The Cure for What Ailed Me

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Photo of my graduating class

She was a beautiful woman, that much I remember. Her dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and her pale neck was visible.

I was sitting in Introduction To Theater, a standard survey course at Kutztown University. Being a survey course, there were many students required to take it. KU is, after all, a liberal arts college. So about 250 of us were packed into the stadium seats of the Rickenbach Research and Learning Center theater. Since I was sitting behind this young woman (I say that now; she was probably 19 at the time, just like me), I was sort of looking down from behind her.

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This will be funny in a moment…

I remember clearly sitting down, noting the students around me in passing, and getting out my book and notepad (yes, we used paper back in those days…). Then something extraordinary happened. I saw the girl, saw her pale neck, her dark hair, and her headphones. She was playing a cassette tape on her portable Walkman (again with the age…), and I heard – through her headphones – for the very first time a sound that would change my life for ever. This discovery has echoed down all the years of my life and, to this very day, influences my thinking. That moment, burned indelibly into my mind, marked a before/after moment, and the discovery gave a voice to a heart that had been mute for 19 years. For the first time in my life I was able to understand that I wasn’t the only one who felt the way I did. I was one of many, thousands, millions even, who could feel both pain and joy simultaneously. I was one of many who understood life has so much good, but also so much bad, and they can both be beautiful in their own way. That day, in early September 1989, I heard the first band that empowered me to embrace my pain and to love it unabashedly. That band?

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Robert Smith, lead singer of The Cure

The Cure.

I sat there mesmerized for a while, listening rapt to this music. Then the professor came in, and the girl took off the headphones and stopped the music. It was like cold water in the face, but I had the presence of mind to bend down and ask her “What band was that?” “The Cure” she said. The Cure. I didn’t learn anything that class, and as soon as it was over, I walked across the street to a shop called “Young Ones” which sold used cassette tapes and records. This is another memory I can see as clearly as if I was right there. I didn’t even bother to look through the cassettes, I just walked up to the shopkeeper and asked where I could find The Cure. He showed me, and I promptly bought one of every tape they had. There were three as I recall, but the one I had heard was titled Disintegration, andthe-cure-disintegration-cassette-usa-de-coleccion_MLM-O-77218295_4287 remains to this day one of my favorite albums ever. Twenty five years later, those songs still speak to my soul.

Much has happened since then. I graduated from Kutztown, got a job, got married, had two amazing kids, got divorced, lost people, suffered, learned much about myself, got married again – properly – and realized I had a lifetime to write about. So here I am, moving into a new career, struggling to help my kids do better and wander less than I did. I wonder if they’ve found their “Cure” yet, or if that is yet to come. But it will. I think most people find something that ignites their soul. At least that’s my experience. Most of my friends have some of that spark within them, and I really would hope everyone could experience what I did that February day 25 years ago.happy sad

That moment defined who I was, by helping me understand I was what some would call “sensitive”, which is both good and bad, both positive and negative. In the very excellent Doctor Who episode “Blink”, the character Sally Sparrow says that sad is happy for deep people. I guess I’m deep, then. But whatever I am, I’m not the only one.

Tribe

kuTo 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.

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What I feel like when I sing

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.

Hooked_on_ClassicsI 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 Soft-Cell-Tainted-Love---Wa-80323than, 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.
long-distance-voyager-535958f77fb2fSo 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.

Moody-Blues-Seventh-Sojourn-L602498455074I 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.

maxresdefaultLooking 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.

The Changing Beat

Attributes_of_MusicMy blog has stagnated of late. There are many reasons, but the primary two are some personal issues with family members, and other writing pursuits. Either way, it’s time to focus again on this little corner of the InterWebz. To achieve this, I am starting two new features. I will continue to write more personal blogs when they strike me, but I suspect that will not be very often. Instead, I want to explore two other areas of my life and creativity; my original fiction, and my interest in music. I’ll start with the music, and get to the fiction in a future blog post. Hopefully, my dear readers, you will find something of interest.

Graphic of a digital sound on black bottomFirst of all, if you don’t already know, I have a music degree. The easiest way to explain my degree is to say I have a BFA in Vocal Performance. I have always been interested in music. My parents made me join the children’s choir at my “growin’-up” church when I was very young. I think I was only five or six. I kept singing all through primary and secondary school, and took formal voice lessons for five years in college. Since college I haven’t sung very much in a formal setting, but my interest in music has only grown. It’s safe to say I can enjoy most music. My tastes run from ancient and classical music through folk music, experimental, jazz and blues, rock and roll and up to the modern day. I like almost everything.

Over these long years, I’ve noticed something interesting about how I consume music. I tend to get obsessed with one style or, often, even just one specific group or song. I listen to that music to the exclusion of any other for a few days, perhaps a few weeks, and then it changes. I’ll find another group I love, consume them, and so forth. I usually have no idea where my tastes are going, but in hindsight I can usually tell you how I got there.

In addition to this interest in listening to music, I am also very aware of the history of music. In college there was a period when I seriously considered becoming a music historian. I tend to remember details and facts, and how one artist may have touched or influenced another. I find that interplay, the evolving web of music creation and performance, endlessly fascinating.

piano-picture-image-hd-desktop-351867Finally, I have very strong emotions regarding music. Since I’ve always been hearing music, I can often hear a song and tell you where I was when I first heard it, or how it made me feel. Music is often more than just sound. It’s an event, an experience, a time in my life that is now gone. It is all of those things and more.

So, here’s what I plan on doing. I’ve created a new Category for my blog: Music Is Manna. I am going to write blogs every week or so about music, about what I’m listening to, why it matters musically, and how it makes me feel. All of these will be under the Music Is Manna heading, so you can follow them more easily there. Also, I will be including many clickable links, like this one, to make it easier for you to hear what I’m hearing. Some of the music will be familiar to you, and some of it, hopefully, will be new to you.

Music is so powerful. Yes, we’ve all heard that before; it’s a cliche now, really. But it’s true, and I want to share that experience with the world. I’d love to hear your experiences in return. Music, to me, is manna. It is a form of food I cannot do without. It sustains me and lifts me up when I’m depressed. Just ask my wife. It permeates every aspect of my life.

Music 1And music, like manna, comes from above.