Your very own musical innocence—do you remember when you last possessed it? Probably not, as innocence lost is innocence long forgotten—such is the nature of innocence. I do, however, recall the days when my musical vernacular consisted of an endless stream of little ditties that were sung during my vocalist heyday: second-grade choir. These ditties were generally sung during holidays like Halloween while sitting cross-legged on a gymnasium floor, while the lyrics echoed across the cement block walls and basketball backboards—200 cherubic voices singing Have You Seen the Ghost of John by the glow of a toasty overhead projector.
Musical innocence, like a steadfast belief in Santa, is hard to hold. As your jackass yet somehow-cooler-than-you’d-ever-hope-to-be friends are trying to convince you that your parents are actually Santa, you plug your ears and close your eyes and remember last year’s wonderful Santa gifts. Hmm…how in the hell did he know that you wanted a 12″ Chewbacca? That was a truly fucking amazing guess, right?!
And then all-at-once, it all ends with a loud, thunderous, and rhythmic series of thumps—you notice your parents listening to actual, real, authentic music. Not the music that you clanked out on a triangle in elementary school, but music made by fabulous people who somehow figured out how to get paid to clang cowbells, shake tambourines, and sing from their very souls. When it happens, all of the musical notes chaotically careening around in your head suddenly align, and you begin to comprehend the greater cosmic significance (and sound) of music. Music becomes so much more than just a rote exercise in chanting lyrics projected onto a screen halfway across the gym.
The first “adult” song I can remember consciously experiencing was the Spinners classic medley, “Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me, Girl”. That song first appeared on the Spinners LP: Dancin’ and Lovin’. There is a vision that I can recall at-will, like some sort of a reoccurring dream, where my old man—impersonating Deney Terrio with every fiber of his being—is slicing and dicing the brown/yellow shag carpet in our family room like a combine harvesting wheat as “Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me, Girl” banks off every inch the gold foil and faux-cork wallpaper that adorned the walls. In this Felliniesque vignette, I swear I could see actual carpet fibers being thrown into the air—screaming in horror—as the razor-edged 1″ heels of his navy blue alligator loafers separated them from the rest of their fibrous family.
For me, that was the moment when it all ended: my musical innocence.
I was forever ruined from that moment on. Renditions of “Row Row Row Your Boat” never sounded the same, even if performed (as they always were) in a round. For I knew, that the great wide world of music had oh so much more to offer than a gaggle of cherubic vocalists belting out the classic Sesame Street anthems of the day. Plus, the grass sounded a hell of a lot greener coming out of the old man’s Marantz 33/330 speakers—that was for DAMN sure!!!
Charles “Chuck” Donley, my old man, would nary discard anything that could potentially yield some future purpose. Along those lines, he saved—bless his quadruple-bypassed heart—not only the the entire stereo, but the the flippin’ receipts from this first component stereo system through which the Spinners popped my musical cherry. Just as he may have been unaware of how significant it was that he passed on to me an appreciation of music, he will never comprehend how important it was that he somehow managed to preserve these historical artifacts which spawned my love of music. 10,000 thanks dad! It is one of the most amazing things, however inadvertently, you have ever done!
Here is what he preserved from the time I was eight years old until the eve of my 39th birthday, when the eventual stewardship of these historical artifacts was passed on to me in a mind-blowing exchange chronicled in my second forthcoming novel:
Pioneer SX-780 Receiver
Pioneer PL-400 Turntable
Marantz 33/330 Speakers
By mid Halloween 1980, my old man had replaced his sketchy Sylvania Hi-Fi console—it was destined to become a over-sized combo: buffet/coffee table/Christmas knick-knack staging area—with a real live stack of shiny silver stereo components. And, as far as I know, the Spinner’s “Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me, Girl” may have been the first song to pass through the Marantz LS-33-330s. I would describe my memory as “solid”, not photographic.
With my musical innocence lost, my fate as a music infatuationist was sealed—forever! I believe every new experience in this life impacts everyone with a different degree of cosmic importance. For some, seeing their first in-person sporting event injects an unquenchable lust for their favorite sports team into their very blood—they bleed their favorite team’s colors. For some, their formative experiences with a family pet fosters a love of animals that borders on the hysterical. For me, there would be no event that would ever hit me in quite the way watching my old man give his new component stereo hell by way of the Spinners’ “Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me, Girl” would.
Everything about the six minutes and two seconds of that memory is seared into my psyche. First, there was the way my old man could move, like REALLY move. Thinking back, he didn’t dance like any Midwestern white dude I’ve ever seen. He was literally possessed by the rhythm of the song. He shocked me—he was dazzling! Next, the grandeur of the music—the beat, the harmonies, the guy with the really low voice who’d solo a line or two every other verse. I’d never heard anyone sing that deeply, soulfully. Finally, about halfway through the tune, my old man cranked up the volume to a level my young ears had never been subjected to. I could not only hear the utter awesomeness of this moment though the Marantz 33/330s, I could not only see it in my father’s dancing, I could feel it at my core. It was fucking fantastic in nearly every sense!
Soon after the stereo purchase, Chuck added a pair of Koss K/A6LC Dynamic Stereophone Headphones into the mix. And with that addition, I began to realize that enjoying music could be accomplished on a singular level. Jamming to the Spinners did not require group participation and serial carpet-fiber murder.
So, at the ripe-old-age of eight, I had been inadvertently converted to a music infatuaionist by my father. And there were three LPs in heavy rotation during that initial formative year:
- Juice Newton – “Juice”
- Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show – “Greatest Hits”
- Beach Boys – “Super Hits – As Seen on TV – a Ronco Records Production”
All of a sudden, by way of the of Koss K/A6LC Dynamic Stereophone Headphones, I had musical freewill—it was immensely liberating! Around that same time, my old man seemed to have become more interested—at least in an aesthetic sense—in acquiring the aforementioned stereo components than actually enjoying them. His “musical” taste had inexplicably shifted to the talk radio (WCCO) that was constantly blaring out of the cheap transistor radio in the kitchen. Coming from the man that once played records and danced around the family room with the grace of a shadow-eyed ninja, the man that took lessons on how to dance “the Hustle“, the man who vigorously clanked his heavy gold ring on the steering wheel to the beat of any song on the car stereo, this was sort of a confounding shift.
The happy accidental upshot of Chuck’s shift in “musical” taste, was that I basically had his spanking new component stereo system to myself. This was a magnificent turn of events to be sure! I had a pair of Koss K/A6LC Dynamic Stereophone Headphones, a Pioneer SX-780 Receiver, a Pioneer PL-400 Turntable, and all of my old man’s LPs at my disposal. It is akin to inviting a man who has just completed 40 days and 40 nights aimlessly wandering the desert to Thanksgiving dinner. And so I began to consume as many LPs as I possibly could. I would quickly devour anything that existed in the old man’s record collection.
From there, as life unfolded before my very eyes, musical media, formats, and styles evolved as well. I would frantically fold all of these musical developments into my own coming-of-age story. But is was not until the eventual stewardship of the musical artifacts of my youth was passed on to me, that I paused and once again contemplated raw, organic, analog musical enjoyment.
Just like every other digital drone, by the late ’90s (my late 20s), I was immersed in a minutia of a musical bits and bytes. I was more concerned with acquisition than experience. I fell victim to all of the conventional “improvements” in the arena of musical enjoyment to such a degree, that enjoyment of music had actually become tedious, a chore of sorts. I had become prodigiously jaded toward music. I had completely lost track of the joy of watching goosebumps rise off my arms as the initial notes of aural excellence whizzed past my eardrums and beyond.
When my old man gave me the old stereo, I realized it had been a long time since I had had any ear-shattering aural sex—a sad realization, indeed…
So, after some (significant) procurement and juggling of vintage stereo equipment, I assembled the world’s most dangerous Pioneer Silver Series stack this side of the Mpls./St. Paul border. I paired it with a set of Pioneer CS-703 speakers acquired from some dude in Ohio by way of eBay.
With the [ confl (uence conv) ergence ] = conflergence of three events:
- Stewardship of the musical artifacts of my youth
- Realization it had been a long time since I had experienced ear-shattering aural sex
- Journey of assemblage of the world’s most dangerous Pioneer Silver Series stack this side of the Mpls./St. Paul border
It felt essential to go back to the future and retrace the steps of my musical journey in a effort to give music a chance to once again recapture my imagination. In the spirit of that notion, I walked into a thrift store and began flipping through the LP bin. In 2010, I bought my first LP in 17 years, and I once again discovered the sheer joy of musical nirvana. With that, I decided to go back to the beginning and acquire the LPs that heralded the onset of the end of my musical innocence.
I will listen to each intently, and in future episodes, provide my thoughts on said LPs. With each new LP that I procure, I will perform a similar exercise of discovery and review. And in the process, I hope to seamlessly weave together the two great loves of my life—music and writing. I figure if I can’t create art (music) in the same manner as the musicians I admire, I’ll create art in the manner I can (writing) and hopefully provide a few moments of joy for anyone soul who takes the time to read this rambling.
Copyright © 2012 – ∞ B. Charles Donley