I bought into it. I can’t say if I was brainwashed or hypnotized or Spock mind-melded or whatever you want to call it. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but I believed.
No, I was not blindly led by a random savior claiming to deliver me a ramification-less salvation, nor was I a cult member waiting for the spaceship hidden behind a comet to take me away. I was not even under the spell of the Evil Wizard Glick and his brain-controlling Frodis plant. No ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, what I bought into hook line and sinker was even crazier. You see, I believed in music.
Okay, I still believe in the ‘power’ of music. How hearing a song can change your mood or instantly transport you back to a time or place. The right chorus of voices can uplift my soul and a sad cello can bring me to tears. There are songs that cause a stupid uncontrollable grin to appear on my face as I relive a first touch or kiss. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. Let me explain.
I was a dorky loner as a little kid. I did not have a lot of friends, but I did have a LOT of hand me down records from my four older siblings. I spent way more hours than a small human should, listening to those 45 rpm records. When Mom would demand I go outside and play, I would hook up an extension cord and drag my record player outside to our city-sized concrete backyard. Then when I was around 7 years-old, I discovered radio. Portable transistor horrible sounding staticy AM WABC pop radio.
I listened intently to the big deep echoed voices talking not just to me but to an unknown number of others that, unlike the other kids in the neighborhood, might be just like me. It sounded so important. With great fanfare, they would announce which songs were moving up the charts to the coveted Number One spot.
Number One. I was never number one at anything. I was never picked early when kids where choosing sides for sports, my grades were middle of the road average, my favorite sports teams hadn’t won a championship in my lifetime, I had no hobbies I excelled at, hell I was even the last born of five kids. But I could follow a song inching up to Number One. I studied the charts like a bible. I felt a part of something. Number One. I bought and listened to that record which meant that I directly helped push that thing up the list.
In the entertainment section of our local Sunday newspaper they used to post a list of the top ten songs. As if they were some important statistic, each week I cut those out and saved them. Like watching an incredibly slow horse race, I would track the rise and fall of each song, rooting for the ones I liked to hit Number One. Then it all culminated in December for the countdown to the Number One song of the year!
One day while leafing through music magazines at the store, I stumbled across Billboard magazine. Billboard!?! That’s who was credited and entrusted with the vital task of tracking the popular song rankings. Like the ring announcer at the end of a fight, those were the guys that officially declared who was Number One. I felt like an insider. I mean, come on I knew Billboard and one of my brother’s was an overnight DJ one day a week at his Junior College radio station. I was wayyyy inside.
What I did not know back when I was 9 years old in 1972, was the music industry was a well-oiled money-making machine. I was not following the equivalent of an Olympic race, I was following something like professional wrestling. A song did not rise to Number One based solely on its creative musical merits but through a carefully orchestrated expensively manipulated and highly controlled process. I was a sheep being blindly led, corralled and unbeknownst to me, spoon-fed exactly what they wanted me to listen to.
Once I eventually caught on, who was Number One suddenly became unimportant. At the same time, FM radio was becoming more popular with its goal of being anti-hit record. That Top 40 chart was for suckers, for the masses that bought into what the Man was selling. If you were cool, there was a whole other thing going on. Album tracks, obscure stuff, oldies, jazz, blues… This was a whole new course of study. This was not remedial grammar school pop charts class 101. I was enrolling in the University Of Twentieth Century Modern Music.
By the time I was 12, I was devouring books about my favorite musicians or how blues and jazz combined to make rock n roll. I became obsessed with The Beatles, Chuck Berry and all sorts of stuff beyond the old pop records from my siblings. And the stranger, weirder, more unusual and obscure, the more I loved it. Dr. Demento was my Moses leading me into the promised land.
Through High School and College, I started finally making real friends and I tortured them all with my eclectic tastes. I could discuss music with the best of them. I dug deeper into roots music while keeping up with punk, disco, new wave and the birth of rap. My buddy Mike and I constantly trolled record stores for music but then something happened.
As with most folks, the real-world crept in. Work, family and lack of time juggled my priorities. Age created prospective and through older eyes things looked different. The importance of music in my life waned. As less and less people cared, my knowledge of ‘who created what’ and ‘who influenced who’ diminished in value too. It’s pop culture, not world history. It has an expiration date with a depreciated need and worth.
Meanwhile, that money-making music industry I was talking about, well Grandpa Napster and its many internet babies killed that. Now everyone knows that Top 40 chart is nonsense and the manipulated music heroes of today are shadows of what they were. Disposable. Like tissues in box, there when you need it and easy to toss away because we all know there is another right behind it. There is no need to research or collect because it’s all online for anyone to stumble over anytime for free.
I still like to drape the background of my life with music. I still constantly look for something creative and different for listening and sharing. Music is still there… it’s just my needs and beliefs are different.