When we were very young, my mother kept the radio station tuned to the classical station in Erie. I don’t know that she knew a lot about classical music, per se, but it was what she chose to listen to; we had a little radio in the kitchen that was always on.
One summer my mother decided she was going back to work. I think she was just going to go on a part-time basis. She decided to hire a babysitter for us on the days she worked. I was 7 or 8 years old.
The babysitter was a curly-haired blonde named Beth. I clearly remember the first time she came to sit us for the day. My brother, sister and I watched over our cereal bowls as Mom gave Beth the run-down of our schedules, what was permitted, and where things were.
At the end of the tour, as my mother made ready to leave, Beth said, “Would you mind if I changed the radio station?”
My mother said, “No.” If she were distressed or surprised by this request, I saw no sign.
And then, rock ‘n’ roll music entered my life for the first time.
I do not remember what song was playing that day. I do remember the call letters of the station: K104. I also recall coming alert to the sound of the music. Something in me that had been dormant bloomed and became fully aware. It was like thinking, “Now that’s more like it.” As if I had been aware there was something besides that pretty music Mom liked, and Beth, with a simple motion of her hand on the radio dial, confirmed it.
To say that it was the first time I ever heard rock ‘n’ roll may sound like an exaggeration. My father, after all, did have albums: the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Rod Stewart, the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. But I sincerely believe I discovered these after Beth introduced K104 to my life. Because, finally, I was looking.
My musical tastes… let’s just say, they had their ups & downs. I clearly remember nursing a crush on Shaun Cassidy of “Da Doo Ron Ron” fame (I certainly didn’t know it was a cover at the time). I liked the Beatles and the Beach Boys, probably because my dad did, and I also remember boogie-ing wildly to some disco albums my parents acquired. (They, too, had their ups & downs of taste.)
I listened to the radio. I listened to the Top 40 every Sunday. I sat next to my tape recorder trying to capture the songs I loved on cassette. It used to drive me crazy when the DJ talked over the beginning or end of a song I wanted to record. I watched Solid Gold, over my mother’s protests. (She objected to the skimpy outfits of the Solid Gold Dancers.)
As far as live music: the first concert I was taken to was Air Supply. I was incredibly excited — live music! A real concert! (This may be considered one of the “downs”.) I also recall seeing John Cougar Mellencamp with my parents. The first cassette tape I bought with my own money was Paul Young’s “Every Time You Go Away.”
High school was, musically, a time of experimentation. Though I continued to be loyal to my K104, I began hearing of the B-52s, The Cure, Depeche Mode, and more. And when I actually began listening, I left K104 for my local college station, whose call letters completely escape me.
The first concert I attended on my own was Depeche Mode, at Star Lake Amphitheater (now named the Post-Gazette Pavilion); I believe it was the 101 Tour. I went with my friend Carrie Ann the summer I was 17; I drove my parents’ car. (I got a speeding ticket on the way home, too. Damn smooth Acura.)
I fondly remember attending a concert my freshman year of college, at the now paved over (a travesty) Syrian Mosque in Oakland: the Pixies (still one of my all-time favorites) opened for Love & Rockets. Good times.
I had boyfriends who made me mix tapes. Rob, my first serious “love” (I was 19), aurally inducted me into the punk scene. Rico, a post-college fling, is still warmly remembered for introducing me to Joe Jackson, Pavement, and The Troggs’ “With a Girl Like You”.
Hearing Pearl Jam and Nirvana for the first time in the early 1990s elicited a response similar to what had happened that day Beth touched that radio dial. I had been waiting for the next new music to stir me, move me. I mean, I liked a lot of music, but I wasn’t excited about any of it. The sound coming out of the Pacific Northwest changed that for me. I never did get to see Nirvana, but I met several members of Pearl Jam as a college journalist. I have the signed cut-off jean shorts to prove it.
As my Pandora Radio stations will demonstrate, I have a wide-ranging taste in music. (Conversely, DearDR will contend — fondly, I hope — that I have no taste in music.) The bands we both like are on a short list: U2, Fountains of Wayne, Hem. He has seen live and enjoyed with me Elliot Smith (R.I.P.) and Wilco, but he doesn’t like listening to their CDs. He cannot stand White Stripes, Modest Mouse or Radiohead, three of my other current favorites.
My Pandora stations:
Gnarls Barkely (partnered with Red Hot Chili Peppers and No Doubt)
Wilco (partnered with Radiohead and Fountains of Wayne)
Joseph Arthur (partnered with Tori Amos and John Mayer)
Hem (partnered with Madeleine Peyroux and Sheryl Crow)
Pearl Jam (shows up on Gnarls Barkley Radio a lot, so I don’t often go to this station…)
Oh, and The Beach Boys – for the kids.
What I especially like Pandora for is introducing me to other artists and more music by artists I love. I have finally heard the Killers; and songs from Modest Mouse’s and Pinback’s latest CDs. I have discovered Ben Kweller and Vera Tiane (I’m not sure that’s spelled correctly). It’s like the best mix tape ever. Well, most of the time. Phil Collins popped up on one of my stations the other day. That was just wrong. Maybe a glitch in the coding.
(Inspired by a post here. Thanks.)
More on the theme of how music can change your life:
Oh The Joys: www.othejoys.blogspot.com (full post: Since You’re Gone)
Mrs. Flinger: www.mrs.flinger.us
Edited to add: The correct spelling for that artist I mentioned: Vienna Teng. Very pretty; she’s on my Hem station.