I was in the fifth grade, and I believe my first one was Dolly Parton's "9 to 5." Other winners followed, including "Elvira," "Queen of Hearts," and "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)."

While I was in elementary or middle school, I won some little contest or something at a Christopher Newport College basketball game, and the prize was a gift certificate to Tracks, the local record store. I did not know much about music at that time, but I did know I wanted the soundtrack to Fame, so that was my first grown-up album. Soon I had also gotten the Greatest Hits of Air Supply.

Never one to believe in paying retail, I taped a lot of music off the radio to listen to later. I started doing this by setting my dad's little tape recorder next to the radio speakers, and then when a "good song" would come on I'd race over and press record. Later I got a boombox, and could record from within the machine: higher sound quality, but still almost never the beginning of a song.

Around that same time, I decided that cassettes were far cooler than records, and The Dream of the Blue Turtles was the first album I bought on cassette. This was a real dilemma, because the LP included a musical printing of the Prokoviev line that features in "Russians," so I copied that down on a little piece of paper while I stood in the music section of Roses, and then bought the cassette. It was not until later that I went back and discovered the Police: kind of like Billy Crystal's comment about his daughter saying, "You mean Paul McCartney was in another band before Wings?"

In high school, I discovered Talking Heads, Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, and U2, and those guys (along with Sting, of course) would be my musical touchstones for years to come. Sure, there was some well placed Smiths and Depeche Mode in there, along with a lot of Rush, some Kate Bush, and toward the end some Melissa Etheridge, but it really was David Byrne, Bono, and Roger Waters who shaped my young musical psyche.

Which explains quite a few things.

In college, thanks in part to David Byrne's and Peter Gabriel's explorations, I discovered world music. The Bulgarian Ladies rocked my world: where did that come from? And a friend introduced me to Lyle Lovett and k. d. lang, who would get a lot of play in my earhole. Not to mention Public Enemy--a revelation.

Big in my college years was WXYC, which admittedly I did not listen to as much as I could have, because they played a lot of, let us say, difficult listening. But what did matter was their library--holy mother of us all, there was a lot of music in there. And thanks to the miracle of piracy, a lot of it made it into my collection. Tom Waits, Billy Bragg, the Pogues.

In graduate school I learned the mysteries of funk. After I was out of school, I rediscovered Bob Dylan and Ani DiFranco really started listening to lyrics. And although I had heard a little jazz before, that world opened up.

More recently, I realized for the first time the amazing things people like Matthew Herbert, GoTan Project, and Truby Trio were doing with electronica. I even subscribed to Gramophone for a while to whip my classical collection into shape. Not to mention my current predicament of all gypsy music all the time--Gogol Bordello, Balkan Beat Box, Yuri Yunakov, Storsveit Nix Noltes, Taraf de Haidouks. Now that we have moved, I am on a bit of a budget, but there is still a line there for CDs and music.

It was claimed on NPR last night that when it comes to appreciating new music, a person's window is open from ages 14-21, then gradually closing until it slams shut at 35. If that is true, I have 3 months to take in some new stuff, and then that is all I will listen to and really love until I die. So folks, if there is something I am missing, send it to me fast.

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