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Where I define the music that has made me

by John on May 15th, 2015

If you’ve been around here for awhile, you know that I’m a musician. Yes, I’m a father. And a nutjob someone who takes his health seriously. And a web developer. But I’m a musician — in fact, lately, I’d say that I’m “a musician” more than I am most anything else1. Music makes up a HUGE part of who I am. So, with the “these are the songs that made me” meme going around? I feel the need to play along.

  • The Beatles, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Truth be told, I had no idea what the name of this song was, who performed it, or, really, much anything about this song, until I was a tween – possibly even a teen. But, I knew the song. See, my dad — well, I can say that I’m a musician — I play several instruments, some of them quite competently. And, while I concede there is no way to measure this, and while I consider myself an “avid reader,” I believe I read music better than I read the English language. My dad is not a good reader of music — but he’s a better musician than I am. He can hear something and then sit down on the piano, or the guitar, or the clarinet, and reproduce what he’s heard – honestly, it’s a talent that I envy (though, in not having said talent, I’ve had to develop my ability to read music, which, I believe, is something he envies about me). Anyway, when my dad would sit down at the keys (an upright Steinway that his mother had rescued from a junkyard), LSD was a common chorus played. I just new it was a “happy tune,” but never knew the words, until I really started listening to music on my own, and studying rock, and finding the Beatles.
  • Art Garfunkel, 99 Miles from LA. Yeah, Paul Simon might have been the musical genius between Simon & Garfunkel, but I grew up listening to “The Voice.” I hear this song, and I’m transported to staying up past my bedtime, bugging my dad & his friends sips of beer, trying portwine cheddar spread. My parents didn’t host a lot of parties – but, when they did, and we were inside, and music was played – this song was featured, always.
  • Del Shannon, Little Runaway. as was this.
  • Neil Diamond, America. My family would spend a week, most every summer, with my mom’s best friend’s family, close to the beaches in Delaware — it worked for a cheap getaway for a family on a budget. My mom’s best friend’s husband? Loved this song — I hear it and, *poof* I’m taken to playing with a Samoyed and eating crappy pizza and bracing myself for long shopping trips.
  • Elton John, Crocodile Rock & the California Raisins, Heard it Through the Grapevine. The first mix tape that my dad made . . . these are the two songs that my sister & I requested, the most, while driving about. Of course, it was a tape, so if we wanted to listen to a track over again, we had to stop and wait for the damn thing to rewind.
  • Roy Orbison, You Got It. When we drove, my parents listened to a lot of country — basically, my mom liked it, and, at least in the 80’s, any “inappropriate” references in country songs were way over my head. Naturally, I claimed that I hated country, because of this, at the time2. But, then the movie Pretty Woman came out, and Roy Orbison shot to national prominence. Then the Wilburys formed, and, suddenly, this older, old-school country artist was “popular.” You Got It was the first song that I figured out my own arrangement for. Heck, I think I can still remember the little things I brought into the piano part.
  • Alannah Myles, Black Velvet.
  • Queensrÿche, Silent Lucidity. Part classical part hard rock. The opening acoustic guitar riff still gets stuck in my head. This was the piece that told me “it’s pointless to say that you like, or dislike, a genre of music.” And now, when I sit down at a piano with nothing much in mind, I’ll look to play a repeatable bit, to get it stuck in my head, and then tweak that to see if I can make a song out of it . . . I don’t know that’s how Silent Lucidity started, but it sure feels that way.
  • Carlos Gardel, Por Una Cabeza. German riverboat cruise, I never did know her name.
  • Smetana, The Moldau. I wrote about it in pretty great detail, back when I used to post far more regularly.
  • Billy Joel, We Didn’t Start the Fire & Piano Man. I can still recite each & every word. I still debate what the fuck “shared a drink they called loneliness, but it’s better than drinking alone” actually meant.
  • Don McLean, Vincent. Yeah, I enjoyed American Pie, and trying to figure out what lyric referenced which artist as much as anyone else — but Vincent, listen to it. It actually FEELS like Starry Night.
  • Elgar, Nimrod from the Enigma Variations. The first piece to make me bawl. Heck, I can’t hear this, now, without tearing up.
  • John Coltrane, Naima. Just look at my son’s name. I would listen to this piece endlessly when I played with my first band, The South Street Jazz Machine (well, my first band was titled Peripheral Vision — and I can still recite the words to Matt Sitomer’s original “Blind Side,” and still warm up to some of the bass lines from some of the original Peripheral Vision numbers — but Peripheral Vision never gigged, and the South Street Jazz Machine did gig). If the high-school me had a weakness as a musician (besides having an over-inflated sense of my own talent), it’s that I wanted to push . . . this piece – it might be slow, but it drives. It “feels right”.
  • BB King, Lucille. He passed away yesterday, but this would have made the list, regardless. That I name my instruments didn’t start with BB King — it was Mary Skweres, the orchestra teacher back from elementary school. But BB King taught me that it wasn’t a stupid practice . . . and, well, he has a relationship with Lucille — you can hear it in the lyrics of the song and in the way Lucille sings . . . my instruments are like that with me.

(I’d be remiss to not link to the posts which inspired this: The Flying Chalupa pointed me to Midlife Mix-Tape‘s original prompt)

1 A few weeks ago, I got a call from a friend & fellow musician — he was the music director for a community theatre production of Spamalot, and he was left without a bassist at the start of tech week — might I be available? Well, the theatre is over an hour from my house, and I had conflicts on many of the dates, so I said “no.” But then, well, there aren’t a whole lot of bassists who can just “pick up” a Broadway book & play, and I had just played the show two years ago . . . so, well, maybe I could play those shows that I could make, and they’d just “do without” on the other nights? I gave it a thought — and with the Shady Maple Smorgasbord within commuting distance (I’m not shy about eating piles of lean meat & vegetables) and the pay being decent (though I’m just barely breaking even) and Spamalot, simply, being a LOT of fun to play – I was in. So, 3-4 nights a week, I’ve been getting home around midnight after leaving work & playing a show. I kind of miss my kids. And my bed — getting home around midnight, hopped up from playing in front of a live crowd, and then getting up at five in the morning – well, it takes a LOT out of you.
2 I no longer hold onto this, though I can say that I dislike a lot of country. I believe that, whenever something “new” hits an art, that new thing gets overdone, leading to mediocrity. In my formative years, both country music and rap saw huge increases in popularity, and with that, the markets demanded more, and stuff was released because it made money. Fortunately, most of the chaff gets lost to history – but, as Louis Armstrong says “there is two kinds of music: the good kind and the bad kind.” Well, I believe that — in any genre, there’s stuff worth listening to. Right now, I find myself listening to a LOT of the Highwaymen. Because damn, they could play.
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