Dec 282013

These albums, the Beatles and the Band ones in particular, first spurred my notions of rock superpowers. Comic books made no impression on me. Superman and his ilk were a bunch of squares in their tights and short, slicked hair. The members of my favorite bands, as pictured on albums sleeves, held remarkable powers. They were hairy and wore suede, denim, and sometimes even silk. Members of the Beatles and the Band, as pictured on their record sleeves, fit together perfectly. On record, their voices complimented each other while retaining distinct qualities. On record sleeves, their hairstyles complimented each other; their clothes were coordinated in a near-military fashion. They ran the range from handsome to homely, earthy to ethereal. Each band contained a dominant, bespectacled member, Lennon and Robbie Robertson, in the case of my favorite bands, who clearly possessed dominant intellectual powers.

At the same time these adult rock ‘n roll super heroes were being boiled down for kids my age in the guise of the Monkees and the Banana Splits, the latter being the first and only band whose official fan club I would ever join. My Dad built a wooden storage shed in our backyard, from scratch. His work was top notch and as deliberate and distinctive as Santana’s guitar solos. The white-with-black trim shed could have passed for a New England seaside cottage. The shed became my personal Banana Splits clubhouse, with my Banana Splits Club member certificate stapled inside the door. Sometimes I’d go out there, close myself inside the shed among the garden tools and paint cans, and do nothing but stare at that certificate, feeling the power of membership in a rock ‘n roll super group.


The record player was kept in what was originally our family’s spare bedroom, before my little brother, Joey, came along. He continued to want to sleep in the same room with me a few years after his arrival, when he was set up in his “big boy room.” The record player remained in what was supposed to be his bedroom, essentially our spare bedroom, until Joey finally settled in. Then he and his damn KISS cassettes took over the room. My brother’s stint in the KISS Army and failed attempts at reconditioning him are for another chapter.

When I was a young boy and had that spare bedroom all to myself, I could delve deep into the imagined history of the Band album, making personal connections to bits and pieces of songs that exist to this day. In “When You Awake,” when the narrator sits upon his Grandpa’s knee, I’m transported back to the knee of my Grandpop. The sense of death and mourning that runs through “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is as chilling and resonant in me as an early childhood realization I had while being given a bath by my Mom. It’s one of my earliest memories; I must have been about 3 years old. I looked up at my Mom from the tub and blurted out, “Gran’s going to die someday.” Then I wailed.

The green record player wasn’t just a conduit for deep, heavy thoughts. I’d also spend hours happily rocking along to my “Snoopy vs the Red Baron” single, Vanity Fair’s rollicking “Hitchin’ a Ride,” and one album of what had originally been a double live album by Creedence Clearwater Revival. I never figured out what happened to the second album in that set, but at least I kept the album with the marathon boogie “Keep on Chooglin’.”

My home away from home listening space was my uncle’s bedroom. He lived with my grandparents, and as a young adult his bedroom was his home within their home. My Uncle Joe was the “hippie” of the family, relatively speaking. Like Mike Stivik, “Meathead” in television’s Bunker family, my uncle was deep down an old-fashioned family boy.

I wanted nothing more than to grow up and be a mustachioed child of the rock ‘n roll age like my uncle, especially after my parents took me to see a drive-in double-feature of Easy Rider and Hell’s Angels on Wheels. That night, sprawled atop a blanket spread over our station wagon with a neighborhood friend who came along for this unlikely family double bill, I was in hippie heaven. Although adventure-seeking, mellow misfits at heart, the hippies in these movies were nevertheless willing to stick it to The Man. It pained me in each movie whenever one of my new free-loving heroes was savagely taken down by hateful squares. The rednecks at the end of Easy Rider cemented my hippie sympathies. Although too chicken to this day to have ever ridden even a mini-bike, I’m on my own chopper, right beside them.


  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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