I remember the day – not the exact date – but the day (and even the moment) – that I first truly fell in love with rock and roll – the day I realized music held something more powerful and magical than I could hope to even contemplate at that time.
It was like suddenly waking and realizing all at once that you’d always been asleep until that very moment. I knew that I was changed forever then… and it literally began with playing records backwards.
I was fortunate that my parents had displayed (albeit casually) that music held at least some importance.
Amidst my early memories, I can still see my father straining upward to wiggle a screwdriver into the 8-track player on a high shelf in the garage.
With intense focus, he delicately wriggled that screwdriver’s end into the stereo, until finally the 8-track cassette and the tip of the screwdriver were wedged into the machine together just right.
This was a common ritual I believe…followed by a tense, silent and hopeful moment as he pressed down on the long, silver button. It would click into place and then there’d be this single second, lasting almost forever, where there was this feeling hanging in the air that a soul might just be crushed…and then, through speakers wired into every corner of the garage, came the sudden tell-tale whir as the cacophony of sounds wound up to speed and the jams burst forth at high, triumphant volume.
It was the look of accomplishment that followed across my father’s face that first clued me in to the concept that rock and roll might hold some mystical power. But my dad didn’t have diverse tastes in music. He knew what he liked and stuck to it. In those garage days we sometimes played Alice Cooper, and sometimes Aerosmith. Sometimes in the house, he’d wire up his stereo all special and play the Moody Blues or Queen. But more than anything, my father played and worshiped the music of Styx.
Sometimes, while riding my bike around the neighborhood, I would hear Styx drifting in the air and if as I neared the house, all the windows were open and the Styx was cranked to the critical limits of the shining, silver component stereo within, I knew my father was preparing himself for something special. Sometimes I’d power my way through the waves of decibels inside to find my dad dancing and singing loudly in front of the bathroom mirror as he shaved and I’d know at once that he was preparing himself for a rare night out.
This is not how I fell in love with rock and roll though.
(Don’t worry Chicagoans – I will blog more about Styx soon.)
I had liked music and I had even begun to explore it on my own. But I hadn’t truly loved it yet. Then when I was 12, a literature teacher in junior high changed my life.
It happened almost by mistake – just a casual sentence spoken absentmindedly out of some memory.
Our teacher was attempting to teach us about the beautiful things we might find buried within the subtexts of the things we’d read. She mentioned the word, “subliminal,” but I don’t think we quite understood. She said something about subliminal messaging and in a breath, she uttered, “Like the whole ‘Paul is dead’ thing.”
Something about this had resonated with me and my best friend Troy, who was sitting next to me. We looked at each other and as our teacher tried to move on with her lecture, we stopped her.
“Wait. What?” We interrupted.
That’s when she told us the legend of the secret, subliminal message that some claimed was hidden on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album.
“It was a big thing.” She explained it away as quickly as she could.
Now…my dad’s record collection was pretty sizable – neither he or my mom really listened to the Beatles but I knew that there were some Beatles records in that mix. Troy and I, latch key kids with no supervision and plenty of time, knew what we had to do.
My dad didn’t have Sgt. Pepper but we did find the “blue album,” (Beatles 1967-1970) and having also come across the “red album,” we pulled them both off the shelf for a thorough investigation.
We spun I Am the Walrus backwards on my dad’s record player for hours, eventually coming to the conclusion that there was no discernible message hidden there or on any other track on these albums (we could swear though that something sounded a lot like the phrase “the next time you go out” though but could make out nothing more).
Most importantly though, at some point we just let the records play….forward. And everything changed.