“Here, listen to this, I remember this was big on the radio when I met your mother.”
I was six or seven years old. I wiggled with glee as dad slid the huge headphones over my ears. The vinyl padding covered me on both sides from way above my ears down to my jawline. My cheeks bulging from the pressure, accentuated as I smiled. Twist and Shout by the Beatles.
“You can hear every cymbal crash and guitar riff with these new headphones.” Dad would apply slight pressure to both headphone ears.
When we did not use the headphones, we cranked up the volume to mask our feeble attempts to sing at the top of our lungs like a howling dog teaching his puppy son to bark at the moon. We sang along to the likes of Elvis Presley, CCR, The Eagles, some early rockabilly, a little Every Brothers or Herman’s Hermits, and even an obscure 70’s band called Bread.
I believed that mom had given dad the living room, the room in the house that we seemingly didn’t need; the room in the house that seemed to be the largest; the room in the house that dad and I dedicated to music. As a young boy the room seemed 50 feet by 100 feet large. It was probably only 15 by 20 or something. Right smack dab in the middle of one of the longer walls stood dad’s console audio unit, as long as two of my wingspans. If I stood on my tippy- toes, and pulled up with both hands I could see the record spinning on the turntable, often a small record with the large hole in the middle. Dad had to configure some yellow piece in the hole in order for it to fit on the peg without spinning wildly.
“Philip Henry Lee!! Turn that music off while you do your homework!” Henry…Lee… those were my two middle names (well I guess they still are). I must have heard mom holler that every afternoon or evening through my freshman year in high school. Mom and dad just didn’t understand that my brain works better with music in the background. Silence is deafening. I listen to music even now as I write this. Mom would knock once and then let herself into my room. My desk sat directly across the room from the door so she had a straight shot view of me from the door, so I had a split second from the knock to the entrance to hit the power off on my stereo and make like I was doing homework, which I was. But I had to find a solution to this problem. There was no getting mom and dad to see my side. The only way was to find a way around them.
The summer between middle school and high school my parents bought me the most amazing gift. I had received a major audio unit to keep in my room. It was a cube about a foot and a half in each direction. Dual cassette, radio receiver, with turntable on top. It sat perfectly in the wooden stand that came with it. The bottom of the stand was for storage and 2 three-foot tall speakers stood on either side, both with woofers and tweeters and amazing sound. So First there were extensive tests. I measured the auditory distance from the stereo to the door and its relationship to the volume level. I figured out the optimum volume level so that I could hear and enjoy at my desk whatever my awesome stereo was producing but could not be heard from the door across the room. Then the final touch. I had to disguise the power light on the front of the unit. A simple piece of notebook paper colored black with permanent marker attached over the light using clear tape. Small enough to allow the illusion of no power when viewed from the door. Problem solved.
All of this to the sounds of Motley Crue, Metalica, Tears For Fears, The Thompson Twins, Howard Jones, and Stryper.
All I knew was what I heard on the radio or saw on MTV. As I finished my sophomore year and began my junior year I began to discover less popular bands. I was handed cassettes from friends of genres and bands not played on the radio. Imports from Europe or other places around the world. I would also frequent the local music store spending hours per week looking through thousands of cassettes lining the walls. I would find an interesting sounding band name, study the artwork and song list and decide that it might be worth a listen. Unfortunately there was no “online” at the time. I had to take my chances. Some of my favorite music, even to this day, was a chance that I took on some unknown or unheard of album. And thus began my descent into metal and punk and techno and goth and alternative genres where I stayed for several years delving into past albums of favorite bands such as The Cure, Joy Division, The Clash, Buzzcocks, Violent Femmes, Mary’s Danish, Front 242, Saviour Machine, Minor Threat, Pentagram, and more.
Chip was my best friend. I, 22 in my leather jacket, combat boots and crazy hair, and he, 21 in his prep-school attire and conservative side part haircut, spent everyday looking for something new to do. One hot Louisiana afternoon, we took a deliberate wrong turn down a country back-road. The asphalt ended in a dirt road with very low hanging tree branches. This didn’t stop us. We continued slowly down this rough dirt path in his 1981 Honda Accord until the trees opened up to reveal a small bay to a large lake. The shoreline was an alcove with a couple of wood shacks that looked like they had been there since WW1. The foliage stopped about fifty feet from the water all around the inlet. No cars, except ours and an old faded blue 50’s model Ford truck. The mud shoreline was lined with long rowboats almost resembling canoes without the pointed ends. Just off to the right before the boats was a very black man sitting on a large overturned bucket. He was adorned with a white beard, faded overalls and a straw hat. Beside him was a hand painted sign on a piece of plywood that read ‘boat rentals $5’.
Chip in his boat shoes, khakis, and button-downed collar half untucked, hopped out of the driver’s seat. “C’mon!” He acted as if he had been here before. I got out on the passenger’s side and followed in my army surplus combat boots, cutoff jeans and white t-shirt with no sleeves. As I approached the old man, his left eye seemed to size up the trees over my right shoulder. I didn’t look back for fear of offending him until I realized that he was completely blind.
“How did he know there were two of us?” I thought to myself. “And how did he know we were boys?” I shook it off and looked around, Chip had disappeared during my “holy shit” moment. Oh…he’s behind the car getting something out of the trunk.
“Pick a boat and pay the man.” I did just that.
Now I stood on the edge of the water and pulled off my combat boots one at a time holding a long staff that would be used to move the strange little boat. No oars here, this is the swamp in all of its glory of red cypress trees with moss hanging from them. Chip came barreling down the small incline from the car to where I stood with the boat. He was carrying an array of things. He deposited them into the boat then disappeared again. This time behind the closest shack. He returned with a large plastic garbage can which he positioned right in the middle of the boat. Well needless to say, we spent that afternoon reading aloud Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles in turn while drinking beer that had been iced in the trash can, under the canopy of the swamp’s cypress trees, alligators in the water, and the sound of giant crane birds flying overhead. All of this to the soundtrack of The Cure’s Disintegration (1988) and Pornography (1982) blaring from a small “jambox” cassette player. Any girls we tried to date and bring into our strange lives either thought we had flipped out and lost our minds or thought we were the coolest guys they had ever come into contact with.
Two years later I was married. Over the ten or so years that followed musical tastes began to fluctuate regularly. From heavy, heavy metal when I was angry to new age and classical when I was relaxing, and everything in-between, including kiddie and kid friendly music whether the kids were with me or not.
“I don’t want that devil worship music in my house.” My wife was either referring to the Christian heavy metal that I was listening to, or the European new age music sang in a foreign language. “You don’t know what kind of demon the lyrics could be referring to.”
“Really? You have got to be kidding me. I have all the lyrics if you want to take a look. The metal is obviously Christian and the foreign translations dictate that they are new renditions on classic lullabies or folk songs of lore from the particular country history.”
“Well it sounds evil.”
“Yeah you sound like your mother referring to the music you listened to in high school.” My wife and I rarely connected on music. I liked and enjoyed some of the music that she liked but I often would become bored with it. She listened to “trendy music” as I called it. It wasn’t music played on the radio much but it was boring to me. Usually guitar driven rock with no aspects setting them apart from other bands of the same genre. I preferred, and still do today, bands and artists with distinct sounds that set them apart from others; sounds that allow them to be identified by their sound rather than their name.
As my marriage began to fall apart, I found my musical ear began to float in two directions: heavy metal as heavy as I could find it mixed with gothic overtones and the strangest new age techno from around the world. The gothic metal, with its operatic vocals and symphonic overtones helped me to bury my emotions of loneliness and confusion derived from my wife’s distance, distractions, and disappearances. The atmospheric sounds of the techno new age with its ethereal vocals and subtle beat allowed my mind to retreat to a happy place without the worry of the reality I despised. So I began to delve deeper into both genres through Internet research. I found bands and artists for both, artists from around the world. Azam Ali, Nyaz, The Cruxshadows, The Dreamside, As I Lay Dying, Soul Embraced, The Crucified, Lunascape, Red, Pillar, Project 86, Becoming The Archetype, ThouShaltNot, Nightwish, Epica, Lacuna Coil….Just to name a few.
I realize that through most of my life, each era could be categorized almost by musical genre even up until now. Not that I bounced from style of music or social groups but that as things happened in my life to create major changes, my emotions were expressed through the music that I chose at that time.
After my wife left, the pain was lessened by friends, family, new life and new aims, and the exploration of new genres of music. The Internet is a grand source of music. I was allowed to search by genre or even by band to find others similar. The most beautiful thing about finding new music and bands online is the ability to listen to them before shelling out money for their music. However I soon found that my wallet was unable to keep up with my music preferences. Then I made the most amazing discovery. Used cd’s.
I was so excited. I felt that I was on a treasure hunt. I started a list separated by my own categories: to hear, to acquire eventually, and to acquire soon. Each of these columns on my list contained their own sub categories: artist, and album. I was set. I found several used cd stores in my local area. I would spend hours filing through cd’s turned in by others. I even discovered new bands and albums while flipping through thousands of cd’s. I would jot down the artist name and album title and when time permitted I would look them up online and listen to them. I had found my greatest joy. The discovery of, the acquisition of, and the listening to new music became like a new drug to me.
Today I still have that same feeling when I discover and fall in love with new music. The process is under control. I am not as obsessed with the research like I once was. I see that period as a time of healing through music after my divorce. Music has played a powerful role in my life, throughout my life. I have an iPod that is the largest one that Apple makes. It has approximately 30,000 songs on it with about 10 gig left free. My library has grown so large that I can always find something to listen to in order to direct my thoughts or mask my emotion, or even accentuate my thoughts and emotions. However there is one joy that I cannot control. It comes upon me uncontrollably every time a song from my early years comes up while shuffling all 30,000 songs at once.