When podcasts tell me to do something, I listen. I don’t always do anything about it, but I listen. Today, in fact, the podcast told me to figure out how my parents music choices influenced me. Well, screw that. If I want to talk about my mom, I’m going to call her (Hi Mom!). Actually, that’s what the podcast wanted me to do. The truth is that my parents didn’t choose music for me to listen to, they allowed me to choose some of my own … and they forced me into various musical classes. By ‘force’, I mean they said, “Do you wanna’?” and I probably replied with an indifferent shrug.
My musical “parent” was the radio which doled out influential music sandwiched in a load of crappy schlock that wounds me even today. Like all parent/child stories, my memory and reality are probably only vaguely similar. But, it’s my memory and I get to edit it as I please!
It all started in Texas where our house had an intercom with an integrated radio. I was 8 years old and had never really listened to the radio. The radio was cruel choosing to play my favorite songs no more than once in each hour. Of course, it played that song every hour for weeks on end. I got around that ‘infrequency’ by holding a small tape recorder up to the intercom speaker. I was an 8 year old music pirate. Rather than spend my paltry allowance on honest albums, I made crappy copies from a crappy radio station heard over an even crappier speaker. I only remember one song from that era, the only song I cared about then: “Riding the Storm Out” by REO Speedwagon. Later I would learn to laugh at their accent, like the “er” on the end of the line “can’t fight this feeling any longer”. Later, I would get snarky. On that same radio, I also heard the Sex Pistols for the first time. I was unimpressed. It would take the Dead Kennedys to make that influence stick.
A few years later, we moved to Germany where, for three years my influences come down to two songs. While visiting London, I heard “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell and my brain exploded at how simplicity could sound so rich. I still love that song although I’ll never admit to having heard it when it was still new. Back in Germany, I heard Nena performing “99 Luftballoons” which was later bastardized into an English-language song called “99 Red Balloons” by that other band called Nena. OK, it was the same band. The German version was definitely better. I can’t tell you what it meant in German, but I could then, and it was more poetic, more poignant. My strongest memory of that song was the video where the lead singer does something involving lifting her arms, resulting in a prominent display of armpit bush. I was scandalized! It didn’t take much to scandalize me. It seems silly now, but, really, I was just a kid!
Upon return to my birthplace, a little to the East of George Washington’s nose, I became or pretended to be cooler, listening only to the local college radio station. That’s when I heard “You Trip Me Up” by the Jesus and Mary Chain. That. Song. Changed. Me. Suddenly the musical rules and conventions didn’t make sense. Suddenly, the world opened up. Suddenly.
I left home, as all young birds do, some before they can fly. I fled to the nearest big city to be … whatever. I didn’t know. I didn’t listen to the radio much, not for awhile. Occasionally, I’d head home to visit my family accompanied only by my neuroses and a selection of tapes destined to be overplayed. Early in the trip, I’d listen to a formerly good radio station later destroyed by a radio conglomerate. I enjoyed most of it, but only one song stood out: “Killer Inside Me” by MC 900 Ft. Jesus. Unlike the above-mentioned songs, that one vanished from my life. The best part of the station was a particular DJ, Bill Amundson, who sounded a lot like the B-52’s Fred Schneider on speed. Bill is still around, but as an artist, not a DJ. Amundson is much better than the MC 900 Ft. Jesus song. It’s the right happy ending.
Now? Radio’s gone from my life. I don’t have patience for it. It doesn’t play what I want it to play. It doesn’t care what I want to listen to. Worse yet, it tries to sell me things in a non-ignorable way. I am post-radio. It feels good.