Saturday, May 07, 2011

Songs of Our Youth

For the first few years of my life, my mother and older brother were the foundation of things that would ultimately decide who I was. When it came to things like attitude, eating, sports, spirituality, communication and other things like music.

I lived in a house filled with music. My mother LOVED country music and had a great regard for big band music. She had a lovely singing voice and would routinely sing me to sleep. "Pardon me boys, it's that the Chattanooga Choo Choo...track 29?" "See the pyramids along the the sun rise on a tropic isle...but just remember, darling, all the belong to me." Those were the lullabies of my childhood and oh how it formed my psyche. Music really did soothe this savage beast.

My father never really showed an interest at really anything artsy. He never went to  the movies or do I remember him listening to music. In the car, he would get frustrated and reach over to the knob and turn down that "awful crap" I listened to. At his advanced age, I'm sure my Blue Oyster Cult sounded like German jets and their blitzkrieg of London.

My brother, on the other hand was all about Buddy Holly (he wore glasses), Bobby Darin, the Four Seasons, eventually the Beach Boys, and then the holy grail of The Beatles. He was in the room THAT night in 1964.

I'm not sure what the chemical reaction to music is inside your brain.

What causes us to really like certain things and dismiss what the critics like or hate? What chemical reaction is it when the guitar solo from Blue Oyster Cult's "Then Came the Last Days of May" makes the hair on your neck stand out? Or, embracing songs that no one has ever heard? Potliquor, Love Sculpture, The Pousette Dart Band, Blondel and Wishbone Ash have made such great contributions to my musical journey but any "casual fan" of music would scratch their heads at such artists. Having an older cousin who was a junkie helped turn me on to many of those artists listed and others, but I think it was the fact that I grew up appreciating what music can do.

My mother would put on the song "Talk Back Trembling Lips" by Johnny Tillotson and cry. Which, in turn, would make me cry. ""You'll understand someday." I do. I really do. I can tear up at Dan Fogelberg in a heartbeat.

In the fall of 1966, I was ten, I lived on "Campbell's Island" an island that was on the wrong side of the tracks past the poor section of East Moline into an even poorer part of town surrounded by the Mississippi. It was called "Cannibal's Island" by my school mates. I was going to a school that ended up closing down. McKinley grade school never won a game in football or basketball the two years I went there and there was usually a fight or two just about every day. The closest we ever got was losing by 3 points in basketball. My brother was off to the service and I was stuck. Stuck living a house that was built for one person instead of the four that were living there. I couldn't breathe. My room was a closet.I excelled in basketball and football, but there was really no one else on the team that really much cared. It was not an easy place to grow up. The older neighborhood boys were tough and mean. They would beat you for looking at them wrong and then beat you again for fighting back. There were always treasures to find on the Island, but our Saturdays were usually spent riding bikes over God's great Earth or in the winter, playing football in the snow, or rain, or whatever. I just couldn't stay in that claustrophobic house for a long period of time.I had to get out and usually the river was my destination.

My solace, as it has been frequently in my life was the music and the guys on the radio. KSTT was the AM top 40 champion of the Quad Cities. While WQUA had a few good songs, they're music was bit sleepy, so KSTT was the station that played all the its, all the songs that mattered. In was in this element and this school year that the tri-fecta of songs that shaped my musical taste were released. In that year of school, there were three...OK, four recordings that launched my passion for music and what it could do to a person's musical standards.

The first song I heard not too long after I started school that year because the song reminds me of a girl I was interested in as the school year began. I was in my room doing my homework when the DJ announced a new song taking the country by storm by the Association. I liked them. They had "Along Comes Mary" and "Windy" as a part of their repertoire. But this song was absolute love at first listen.

"Cherish" was released in September of 1966 and it zoomed up the charts. I know it did, because a part of my Thursday night routine was to chart each song as the new "surveys" were debuted on the radio that night of every week. In between figuring out my English or Math homework, I would chart each song as it was kept by KSTT. "Cherish" entered the charts at 32 of 40 or something like that. It went to 14, 4 and number one faster than just about ANY other song I had tracked.

There was something about this song that got me from a guttural perspective. The harmonies, the musical prgression, the bells, the words, the structure, the dynamics and passion of pining for another person. The key change right in the middle that makes you know he's getting serious and I'd better listen now. Then in the last verse they're all in, it's serious and they are all declaring their love for someone. Golden. And at the age of ten, a wonder. I "felt" this song and couldn't wait for it to come on the radio again and again. I would reach my parent's limit whenever that song came on as I would sing it at the top of my lungs. And, I still do.

It was the first of three "epiphany songs" to come out that school year for me. I'll write about the other two in a very short time.

The Association didn't last much longer. I thought their music was done with great style and class. When my brother returned from Vietnam, he brought us a brand new technology called a "cassette tape". One of the cassettes had "Cherish' on it.

He later told me his passionate love for that one song and how he would get "lost" in the music in Vietnam. That one song was his lifeline home and he could never figure out why.  Two brothers, worlds away and eight years apart absolutely loving that one song. Music is genetic, maybe? From the guy who turned me on to "Telstar" by The Tornadoes and "Have I The Right" by The Honeycombs, it was high praise indeed. How nice we both felt the same way about it.

my brother and me  just about that time

Song number two of the "trinity" was released in October, just about the time the love for "Cherish" was cooling off. This song literally set my world on fire.

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