Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Beginning (Part I)

Everything has a beginning. 

My beginning with music came at a fairly early age because I come from a musical family.  On my mother's side...everyone played piano and/or sings.  Everyone but me, that is.  Fortunately for everyone, the vast majority of them also have absolutely no problem getting up on a stage and performing.  Whatever the opposite of "shy and reserved" is...well, that would be a pretty good descriptor.  In fact, even now my uncle is a full-time entertainer - a profession that he was encouraged to follow after finishing an engineering degree at Georgia Tech - thus satisfying my grandparents that he'd have something to fall back on "just in case."  They needn't have worried. 

He wrote the music for the song "Spooky" that was recorded by the Classics IV in 1967 and re-released by the Atlanta Rhythm Section in 1979.  He also wrote a song called "What Would I Do Without My Music" that I am told the Auburn Singers used to close performances with just a couple of years ago.

Cool, yes?  I only discovered this as a friend of mine was talking about this song she loved that the group did (her daughter was a member at the time) and I asked her to tell me some of the words.  She did.  Same song.  Small world.

I remember my mother being delighted that I could carry a tune when I was little - but apparently nobody recognized that I had (and have) a very limited range.  What I can sing - I sing.  What I cannot - I fake.  If I push the pushes back.

Part of the reason I love praise music in church versus classic hymns is because praise music is in my range.  Sometimes when I sing hymns I'm afraid that what it takes for me to reach a note might be scaring people or exciting packs of dogs two neighborhoods over from the church.  It's okay though.  I figure that if God made me this way...he understands.

I had to turn down being a soloist once because I couldn't hit the notes.  I didn't know why...because what I could sing was tolerable.  Eventually I realized that having a limited range was not going to make me the ideal choir member nor would I ever be called upon to lead singing.  I did sing in the Lee High Singers in high school as an alto.  It was more for the socializing than it was because I had a burning desire to express myself thorough the medium of music.  What I did learn from that experience was that I was better at the choreography...and that the words to "Blue Bayou" are still somewhat stuck in my head thirty years later.

I also used to sing "Sweet Child of Mine" to Jill when she was little along with lullabies that I made up.  She didn't seem to mind.  I know that some people might question the wisdom of singing a Guns and Roses song to a little person, but the words fit.  Plus, I thought I could sing better than Axel Rose most days.

I grew up in the era of hair bands and Southern rock.  My earliest memories are of Bob Dylan, though.  I can still hear "Lay Lady Lay" and think back to my childhood.  However, after hearing the song on the radio and liking it, someone purchased the first album I ever owned...John Lennon's "Imagine."  Imagine that.  I was eight.  The first 45 record I bought was at Medcalf Music Shop in Thomaston, Georgia and was Elton John's "Crocodile Rock."  I also owned "Kung Fu Fighting" - so let's just say that my musical taste was developing.  During the summer of 1975, when I was twelve, I listened to the Elton John Greatest Hits album so much that I still know most of the lyrics to the songs on that album.  I also knew every word to the "Grease" soundtrack a few years later, so it wasn't always just rock 'n roll for me. 

My generation had groups like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, Heart, AC/DC, Judas Priest, The Rolling Stones, 38 Special, ZZ Top, Queen, Molly Hatchett, Kiss, The Eagles, The Police, Bon Jovi and The Cars among others that we pretty much assumed would go on forever.  Many of them have.  I do know that our kids are familiar with a lot of these groups...probably because they have been subjected to a lot of pop and rap music that is certainly unlikely to ever be considered "classic."  The great portion of the music that I grew up listening to definitely was.  I've always known that this was a lucky coincidence, and I tried to tell Jill's friends that I used to drive around that they needed to know more about music than Nelly had to offer.  A lot of them still remember that.

High school graduation for me was in 1981.  Saturday Night Live had come out only a few years prior to this and musical guests gave us access to some of our favorite groups.  Prior to that, it had been Wolfman Jack's "Midnight Special" on Friday nights.  Music videos in the early days were either of a recent concert, or were taped in a studio where we could see the performers.  For most of us...this was cool enough.

And then in August 1981...MTV.  Music Television.  Little spacemen planting an MTV flag on the moon.  VJs enlightened us on what was going on in the music world...and videos went from just being videos of the artists singing to amazingly creative three minute advertisements for the artist.  A few of my favorites were Dire Straits' "Money For Nothing" and Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" - just because I thought they were cool.  And who can forget Robert Palmer's models dancing around in his videos?  (Answer: obviously not me.)

I got married in 1985 - just as "Miami Vice" was launched and MTV was on overdrive.  Other than watching a little on the weekends...we just didn't have time.  Big Dave and I were in school at night during these years.  I did discover that listening to Def Leppard very loud was a way to calm my nerves after a night of lectures or group projects in graduate school.  I'd worked all day and got through class by being jacked up on Diet Coke for the better part of the night.  Listening to loud music gave me a way to tune out everything and then get home and fall into bed.  I wore out those tapes, by the way. 

After finishing graduate school and building a house, we welcomed Jill in 1990 and Brian in 1992.  My life was that perfect storm of minimal sleep, busyness, and guilt that accompanies many working mothers.  During these years I was either singing to the kids, listening to "kid music" or the local Christian radio station.  As a result...I pretty much tuned out most music for the next ten years.  After all, MTV was becoming less and less about the music and more about simply being a "brand."  They set up shop at the beach for Spring Break and started putting reality shows out there that pushed the envelope.  Parents began getting fed up with the influence and started turning MTV off the remote.  It was fine with me...after all, I was watching Barney anyway.

I was exposed to Hootie and the Blowfish and some groups in the mid-1990s, but I was still listening primarily to Christian radio or talk radio (political) instead of music.  Most of the rock bands were overwhelmed by pop and rap...and I was just...overwhelmed period.

Sometime as I was leaving MTV, alternative music was out there growing in popularity.  I listened to a little of it but was more than a little appalled at how unwashed everyone looked when they were the musical guests on Saturday Night Live.  I know that's a stupid reason for blowing off an entire genre of music...but I did.  The band Nirvana was one of the most well known bands to come out of this period.  The songs were simple and soulful - and defined a generation of listeners that are ten or so years behind me.  I knew that the lead singer was Kurt Cobain - and that he had some serious drug issues and was married to Courtney Love.  See, I wasn't totally out of the loop.  I also remember that he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound (in April 1994) and left his wife and a one year old daughter behind.  When he died, he was 27 years old.

This sad end made me even more determined not to listen to Nirvana because I pretty much figured I wouldn't like it.  I don't remember hearing a Nirvana song until one was featured in a movie with Ryan Reynolds called "Definitely, Maybe" a few years ago.  I mention all of this because I had so closely associated Nirvana with Kurt Cobain that I never really thought about the other members of the band.  Why would I?  Other than a few bands - and primarily the front man - I just thought of the band as a whole rather than the individual artists that comprised it. 

I'm doing a lot of talking about Nirvana for a reason.  See, Dave Grohl, the front man for Foo Fighters was the drummer for Nirvana.  I became a Foo Fighters fan first and then checked out Nirvana.  A lot of other people checked out Foo Fighters because they loved Nirvana.  Yes, I dare to be different.  Here's a video of my favorite Nirvana song "Smells Like Teen Spirit."  I do not understand the title...but that's okay too. 
You really have to see him wearing out the drums.  Awesome.

Every story starts somewhere.  Dave Grohl's story as a musician started when he was a teenager playing guitar for a garage band.  He taught himself the drums (using pillows according to legend) and started touring at age 17 with the band "Scream."  He was recruited for Nirvana as the band's fifth drummer in 1990 (he was 21 years old).  However, it was as if all of the pieces fell together when he joined the band and the band began experiencing commercial success.  And so it went until 2004 when Kurt Cobain checked out and everyone was left wondering where to go from there...

Check back later for Part II...(thanks for reading!)   

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