(i just wanted to start by noting that i am determined to post at least monthly. eventually, i’d like to post every other week…maybe more. but let’s not get too crazy with expectation just yet…)
i’d say that music in my life didn’t really do anything new (you know, beyond soaking up what my dad and brother were playing) until i started sinking into my teen years. that i was a troubled teen in some ways won’t surprise you. to be fair, i was rather well-behaved for the most part and got good grades. but i didn’t look like the other kids, which caused issues. and that’s when those behavioural issues from childhood went from being a manic merry-go-round to being a rampant rollercoaster. but we aren’t here to talk about that. maybe in the future. right now, this blog is about music, right?
i think i really started exploring music on my own when i was about 10 or 11. that’s when i got my first radio. it was actually a boombox, with a radio and a cassette player. i thought that was pretty bloody cool. i spent hours going up and down the dial, just listening to my options.
what i quickly learned was that my options were not great. maybe it was because we lived just too far from cities to get the good stations. i recall through my teens the frustration that i could hear the ghost of live 105 in san francisco but could never really tune it in. that said, with my own supply of cassettes being quite small, i would just let the radio play on whichever station was least soft rock. which is how i learned a few too many top 40 songs for my own good. and why i loved when my brother bought new music. when he left on a church mission and left his music in my care, i quickly wore out and had to replace a few of his cassettes. i think i still have 3 squealing copies of a particular bowie album…
fortunately, the teen years also brought dances and new friends. yes, i went to dances. because, as i will surely go on about in a post of its own, i love to dance. madly. so i went and mostly heard rubbish. but every now and again something else snuck in that was quite alright. and when i started going to clubs (hurrah for clubs that don’t care about id as long as you’re a pretty girl!), the “quite alright” to crap ratio improved. i sucked it all up. though, by this point, it was becoming quite clear i was not a top 40 girl, not once new wave songs stopped hitting top 40 regularly.
and new friends…in my teens, the people around me were suddenly as interested in talking music as i was. as a bonus, having pen pals was all the rage with the underground kids. i had a handful of pen pals during those years and loved the little booklets we sent around in letters that were like mini personal ads for us to find even more pen pals. (as a side note, there are pen pals i’d love to find again–one of whom literally saved my life a time or two. and there’s one that i bumped into on facebook recently. crazy!)
one fab thing about the pen pals and the local friends was that we were all a bit mad for mix tapes. i got so much good music that way. i still have all those tapes, too.
it was in my teens that i really started to internalise the way that music and lifestyle roll together. i’m not a fan of letting your musical tastes dictate how you dress, act, or live. nor am i a fan of letting your taste in clothes narrow your musical tastes. i’m surprisingly eclectic and often listen to things people wouldn’t guess if they looked at me. but it is undeniable that music and the rest of my life started to become one coherent whole at this point. any memory i have of my teen years will include how i looked, what my emotional state was, and what song fit it or was playing.
this was when i desperately started to want to make music my life. it turned from a childhood imagining into a craving. sadly, 11 was the age at which “the great fiasco” happened and smacked that dream into a sort of shameful and impossible fantasy status. so, what was the great fiasco?
well, it turned out that my family was asked to be responsible for the programme at church one sunday. with little warning, i was pushed out in front of everyone, along with my 3 younger siblings, to sing a hymn. now, as you’ll recall, childhood deafness has really messed up my singing situation. and nothing had been done to remedy that. so there i was, entering that awkward and self-conscious age, and i was seriously failing to sing that hymn well. at the point, i vowed i would never sing in front of people again. no joke. which meant that all those years i was acting i never tried out for musicals (thus, i learned to do some lighting instead). and when i was in the touring children’s theatre group, i was mortified at the one bit where i had to ad lib a melody for a very short song. torture!
when i was 14 or 15, i tried again to revive the dream. i gave some of the lyrics i had written to a friend, and was promptly informed that i broke too many rules and this would never work. my complete lack of self-esteem and i took that hard and shut up. buried the dream. it only came out where nobody else could see…
so instead i spent hours and hours just lying on my bed, listening to music. eyes closed and mind full of other places. if i left the house, my walkman came with me. if i heard something new i liked, i made every effort to play it cool but was secretly scribbling notes so that i could go find it once i had money. i hung out at the music shops at the mall, even when i had no money, just hoping to hear things. fortunately, i made friends with boys there, so it wasn’t conspicuous.
and that all just rolled over into the rest of my life. as new ways to listen to music showed up, i had to find ways to acquire that technology. i still crave new music. and i savour those rare times i can just lie and listen to music. mix tapes are long gone, replaced by mix cds and emailed playlists. but i’m still that teen me when it comes to music. ravenous for it. listening to it as much as i can. desperately wanting it to be my life. dancing when i can. framing most my moments, even if just mentally, in the songs that fit them. rescuing myself with just the right song…
i think this is likely a jumbled and chaotic entry…but that’s probably appropriate, given the way those teen years and early 20s felt. given the way that, starting in my teens, music became a force that was practically sentient, practically its own creature. like a spontaneous and moody lover. and we all know what that will do to your life…