me.

I discovered music very early in life.  In a recent entry I mentioned that I began taking piano lessons when I was just four years old.  That was because I was picking pop music off the radio, and learning how to pluck out the notes on the piano.

In 1977 or so, I discovered Kiss.  For an eight-year-old, these guys, dressed in outlandish costumes with all the blood and fire and loud guitars, was the perfect thing to piss off your parents.  Especially when your parents grew up in the ’60s and were relatively aware of things.  Both my parents pissed off their parents with Elvis Presley – my father was rooted more in the actual music of it (he came from a family of musicians, as My Grandfather’s Orchestra would illustrate), my mother was rooted more in the rebelliousness of it.

So as they got older, my dad got more into swing, and then fusion – his taste in rock leaned more toward the Doobie Brothers and Santana than anything else.  My mom was more into the vibe than the actual music, and so she was able to keep her musical taste contemporary for much longer.

As a young kid, I’d pick up every issue of Circus or Creem that had Kiss on the cover, and I’d read them all the way through.  That’s how I found out that there were other hard rock bands out there, and that’s when I began to discover some of the things that were happening on commercial and noncommercial radio as a pre-teen.

My dad left when I was nine, which sort of opened up lots of opportunities for me to listen to music without the kind of supervision I had when I was younger.  I remember one year for Christmas, my mom bought me a tape player.  My dad bought me the tapes – Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall, Frank Mills’ Music Box Dancer, The Doobie Brothers’ Best Of The Doobies.  They were terrible, I hated them all, and I spent the entire Christmas Day listening to the radio, taping songs I liked on my new tape recorder.

As the night wore on, my mom called me into another room and told me that she’d “found” a couple of tapes in the attic that she had forgotten.  She handed me Cheap Trick’s Dream Police, Jimi Hendrix’ Smash Hits, and Rachel Sweet’s Fool Around. She explained that she ordered them from Columbia House – the Rachel Sweet record was supposed to be the first Boston record, but someone in the warehouse made a mistake.  If I wanted, she would return it.

I was just so thrilled to have some rock and roll that I tore right into them all.  Turned out that I found the Rachel Sweet record to be the most interesting of the bunch.  Everybody’d heard Jimi Hendrix.  But Rachel Sweet?

Obviously, Kiss led me into more metallic music, which led me to seek out some of the late night and noncommercial DJs that I’ve spoken about before.  Brian, the older kid who lived across the street, got me into Rush and UFO (his two favorite bands), and then he discovered that he had a pretty sweet deal in me.  He’d go out and buy a new record album, make a cassette tape of it, and then sell me the used LP for $5.    So for $2 or so, he’d get a brand-new album.  For $5, I’d get one that was used only once, and I wouldn’t have to go to the store.

I had an uncle who was younger, and he had a kickass record collection.  When I visited him, he’d play me punk, prog rock, jazz, whatever.  He’d pull two or three records out of his massive collection and give them to me.  It was like Christmas every visit, only better, because every record he gave me would turn me on to two or three other bands that I’d go out and find by myself, whether it be the contemporaries or influences of these new bands I was bringing home.  I discovered countless new bands that way.  I’d bring home a Ramones record and within weeks I’d have a Television record.  I’d bring home a Be Bop Deluxe record and within weeks I’d be listening to T. Rex.

When I was 13, I scored tickets to see Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crue, and Waysted at the Brendan Byrne arena.  My mom dropped my friends and I off at the show (something I can’t even imagine, leaving a half-dozen 13-year-olds alone at a rock concert), we went in and I was blown away.  It was my first concert, I had a blast.

The next day, my dad read a review of the show in the Bergen Record – it was one of those reviews that called Ozzy the Prince of Darkness, talked about biting the heads off bats and practicing evil rituals onstage – and that was it.  He was incensed that my mother would let me go to the show, and even more incensed that I would want to go.  He didn’t talk to me for six months.  I had successfully pissed off my parents with music – and there was no turning back.

By then, I was already the kid that wanted you to hear this great new song.  Somewhere in this blog I discussed how I’d lie in bed at night with my hands on the “pause” button of my stereo, waiting for the first note of a song I liked so that I could tape it.  I created entire mix tapes that way, bouncing songs from tape to tape so that I could get just the right songs on just the right tape – I had a tape of great new wave songs, another tape of songs with great guitar solos, another of great prog rock.

And I’d bore my friends to tears.  “Hey, you’ll love this song – listen.”  Then I’d play them the first minute of an Anthrax song, gauge their reaction.  If they liked it, I’d stop the tape and put on a Motorhead song.  If not, I’d stop the tape and put on something else.  I’d never even let the song play all the way through before I started the next one.

Turning people on to new music was one of my favorite things to do.  And in my quest to do that, I was forever reaching outside the music my friends knew, trying to find stuff they’d never heard before.

If they knew all the metal stuff, I’d play them punk.  If they knew the punk stuff, I’d play them hardcore.

If they knew the prog rock stuff, I’d play them fusion.  If they knew the fusion, I’d play them straight jazz.

There was never a cooler feeling to me than the feeling I’d get when I’d look in somebody’s record collection and find two or three records by a band I introduced them to.

I must have been an incredible bore, driving around in my car in high school, popping in tape after tape, insisting that my friends listen to this great new band or that.  And it got much worse when I went to college, because then I got a microphone, so I could sit on the radio and spin records, and then tell people all about the band.

The radio station, WSAM, broadcast into the University Commons.  As a freshman, I immediately jumped on the Sunday afternoon show – three hours (the longest single show that the station offered), the entire time which was broadcast during dinner hours.  And since it was Sunday, the University Commons was the only place on campus where you could go to eat.

And if you wanted to eat, you had to listen to me.

We had an electronic contraption that we used to increase or decrease the volume of the broadcast in the commons, along with very strict guidelines over where the volume should be set at which times of the afternoon.  As soon as I started my show, I’d ride the volume to the maximum, blasting my message to everyone in the Commons.

Here’s Bitch Magnet.  Here’s Arson Garden.  Here’s Arto Lindsay.  Here’s Skin Yard.  It’s 1988, you’ve never heard of any of these people before, sit your ass down and eat.

When WSAM couldn’t get me enough new records to play for people, I took on an increased role at the station until, eventually, I was the General Manager and Programming Director, both at the same time.  After that, I’d spend hours on the phone with record companies each day, begging them for copies of their new records.  Then, I’d sit down at the station and seek out specific DJs, then play them new music: “Hey, check this out – it’s Pavement.  You’re gonna love this shit. If you do, play it on your show.”

It’s no wonder that it wasn’t going to be good enough for me to go to work for some other record label after I graduated.  I needed to run my own.   And by 1991, it wasn’t going to be good enough for me to ask people if they’d ever heard of Superchunk when they had just as much access to the internet as I did.

I could no longer look to indie labels to find that music that nobody else had heard before, just so I could expose them to something new.  I had to find bands that even the indie labels had never heard of; I had to find the band when it was playing at some shitty dive in northern New Jersey.

“Hey, check these guys out.  They’re called Jenifer Convertible, and they’re going to rock your world.  I’m going to put out their CD.  I bet you love it.”

There was just no way I could do anything else.  Even to this day, I bore people to tears with it.  Today I write a thousand words, almost every day, about music people didn’t know fifteen years ago, because it’s absolutely in my blood to expose people to new music.  Even if the new music is old now.  Today, most of my music friends know way more about new music than I do, but it doesn’t stop me from pushing new music on people anyway.

I will always do this.

~ by Al on September 30, 2009.

2 Responses to “me.”

  1. nice one

  2. Right on!!

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