Like a lot of people, I heard about Robin Williams’ passing last night. As it happened my dad, who just moved out here to New York on Sunday, was sitting here as there was a special report breaking in on a Jeopardy rerun with the sad story. Thinking about it, this seems strangely appropriate because one of my fondest memories of the comedian involved driving around with my dad.
When I was younger, as I’ve said many times, my dad introduced me to the world of 70s and 80s comedies like Caddyshack, Blues Brothers, Fletch and the like. But the comedy education carried over into the world of stand-up records, specifically Robin Williams’ A Night At The Met record. The experience was so surreal. Not only was it hilarious and opened my eyes to even more of this man’s talents, but was also a cool grown-up moment where he shared this thing from the adult world with me.
But my love of Williams and his films goes much deeper than that. I had a vague understanding of Mork & Mindy from childhood when that era of TV was a lot more accessible in reruns, but by the time I could really understand entertainment he was everywhere. I don’t remember seeing Good Morning Vietnam, but my folks had it on tape and parts of it just live in my brain. Between that and Dead Poets Society, he solidified himself as an actor who could handle mile-a-second comedy in addition to intense dramatic emotions.
As a child of the 80s and 90s he was everywhere thanks to Aladdin, Hook, Toys (so weird), Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, The Birdcage, Jack and Flubber and on and on and on. Even if you didn’t see some of those movies, they were so ubiquitous that you couldn’t help but for what seemed like a solid picture of this man, but clearly there was a lot more going on, a darkness that seems unfortunately common when it comes to incredibly funny people.
That darkness came to light with the underrated dark comedy Death To Smoochy and thrillers like Insomnia, One Hour Photo and The Final Cut. Good Will Hunting and What Dreams May Come also took some of those similar turns and came out during my most intense theater-going period. Some people weren’t down for this change in tone for the comedian, but I thought he pulled off these parts incredibly well. Many of these movies really stuck with me, even though I’ve only seen most of them once.
I’m not nearly as familiar with his more recent work, but I still feel a very strong connection to this Williams and the entertainment he created during my formative years. He was always there and he was always funny, even if the content might not have been what I was looking for personally. I’m sad to hear he’s gone and even sadder that he might have taken his own life, especially after making so many people happy for so many years.
Recently, my love of music has been rekindled. I’ve always had an affinity for the medium and have never really left it behind, but for the last year or so, I’ve been decidedly less focused on listening to music in favor of watching movies while I work or listening to podcasts. With my recent work changes, I’ve also changed how I work, which now involves playing the old iPod instead of zoning out with a movie I don’t really care about. I’m still gonna watch some TV and movies during the day, but I’m also going to utilize my time to catch up on the tons of CDs I picked up this summer at flea markets and also revisit some old faves. I’ve also been playing my guitar and bass a lot more often which has been a great stress reliever and a lot of fun. With that in mind, I figured it might be interesting to talk about how I got into listening to music.
I don’t remember much about music before around the 6th grade. I know my mom tended towards the classic, oldies radio stations when we’d drive around and my dad was more into classic rock, so I had a pretty broad base growing up, but it took me a while to go after music on my own aside from asking for MC Hammer tapes for my birthday. I don’t remember exactly when I got my first CD-playing boombox, but I think it was around 1992 because the first three CDs I got to go along with it were Kriss Kross’ Totally Krossed Out, the Aladdin soundtrack and a Disney disc called For Our Children with covers of children’s songs by artists like Little Richard, Bob Dylan and a slew of others. Pretty eclectic. Oddly enough, I don’t have any of those three discs in my collection anymore, having sold Kriss Kross in a garage sale and passed the two Disney discs along to my folks, though I might have to get them back for my kid to listen to. I would have been 9 around that time.
My musical evolution has a few distinct memories from those early days, but mostly a lot of fog. I’ve mentioned going to see KISS with my dad in 1997 and I have very distinct memories of sitting in the back of Mrs. White’s classroom in 7th grade during free time with my friend Jimmy listening to CDs on our Discmen and doodling. I did a lot of doodling back in the day and had great fun coming up with various lists of my favorite bands. During the last few summers of my grade school years, I remember watching MTV even though I wasn’t supposed to and probably did so when I was alone after school as well. I remember having a hard time mapping out the history of rock and roll in my brain because there was just so much going on (and I knew almost nothing about punk or funk, so it would only get bigger and more unwieldy as I got older). Wait, so the Beatles broke up BEFORE John Lennon was killed? How is it possible that Eric Clapton was in SO MANY bands?! Getting a subscription to Guitar World in high school really helped. That mag was like a history book for rock and roll.
Jimmy was a pretty big influence on my listening habits. I got into bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Alice In Chains thanks to him. We also both dug 70s music because both our dads were into that kinda stuff. I would raid my dad’s CD collection and listen to Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and the like. At some point I also got my own turntable and borrowed a bunch of my dad’s vinyl which had a lot of 50s/60s pop records and introduced me one of my favorite bands of all time: The Ventures. Eventually, I’d start hitting up the used CD stores like CD Warehouse to add to my collection. For Christmas one year, my parents bought me a CD player that could hold 51 CDs, like a juke box. You would slide the CD booklets into a book so you’d know which ones were where and could even hit the random button and just let them run wild. Eventually, the CD selector arm stopped working and iPods came into play, but that stereo served me well all the way through college.
First with the help of the boom box and later the stereo, I also started listening to some Toledo and Detroit rock stations. I was pretty anti-rap, pop and country at that point for whatever reason (close mindedness, lack of experience, whatever you want to call it), so it was mostly 104.7 which was classic rock, 106.5 Buzz FM (alternative and classic) and Detroit’s 89X which introduced me to a lot of 90s bands and also played more than just the regular singles. I discovered this in the last few years after giving the missus’ Our Lady Peace records a listen and realizing I knew more songs than I should have.
By the time I got to high school I had seen KISS and Aerosmith with my dad, I’d soon win tickets to see Black Sabbath from one of the aforementioned radio stations and would add a bunch of music enthusiasts to my group of friends who would bolster my fandom and exploration even further. Going to concerts was a fairly regular occurrence with us (I miss those days a lot) and we had a ton of fun. We’d also talk about music more than was probably healthy, but what else are you supposed to talk about at an all guy Catholic high school?My freshman year (1998 or so) a group of us attended our school’s Battle of the Bands and were so inspired that we decided to form a band. Since one friend had a guitar and one a drum set, it came down to me to learn bass. So I did. I rented a black Fender Squier and an amp for a little while, took lessons from a guy named Ed who thought my dad’s first name was mine and eventually bought my own bass at a store’s semi-annual going out of business sale. Eventually, I’d switch teachers and get a really good one named Jason who I would go to for the rest of my high school career. It took awhile and a lot of effort, but we finally put a band together Sophomore that had the friend who was going to play guitar on drums, a different singer, a new friend on guitar and the one who was going to play drums too busy to participate because he was doing musicals. We practiced a lot, went through two lead singers (the musical dude eventually became the singer) and played a few parties, but nothing too fancy. It was a ton of fun. Senior year, we got our shit together, played Battle of the Bands and won. One of these days, I’ll figure out how to convert the VHS tape into YouTube clips to really embarrass everyone.
Between playing music and learning more about it, I had a great time in high school as far as music was concerned. My buddy Chad, who would become the guitar player in the band (it was called The Pen Is Mightier, first, then Bennet after the singer change in case you were wondering) helped me get even further into classic rock, by really introducing me to Pink Floyd and some other bands. The summer after my sophomore year of high school, I started working at Barry’s Bagel Place and would continue to on and off until I moved out to New York to work at Wizard. That was a whole other world of music to get exposed to thanks to all kinds of new people of all different ages with different tastes. That’s where I discovered the Buzzcocks! The bakers got to choose the music played in the back and they had a big effect on what I was listening to as did this dude Matt who I worked up front with. He was a big fan of classic rock. But, the biggest influence on my at that time was working down the strip mall from my beloved Boogie Records, an independent record store that sold new and used CDs, records, DVDs, patches, the whole shebang. I can’t tell you how many laps I did around those racks before the place closed down when I was in college, but I wound up buying all kinds of CDs from them. It wasn’t until well after Kurt Cobain died that I really got into Nirvana. I had picked Nevermind a while before, but at some point I got really into them and went back and bought all their CDs at Boogie and even got a rad interview disc called The Bark Not The Bite that I should give another listen to. My tastes tended towards rock, classic and alternative including the growing pop punk of the day, but not much into metal or the nu-metal that was popping up all around me. While some of my friends got into Korn, I never could. I guess I wasn’t angry enough. Plus. those dudes always seemed like posers to me anyway.
In college, I had much less money to spend on music, but I did expand my horizons, slowly getting into blues, hip hop, country and jazz thanks to a class I took my senior year. I started with old school hip hop, outlaw country and general blues but I was liking it all. I also dropped my outstanding dislike of pop music, deciding it’s more fun to have fun with crappy pop music than it is to outright hate everything. Sure, there’s bad–really bad–pop music out there, but what’s the point of letting it upset you? Shitty music has always been around, it takes effort to work past that to get to the good stuff. While in college, the whole digital thing started happening, but I was mostly oblivious to it, preferring my CDs and, yes, my mini disc player. It wasn’t until right before I moved to NY and got my Mac that I discovered the joys of ripping all your music to a computer and a year or say later when the glorious iPod entered my life (it’s almost full now, which is kind of sad). Sometime around the end of high school, I decided I wanted a guitar and got a Squier Telecaster start-up pack, which I took with me, along with a bass, to college. I only ever played two gigs/shows/recitals in college but I liked having my gear around to play with. Still do.
Now I find myself with more CDs than I care to count, a small collection of records and an iPod nearly full of music with more to put on. I don’t really spend a lot of money on new music, but usually try new things out that I pick up at flea markets and garage sales. I’m generally cheap, so the idea of being able to get a disc for a few bucks is very appealing and allows me to try a lot of new things (for what it’s worth, I’m against pirating music). I’ve found a TON of 90s hip hop CDs at garage sales. The thing that still blows me away about music is how broad of a topic it can be. I used to think I knew a lot about a lot, but that was mostly all popular music. I know dudes who can talk for hours about bands I’ve never heard of.
So, what’s the point of this post aside from rambling scattershot about my history with music? Well, first off, it’s a way of me telling you that I’m going to be writing more about music on the blog. Music Mondays will now be Music Musings because I’m not sure if posts will always go up on Mondays. I’m also planning on actually doing record reviews on a more regular basis and documenting my exploration of new-to-me music genres like 80s music (to a 90s alternakid, the 80s were one big joke, but there’s obviously a lot of good stuff in there). For a brief period of time I got paid to do this kind of stuff, which was a life long dream. I’m hoping that my newfound enthusiasm for music will combine with this crazy blogging addiction I seem to have and make for some interesting posts. If not, well, I’ll probably just quit doing them and post more music videos or something.