Monday, December 27, 2010

I Am a Music Magnet

I have more records than Guinness. More CDs than Citibank. And more cassettes than even a third world flea market could ever hope to unload.

I’m a radio station waiting to happen. My girlfriend has threatened—on more than one occasion—to make my embarrassment of musical riches public on Hoarders: Buried Alive.

This is only because Intervention is off the air.

How did this happen? How did a generally neat and organized person like myself end up with a sprawling, immovable mass of record albums, compact discs and cassettes? After weeks of careful and considered scientific investigation, I have come to this conclusion: It’s grandma’s fault.

Grandma was the silver-haired enabler who placed the gateway drug of a transistor radio into my innocent, eight-year-old hands one Christmas. Two summers earlier, it was through her well-intentioned, grandmotherly largesse that I received the first of my long-playing phonograph albums, the soundtrack to A Hard Day’s Night.

A deliberate pattern of exposure and indulgence had been set. It should be obvious that with adult influences like these, I didn’t stand a chance. I was at risk. It wasn’t long before I was displaying the behavior of a musiholic.

I knew the weekly Top Ten like my classmates knew their multiplication tables. I was in the world’s most hard-to-iron shirt (my mother’s words) the second it was out of the dryer because it resembled one George Harrison wore on the cover of Beatles VI.

I memorized song lyrics with a facile ease I could never locate when it came to committing Bible passages to memory for Sunday school. I organized primitive karaoke and air guitar sessions with fellow obsessives in the neighborhood, lip-syncing to Beatles’ albums as we played our "guitars".

This soon evolved to actual singing and the strumming of wooden planks, on which we had drawn tuning pegs, strings, pickups and volume knobs with magic marker.

In the parlance of the day, I was a scream. Little wonder my parents so rarely sought entertainment outside the home. And come to think of it, where’s my check from Rock Band?

Then there was the radio. The plastic Pandora’s Box that was to complete my undoing. It measured roughly seven inches by four, and if memory serves, was made by Crown.

It was in the slightly-garish style of early-Japanese electronics, with a cream-colored body, red accents and lots of fake gold trim. The click that sounded when I thumbed the volume dial was practically a prison door springing open.

WCFL and WLS were conduits for the electrical charge of Beatles’ harmonies, the fuzz-toned defiance of Rolling Stones’ riffs and the ache of Levi Stubbs’ vocals. I couldn't get enough. Unbeknownst to her, grandma had provided me with 24/7 access to my favorite drug.

Despite the rampant overstimulation of my tiny physiology, I could and did grow tired. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, In the Midnight Hour and Ticket to Ride were my usual lullabies. If not quite borne on the wings of angels, I drifted off to sleep to a honking horn section and James Jamerson’s bass kicking-off the latest Motown smash.

I also went through batteries like John Mayer does girlfriends.

There’s a line from a song which says “We learned more from a three-minute record than we ever learned in school.” And for better or worse, that is a perfect description of my formative years.

While I struggled with the complexities of math, science and grammar, I effortlessly came to understand the myriad of influences that shaped the music I love. If the definition of passion is what we devote ourselves to without thought of remuneration, then this was, and is, mine.

Best of all, I now understand I am not a hoarder. I'm an archivist.

Hear that, honey?

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