I sometimes wish that my parents had been more obsessed with music, thereby passing on some of their good taste to me during my crucial developmental years. Mom wasn’t into the Rolling Stones because they were “loud” and my dad , after having grown up on Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, moved on to James Taylor and Garth Brooks in early 90s, much to my disappointment: James Taylor bored me to tears even at five years old and I just couldn’t boot stompin’ boogie with Mr. Brooks. Alas, I was left to fend for myself.
Early musical conquests – in the form of a cassette, of course – included a double-sided MC Hammer joint featuring “2 Legit 2 Quit” and “Can’t Touch This.” Needless to say I was more than pleased when I came across a sweater at the JC Penney Outlet Store in which both titles were knitted with neon yarn over and over again until they collided in the center at a giant holograph of MC Hammer himself, busting a move on the front of my sweatshirt. I was similarly enthralled by one of the bands formed from some Mickey Mouse Club stars, whose collective name now slips my memory but I do recall their single “Free 2 B Me.” The 90s was all about abbreviation, ergo the death of the written word. This is perhaps why many of my peers still do not correctly identify the difference between “two” and “too.” Sucks 2 B U, my friends in illiteracy.
My first CD was by Ace of Base and was purchased with my dad at the local Target. I came directly home, put “I Saw the Sign” on my gigantic black, 6 CD changer, AM/FM tuner, two tape deck radio and danced my heart away on the carpet of my shared bedroom. Madonna’s “The Immaculate Collection” came next. The black and white photographs of her in a bathroom, legs akimbo, both confused me and made me want to join a contortionist circus. While I would never be as flexible as Madonna, I was certain of my prowess as an adept singer. I pranced around, swinging from my bunk bed as far as the room’s square footage would allow, mimicking the tone of her voice to the point of precise impersonation…at least I thought so.
Mom took me to see my first concert at the Universal Amphitheater. Kenny Loggins was ever the long-haired, mellow dreamboat I had imagined. Out seats were on the first floor, closer to the back and just under the balcony section above. The result was a dense reverb that did not necessarily make for stellar acoustics. That, and a woman nearby was apparently far more turned on by Kenny and screamed with drunken gusto. Mom was annoyed and I can’t remember if she told her to shut up or just complained about it. The experience was a wild success.
Mine was a youth full, unbridled 1990s pop. Amy Grant (before she found religion), Paula Abdul (all albums, no exceptions), Mariah Carey (when she could still sing and maintained at least the pretense of sanity). Although, I did miss a few key pop movements that were marketed specifically towards girls like me; namely, boy bands and Britney Spears. NSYNC just seemed a little too, well, gay for my taste and I could never bring myself to actually purchase a Britney album. More easily done was to dole out faux judgment on those who did. However, I had no qualms on screaming “I’m Not a Girl” out of the window of my friend’s two door, parent purchased BMW provided we were more than a mile away from school. One must keep up appearances, cynical or otherwise.
My brother, being a boy, was more easily sucked into the grunge movement, which I interpreted as an excuse to not shower or be happy. I attribute my previous lack of enthusiasm for Nirvana to my then undeveloped intellectual maturity. That and the cover for In Utero really just grossed me out.
When grunge evolved into something more palatable for my delicate sensibilities, Green Day came out. Around the same time, parental advisory stickers had become de rigueur and my mom took an active interest in what I was listening to. I enjoyed the uncensored Dookie for a week before my mom made me return it for the kiddie version. Much good did it do me; I still learned how to say f*&#, sh^%, and g%d da#% in due time.
As I grew older, I more quickly devoted myself to a CD collection mirroring that of a 45-year-old divorcee. Sheryl Crow, Shawn Collins, Tori Amos – the emotive, broken hearted works. Jiving with my more “raucous” and “rebellious” side, I had Third Eye Blind and Everclear. I found that “Semi Charmed Kind of Life” really summed up my middle school experience, mainly associating with the line “…to get me through this…”. For whatever reason I remember specifically listening to the song pour out of the speakers of my karaoke machine cum radio while taking a shower and wondering if I would ever be popular. These were also the days in which I was learning to manage razor burn on my legs (i.e. avoiding goosebumps). Those are two memories I associate with that particular shower. Third Eye Blind and goosebumps. Dododo do do do dooo…
Although my dad purportedly grew up on some of the best rock ever known, I didn’t hear about it through him. I initially learned about Jimi Hendrix on a PC encyclopedia application, long before Google and long before wireless internet. On Dad Weekends, I would sit in front of one of many Sony Vaio’s he would have to purchase, listening to white noise dial-up as I logged onto my AOL account. After that there wasn’t much to do besides sign into strange chat rooms and read the poetry of suicidal teens. When boredom set in, I would turn to the computer Encyclopedia, which was at that point a breakthrough in multi-media: I could read Jimi’s bio and watch one 20 second clip of him performing “Mary.”
My high school days were strongly influenced my high school boyfriend, who introduced me to Tupac and Biggie – who I didn’t like at the time because it sounded like his words struggled to get past the fat in his neck and into the microphone. Might it be known that a Parental Advisory treaty was made when my mom gave me the foul-mouthed version of Tupac as a Christmas present my freshman year. DMX, OutKast, Dr. Dre and Eminem followed.
The first time I heard Eminem was leaving the parking lot of the Cheesecake Factory. It was raining and my boyfriend had somehow scored a label-less demo from someone who knew someone who had a connection. Once again, this was before the days of rampant internet bootlegging and pirating: a demo like this a rarity and truly sacred. The first beats in “My Name Is” were something I had never experienced before. It was so new, fresh, utterly and delightfully obnoxious. I became a devotee.
When I arrived at college I was shocked by the breadth of knowledge my New Jersey roommate possessed about classic rock and other alternatives. Her taste was far more developed and refined then my own: she had embraced Radiohead at a young age and loved Pearl Jam, she liked songs like “Night Swimming” and knew about Modest Mouse before I had even heard of them. She spoke of being introduced to music by her parents, causing me to become disheartened because I essentially had eighteen years of learning to do.
To to be fair, my parents did provide me with a few, but visceral, memories in music. Alana Miles “Black Velvet” reminds me of the parkay flooring behind our bar and the stacks of Atari games that existed there instead of bottles of booze. Carol King “Tapestry” will always be associated with my mom. Seal takes me back to a road trip with my dad and brother out to June Lake, eating Certs Mints until my stomach hurt and going for burgers at The Tiger Bar. The Smashing Pumpkins song “1979” will always remind me of carpooling in Mom’s old brown leather Mercedes to the middle school, mostly because that’s what she says every time she hears the song. The Cars “Greatest Hits” bring to mind dinners at my dad’s first trailer: he would make al fredo noodles and, later, my brother and I would share a blow up mattress in the living room even though there was a bedroom for us in the back; we just liked to listen to the waves crash off of the PCH.