Albums Define Us

Correction from my last blog:  It was brought to my attention by my beloved girlfriend that I stated my age as “forty” when complaining about the teenage usher.  While I tried to argue that I had simply rounded my age for effect and having a precise age wasn’t necessary in that context, she insisted that I am now forty-one (like her).  I’m sorry, Beloved, and it won’t happen again.

I am not a huge musical person, by which I mean I can’t really sing or play an instrument.  I use to sing in the middle school choir, but once my voice changed I sound too much like a cat hissing after being squirt with water.  As for playing an instrument, learning guitar is on my bucket list for much the same reason that climbing a mountain is on the list:  to look cool and hip to anyone who happens to see my bucket list.

Isn’t it strange that no one is really honest about bucket lists… like, I’m pretty sure my real bucket list, written moments after hearing of imminent death, would involve much more sex and drugs than my current list.

Yet even though I’m not, by design, a music connoisseur, music still plays a big role in my development as a human.  It’s an odd effect that the lyrical strummings and sung melodies from another person’s brain can so powerfully affect our own personalities.  When Cyndi Lauper belted out that, “Girls just wanna have fun,” I internalized the message and now find it hard to take relationships too seriously.  It doesn’t matter that 1) I’m not a girl, 2) the song was sung by Robert Hazard four years before Cyndi, or 3) I was only seven years old when the song first came out.  It’s burned into my memory as a defining element.

In fact, let’s just blame my polyamorous nature on Cyndi Lauper singing that song.  You happy, Mom and Dad?  It wasn’t anything you taught me, it was that god-forsaken “rock n’ roll devil music.”

Complete albums are even more powerful than singles, due in part because of the crap songs we have to endure to find the songs which touch our hearts.  The crap defines us as much as the hits do, showing us exactly how much torture we can endure to get a little glimpse of genius.  Trust me, I’ll wade through mountains of crap to find tiny gems of glory… probably explains why my personality is 90% asshole and 5% saint and 10% koala bear.

The first album I remember clearly was Michael Jackson’s Thriller.  My mother loved MJ’s music.  My sister and I would sneak the album out of the music cabinet, put the vinyl disc on the record player, start listening to Jackson’s powerful vocals, and then turn the speed on the player up to the highest setting so it would sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks.  If you think the song Thriller is a steaming pile of crap at normal speed, you should try warming that shit up with microwave speed.  Now, I was only five years old when the album came out, but it taught me so much.
1.  Wanna Be Startin’ Something – Everyone wants to start something, but often mumble so no one can understand what it is.
3.  The Girl is Mine – Why can’t they share? (Okay Mom, I guess it’s partly your fault.  It was your musical taste that started my path.)
5.  Beat It –  Giving up is better than losing.
6.  Billie Jean – Being a dad is scary.
8.  Pretty Young Thing (P.Y.T.) – Touched my first vagina to this song… yes, when I was that young.  Wendy and I just wanted to know what was so special about our parts.  Now I’m addicted.  Damn you, Michael!

In 1983, my family got cable and I was introduced to MTV.  That almost destroyed my interest in listening to full albums due to the ability to just watch videos that were fun.  Much less chance of seeing or hearing crap.  But my father rescued me when in 1987 he began a subscription to one of those “Mail Music to your Home” programs… this of course being before Amazon or free illegal downloads.  BAM!  REM’s album Document came into my life and my father, being a technological front-runner, purchased it as a CD.

So why I never had the pleasure of hearing REM ramped up to Mach-Chipmunk, I also never accidentally scratched the disc because I wanted to skip the crap songs.  The player would skip for me!  Oh the bliss.  I didn’t have to suffer through Exhuming McCarthy or Disturbance at the Heron House to bounce off my bed to Strange and It’s the End of the World as we Know It.  With my constant health issues during this time, I really found comfort in the upbeat declaration of “feeling fine” when the world (life) was about to end.  It helped the eight year old me keep from becoming a sobbing blob of fear.

1988 brought confusion with my love of Paula Abdul’s album Forever Your Girl and Poison’s Open Up and Say Ahh.  I masturbated with my Princess Adora (She-Ra) doll while listening to Paula.  I bonded with my step-cousin Melissa and her best friend (who I’d make out with) to Brett.  Hair band versus pop… which route would the now eight year old me take?  In the end – neither.  There was another alternative… Alternative.

In 1992 I stole my dad’s copy of The Cure’s Wish.  Not The Cure’s greatest album, but it was enough to introduce me to non-mainstream musical options.  Not to mention, Wish provided Cheri and I with “our” song (because it’s Friday we’re in love).  I went back and listened to all The Cure’s albums, and then the Seattle/grunge music scene was really hitting it’s stride.  My musical taste just became a hodgepodge of the weird, and as soon as any of my favorites became “mainstream,” I’d jump off the bandwagon and try something else.

What else would you expect from a rebellious 11 year old in the early 90s?  And I’m still the same way today at the ripe old age of thirty-nine.  All thanks to music.



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