Friday, June 27, 2008

Oh and by the way, which one’s ‘Pink?’
— A Miniseries (2 of 2)

Us…and Them
As with many — if not most of the members of my generation, my chief musical influence growing up was The Beatles — having been completely immersed in their music from my early childhood on.

However by the time I reached high school, the Fab Four had already disbanded, although the individual band members’ solo careers were in full swing. And while the music was still important, ‘The Beatles Movement’ was beginning to lose steam as a vehicle of generational discourse as the decade of the 70s pushed onward.

While still retaining quite a bit of its ‘edge,’ socially, by the early mid-70s, Beatles’ music no longer pushed the envelope as it had done a few years earlier. it was by that time, pretty much engrained into the culture and universally embraced by all. Hell, even Sinatra was making the pop charts covering Beatles songs.

Those days of ‘Beatle Bonfires’ — the public burning of Beatles albums — had long since passed. The band that John Lennon touted to be “more popular than Jesus” were no longer a threat to proper society.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, The Fab Four’s music was now part of the furniture. It was a substantial component of popular society, and rock ‘n roll was here to stay.

But while the Beatles music was no longer the short, sharp shock to the system of John Q. Public it once had been, there was, however, a growing rock ‘n roll sub-genre that still struck a chord of fear in the hearts of god-fearing America; the now-burgeoning brand of raw, hard-edged Rock that conjured up visions of anti-war protests, free love, and all-things-hippyfied.

Acid Rock, baby.

As for me, generationally speaking, I happened to fall just beyond the outskirts of the hardcore Hippy movement. I never quite got into the ‘tune in, turn on, and drop out’ vibe that many of those just a few years older than I had. There were several reasons for that — beyond merely my age. In large part I believe a lot had to do with the family and religious environment in which I was reared.

‘Hard’ Rock sort of scared me when I was a kid. I was more-or-less taught that The Beatles were as ‘hard’ as any music I had business listening to. And I gladly bought into that concept. So there was no real draw to embrace anything that was too-seriously ‘counter-culture’ (a widely-used descriptor back in the day).

Likewise, as I became older, I didn’t seem to have any real reason to go there, but like any other normal teenager I still yearned for something a bit more dangerous; something a little beyond the boundaries of my conservative upbringing.

Nonetheless I stood fast in my reticence to embrace anything beyond the homogenized realm of the Top 40, though deep down I really wanted to check out the Dark Side.

It took the simultaneous challenge of two guys whose lifestyles were pretty much the opposite of my own for me to see what a hypocrite I was for holding to such a position, and I’ll always be grateful to them both for it.

One was a person I knew only in passing. The other was someone I’d known all my life.

Come inside dear boy; have a cigar…
My Hard rock indoctrinators were a couple of guys at opposite ends of my interpersonal spectrum.

The first was my brother, Kenny (a.k.a. ‘TK’ in previous stories). We were only two grades apart in school but light-years divergent in personality and our respective personal belief systems.

Growing up, we fought like cats and dogs, with the elder Kenny always coming out on top. But following the physical skirmishes of our early youth, there would be battles of a different kind later on.

In 1969 Kenny had accompanied our Dad, Alex and I in the move to California, following our Mom’s death. But the abuse that I was willing to endure from Step-Mom Maxine, Kenny refused to submit to.

Those first nine months in our new home were like World War III. After just one school year (his sophomore year in high school), my elder brother convinced the folks that it would be best for him to spend the summer back in Indiana, staying with son #2, our brother David. Maxine wasn’t wild about the idea at first, but didn’t put up much resistance. She was as much in need of a little vacay from ‘TK’ was my brother from her.

Although he insisted it was just for the summer, I knew he wasn’t coming back. Kenny returned to Indiana to live with our elder brother David and finish out his last two years of high school. It was then that his life changed forever. My brother found religion — but not the religion you might be thinking of.

Kenny returned to SoCal to find a career and soon thereafter became a Buddhist — and an evangelical one at that. He subsequently attempted to convert the entire family, a devout Christian group, but didn’t find any takers; especially not in me.

Anytime Kenny came around, we knew that cat & dog act so well, we didn’t even have to rehearse.

The topic or occasion, it didn’t matter — we argued so often back then, it could have been over anything. It wasn’t just religion; Kenny and I were so such diametrically opposed personality-wise, I’m pretty sure that we must have argued about the time of day at least once or twice.

My brother really tormented me growing up, and for years I kept that grudge around with me like a pet. So anytime we got together, it didn’t take much for sparks to fly.

Another thing about my brother, he’s a ‘Type A’ personality, and could talk circles around anyone. He was a born salesman. Dood could sell sand to an Arab. He would later fashion that go-getter persona into a tremendously successful entrepreneurial career; but back then, in my eyes, he was just my blowhard bro who managed to get my goat in every argument, every single fucking time, and oh, how that burned me up.

Kenny’s the type who is such a great arguer that you simply cannot win — or at least I couldn’t. The best I could ever do was to get him to ‘agree to disagree,’ and try my best to walk away with at least a sliver of my dignity intact, although those times seemed few and far between.

No, what I remember happening instead on most occasions was me storming off, purple-faced, from yet another shout-fest that didn’t accomplish anything except perhaps granting him the satisfaction that he’d done it to me again — at least that’s how it felt, anyway.

But lest you think that my brother is some kind of malevolent being, please, put the rope away. While our personalities are as far apart as east is from west, our bond as brothers has always been indestructible. Kenny and I have long since mended the fences we spent our first couple decades of life together tearing down. We agree — respectively so — to disagree about our differences on all issues. I love my brother unconditionally and I know that love goes both ways.

And while I know that I could never be ‘like’ him, I do very much appreciate the fact that despite of my resistance, it was he who was the most instrumental in shaping a lot of my opinions later in adulthood, including a decision to broaden my musical horizons that would prove to be a truly life-changing paradigm shift for your truly.

Brain Damage
On the occasion of yet another patented rock music debate in which I insisted that I could live without experiencing the head-banging joys of Led Zeppelin, Mountain or Black Sabbath, he told me simply, “You can listen to what you want to, but I think you’re doing yourself a huge disservice to not even give it a try.”

Funny what just a little bit of conciliation will do when you’re conditioned for nothing but all-out assault…

The context of the discussion was hard rock, or Acid Rock as it was popularly colloquialized in those days. As far as I was concerned, ‘that music’ was strictly t was the product of the drug-influenced late 60s/early 70s. And even though my Beatles were one of the bands chiefly responsible for the genre’s early beginnings, I still bristled at the notion that music celebrating anything ‘radical’ could possibly be worth listening to.

And that was the problem: I was confusing the music with the culture. Not all hard rock lyrics openly celebrated drug use, or promoted counter-culture themes; I just assume that they did.

What I didn’t realize was that despite the outer appearance or even the actual life-practices of the musicians themselves, music stands or falls based on its own merits. Listening to it wouldn’t give me Brain Damage; but it might just expand my way of thinking.

At the same time that Kenny was challenging me to think outside my self-imposed music box, a second influential figure in my journey to the Dark Side would weigh in — my desk-neighbor in my high school Advertising Art class: a soft-spoken, avowed surfer/hippie counter-culturist-type named Van.

Van was a guy I had known only casually throughout high school, and I don’t believe we had ever been paired up in a class before. But on a seemingly daily basis we talked about music. And again there I’d be, holding the party line against all things Acid, while Van would defend the viability of his hard rock faves.

However sometime, during our Senior year, between late ’73 and early ‘74, Van set out on a mission to complete the work that my brother had started. He began going out of his way — very diplomatically, mind you — extolling to me the virtues of the British band Pink Floyd, whose then-recent landmark album, Dark Side of the Moon was making a huge splash just about everywhere — even on the Pop charts.

I remember his passion for the album. Van insisted there was no possible way I wouldn’t love it.

The record was about a year old at the time, and I was of course already familiar with its two ubiquitous singles, Money and Time, both of which were receiving constant airplay on just about every rock or pop format station in the country.

And sure, I liked those songs well enough, but something else restrained me from taking the plunge and exploring the more of that ‘taboo’ genre of ‘hard rock’ — a category under which Pink Floyd certainly fell in those days. It was a label having much more to do with my religious mores at the time than with anything else.

No Sympathy for the Devil
You see, being raised a straight-laced Baptist, I just wasn’t into that stuff. And it wasn’t as though I considered the music as all that bad necessarily, the fact was, it was simply out of my scope at that time in my life.

Hey, I was into pop; I was a Top 40 guy, like the vast majority of kids I hung out with back then. I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on records. I was mostly a radio-head. The only albums I owned were the Beatles LPs and 45s I’d had since grade school.

Of course I can remember a time when those in my family and church frowned upon even Beatles music. I clearly remember my Uncle Bill on one occasion trying his best to dissuade me from listening to it, calling it “ugly,” “the devil’s music,” and so on. I also clearly remember thinking the guy was nuts, but fortunately didn’t offer that opinion out loud.

Elton John’s Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting was about as hard as I rolled back then, and in fact, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was one album I did own at that time, but only because a buddy of mine had given it to me for Christmas that year. But by way of comparison, that was pretty much my speed in music.

AM Top 40 still ruled the airwaves in the early-to-mid-70s, and I was just all about it. Motown, Elton John, Chicago; these were the sounds that streamed from my car radio and 8-track player. That was soon to change, however.

Van was relentless; he peppered me daily with incessant praises of Dark Side, insisting that I give it a listen. But while I liked what I’d heard on the radio just fine, I was pretty lukewarm to the possibility that the rest of the album could be all that special. However having been primed by Kenny’s challenge, Van eventually wore me down. I decided it was finally time for me to broaden my horizons.

So I went out and purchased the 8-Track, and was instantaneously changed forever. Not since the Beatles had I received such a musical revelation. The aural qualities of lead guitarist David Gilmour’s instrumental and vocal craftings along with Roger Water’s unbelievably intelligent, biting lyrics came together in a sound so far beyond anything I’d ever heard before that I simply could not believe my ears.

The album truly rocked my world.

Okay, I know you may be rolling your eyes just a bit, particularly if you’ve grown up hearing the now familiar tunes from DSOTM and perhaps haven’t quite received the same rapturous experience that I did. And if that’s the case, I simply say ‘to each his (or her) own.’ All I can tell you is how it affected me. You simply have to understand just how different, how forward thinking that work was at the time.

I suppose that now, decades later, as Rock ‘n Roll has evolved and many artists have ridden the musical coattails of Pink Floyd’s, and subsequently, The Beatles’ innovative sound, you simply have to be as old as I am to appreciate just how unique and different things really were back in 1974.

However in my opinion, despite the passing years and musicians who have come and gone, attempting to borrow from the genius that is Pink Floyd’s legacy, no one will ever render that sound ‘common.’ It’s still every bit as fresh and ‘out there’ today as it was back then.

Comfortably Numb
So there as I sat last Saturday, enraptured in the envelope of sound booming from my speakers. I reconnected to that special sense of being I felt as a young man with my whole life ahead of me. Many changes, many victories, and a few defeats as well would follow in the ensuing years.

However I’m doubtful that in my life, my ability to feel — to inject my emotions into the soundtrack of that music; the impact it had on me emotionally — could ever have been duplicated by anything else.

I dunno. it’s a very personal feeling I have, and one that’s pretty tough to describe. But it’s one of the things I treasure the most about my life. It’s the one thing that no one can take away from me; the one thing that no one needs to validate.

Only me.

Only me and my music.

Thanks, Kenny. I love you.

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