Speak Geek: Music, or “Tear Down the Wall!”

12 09 2011

Since my new iPod arrived this morning, I figure I’ll contribute to the Speak Out With Your Geek Out movement today by talking about my love of music. For more about the Speak Geek campaign, see their website or my previous post about it.

Unlike many music aficionados, I did not grow up with a strong musical background. My parents listened to music sparingly, and usually only as background noise on the few occasions when it would play. I don’t remember now whether I disliked radio because I didn’t like most of the music, or because of the endless commercials (both are reasons I still despise radio for the most part). My older brother was more into music than I was, but I was still generally unimpressed.

At one point, probably in 2nd or 3rd grade, my mother signed my brother and myself up for the Columbia Record Club. I could pick a few cassettes (remember those?) out of their catalog, and have them delivered by mail. This was an awesome prospect for me! I get to pick my own music, and get mail? What kid doesn’t like getting mail? The problem was apparent as I looked through the pages of album covers. I had no idea what any of these albums were, who the artists were. I remember selecting a Night Ranger album because I liked the band name, and a Billy Joel album because I recognized his name (I don’t think I had any idea of his music beyond the name). I don’t remember if it was in my first order or a subsequent one, but eventually I stumbled on “Weird Al” Yankovic.

Specifically, it was Dare To Be Stupid. I had struck gold. I didn’t get that a lot of the songs were parodies, simply because I wasn’t familiar enough with popular music to have heard the originals. I knew “Like a Surgeon” was a rip on Madonna, but I had no idea that “Yoda” was a parody. All I knew was that I loved the album. Mostly, it was because it was funny. Looking back, I think I actually have to give credit to ol’ Weird Al for exposing me to several genres of music that I probably never would have given any real attention to if it wasn’t for this goofy guy singing silly lyrics.

Weird Al became my obsession. I tracked down as many of his albums as I could, and listened to them non-stop. I really didn’t listen to other music during the remainder of my elementary school days, with rare exception. Recess was usually spent with my friends, on the swings, belting out Weird Al song after Weird Al song until the bell rang. I think some They Might Be Giants slipped in there, but very little of it.

The one other band I remember paying any attention to in that time was introduced to me via my older brother, who was exposed by an even older kid down the street. I don’t know why Andy came down to visit my brother. There was a fairly considerable age difference. Three or four years, which for kids that age, is quite a bit. But I owe so much of my interests to this Andy guy. He encouraged our video game interest, introduced us to roleplaying games, and exposed us to an album that I still rank among my absolute favorites (though I didn’t really get it until a few years later).

The album was The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, the final album Genesis did with Peter Gabriel as front man. I was confused by the double-album format until I was told that the album had a storyline within it. It was my first exposure to both progressive rock and concept albums, both of which would continue to heavily influence me, but not until middle school.

I was in 6th grade, my brother was a freshman in high school, getting home a while before me. I came home one day… well, over the course of several days to find my brother listening to something new while playing video games. I dug it quite a bit. It was an album by a guy named Roger Waters called Radio KAOS. I’d never heard of it (or him) before, but here’s another album with a storyline that I really enjoyed. [As an aside here, I’m listening to my iTunes DJ while I write this, and as I got to this point, “The Tide Is Turning (After Live Aid)” from the Radio KAOS album started playing.] I liked it so much, that I borrowed the newfangled CD so I could record it to tape for myself. It was a 90 minute tape, so 45 minutes per side, but the album was only about 40 minutes long. Never being one to waste space on a cassette (or later, a CD), I started trying to figure out what else I could use to fill out the final minutes on that side. (As a final note on how much I like Radio KAOS, one night I was in my room alone. Music was not playing, but I was reading the album’s lyrics. After reading the lyrics for “Sunset Strip,” I felt homesick. While in my room in my house. That Roger Waters can write some damn good lyrics!)

My brother had been listening to Pink Floyd, but I wasn’t a fan. I thought the whole idea of “we don’t need no education” was stupid. But I did really like the guitar work on it. I decided to use that song to fill out the cassette. I knew that song was on The Wall, but looking at the track listing, I didn’t know which one it was. There was no “We Don’t Need No Education” song. However, there were three songs called “Another Brick in the Wall,” and I knew that line was in the song. I pulled the booklet out to read the lyrics to find out which one I was after, but I couldn’t read them (written, as they were, in Gerald Scarfe’s graffiti-esque writing, and very small at that). I could make out the names of the band members, though. Roger Waters was in Pink Floyd! And he wrote all the lyrics and most of the music for The Wall! Not knowing which song I wanted, and now very interested in this other work by Waters, I borrowed the CD. I may very well be the only person that discovered Pink Floyd by being a fan of Roger Waters, rather than the other way around.

This was really the catalyst that caused it all. The breaking of the dam. The straw that broke the camel’s back (in a good way). I almost hate to say it, but The Wall tore down the wall between me and music. There were so many good songs on that album: “Comfortably Numb,” “Run Like Hell,” “Mother,” “Goodbye Blue Sky,” “Hey You,” “Nobody Home,” etc. But it also worked amazingly well as a complete album. Yet again, a double album with a storyline. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway featured one moment where music from early in the album was reprised later, but The Wall had musical themes that repeated throughout the album, much like a film score. The musical variety was astounding. Gentle acoustic songs (“Goodbye Blue Sky”) segued into atmospherically foreboding pieces (“Empty Spaces”) which then shifted into heavy rock (“Young Lust”). And at the climax of the album you get “The Trial,” an orchestral piece with various characters making an appearance, much like opera.

Music had never moved me like this before. I became hungry for that kind of experience. I revisited The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and found so much more in it than I had previously. I was finally of the right mindset to appreciate it. I found that I still couldn’t stand commercial radio or popular music in general. Music is capable of so much more than what the average hit pop song does.

I have since found numerous other artists that excite me in similar ways… some in not-so-similar ways. I have spread the word about artists that I like to my friends, and most of them catch on. I take pride in my music collection, both in the eclectic variety of it and in the overall quality of it. There are very few people who I’ve tried to introduce new music to who haven’t enjoyed it and wanted more. I’ve had co-workers remark “you always have such good music playing!”

So, instead of continuing to tell you about the music I enjoy, I’m going to share some with you. But not here. This post has gone on long enough. You’ll want to check my post later this week to be exposed to some of the best music out there.




One response

15 09 2011
Phillip Hughes

Indeed! I never knew that you heard Radio KAOS first and then the Wall. The things we learn about one another.

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