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November 11, 2011

In The Dust #10: Special Anniversary Edition – Looking Back on My 10

by @thoughtontracks

Once a week In The Dust rolls up its sleeves and digs to the back of the rack to find that record, the one you never knew you always wanted, the one that’s lost but not forgotten.

This week, for the 10th In The Dust, the author chooses to do something different, something special, something personal, and will, for this edition only, refer to himself as “I”.

This week, I will not be digging any crate or rack so much as I will be racking my mind and my memory to recall music with lasting impact, the records that shaped me, for better or worse, and the records that I will always remember. From classics to classy, astonishing to awful, I present this as a personal inventory, in chronological order from my earliest years to the age of thirteen, of the records, artists and songs tied by nostalgia, pride or love most strongly to me, the sounds that brought music and I together leading into my formative years and continue to serve as a base upon which my love for music, and much of my identity, is built.

1. The Beatles – “Yellow submarine” (1966) & “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” (1967)

The Beatles were my first love. A few days ago, I put on my Mother’s mono copy of Revolver and there I was, back in the passenger seat of her aged, milk-chocolate brown Volkswagon Rabbit, breathing the light morning air and nodding to the rhythm as we drive down 54th street on the way to my school. “Yellow Submawine” (as I pronounced it), was a fixture of our morning drives, a song that I knew by number, and not by name, on disc 2 of The Beatles’ Anthology.

Also a fixture, and a number to me, was “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” A song that I found at once strange, fascinating and unsettling, I would think, “What is wrong with Mr. Kite? What is the benefit for? Is he unwell? Why if he was so sick, sick enough to warrant a benefit, would he perform his own tricks that evening?” I never found the answers to these questions, but not for lack of trying. I listened over and over to that song, losing myself in its mystical circus world, watching, in my mind’s eye, Mr. Kite defy ill health to perform the most dazzling tricks, at the most dazzling spectacle, the world has ever seen.

2. Elton John – “Crocodile Rock” (1972)

Elton John’s Greatest Hits, featuring “Crocodile Rock”, is the second record I ever bought for myself, after the original soundtrack to the television program “Where In the World Is Carmen San Diego?” recorded by Rockapella. For a very long time, I listened to “Crocodile Rock” every night before going to sleep, dreaming of a life much like the one John chronicles in the song, one of long days and nights with Suzie, her dresses tight, trying to squeeze in as much joy as we can, terrified of the day to come when rock would die, Suzie leaving with some foreign guy. Today, I finally have that “place of my own,” but I still pine for that “old, gold Chevy.”

3. Queen – “We Will Rock You” (1977) & Greatest Hits (1981)

This song replaced “Crocodile Rock” as my go-to, pre-bed must-listen. The pure power of Freddie Mercury’s voice, the two-ton Goliath Brian May and his guitar and the earth-shaking stomps! Oh, the stomps. When I pushed the play button, I would feel ten feet tall. I would forget about Suzie and dream of conquering the world. I would dream of rocking everyone, the same way Queen was rocking me, and I wanted to bang on everything. This grand feeling kept me awake most nights, but I didn’t care. After skipping straight to “We Will Rock You,” I would backpedal to the first track and enjoy the album in full, one that still stands as a magnificent collection and, for me, a flower on the tombstone of one of most charismatic and talented front men in history.

4. Steppenwolf – “Born to Be Wild” (1968) & “Magic Carpet Ride” (1968)

I first heard “Born to Be Wild” at an Indianapolis Ice game. I couldn’t believe it. It was like a spell or some kind of trance. I stood up and quite literally freaked out, or maybe more accurately, for the first time, rocked out. Not since Queen, then my favorite band, had I heard such power! That sound! It was not of my Earth as I knew it. It was pure rebellion, pure love, pure exaltation. I needed it. My parents bought me Steppenwolf Live and I went to a lot more Ice games. It is some time during this course, after receiving Steppenwolf Live, that I discovered “Magic Carpet Ride”. I had always been a very active dreamer. Once, while half-asleep, I was convinced that my Father was not a lawyer as he claimed, but in actuality a French cowboy. My imagination was fanciful, unyielding and enthusiastically encouraged. This song gave me a motto.

5. Buckwheat Zydeco

Weekends, as a child, always seemed like some magical time when everyone in the world was free to do as they chose, without limit. For my Father and I, this meant cruising in his silver 80’s Nissan Stanza Minivan, which we called “the ice box”, to the Busy Bee Donut Shop where I was the only one who could make the mean black lady smile, then driving to pretty much wherever the hell we wanted, which was often Ft. Ben and the eastern countryside beyond, the hardware store, and sometimes to the baseball diamond for catch. His car had a tape deck, and Buckwheat Zydeco was almost always in it. I would kick wildly, without economy of rhythm, to the unusual, crazy music, hopped up on maple donuts and chocolate milk. It seemed alien in all the best ways. It made me want to move and it fed my curiosity, a body-and-spirit communion that has permeated my life’s experience with music.

On these trips, the floor of his car was covered in old grungy tapes. One that always spoke to me was From The Mars Hotel by the Grateful Dead. It was beautiful. It was not until later that I would rediscover this record.

6. Dean Martin – “That’s Amore” (1953)

I can still hear my Father sing this song, his booming vibrato reverberating throughout the old, wooden halls of my family’s Tudor home, my Mother and I trading annoyed grunts, crossing our fingers white for him to stop. I always secretly loved this song, and Deano, but there’s no admitting it at that age, especially when appreciation for a great vocalist could be confused as appreciation for my Father’s vocals. So I would sit, in quiet, apparent displeasure, and strain through my Father’s voice to listen to who I thought was a drunken Italian womanizer sing more beautifully than I believed I had ever heard.

Later, I learned what Dean was really like, and I was doubly impressed.

7. Mannheim Steamroller

Ughh. It still haunts me. Every Christmas, as a family, we would decorate our tree. My Mother, without fail, would have this playing before either my Father or I noticed. And once it was on, it was on. There was no taking it off or we would upset her. So much in the way my Mother and I struggled through “That’s Amore”, my Father and I would struggle through Mannheim Steamroller, and their God-awful synthesized holiday reverence. I can hear every note in my head. Still. It never goes away.

8. Aaron Neville – “Tell It Like It Is” (1967)

My first concert: The Neville Brothers. I remember it like it was yesterday. Butler. Starlight Amphitheatre. Beautiful night. I was so nervous. Crowds made me very uncomfortable when I was younger, as I was an only child, and so many people in one place just seemed unnatural. But as everyone settled into their seats and the Nevilles began to play, everything seemed right. Aaron astonished me.

The band struck into “Tell It Like It Is”. He looked like the guy you don’t want standing behind you in a prison shower, but he sang with such tenderness, attentive and devoted to every note, that he at once shrank in stature and grew to fill the theatre. He was a conduit for something, a vessel for a voice that was not human. In his rendition of this song, still one of my favorites to date, he was tapping deep into a well of emotion- sorrow, malaise and regret -so unfathomably deep, I could not comprehend fully what I saw, but I knew it was momentous. I knew I would never forget it.

9. Radiohead – “Airbag” (1997)

Growing up, I often vacationed at my Grandparents’ in South Carolina. I enjoyed the beach, I suppose, but was never attached to it. I really could take it or leave it. I spent most of my time talking them or playing games or abusing their piano, a wonderful instrument that is still my favorite (melodious) sound-maker.

One year, I think I was 11; I was sitting in the room at their house in which I slept. Everyone was napping. I hated naps. I still hate naps. I was bored, but I had just joined BMG and received my 25 free CDs, one of which was OK Computer.

This record had only come out less than a year prior, but it was generating what I noticed was unprecedented buzz. I had been hearing so much about them, how they are primed to change rock and roll, and how this record is nothing short of a watershed. So it put it on.

I picked up drumming shortly before this trip. First it was the guitar, then the sleigh bells and bass. By the time Phil Selway’s programmed beat kicks in, I was gone, lost to Radiohead and to OK Computer and the weird world they have constructed. A large part of me is still there, wherever that is, perhaps through a small door in some far off corner of that bedroom, lulling in aural bliss, hoping it never has to leave.

10. Bob Dylan – “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” (1971 Version)

My man. My musical idol. My favorite artist of all-time. The moment I first sat down to listen to Bob Dylan is one I will remember vividly for the rest of my life.

I was in 8th Grade. We were staying after school to work on our 8th Grade musical, a tradition. We were to perform Bye Bye, Birdie. I was to be the drummer in the orchestra, as well as the diegetic high school marching band, and Dad #3 in the “Kids” number. I could care less about anything but the drumming. I got to play a drum set. A really nice one, a Pearl Masters, infinitely better than my own, and in front of a packed theatre full of people, many of whom were young girls. Why do guys start bands, after all?

I was very excited, and in music mode. I recently purchased the newest, double-disc version of Dylan’s Greatest Hits, The Essential Bob Dylan. I had heard so much from my parents about how I might hate his voice, how it’s weird, unpleasant and at best an acquired taste, but I should try it anyway. I put it on and in no exaggerated fashion my life was changed. He escorted me into a moment so intense and so deep I remember every detail, from what I was wearing to the exact seat in the exact row of the theatre, who was next to me and the time.

By the time I reached this track, I knew he was, and would always be, my favorite artist. I wanted to know everything about him. I wanted to see Gunga Din. I wouldn’t stop until I had heard everything, read everything, seen everything, known everything. I identified with him, his style, his words and his music so strongly that in many ways he has shaped everything that I am as a writer, as a musician and as a man.

To this day, every time I listen to him, I can see his photo on that album cover. I can see the Orchard School Auditorium, my disc man in my hands, the expression on Katie Cline’s face and her posture in the chair next to mine. It is a moment so completely etched into my memory, the fabric of my personality, that it and I are inseparable, as am I with the works of Bob Dylan.

When I asked my parents to help me in remembering this list, they tried but ultimately stopped. They concluded that music was always a very big part of my life and even as a young child I was in love, fanatical and devoted, in a very unique and special way, with that which I found to be beautiful. If I loved it then, in some distant center I love it now, and all I would have to do is feel that love to find it.

Today, I put on Revolver and I wrote this article.

Written by Ben Brundage. Check out Ben’s Tumblr.

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