Every once in a while you see a movie that not only gets under your skin, but penetrates your soul. I know, strong words. But strong emotions require strong words. Music, especially the music of my formative years, evokes powerful feelings in me. The soundtrack of my formative years was the Rock and Roll of the 70’s and 80’s. Post Motown and R&B and pre Disco and the New Wave synthesizer-laden shit of the 80’s were the Super and almost but not quite super groups of the 70’s. Groups that put out amazing efforts of exhaustively complex, soulful and often life-changing music with less regard for commercial success but instead a quest to create something that would transform, inspire awe, and stand upright longer than a few radio cycles but instead stand the ultimate test of time. Music that packed arenas and penetrated basement dwellings, house parties and the comfortable confines of adolescent bedrooms where legions of kids found a connection, a soulmate in the music. For many, it was life-changing.
You’ve probably gathered that I am a music lover. Most certainly. But I am a larger fan of the era, the culture that rock and roll created. I have always been a student of the cultural events that led to the inception of the music, it’s impact and most importantly the link to an actual identity. The late 50’s and early 60’s marked the first time in history that the youth of America had their own music. The days of listening to Mom and Dad’s music was over. It was the final piece of the puzzle that was the cultural revolution of the second half of the 20th century. The youth of America had asserted themselves as a cultural force, a separate and powerful demographic that demanded to be heard but had formerly lacked an identity outside of the umbrella of the nuclear family. They rebelled against the puritanical Patriarchy and demanded to be heard. At first it was Chuck Berry and drive-ins and carhops. The parents tolerated it but called it harmless. Then came the 60’s and Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and the massive music festival Woodstock became the voices and symbols of the counter- culture. The patriarchy became concerned. The once (somewhat) obedient youth of America had begun to rebel and the Poet Laureates with guitars provided the soundtrack of the new generation. Once Vietnam dominated the cultural Zeitgeist the divide was nearly complete as the youth of America rejected the thinking of the previous generation about so many aspects of society. It was a us vs. them. By the 70’s the generational divide was established. But behind the political and cultural impact there was the music.
In 1977 I was 14 years old. 14 is the age often cited by those in the know as one of the formative years of development and it is theorized that the music you enjoyed at that age would be the music you would love forever. At 14 I was a lost soul. An only child that didn’t understand the world around me. Desperate for guidance (I always wished I had an older brother) and hungry for acceptance I needed something, anything to identify with. I was an awkward kid. I was bullied. I dressed badly. My hygiene needed work to say the least.
I loved to read but hated school. Still, I was considered smart. I was offered a double promotion in 5th grade. My family said no because I was already young for my grade and skipping 6th grade would have made me the youngest 7th grader by far and my parents (correctly) concluded that the bullying would only get worse. Subjecting me prematurely to even bigger kids was not a winning proposition. It didn’t matter in the end. Regardless of my age, the bullying in middle school was as predicted by my parents. My school day consisted of being slammed into lockers and having my books dumped in the hallway.
But I was still considered smart. But that also put a target on my back in my school. The mouth-breathing Neanderthals that bullied me resented those of us that could count past 11 without taking our shoes and underwear off and they lashed out. So, I withdrew academically. Once a B plus to A minus student in elementary school, I became a C and D student. I was frightened and angry and my grades suffered terribly. I would never really recover. Not that I was ever destined for academic greatness, but I never reached my full potential. I became sullen and withdrawn. Good enough to get by was my mantra.
Enter Rock music…one of the only companions I could count on in life.
In 1977 I joined the Columbia Music record club. Remember that? Buy 8 records or tapes for 1 dollar with a commitment of one at full price per month. And no-one ever paid. I chose to let them send me the selections of the month. My music collection to that point was oldies. I always loved the 50’s music of doo wop. I even enjoyed to a degree the surfing shit by the Beach Boys. But I had never really gotten into 60’s and 70’s Rock. The first shipment contained 5 albums. Boston’s original album, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, the Doobie Brothers’ greatest hits, Simon and Garfunkel’s greatest hits, and Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell. I had found my muse.
I’m not sure why I didn’t listen to the radio that much but it was clear to me that this music had been around for a while but I had never really listened to it. I was too busy reading. Suffice to say that I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough of the driving drums, guitars and production of Boston, the fusion of pop influences and original compositions of the music of the Doobies, the ethereal vocals of Christin McVie and Stevie Nicks (I also fell in love with Stevie Nicks for other reasons typical of the hormonal teenage boy), the folksy but eternal harmonies and lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel. As for Meatloaf, I really don’t have words. That album was like nothing anyone had ever heard. From that moment on, if I was awake, I was listening to music. If I wasn’t home I carried a Transistor radio(remember them?) and later a Boom Box. I spent every penny I had on music and all of my time immersed in it. My journey had begun.
My friend Marc and I spent a lot of time hanging out. He was way ahead of me on his musical journey and had a formidable knowledge of it as well as a very repectable record collection. He played for me Rush, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin and The Who, just to name a few. We sat transfixed in his basement bedroom as we absorbed the lyrics and played epic air guitar solos, slowly grooved to intros and solos that tantalized the senses, often building to orgasmic levels. We were there, eyes closed and hanging on every note. To say that it was transformative is a true understatement. Music was so much more than just simple entertainment. It was my haven, my escape, it spoke to me. It would become the music that I would love for the rest of my life.
The only thing that I would come to love as much as music was movies. Imagine my joy when I discovered a movie that would help me rediscover my love and passion for music, and the impact of it on my life.
Enter Almost Famous. The movie that just plain fucking NAILED it.
to be continued…