When we last left our hero, he had managed to stagger out of high school with his sanity and self-respect semi-intact. With the exception of a few bright spots, music had not been much of a help in keeping morale up. All of that was about to change.
I began college in 1977 at Suffolk University in Boston, majoring in Journalism. I quickly joined the newspaper, the Suffolk Journal, and through it managed to absorb information about up and coming music groups, courtesy of the Arts and Entertainment reporters.
That, and I was also listening to WBCN 104.1, which at that time was called the Rock of Boston, and rightfully so. You wouldn't know it from hearing it now, but once upon a time, BCN was one of the most influential rock stations in the country. Their DJs were experimental, progressive, and chronic rules-breakers, and they introduced their audiences to new groups like U-2, Devo, B-52s, and many others.
The beauty of this new era of music lay in its non-conformity. Disco, bloated arena rock, soft rock, all of these were being pushed aside by angry young men like Elvis Costello, Iggy Pop, Jim Carroll, Blondie...
(Sad aside...a few hours before this writing, Carol and I stopped at a supermarket to pick up some groceries, and heard Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up" on the store's music system. Alas.)
Anyways, gone were complex dance moves, the ridiculous leisure suits, the hair being just right. Now, you just grabbed some second-hand clothes at an "experienced" clothing store at Harvard Square, went on down to the Rat in Kenmore Square, and flailed around like an epileptic ferret. Now THAT I could do!!!
It wasn't just the Punk/New Wave/Alternative sound for me; I also was introduced to Weird Al Yankovic's demented genius (fittingly enough, by listening to Dr. Demento), and even had room for stuff like Billy Joel, particularly "The Stranger", an amazing album with practically every track a masterpiece.
And now, for an aside: Dear Billy Joel. You are an accomplished piano player and songwriter. However, you are NOT a rock and roller. You are not, have never been, and never will be. Oh, and by the way, if you keep dumping wives/significant others for progressively younger victims..er...mates, in another few years you'll be dating sperm. Please stop. You're creeping me out.
You can see how my eclectic music tastes came to be.
The early 80's brought the Go-Gos, Wall of Voodoo, Madness, Big Country, The Alarm, etc., but by far the best thing to come out of the early 80's for me was this college band from Athens Georgia that I first heard on WBCN with their hit "Radio Free Europe". Yes, my favorite band of all time, R.E.M. I was captivated from the first time I heard RFE.
Thanks to MTV (which believe it or not, back in the early 80s, played VIDEOS), I was introduced to this weird duo, whose debut video consisted pretty much of the two guys running frenetically around, wearing cardboard tubes covered in pieces of carpet on their heads. Yes, it was They Might Be Giants, and their bizarro lyrics.
A special mention needs to be made here about Christian rock. My Christian Fundy stage lasted from about 1974 to 1989. During this time, I was exposed to many Christian bands, many of them trying to rock out, but in a Christian sort of way. My conclusion? Christian rock pretty much blows. But there are two shining exceptions:
Phil Keaggy. This man is a guitar genius. His guitar work is legendary among many musicians, particularly those who admire guitar playing. True story: once, Jimi Hendrix was interviewed and was asked "Do you consider yourself the greatest guitarist ever?" His response was "I don't know...ask Phil Keaggy".
Steve Taylor. Christian New Wave. His stuff was GOOD. And doctrine-wise, his songs took aim at the wishy-washy Liberal Christians, as well as the overly restrictive narrow-minded Conservative Christians. His music advocated taking a stand, yes, but not being a fascist about it, a well-thought out moderate approach, a position which I adhere to nowadays.
The rest of it? Toss it all out. This means you too, Amy Grant. Ugh.
So, building on the music tastes cultivated as a kid then as a teenager (for nothing was thrown out or replaced..it was simply added to), my musical tastes as they stand today were pretty much cemented in place. In fact, I'm not sure there's even call for a Part 4.
And thanks to programs like iTunes and Napster, I've been able to reconstruct a lot of music from my past, resulting in playlists that extend from the 50's to present day. A situation, I'm lead to understand, that's not so unusual among my peers.
Naturally, I've done my best to pass on these music tastes to my kids, and I'm gratified when I see teenagers today checking out stuff from the 50's and 60's. Kind of makes you feel like there's hope for the future!
I conclude with a t-shirt slogan that was created in response to a snarky slogan from a few years back:
"No, I'm not getting too old; your music really DOES suck"