To be clear up front, I can sing. There are better singers around, but I’m a pretty strong voice, and I can hold my own against almost anybody else. I would be embarrassed if that weren’t the case, however, considering how much of my life was spent honing my vocal skills. Church children’s choir from five to twelve years of age and school choir from fourth grade through my senior year, along with county chorus a couple of times, and then on to Kutztown University. At KU one of my two majors was Vocal Performance (not its formal name, which is long and boring, but that’s basically what it was. A “music theater” degree), and I took private voice lessons for six years in college. During my college years I was also in the full choir (about 70 voices most years) and two of the speciality choirs (or “elite” choirs, but I dislike that word…). And I was in multiple musicals during that time, including Cabaret, Jesus Christ, Superstar and H.M.S. Pinafore. My parents tried to get me into playing instruments, french horn and piano, but instruments always felt alien to me. Voice is what called to me, what gave me those wonderful butterflies of anticipation.
I tell you all of this not to toot my own horn, but to show that I’ve been tight with music for my entire life. I want you to believe that my opinions on music, although they are just opinions, might be rooted in something worthwhile. I want you to read what I write and, just maybe, appreciate something new, something different. I want you to trust me just a little, so I can share my love with you. Got it? Good. Let’s start at the beginning, for me at least, which is my big brother.
I was already developing an interest in some more popular songs by the time I was ten or twelve. It wasn’t a very good taste in music, but it was mine, gosh darn it! Hooked On Classics was one of the first records (yes, vinyl) I remember having. It came out in 1981 – I was twelve, and that was the same year I discovered a little game called Dungeons and Dragons – and I can still hear it in my head today. Around that time I also purchased my very first 45. For those of you younger than, say, 35 years of age, a 45 – or 45 RPM – was the vinyl equivalent of a CD single. That first 45 was Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go by Soft Cell. I think I played that a thousand times before I moved on. That would later lead me to ’80’s New Wave, but not yet. First, my brother.
David is four years older than me. That means, of course, that when I was twelve, he was sixteen. He, in his own personal journey, was apparently influenced by music of the ’60’s and ’70’s, especially bands such as the Beatles, the Moody Blues, and Kiss. Keep in mind this was the early ’80’s, so the ’70’s was just a few years before, and not the ‘classic rock’ of today.
So one night, just any old night, David pulled me into his bedroom and played a song for me. It was 22,000 Days by the Moody Blues off of their Long Distance Voyager album, which is still one of the most deeply moving albums in the world for me. It’s a pretty deep song, and I was blown away. I had never heard music like that before, and it opened up a new musical road I was eager to travel down. He did similar things with other music, including the Beatles. He would be so excited, and even then I could tell he was dying to share this with someone. Perhaps it was me specifically that he wanted to share his excitement with, but I’ve never been conceited enough to believe that. I think I was there at the right time. Our parents would have never had enough energy to focus on what he wanted to say, and our younger brother was only about seven at the time, so he was too young. I was the lucky beneficiary, and it changed my life.
I didn’t like the Beatles initially, for various reasons, but the Moody Blues took my breath away. Within a few years I had purchased every album they had put out (on cassette or vinyl). I even had an art teacher in high school give me a couple of their albums (on vinyl). She had purchased them for their album art, which was beautiful, but gave them to me knowing how much I adored the group. I don’t like most of their work since the mid-1980’s, but their work from the ’60’s and ’70’s was full of hard questions and deep thoughts, and so much of what I took from them wasn’t just music. It was a deeper view of the world, a richer understanding of what it was to be a human. And, to make it even better, they didn’t try to dispense the answers because they didn’t claim to know them. They were just asking the questions.
Looking back on those days, I realize it was my love of words that captivated me. It was the first time in my young life that I had been spellbound by the power of language, in this case in the form of the lyric poetry of music. I began to seek out similar groups, searching for similar minds who refused to blindly accept the world.
In short, because of my brother, I began to seek my tribe.