Setting one's life to music isn't necessarily an easy task. It's something I've attempted to do in the past but looking back at my song selection, I don't think I like it-- that and it seemed so structured.
1) Some of my earliest memories are of wandering into my sister Laurie's bedroom and asking her to play her 8-track of Billy Joel's The Stranger and then interrogating her about the picture on the 8-track sleeve. "Whose mask is it on the bed?", "Why is he staring at the mask?" etc. etc. I'm sure I drove her nuts. At the time it wasn't the music so much as the picture on the album cover that jumped out at me. Although the music did stick with me and whenever I hear anything from The Stranger I remember all the times I'd ask Laurie to play that 8-track for me. I remember being the ring-bearer at her wedding when I was just shy of my 6th birthday and holding her baby girl, Justine, in my rather small arms. To narrow it down to a single song from The Stranger is not an easy task. But I think I'd pick Vienna. "Slow down you crazy child, you're much too ambitious for a juvenile...."
2) My older brother, Bryan, used to have excellent taste in music. I remember hearing music by groups like Journey, Air Supply, Toto, Asia, Loverboy, Culture Club, Joe Jackson, and Survivor coming from his room. I would sneak into his bedroom and play many of his cassette tapes. And while I tend to remember Eye of the Tiger moreso than many of the other songs he'd listen to, for some reason I find that I keep coming back to Heat of the Moment by Asia. "And now you find yourself in 82, The disco hotspots hold no charm for you. You can't concern yourself with bigger things. You catch the pearl and ride the dragon's wings "
3) While I did enjoy the original Karate Kid movie when it came out, I was a bit older and thus remember it's sequel much better. But what stuck out about the movie was Peter Cetera's The Glory of Love. Right or wrong, good or bad-- Peter Cetera has one of the most distinct voices in pop music history. And while much of his music would later come to be considered overly-sentimental saccharine tripe, he was able to inject just enough emotion into his singing to make his songs believable. Even at that age I was a bit of romantic and did look forward to someday feeling that way about a woman.... about being that "knight in shining armor from a long time ago."
4) I remember when my parents & I would visit my sister, Laurie, and her family in suburban Syracuse her son, Michael, and I would play pool in the basement with Chicago 16 blasting on a small stereo in the corner. The music was about six years old at that point and already sounded dated. It had a distinct early 80s cheese to it. And while What You're Missing is my favorite song from that album. I found myself much more able to relate to the message of Follow Me: "Nothing in life is impossible. both of us knowLife is as good as we make it. Dark reflections of the past. Drown in our tomorrows. Time to laugh; time to love; Time to live again."
5) I was shaken awake by my mother at about 3 am on November 5th, 1988. Something wasn't right. I didn't know what, and then she told me:
"Your cousin Craig has been in an accident."
"Is he going to be okay?"
She just nodded her head "no" then told me to get up and get dressed. She told me that my cousin Chip who was staying the night and I would be going over to his house for the rest of the night and that she was driving over my aunt's home to be with her. I got up and walked into the living room where I saw my father. I didn't know how serious the accident had been, I just knew that Craig wasn't going to be okay. I wanted answers...
"What's wrong with Craig?"
And to this day I remember my father partially obscured by darkness, standing in the shadows telling me, "He's no longer with us."
I'd seen him only about a month before when he'd been home from college for Columbus Day weekend. He'd been very much alive. He'd taken me for a twisty turny joy ride through the Adirondacks in his '87 Mustang with the Beastie Boys blaring from his car stereo. He was giving his decidedly uncool younger cousin a taste of cool and I relished every second of it. Little did I know then, that would be the last of the memories I'd get to make with him.
I wasn't able to get back to sleep that night. That morning I was hanging out with my cousins Chip & Sarah and we were watching MTV. The video for Def Leppard's Love Bites came on. I remember it clear as day as if it happened yesterday. And while the lyrics to the song are of a much different kind of love-- the sentiment over losing someone close to me was quite strong. "Love bites, love bleeds..."
6) The next few years were rather uneventful. I mean, at the time I was a teenager so "uneventful" is the last word I'd have used to describe them. But in hindsight nothing truly memorable happened to set those years apart from any others. In March 1993 my parents were out of town. They left me home alone. And in their absence one of the worst blizzards of the northeast in over a decade. I was snowed in. I'd recently "discovered" a rather obscure late 60s psychadelic band called The Sons of Champlin and I couldn't get enough of them. I remember pulling a Tom Cruise (a la Risky Business) and dancing and lip syncing to the nearly 15 minute long Freedom in my underwear. "You've got to free yourself, be yourself, freedom..."
7) There were some rough spots in high school, and I'd befriended this girl in Lousianna. She and I exchanged letters for about 4 or 5 years. We never met in person. But we'd send these 14 and 15 page single spaced typed letters back and forth to one another. She was a good friend, despite the bad geography. And for some reason whenever I hear America's Sister Golden Hair I think of her. "I been one poor correspondent, and I been too, too hard to find But it doesn’t mean you ain’t been on my mind"
8 and 9) My freshman year of college, the grunge movement had started to fade (thank God) and I started to take a bit more of an interest in music which was a bit more "current" Whenever I hear Breakfast at Tiffany's by Deep Blue Something or Gel by Collective Soul I'm reminded of the sudden change in my life. I'd moved over 625 miles from Malone, NY to Albion, MI to attend a small private liberal arts college. I was out of the safety net, out of the nest and I couldn't get enough of it.
10) Rather than go home for the summer in 1997 and 1998 I took a job at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, OH. Off the clock there was a lot of fun to be had. Over the course of the summer I'd been working with this girl and as time passed it was pretty clear that we were interested in each other more than just as friends. We had it bad for each other. And as cheesy as it may be our song was Happy Together by The Turtles.
(More to come... to be continued)