Dec 282013

Beyond those two songs the man expressed a vague liking for “all kinds of music.” One benefit of my father’s lack of passion for music was that he let me listen to whatever songs I wanted to when we were in his car. I could switch to any station, come to rest on any song, and he’d keep his eyes on the road, not seeming affected by the songs I wanted to hear, possibly not even aware that I was seated next to him, gabbing away as I’m sure I did.

“Don’t you love this song?” I might yell over the radio as Melanie’s “Brand New Key” or Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime” picked up steam.

“Mmm,” he’d reply soothingly, his blue eyes peeled on the road.

Had he been part of my life a few more years, while I sought out punk rock songs on the dim signal from a college radio station, he wouldn’t have batted an eye if I’d landed on Pere Ubu’s “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” or X-Ray Specs’ “Oh Bondage, Up Yours.”


My Mom, on the other hand, had very defined tastes in music, and as the apple would fall when my sons were born, became easily bugged if I wanted to hear a song she didn’t like. In the early 1970s, for instance, I couldn’t get enough of the hits of Elton John. There was “Crocodile Rock,” with its shades of Del Shannon’s “Runaway.” The song’s remembrances of rock being young made me feel tapped into rock’s rich past. In “Bennie and the Jets,” when Elton’s voice went an octave higher and the fake crowd noises entered I felt thrust into some retro-rock future. “Daniel” had a mystifying narrative involving a brother and, so I thought, blindness. It made me sad and feel protective of my baby brother. It still does and I still can’t make out what the song’s about let alone half of the words Elton is ever singing. Whenever I hear “Daniel” I want to call my brother and just shoot the breeze.

My Mom couldn’t stand Elton John. Before Elton’s music took on a dance feel with “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” and “Philadelphia Freedom,” she’d make me change the station if I wanted to listen to an Elton John song. Or she’d complain the whole way through the song about how grating she found his voice.

Worse yet was hearing my Mom complain whenever the Beatles, my favorite band, came on the radio. “Nowhere Man” was sure to spur a song-length rant.

“Ugh,” she’d begin, “I can’t stand their whining!”

“And those thin English voices,” she’d continue, “God forbid they could take a stand on something.”


“They remind me of your father.”

By this point I’d wish she’d simply change the channel and spare me her angst, but she’d keep right on tearing the Fab Four a new one—and taking it personally: “This song makes me want to kill myself!”

She disliked almost all UK musicians, the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart excluded. Those reedy English voices were like fingernails on a chalkboard to her ears. Or the sound of my Dad’s voice.

Music was a big part of my Mom’s life, as it was a part of my Uncle Joe’s life. While my uncle spun Woodstock rock and gritty soul records by James Brown and Little Richard, my Mom favored the sophisticated soul of Dionne Warwick, Johnny Mathis, the Supremes, the Temptations, and Marvin Gaye. The lyrics of those records bolstered the aspirations of that hard-working, idealistic, Catholic school product. Looking back I imagine a generation of young adults floating on the desires wafting off the radio. How much velvet and heavy wood furnishings were purchased to tunes of Burt Bacharach and Hal David?

By the early-to-mid 1970s she was hooked on The Sound of Philadelphia (TSOP) soul artists, Barry White, and eventually (disco-era) Bee Gees. In the car we listened to the “black” stations. She owned a solid 100 or so albums, buying a few new ones each year. She’d sing along enthusiastically with her favorite songs, always a bit sharp. She’d cry along with the sad songs. And she loved to dance!

When our father was out of the picture and I was old enough to stay home and watch my brother, she’d go out disco dancing with friends, looking to meet the rare guy in a wide-collared silk shirt who “had rhythm,” as she’d characterize her best dance partners the next morning. She still hates my father—really hates him in the way we’re taught not to hate anyone—no matter how much time passes and how long he remains dead. She can, however, muster two compliments about the man: 1) he was a “sharp dresser” and 2) he “had rhythm.”

She wanted me to have rhythm too. During my middle school years, as middle school dances and Bar Mitzvahs hit, she’d crank up that console and try to teach me a few of the period’s happening steps. I loved hearing “The Hustle” as much as any budding music savant, but dancing was never my thing. I shudder at the thought of my incompetence and my extreme discomfort with the dance lessons. My Mom would glide across the living room like a true Dancing Queen, trying her best to show me how to lead, to instill me with some manly moves that I could work to my own advantage with the girls at school. No advantage would be gained. I had cement hips, and the act of dancing made no sense to me. To this day the only dance I imagine would be fun is a funky freestyle dance with my partner down the line on Soul Train.

Listening to records, on the other hand, always made sense, always gave me a sense of place. A few years later playing music made sense too. I’d get some rhythm on my guitar. It took me longer than most kids I knew to get an actual solid-state, all-in-one stereo/cassette player of my own. The hum from that old, green record player kept me chooglin’.


  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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