Flashback Fives: A (brief) History of Music Obsessiveness

Along with our letters, we will also publish “Flashback Fives”—a list of five moments when each writer fell in love with a song, album, artist, genre, et al. This one was submitted by April from Pittsburgh, PA.

One. As a kid I owned one of those portable record players that featured the lovable combo of junky sound and far out graphics (mine looked like denim on the outside and had a rainbow on the inside). At some point, my parents found some of their old 45s and gave them to me and my brother. My brother, who is 4 years older than me, kept them to himself for the majority of our childhood. He enjoyed solo projects including, but not limited to, painting small military figures, and/or adjusting the trees on his train set to match the current season, and/or putting together intricate car models and then going to great lengths to ensure that the paint job was accurate to colors offered at that time in automotive history. As a result, we didn’t play together much. Which is probably why I have a very distinct memory of the two of us listening to “The Sound of Silence” on 45 on the beloved denim/rainbow record player in my bedroom. I was probably around the age of 5 or 6 which would place him around age 9 or 10. I’m not sure if it only happened once, or we did this a couple of times, but we invented a game that involved dancing manically to the Beach Boys “Be True to Your School” and then quickly switching over to the Simon and Garfunkel 45. For Paul and Art’s tune we would move slowly, seriously, the carefree wildness of the Beach Boys behind us. Even at such a young age I recognized that the song managed to simultaneously address something known but unexplainable. We did this manic/depressive musical switcharoo repeatedly because it was fun, and also because picking up the record player arm and placing it back at the start of the record was somehow easier/faster and more accurate than rewinding a cassette tape. Today whenever I hear this song I always think of my brother. Fun fact: “The Sound of Silence” was a total flop until it was remixed by Tom Wilson.

Two. My Cyndi Lauper obsession probably hit its full stride when I was in 9th grade and I started listening to the entire She’s So Unusual album on my walkman while commuting on foot to school. Upon further recollection, I suspect the seed of this obsession was probably first planted when I went to see The Goonies in the movie theater with my family. I was 6 or 7 years old and I did not listen to pop radio and was not allowed to watch MTV. BUT, there is that split second shot of Cyndi Lauper on the TV in the scene when Brand has been tied up with his chest expander and I remember thinking “Whoa! Who is that being so bold and colorful and weird?” Cyndi, you are a hero.

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Three. In 2nd grade I watched A Hard Day’s Night with my aforementioned brother. It was after watching this movie that I became completely and utterly obsessed with the Beatles. I read all of the books at my local library about the group, as well as anything about Paul and/or John. I watched Help! I bought Beatles posters, a Beatles t-shirt and a Beatles watch (this was pre-internet people, so Beatles merchandise was not as readily available as it is today) to openly advertise my Beatles fandom. In college I went to see A Hard Day’s Night in the theater and realized that the thrill I felt in 2nd grade had not diminished in the slightest (I also realized that my boyfriend at time sort of looked like a B movie version of Paul….gulp!). Let it be known; Beatlemania was not confined to the 60’s only.

Four. A few years ago I went through this period where if I found any “oldies” compilation on vinyl for $1, I would buy it. I was listening to one of these compilations and “For All We Know” came on by Jackie and the Starlites. I immediately stopped what I was doing to determine the artist. I had never heard of Jackie and the Starlites despite years and years of oldies and doo-wop fanaticism. Immediately I was in the love. Jackie’s voice and delivery is like a bolt of lightning. Even more amazing, almost every song they recorded sounds better than most of the played out oldies/doo-wop songs everyone knows and loves. Jackie LaRue forever!

Here’s another unknown hit by Jackie and the Starlites

Five. In April of 2012 (truth: my memory is not that good, but I found the exact year through a Google search) I traveled with my friend Amanda to Washington D.C. to (1) see Ezra Furman (and his new band at the time….The Boyfriends) open up for Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s (2) visit Amanda’s brother and (3) to celebrate my and Amanda’s joint enthusiasm for being born in the month of April (go Aries!). The show was at the Rock n’ Roll Hotel and the opening-opening band was Writer. I had never heard of Writer, but all good obsessive consumers of music know that the opening band or performer will often be the one to give you the most bang for your buck regardless of the size of the venue, crowd, etc. That night at the Rock n’ Roll hotel this was most definitely the case. Writer consisted of two guys who set up on the floor (not the stage!) and they just totally banged out every song with a beautiful combination of 100% gusto and zero pretension. It was loud and you could feel the sound, like a big rock n’ roll wave rolling over the small but receptive crowd. It sounded a lot like this (watch the clip) and I loved it.

Flashback Fives: Born to Love Music

Along with our letters, we will also publish “Flashback Fives”—a list of five moments when each writer fell in love with a song, album, artist, genre, et al. This is the first, submitted by Christine from New York, NY.

One. There are so many theories about playing music to a baby in the womb. Will the baby hear it? Appreciate it? Recognize it later? Based on personal experience, the answer is yes. My parents played Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Street Survivors repeatedly while my mom was pregnant. After I was born, the album became lullaby music—southern rocking me right to sleep. When my parents taught me how to use the turntable, guess what I played? That album is forever like a warm blanket to me. It feels like home. I was born to love it.

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The people responsible for my condition.

Two. Message boards and chat rooms. Can’t say what specifically prompted me to partake when I was 15. Boredom and the loneliness of living in a small rural town. I sought and found a few of my ilk, including Joe. Joe was a few years older than me, lived in another state, went to art school and loved punk rock. I devised a plan to meet him in person, succeeded and was smitten. We drove a couple hours a few times each year to meet. Not much could sideline me from putting the moves on him, but the opening riff of Lifetime’s “Rodeo Clown” stopped me in my tracks. Its perfect mix of energy and heartbreak is a 4-second summary of what could loosely be called our relationship. I initially played it feverishly to relive the soaring emotions of being with Joe. Next, on repeat to mend my broken heart. Finally, years passed and I was able to appreciate it and the rest of Hello Bastards free from emotional chains. Writing about this situation 20 years later, I am ironically reminded of Lily Taylor’s infamous ex in the film Say Anything…. Does everyone have a Joe?

Lifetime: Rodeo Clown

Three. The idea of Sleater-Kinney captured me from the outset. Women vocalizing their frustrations by writing and playing raw, bitter music about the challenges of friendships, relationships, work and life. I discussed and shared Call the Doctor with friends; disseminated it via mixed tapes and tape recorded copies. As an equally frustrated outsider, it was my duty to embrace it. Dig Me Out was released a year later. Aimlessly driving around in my car on a rainy afternoon, I thought “Now’s my chance let it sink in.” I drove and drove until the album ended, struck by how much they’d advanced as songwriters in such a short time. The music was less raw, still bitter and incredibly melodic. Of all their albums, it’s the one I discussed and disseminated the least. I held it close and feel equally as protective about it today. That’s how I know it was love.

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Two pieces of evidence: A devoted young fan, I wore a Sleater-Kinney shirt in my drivers license photo. You can’t see the graphics so you’ll have to believe me. More recently, I digitized my music collection and could not part with my beloved Dig Me Out CD.

Four. Growing up, I was infrequently exposed to what I considered real jazz. The jazz you read about in history books. Jazz that influenced the great writers, artists and musicians. When I moved to New York 10 years ago, I met someone who knew enough about it to give me a crash course. The moment he played Mingus Ah Um, everything clicked. It was a gateway drug, a green light, to explore the seemingly infinite world occupied by musicians like Miles Davis, Gil Evans, John Coltrane, Jimmy Giuffre. They say being a parent is the world’s biggest club. Understanding and appreciating jazz is the best one.

Charles Mingus: Better Git It In Your Soul

Five. Driving from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree, listening to the album Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son by Damien Jurado. That album, the desert road, the mountains, the brown and dusty blue, are forever etched in my mind as one of the most glorious and free moments of recent memory.

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Damien Jurado: Silver Timothy