Dec 282013

For the last few years I’ve been picking away at a memoir, of sorts, on my formative life and musical experiences. For my own edification above all else, as well as a possible guidebook to help my sons understand why their dad is weird, I am examining how these experiences and the sounds swirling around me worked together to “save me” from the hazards of childhood, to set me on the path of becoming the man and rock nerd I am today. Suburban kid‘s excellent Dad Rock thread inspired me to share a current draft of an opening chapter, some of which you may have seen or heard in earlier stages of development.


My first music-playing device was a plastic, olive-green record player that was pleasingly textured on the outside, like stucco, nubby upholstery, or Naugahyde. Flip up the top and the plastic was beige—also textured, to better pick up smudges from my dirty hands. The turntable itself was brown, with a brown rubber mat to soften the blow of singles released from the multi-45 stem. I can’t remember for sure if the arm was brown or beige, but I remember my shaky hands were always challenged by lifting the arm and dropping the needle onto a specific album track. My beat-to-hell childhood 45s, these days crammed into my original orange vinyl box along with other singles picked up through the years, can attest to this challenge. The cord was a brown 2-pronged affair. I experienced my first electric shock on that cord when I left one of my shaky fingers slipped between the prongs as I plugged it in. Ouch!

I used that record player from the age of 4 or 5, playing “She Loves You” over and over, singing along with my speech-impeded “l” sounds (ie, She wuvs you…), through about age 15, when I’d long mastered consonant sounds. My uncle gave me my first stack of LPs as well as a box of 45s. The LPs included Steppenwolf Live, with that snarling wolf on the cover and Santana’s first album, with its sketch of a roaring lion that contained hidden figures and each Carlos Santana guitar solo deliberately articulated with a long, bended note, played high on the neck. He gave me The Band’s second album, which to this day is one of my Top 5 favorite albums ever, and about a half dozen Beatles records, including early ones through their then-recent psychedelic period, Sgt. Pepper’s and Magical Mystery Tour. A year or two later I got Let It Be and the Beatles Again singles collection, the one with them dourly dressed in black and standing in front of a big door. I didn’t know “singles collection” from “proper” release, and thought nothing of the stylistic and sonic differences between “I Should Have Known Better” and the scorching single version of “Revolution.” The band members looked their coolest in the mustachioed, sideburned photos of their psychedelic years, so I “updated” my early Beatles’ albums, drawing the appropriate whiskers on the lads and the distinctive granny glasses on John.


  16 Responses to “The Ballad of Easy Rider”

  1. Amazing how much commonality between yours and my musical youth. I’m guessing you are about 50, like me.

    The Band is also in my top 5 albums – “standin’ by your window in pain, tang tang, tang”. I discovered it when I was about 20.

    My mum also loved Bacharach, etc, but my father had no interest in music.

    Unlike you, I hardly listen to music anymore. I have a maxim: if I liked it when I was 13, it is probably sh1t. Santana, Steppenwolf and Creedence Live in Europe, for instance. Ironically, the only music I do listen to is the sort my mum liked – Bacharach, etc.

  2. hrrundivbakshi

    Mod, that was awesome. Know that I read all the way through it, entranced, despite the fact that we had a horrible, awful, unusually sleep-deprived night with the baby. And the dog, who also decided rest was optional last night. I desperately *need* a cup of strong coffee, but I’m putting it off to write this note to you, so good was your story-telling. Keep at it!

    Your pal for life in the spirit of rock,


  3. Yes, I turned 50 this summer. For the record, I no longer purposely listen to Santana under any circumstances, but that album cover and Santana’s sustained, overdriven notes dazzled me when I was a young boy and, secretly, still dazzle me a little bit to this day.

  4. hrrundivbakshi

    Wha…? Aren’t you the guy who turned me on to “Caravanserai”?

  5. 2000 Man

    That was great! We never had one of those console stereo’s. Eventually dad got a Webcor all in one with two tiny speakers and I think the turntable platter was smaller than a 45. Albums on Dynaflex vinyl wouldn’t even play on it because the record would bow and the needle would just slide off the outer edge. Great stuff, though. Someday I’ll have to write about my dance class in 8th grade. I probably have the same “rhythm” as you!

  6. I thought you turned me onto that one! OK, let me get this straight: I still love the way Santana’s guitar sounds; I just don’t like many of his songs. Caravanserai is good to this day because it’s mostly instrumental.

  7. Definitely enjoyed reading this Mr. Moderator!

  8. Suburban kid

    Yeah I enjoyed that. I wish I had an uncle who rocked. I only had an older brother, but he wasn’t that much older.

    I had various cheap record players, but I loved the one that used to belong to my grandparents. It must have been from the 50s (wouldn’t earlier ones only have 78 rpm?), but it was very old fashioned looking when we got it. A self-contained wooden box with a lid, an AM-only radio, and a nasty brown turntable under the lid.

  9. H. Munster

    I look forward to the book.

  10. Santana is like Clapton – fine guitarist, sh1t songs.

  11. Mod – my ma bought me that little portable record player too. I had one record: ‘Sixteen Tons’ by Tennessee Ernie Ford which I played over and over and over constantly for a week. The first record I bought with my own money was ‘Ballad of the Green Beret’ by Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler, and before I lost my warlike ways and became a Veetnam pacifist I also owned ‘Snoopy vs. the Red Baron’ but dripped a blob of model glue on it rendering it unplayable in the middle passages. Me and my brother and sister put our money together and bought ‘Something New’ by the Beatles for $1.98. Good times.

  12. diskojoe

    My first record player was a hand me down GE portable from my sister, then a battery-powered Panasonic circa 1969 in grey plastic. My father got us a RCA combo stereo-color TV in 1970 that I used to played the first albums I bought @ the Record Exchange (1st one: December’s Children & Everybody’s by the Stones) that remains mute in our living room to this day.

    I think that I’m going to be “Uncle Joe” to my grandnephew. I showed him a couple of episodes of the Beatles cartoon show that I have on a bootleg DVD & the next time he came over, he went to my room, grabbed the DVD & said “Beatles!, Beatles!”

    Finally, Bill Russell was better 😉

  13. Mr. Mod, put me down for the book – or a Kickstarter payment to fund publication.

  14. mockcarr

    Mod, I think I inherited a box turntable that already had the glossy paper covering the chip board peeling off of it. I miss having a 16 rpm setting.

    thanks foe some decidedly anti-meh content.

  15. ladymisskirroyale

    Looking forward to future installments 🙂

  16. misterioso

    Mod, I really enjoyed reading this. No one in my immediate family was “into music” when I was growing up and I more or less found my own way, which has its upside and downside. My father was born in the 20s and to immigrants from a non-English speaking land, no less, and he had no interest in rock and roll and liked to give me grief for listening to druggies like the Beatles and Stones. (I am 5 years younger than you so you can figure out the rough timeline.) My mother’s younger but still was a married woman by the time rock and roll hit in the 50s, but she was hip enough to give my father a hard time about listening to “dentist office” music on the car radio, and that helped.

    It makes me a little sad that you only find displeasure in your uncle’s playing Chopin for your grandmother. Partly because I love Chopin more than Traffic. Of course, I don’t know how your uncle felt about playing it; but it’s too bad you seem to hear in Chopin only something people are told they have to like as opposed to great music. (I know some younger people who feel the same way about the Beatles, actually, and that really makes me sad.)

    I don’t think I can invite you to my clubhouse, though, ’cause I don’t want anyone drawing on my Beatle lps.

    Very New Year to everyone!

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