Saturday, September 13, 2008

How I fell in love with Rock and Roll

My folks have never been music lovers. This has always struck me as odd because my dad's uncle, Don Day, has practically dedicated his life to bluegrass music. He converted his dairy farm in Conway, Missouri into a sort of amphitheatre / campground hybrid, and puts on a fairly large bluegrass festival (Starvey Creek Festival) twice a year. Uncle Don's vision and hard work seems to have paid off, too. He doesn't milk cows anymore. Anyway, one might think that this passion for music would have made its way down the gene pool to my father. But it didn't. When I was small, you could count the records in our house on one hand: a couple of Ventures albums that I suspect he bought for the bikini clad girls on the cover, a carpenters album, and a couple of (fat era) Elvis 45's. These were all filed away neatly in the console of the record player that was seldom touched.

Around the time that I was about ten or eleven years old, my folks decided that the old record player was of no use to the family. The record player, it's console, and the contents inside were hauled away (big loss, I mean the fucking Carpenters?!). It's likely that this may have been inspired by one of those "purge your lives of rock music" sermons that we heard at church regularly, but I can't be sure of that

A couple of years later, we moved to a new house with a basement. One day I was rummaging around in the basement looking for a tennis ball that I'd been aimlessly bouncing against the wall for what seemed like hours when I came across an LP that had fallen between the cracks and ended up in the same cardboard box that my tennis ball had landed in. The record's jacket was mustard yellow. In the middle was a circular "fish eye" photo of three really freaky looking guys with huge Afros. Printed across the bottom, in bold purple letters and a font that reminded me of wax dripping down the shaft of a candle were the words, Are You Experienced? "Clearly not," I thought to myself; and I desperately wanted to be.

The image that those three guys (especially the one in the middle) projected from that album cover was irresistible to me. The only problem was that I had no turntable to play this LP on. I tucked the record under my arm, bolted upstairs, and stashed it away alongside my sports illustrated swimsuit issues. It just felt like contraban somehow. I'd get it out every now and then and just stare at it and wonder what kind of sounds would jump out of those grooves if I ever had the chance to drop a needle in them.

By the time I got to the ninth grade, my folks had noticed how much in enjoyed listening to the radio in the car and bought me a "boom box" type cassette player/radio (though I still had no tapes). Also around this time, I had earned their trust enough to be dropped off at the mall on Friday nights with my friends. One of the first things I did when I got there was head straight for Camelot to get a copy of Are You Experienced? on cassette so I could finally hear it (I had actually skipped lunch all week and pocketed my lunch money so I could afford it). My friends laughed. They were all listening to Tone Loc and Vanilla Ice. I didn't care. Hell, if I'd had my own ride, I would have left right then. The suspense had been building for about a year and I couldn't wait to satisfy my curiosity.

Anyone familiar with this classic album can probably guess the rest of the story. My life was changed when I heard the grinding, opening riff of Purple Haze. And the backward guitar riff on the title track even frightened me (still does a little bit). Though it seems obvious now, at the time I could hardly believe how great this music was and the jacket (as much as I love it) paled in comparison. I was hooked

je- 2008

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