Friday, November 19, 2010

Steve Strong: Beware of Older Brothers Who Will Rock You Like a Hurricane

Man, I am old. When I was a kid I used to think people in their 50’s were ancient, and now I’m the ancient one. My kids remind me how out of touch I am with all the techno devices they take for granted. Things I still can’t seem to figure out.

I try to tell my kids how much technology has changed during my lifetime, and their eyes sort of glaze over. These are kids who can’t tell the 60’s from the 40’s and aren’t sure if I lived during the Vietnam War or the Japanese War (and frankly, I don’t think they could tell the two countries apart either).

I tell them that when I was young, we only had to dial 5 digits to make a phone call and we did it on a rotary dial. They’re familiar with that concept because they saw it in a Cary Grant movie. I tell them that I remember when President Kennedy was shot, and they ask me if that was before President Lincoln or after. I tell them that when I was born there were only 48 States, and they say, “How many are there now, like 80?”

But the one thing that links us more than any other is the music of my youth. My kids love the Beatles. I love the Beatles. Who doesn’t love the Beatles? I was in elementary school when the Beatles got popular in the U.S. I hadn’t heard British accents before and my older neighbor explained it for me. “They speak in English, but they sing in American.”

When I had 90 cents as a child, I would sometimes walk to the record store and buy a 45 of the latest CCR or Jackson 5 record. The first LP I bought was the album Flowers by the Rolling Stones (which I bought from my older sister). The first LP I bought new from a store was the self-titled album by Blood, Sweat and Tears.

It was a blessing and a curse having an older brother and sister. It was a curse because they could be bossy and mean, but it was a blessing because I got to experience the music they brought into the house and played on the big Hi-Fi in the front room.

Of course my older siblings loved the Beatles, but they also filled the house with the sounds of the Herman’s Hermits, the Dave Clark Five, Freddie and the Dreamers, and Peter and Gordon. I was young enough to think that the Beatles and the Monkees were equally talented, and the Monkees had the advantage of being on TV every week. Plus, they were funnier and they spoke American.

As the years went by, my tastes changed as my brother and sister brought newer music into the home. While we were doing Saturday morning chores, my mom would blast show tunes on the Hi-Fi and I’d sing along to Funny Girl and Oliver at the top of my lungs while running the vacuum. Then, in the evening, my brother would put his new “stereo” on the floor of our bedroom so we could lie between the speakers and appreciate Jimi Hendrix with the left and right channels separated.

By the time I was in high school, the older siblings had moved out, and now I was the oldest, so I introduced my little sisters to the music of my time. I read an article in Time about a guy I had never heard of named Bruce Springsteen. On a hunch, I bought his Born to Run album in the fall of 1975. I remember my friends telling me it was no good, because the guy couldn’t sing. But I became a fan then and there.

Even before disco became popular in the later 1970’s there was plenty of wretched music to suffer through in my high school years. For instance, the same radio station that would play “Roundabout” by Yes, might follow-up that song with “Afternoon Delight.” Janis Joplin might pound out a rendition of “Take Another Piece of My Heart” only to have that followed by John Denver telling us how sunshine on his shoulder makes him “high.”

While I’m waiting for the radio to play the next song by Al Green, or Supertramp, I may have to suffer through the 1910 Fruit Gum Company or (Heaven help me!) “Billy Don’t be a Hero,” or “The Night Chicago Died.” Living in the 70’s was a lot like having an older brother and sister: You just had to learn to take the good with the bad.

“And in the lonely cool before dawn, you hear their engines roaring on. But when you get to the porch they’re gone on the wind. So Mary climb in. It’s a town full of losers – I’m pulling out of here to win.”

Bay City Rollers:
“Who do you think you are? You try to push me a bit too far. And every day sees another scar. So tell me, who do you think you are?”

Eventually my best friend got an 8-track tape recorder and we could record music from the radio and hit “pause” when they announced yet another playing of, “Have You Never Been Mellow.” And then we could hit “record” when they had good stuff like James Taylor, the Moody Blues or REO*.

Today, when I listen to the oldies station in the car with my kids, they’re surprised at how I know all the words to so many old songs. I tell them that back in the old days, before CD’s, and before tape recorders, I would listen to those songs line by line – lifting the needle off the LP and writing notes on scratch paper and then putting the needle down for the next line.

That’s 1960’s technology my friend. Thank Heavens my brother never caught me doing that to his records.

*Yes, I know, REO later stunk big time. But they didn’t start out like that.

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