Being There


I was thinking the other day about how all our musical heroes, however big or small, have passed away in the last few months…Prince, Bowie, Lemmy, Maurice White, etc…and even in the past few decades, like Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson, George Harrison, and so on.  It’s sad and it bothers us when they leave our realm.

At the same time, however, I started thinking just how incredibly lucky I am to have been there when they were huge.

So many important composers and songwriters over the centuries, performers and writers whose fame while they were alive took place well before we or even our grandparents were born.  Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Tchaikovsky, and so on.

One can only wonder what it was like to hear their most famous pieces when they premiered.  Pieces that are still known to us centuries later.

Me, I was born the year after the Beatles broke up so I never experience their chaotic live shows or the unveiling of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and Sgt Pepper to a gobsmacked audience.  Or hearing “Hey Jude” the day it came out.  The closest I ever got was hearing “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love” as new songs during their Anthology documentary in 1995.

And yet…being a teenager in the 80s, I was there when MTV arrived.  I remember seeing the relatively new video for Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” and being floored by the nightmarish visuals.  Or the incredible hype behind the then unheard-of fifteen minute video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”.  Or the unveiling of multiple charity songs in the mid 80s: Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas”, USA for Africa’s “We Are the World”, Artists United Against Apartheid’s “Sun City”…hell, even Hear ‘n Aid’s “Stars”.  All those Big Famous Names in one room!

I was at college in Boston in the early 90s when grunge and Britpop were insanely huge, and got to see Radiohead’s very first US show on Lansdowne Street.  I got to meet Robyn Hitchcock during a college radio presser.  During my HMV years I got to go to a few meet n’ greets with various bands, and got to see many more live.  And I met a few musicians in the store itself.  And over the last few years my wife and I have been going to Outside Lands, where we’ve seen a ridiculous amount of great bands.  This year’s line-up plans to be absolutely amazing.


Do I feel sorrow when my favorite musicians pass away?  I suppose in a way I do…I’ve never been one to completely fall apart, and there is that quite sobering realization that this musician won’t be around anymore to write or record anything else.  Their oeuvre has a finite end, and we fans are loath to admit that will ever happen.

I feel absolutely blessed that I live in a time where I’ve been entertained by so many creative minds in the last thirty-plus years.  Absolutely fucking blessed.  These are the creators that have inspired me, entertained me, and made my life that much happier.

So to all the musicians living or passing in 2016:  I thank you from the bottom of my heart.


Walk In Silence 1

I’d say the music that I connected to most at the time was classic rock.  I’d grown up listening to it, and started my music collection with the Beatles.  Not to say I didn’t enjoy other genres or station programming…I had a passing interest in the poppier Top 40 sounds, especially from about 1983 onwards, when it updated its sound and included multiple genres.  But thanks mainly to WAQY 102.1 FM out of East Longmeadow and WAAF 107.3, originally out of Worcester, I found myself listening to a lot of classic and AOR rock.

Looking back, I think part of it may be due to the quality of the production and the creativity of the music.  It didn’t necessarily need to be a genius creation, it just had to have something that caught my attention somehow.

That would mean John Bonham’s thunderous drums and John Paul Jones’ synth strings on the epic “Kashmir” — the first rock song to completely blow my mind — or the Beatlesque* sounds of Electric Light Orchestra’s “Can’t Get It Out of My Head”.  Or it could be the countrified twang of Eagles.  Even the bubblegum fun of Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” and “Fox On the Run” counted, thanks to their catchy guitar riffs and high-pitched harmonies.


I often say The Beatles’ 1967-1970 compilation is ‘officially’ the first album I ever owned, but that’s not entirely true.  I will admit that claim actually belongs to Shaun Cassidy’s Born Late, which I’d gotten for Christmas in 1977.  I kind of consider that a trial run, though…in December of 1977 my music collection was pretty much a reflection of what I thought album collecting was about at the time: pop music and buying whatever was popular at the time.  Why did I have my mom buy that Shaun Cassidy album?  Who knows.  I think it was because he was one of the Hardy Boys on TV at the time, and he was all over the covers of teen magazines at the time.  David’s little brother, also a musician and an actor and a heartthrob!  Buy it now!  Hell, I was six years old at the time, I didn’t know any better.  I didn’t even know I was breaking a perceived gender role at the time by liking a young pop star’s music.  My parents may have side-eyed me (more on the quality of the music than the gender role, that is), but I didn’t care.  Even then it was about the music.

All that changed in 1978, when two things happened.

First, the much maligned movie Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, featuring the insanely popular Bee Gees (another favorite band, thanks again to an older sister) and Peter Frampton (a huge pull, thanks to the fantastic Frampton Comes Alive album and his mindblowing use of the talkbox guitar effects on “Do You Feel Like We Do”).  I originally went because I liked the singers, but my mom had hinted that I’d enjoy the songs they’d be singing here.  It’s painful to watch now, but at the time it was silly and a lot of fun.

Second, I was made aware of an annual tradition on WLVI, channel 56 (6 on our dial), one of Metro Boston’s independent television stations (decades before it became an affiliate of The CW).  On a summery Sunday afternoon they’d play Yellow Submarine, the 1968 animated Beatles movie.

I knew the Beatles in passing, of course.  In the 70s, who didn’t?  They’d only broken up a few short years before and were enjoying healthy solo careers at that point (especially Paul McCartney).  Their music was still getting heavy rotation on the radio at the time.

[I should probably interrupt here and state that there was a third event that took place in 1978 that changed everything, even though I wasn’t quite aware of it at the time.  That event is the overwhelming change in radio listening habits in the United States.  It was this year when people began listening to music on the FM dial rather than on AM.  There are many and varied reasons for it — the acceptance of rock radio as a valid genre rather than an underground interest, and even the fact that home stereos were becoming more affordable.  By the time 1978 rolled around, we’d had a stereo in my parents’ bedroom that as soon moved to my sisters’ bedroom, where it got much higher use.  I ended up with a cheap hand-me-down kids’ record player where even to this day, I can still remember the loud nasally wrhirrrrrrrr of the motor.  I’d get the old stereo when my sisters upgraded, and finally getting my own sometime around 1983.]

So yes, it was in 1978 when I finally, officially, owned my first record, and also picked up on my first musical obsession.  Over the next four or five years, I searched and found all the Beatles-related records I could find.  Some of the albums I purchased were new (usually bought at Mars Bargainland, the department store outside of town), but many were found used at garage sales, town fairs and elsewhere.  First came the albums, then came the singles.  I believe I got Sgt Pepper and Abbey Road early on, because I was already familiar with most of those songs from the Sgt Pepper movie.  Revolver was another early one, thanks to familiarity with some of its tracks as well.  Imagine an eight-year-old  hearing “Tomorrow Never Knows” for the first time — I had no idea what I was listening to, but it certainly was amazing!


I’m explaining all this, even though it has nothing to do with college radio, because this early obsession is a major reason why I latched onto it as closely as I did.

Even as the pop music of the seventies and eighties slowly morphed from one genre or style to another, I found myself irrevocably obsessed over it all.  I knew bands and their discographies almost as well as other kids my age might know who played on what NFL team and for how long.  Their stats were performance ratings and signature moves; my stats were release dates and what labels released them.


* – Beatlesque: usually means evoking psychedelic melodies of 1967, dreamlike whimsy, three-part harmony, and often attempting to sound like something from either Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Abbey Road.