Home > Uncategorized > Turn it Up. My current state of mind…

Turn it Up. My current state of mind…

I’m trying to think of the exact moment I fell in love. I’ve got some scattered memories.

That Christmas morning I was sick with a high fever, shivering under blankets on the couch while gently caressing a present from Santa. My first Beatles record. It was the “red” double album of their early hits. Even in my severely compromised condition I knew this was a game changer. Not sure how old I was. Maybe 10. I didn’t so much play this record as devour it. I was told it was “old” music, but it sure didn’t sound like anything my parents were listening to. Those guitar riffs in “Day Tripper” and “Paperback Writer” and “Drive My Car”. That spooky priest in “Eleanor Rigby”. That harmonica on “Love Me Do”. I had a portable record player under my bed and my parents felt so bad for me they brought it downstairs and laid it right next to the puke bucket at the head of the couch. I’m pretty sure they regretted it when they realized, even back then, that I was a bit of a volume junkie. But nobody was gonna tell a kid with a temperature of 104 to turn anything down. Besides, the old folks kinda liked “Yesterday” and “Michelle” and “Yellow Submarine”.

And so it was that I eventually got over one fever, and have been ill ever since with another. It’s been wonderful actually.

Cut ahead maybe 5 years. Out with friends. Somehow we found ourselves standing around a large bonfire with an older crew, who were also warming themselves with cold beer. I didn’t quite understand how that bit worked, but eventually it made perfect sense (more on that epiphany at another time). Anyway….it may have been after a Friday night football game. There was music coming from a portable tape deck. Dirty, distorted guitar. And an odd voice that always veered dangerously close to being out of tune. I sang this way once. In church. I had a one verse solo in the song “We Three Kings”, and butchered it like a hog. Somebody told me the guy’s name was Neil Young. He was singing “Cinnamon Girl”. I asked a guy next to me what record it was from and he mumbled something with the name “rust” in it. I was thrilled. My sister had this in her stacks at home! A total freebie. I couldn’t wait to get home. As I recall, it was so important to me that I ran all the way.

Into her room. She was out of course, being way more popular than I……and so I could rifle at my leisure. Here it was. Neil Young. “Rust Never Sleeps”. I scanned the tracks. Something was wrong. No “Cinnamon Girl”. That lying bastard. Too much Pabst Blue Ribbon and them funny cigarettes. Don’t ever trust anyone over 20.

It wasn’t until later that I found out the record I heard that night was called “Live Rust”, which alas my sister did not have. Neil had a thing about the word “rust” in album titles at the time, and it bit me on the ass. I had to somehow cage money out of my father….along with a ride downtown to Ralph’s Record City. No easy task in my mid-teens, being perpetually grounded as I was. But bless his heart. He never understood a single word on any of my records, but he never fought me on it. If I wanted to buy a record of a band called “Crazy Horse”, whose idea of playing in tune meant being in the same room together, well as long as I didn’t rattle the walls and did my homework, that was my business.

I adored guitars that sounded like marching armies at the time. I had a girlfriend when we were both in 8th grade, and Valentine’s Day was fast approaching. Easy call really. A cassette of AC/DC’s “Back in Black”. She loved me for at least a day. Romance didn’t last but the friendship did (Thank you Angus for never over-thinking your sound or your uniform. You’ve never failed me….which is more than I can say for subsequent girlfriends, who were poisoned by the big hair and synthesizers of the 80s, and forced me grit my teeth if I didn’t want to neuter myself. I still have nightmares about grown men and hair spray. A ghastly time it was).

So I picked up a guitar and realized I couldn’t play. Not a lick. It was very disconcerting. I took one lesson and quit.

But I never really put it down. I jammed my fingers on the strings until I yelped with pain….and by then I had discovered that with a single guitar and a harmonica taped to an imaginatively bent wire-hanger, I could pretend to be Bob Dylan. Nobody needed to know how bad I sounded until I wanted them to. Now this was a revelation.

Lucky for me I wasn’t a very popular teenager. Nobody seemed to miss me as I spent more and more weekends sequestered in my bedroom. It gave me plenty of time to re-raid my sister’s record collection, which had grown. I heard Bruce Springsteen singing “Racing in the Street” one night and kept moving the needle back to the beginning. This was something different. It was Dylanesque….but I could understand it. It meant one thing…not 19 things. Somebody was writing something that sounded like a six-minute movie….and it was only 3 chords. I remember thinking….what else is out there?
I discovered the teen angst of the Who when I was 13 and the band made the news for the worst possible reason imaginable. Eleven fans had been trampled to death at one of their shows in 1979. My brother and 2 sisters had tickets for a show a week after it happened. My mother didn’t want them to go. I’m not sure I did either, but this might have been because they weren’t taking me with them. Things seemed real serious all of a sudden. It wasn’t just fun and games anymore. Townshend was on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine with blood draining out of his mangled fingers. His large beak just made his deep-set blue eyes look even more haunted. It was a long way from “Love Me Do”.

I was a teenager. He was writing about me. As messed up as I felt, I never felt alone again. I found my voice, and since I was too afraid to open my mouth, it sure helped that it belonged to someone else. I didn’t have to explain what was wrong anymore. I could just point them to “Quadrophenia”. It didn’t make growing up any easier, but it gave me a place to hide when things got extra hard.

Through it all Townshend’s music has meant more to me than any other, I think because nobody has better encapsulated that portion of our life most filled with minefields. Adolescence. And he could do it in 120 seconds (having Keith Moon behind him certainly helped).

And so it goes. Rock and roll is the one gift that keeps on giving no matter how old you are. It’s the one love that may ebb and flow, but never dies. When you think it has exhausted itself….it picks up its own pieces….ads a few new ones….and reinvents itself for a whole new group of kids that need it every bit as much as I did. The guitars are still out there. When they wail in the woods and radio isn’t around to play them, they still make a sound. I know this for a fact. I spend a lot of time in the woods.

So to that long ago Christmas morning….and that long ago bon-fire….that long ago Valentine’s Day…..that long ago discovery of the ultimate car song…..that moment when I took myself seriously enough to buy a real harmonica rack and stop using bent coat hangers….that winter night when I heard what this music can ultimately cost. Too all my past and present brother’s in arms with blisters on their fingers I say….in the immortal words of Ronnie Van Zant…

Turn it up.

In a bit…


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Bruce
    March 19, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    Excellent post. My first Beatles album was the “red” one too. Then, I quickly got the “blue” album and heard “Across the Universe” for the first time. It blew me away.

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