Aural Nostalgia (Part I): The Year of the Boom-Box

Posted on June 24, 2013 by

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Part I: The Year of the Boom-Box

The other day I received an email from The Rumpus that listed 10 songs that Stephen Elliott played for the kids and actors on set while filming his upcoming movie, Happy Baby.  This and Kelly’s post inspired me to dig into important music from my childhood and find songs that I would want my own future kids to hear.  While I excavated sections of memory lane and sifted through my iTunes, the list became obscenely unmanageable.  I decided to narrow down the criteria to songs with the most significant memory (one I could tell a short story about) and restricted the timeline to just before the beginning of high school (freshman yearish).  I still couldn’t manage to only list ten songs so I grouped them into two installments of five memories.

1)    Bonnie Tyler – “I Need a Hero;” Elton John – “Your Song”

My music memory begins with my parents.  Bonnie Tyler’s I Need a Hero is one of the first songs I remember.  It was on tape played through a dual cassette and vinyl record player.  It’s unclear if the association begins with a movie or on the radio, but the clearest memory revolves around a homemade action movie my brother and I made using the album as our soundtrack.  The movie features the two of us trouncing around the living room clad in cammo, equipped with Rambo-style headbands and real-fake assault rifles.  We launch assaults against giant stuffed bears and couch cushions until the final confrontation with a miniaturized King Kong action figure.  Shortly after is when I recall developing tastes of my own and despising much of my parents’ music (My dad has a fondness for Kenny G. that I will never understand).  One exception to that resentment is my and my mom’s adoration of Elton John, especially “Your Song,” which we danced to at my wedding.

2)    Salt-N-Pepa – “Shoop;” The Beavis and Butthead Experience

Did I write earlier that the cause of the departure from my parents’ music was that I developed “taste?”  These songs prove that there was little “taste” involved.  I saved up enough birthday and Christmas money to purchase my very own boom box.  My dad and I journeyed to a generic electronics store, and after careful consideration, we decided on a model that left enough money for me to purchase a CD (CDs had just hit critical mass in the marketplace).  My first choice was Salt-N-Pepa, whose song, “Shoop,” looped continuously out of the mouths of my classmates.  I almost dropped my new stereo and first album when my dad said, “Pick another one, son.”  The words had barely escaped his lips before I had The Beavis and Butthead Experience in my hand.

We got home and I could tell that my mom was suspicious of our ear-to-ear grins.

“What don’t we test it out?” she asked.

 I tore the stereo from the box and sought the nearest outlet.  We “Ooed” and “Ahhed” at the grace of the spring-loaded door of the CD compartment.  Since the Beavis and Butthead album was my surprise purchase, I decided to play it first.  It took my mom all of thirty seconds to hit the stop button and demand that my dad return the CD.  Weeks later, she decided to actually listen to the entire album and regretted returning Beavis and Butthead. She probably only remembers the explicit sexual content on that album (She’ll hopefully comment on this post), but for me it conjures memories of roller blading in the driveway until the eight D-batteries in my boom-box were drained.

C’est la vie.

3)    Beethoven – “Moonlight Sonata”

Since I was down one CD and out of money.  I was devoted to saving every dime to buy more CDs.  I needed variety. Salt-N-Pepa were great, but I wanted something different.  Around this time I was also deep into playing Earthworm Jim 2 on Sega Genesis.  My favorite level also became my jam. Jim has to disguise himself as a blind salamander and swim through the bowels of a planet-sized monster.  The soundtrack for this level is Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata (Piano No. 14 – Movement 1).  I was hooked (pun intended).

When I finally had enough dough, I went to Barnes and Noble (because it was in the mall my mom went to) and started looking.  I can’t remember how I knew that the song in the game was Beethoven.  I don’t think I looked it up on the Internet, because we didn’t have a computer then, and even if we did it would have been dial-up access through Prodigy.  I may have seen the title in the credits of the game or one the box.  Nevertheless, once I found and bought that album I had it on repeat.  I can’t say that I blasted it on the porch and rollerbladed to it (well… maybe the 3rd movement), but I look back and realize it was the beginning of my passion for classical music.

4)    Queen – “Somebody to Love” & “Bohemian Rhapsody;” Kansas – “Carry on My Wayward Son;” Dave Matthews – “Crash”

Collecting and buying albums became an addiction.  I couldn’t wait for Christmas.  I received two more albums in the year of the boom-box: 1) Queen’s Greatest Hits and 2) Kansas’ Leftoverture.  I included both albums in the list because I feel that they created a springboard for my future rock explorations.  Freddy Mercury sets the standard for rock performance.

Period.

It was the mid-nineties and little league season.  I was more interested in reading the line-up for my younger brother’s games than playing any position on the field.  I mean, watching the game on the bench would have been a lot more fun if my coach had asked me to use my boom-box to DJ to improve morale.  I took to the announcer’s booth.  I’m not sure how or why the adults allowed a kid to be alone with a microphone in a second story booth, unsupervised, but I appreciated it.

As the confidence in my announcing grew so did my desire to spice-up the downtime of the game with my playlists.  I would bring my boom-box and delight the crowd in between innings with segments of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “We Will Rock You.”  However, I eventually discontinued the use of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” per Mom’s request, because the lyrics, “Mama, just killed a man/Put a gun against his head/Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead,” were too intense for the spectators.  They sent too many shivers down their spines, apparently.  (Was it the chimes?)  Ultimately, I just wanted to see rows of bleachers on a large-scale doing this.

Nonetheless, it was Dave Matthew’s “Crash,” on a continuous radio loop, that led to a conversation with the girl who worked in the concession stand below. I never saw no-name-girl outside of the confines of the ballpark.  She and pounds of grape-flavored Big League Chew are what make up the memory associated with that song.  It started innocently enough with walks around the field, sharing Fun Dip and Swedish Fish.  I wish I could say that we didn’t dare each other to snort the Fun Dip, but I can’t.  Other than candy, I couldn’t tell you what we talked about, but I can say is that the awkward silence was filled with the raspy lyrics and hard guitar strums (shreds) of Dave Matthews from every car entering, exiting, and passing by the park.  I took my station as announcer and young stud seriously that summer, but both fizzled out by the end of the season.

So it goes…

5)    Nirvana – “Come as You Are;” Stone Temple Pilots – “Creep”

I arrived late to the grunge scene.  My friends were already knee-deep in plaid by the time I heard my first Nirvana song, “Come as You Are.”  It feels like I had hair down to my shoulders twenty-four hours later and acquired a mood swing that lasted a decade.  Before hearing that song, my days were filled with X-men action figures and weekly visits to Thunder Road Comics & Cards.  Once Nirvana hit my ears, I had feelings, angsty feelings.  Nirvana and The Stone Temple Pilots ushered me into teen-hood.  MTV became my bible, and all I wanted for my birthday were over-sized sweaters and a rocking chair.

All in all, I have fond memories of these songs, but after re-listening to them during the course of writing this, I’m unsure if I would force all of them on my kids.  Queen?

Absolutely.

What songs, for better or worse, are etched into your childhood?

Let us taste your nostalgia in the comments section below.

Posted in: Essay, Music, Non-fiction