Back in August 2011, I touched on the subject of me and music. As I said then, it's a mighty big subject.
That particular post was all about a boy. It was a boy that brought music to the forefront of my preteen brain. What continues here is also a story about a boy...but this boy happened to be my big brother, David.
It must have been in 1971 or so, I guess... I had gotten my first record player a few years before for Christmas...the one that I could close up and carry with me, if I wanted. All I needed were a few batteries, and I could take it into the hills, detach the speakers, and have myself a little outdoor party with tunes. It didn't have the greatest sound, and dust would scratch up the vinyl, but I still have fond memories of that first "stereo".
Big brother David had a real stereo. He was even more passionate about music than I was, and I could hear his records playing through the bedroom walls. Led Zepplin's "Whole Lotta Love" scared me, with it's creepy noises in that long bridge part, but I liked Chicago. Good hooks and some tasty horns, too.
David leaned more towards jazz, or the FM bands of the day that featured horns or interesting arrangements. He was in the high school jazz band and marching band, so I think that was an influence. That, and the awesome jazz my Dad turned us all onto, when we would just take a minute to listen. Dave Brubeck, Chet Baker, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan...good roots, certainly.
I loved listening to music on David's stereo, especially with those gigantor headphones (which have really made a comeback, btw). He shared a bedroom with our brother Richie, so there were twin beds. David and I would lie back and just chill out to the stereo sounds, taking turns listening through the headphones. Summer days gone by. I guess Richie was out playing with the younger kids, not into music yet and no way interested in hanging out with us. We did tend to torture the poor kid, so I don't much blame him. His own musical adventures were on the not-so-far horizon...
As soon as David was old enough to drive, it's a whole new world. He and his buddies get into the routine of driving down to Berkeley, where there is an awesome used record store, just off Telegraph. Leopolds, if I remember correctly. They let me tag along, thankfully. I could take my $6.00 that I earned each month from my paper route and buy not one, but two LPs. Sweet. We would spend hours in front of those boxes stacked front to back with albums, flipping through the alphabet. Plus, being Berkeley, the people watching was the best. Magic for me, all of 12 or 13 at the time. I was entranced, to be sure.
This was all good, and of course there was junk food involved...the drive-thru kind, most times, which was just another huge treat. I got along fine with David's pals, had crushes on one or two of them, and he had a crush or two on my pals, no doubt.. we all had a blast together. It really was good, clean fun, and I feel like those kinds of days are gone now, or maybe I just don't get out enough....anyway. Here I go, getting all teary eyed.
As the months went by, it became increasingly apparent that I was in dire need of a "real stereo". My LP collection was becoming larger and something to be proud of, and I felt that David was tired of me bogart-ing his stereo every time he left his room. Let's be honest. I didn't have a stereo. I had a record player.
It was time time to step it up. I began saving every dollar I made, found, or received from relatives. When I had collected enough cold hard cash, and was beside myself with anticipation, David and his friend Tommy took me down to the used stereo place on Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley. They were crucial in helping me pick out each component: turntable, receiver, and the ever important set of big speakers. These were the days when your stereo was stacked up. Big. The speakers were furniture, you know?
I need to admit something here and now.
I still have one of these stereo set-ups. Really. I haven't gotten around to the iPod thingy yet. With the little "dock" and all. I know, it's almost 2013. Geez. I'm secretly waiting for those stereo systems to become the rage again. Right.....
I had the most awesome stereo of any 13 year old ever. At least that's how it felt. And I loved it. It was used, but that's what made it so damn cool...that was how you bought your stereo back then. Really nice, top quality equipment that a normal person could afford. Thank god for the used record and stereo stores.
I finally had my own headphones, too. Hours spent lying on top of the bed, listening to every bloody note of every song on every album. Over and over and over. The way the music would zoom back and forth in the headphones sometimes. I could hear Neil Young's fingers moving on the guitar strings, or the breaths that James Taylor would take between lines in a song. And Keith Moon's drums. LOUD, thank you. That one-note guitar solo in "Cinnamon Girl" still slays me every time.
Music is a magic world, and when you are at that age...that scary, amazing, overwhelming, hormone crazed age. Well. You know what I'm going on about. Music is not only a magic world...it is the world.
It becomes your best escape, for sure. It defines who you are, and you don't have to say a word. Really. I remember having a crush on this much older kid in the neighborhood, and I would just crank up my music and hang around outside, playing basketball or whatever. Bedroom windows wide open, speakers facing out... just on the slight chance he might hear the music and, you know, think I was the ultimate in cool and then fall in love with me. This never happened, but still...it was the best and only way I knew how to express myself. My acned, chubby, braces on the teeth, tomboy, little fragile 13 year old self.
Tough and together on the outside, a complete fucking mess on the inside. Still. To this day.
Having music in common with big brother David was a glue that bound us together for years. Even though I had my own stereo, and my own tastes in music, we would still listen to stuff together, and turn each other on to something new. He remained true to his jazz, while I found myself firmly ensconced in the 70's folk/jangle rock scene, with an occasional dip into the "art rock" pool of the day.... Jethro Tull, Yes, Bowie... all so good through headphones, and even better after I started smoking pot, often with David.
Oh, those wacky 70's. Sigh. Only to be out done by those most frightening 80's, but that is another story...
My big brother was my best of friends back then. It was because of that music connection. My first ever live concert was James Taylor at Berkeley Community Theatre. David drove us. "Fire and Rain". Another very special memory was our evening featuring dress up clothes (David in suit & tie, me in a long Lanz dress from my recent 8th grade graduation), dinner at Trader Vic's, and a Boz Scaggs concert at the Paramount in Oakland. Boz was touring "Moments", a favorite album of mine at the time, and this show featured a full orchestra in black tie. It was a real big deal. There were other concerts with David through the years, but that one will always be my favorite. My big brother and I. On a "date". Pretty righteous.
When we were a few years older, and David had gone away to college, he was introduced to The Grateful Dead. This would become a lifestyle for at least a decade for both myself and my two brothers. But... what I hold close in my memory bank is the first time I heard them.
David was home from school for the summer, and house sitting this amazing property down the coast. I hitch-hiked a ride down to spend an afternoon listening to music and smoking dope. It was a stunner day, and he had all the french doors open to the ocean side. The stereo was pleasantly blasting the Dead's "Jack Straw" from the album Europe '72. Was it the pot? The jaw dropping location? The perfect summer day? Whatever it was, I was a goner. Hook, line, and sinker. It was the start of a new chapter, and one that I am glad to have in this book of life, for sure.
In just a year or two, Richie, my younger brother would become my music partner in crime, and I can't wait to delve into those memories...next time.
I wish I had pictures to share some of these memories. In the early 70's, we didn't have our cameras at hand 24/7, like we do now.
So, what I picture is this:
A brother and sister learning about life and it's myriad relationships, via their mutual love of music, and each other. It's a picture I'll be content to have close at hand to revisit on occasion, forever.