Music Musings: How I Got Into Music

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 second discman, Christmas 1998. Age 15, be nice.

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.

The extent of my punk rock knowledge in 1999. So weird...

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.

Bennet band practice.

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.

Not my actual hair style in college, the ladies had fun with me then I played pourly, but looked cool.

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.

Supergroup Showcase: The Traveling Wilburys

For the purposes of Supergroup Showcase the term supergroup means a band or group of musicians made up of two or more artists from previously successful bands, not necessarily super huge bands like Led Zeppelin.

THE TRAVELING WILBURYS
THE PLAYERS: Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, George Harrison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne
HISTORY: Back in 1988 when music still came out on vinyl, George Harrison had just released his brand new record. The record label wanted a B-side to go along with the first single and George somehow wrangled Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and his songwriting partner Jeff Lynne into creating the song “Handle With Care.” The label heard pure gold and asked if the guys could put a whole record together. The original line-up out out The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. Roy Orbinson passed away soon after, but the surviving members would get back together for another offering in 1990 called Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3. (via TW.com)
OFFICIAL SITE: TravelingWilburys.com

I remember being in shock and awe when my dad first told me about the Traveling Wilburys. I was just getting into classic rock music and trying to explore around and see what was what. I’d known the Beatles and Bob Dylan of course and would go on to because a big Tom Petty fan, but I was still marinating in a lot of the basics. So, when he told me that such heavyweights as George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty (with a guy named Jeff Lynne, who I wouldn’t come to know until years later). I could hardly believe it. I don’t even know if I knew what a supergroup was at the time, but I can’t think of a more perfect example of one that the Wilburys.As I mentioned last weekend, it wouldn’t be until many years later that I actually heard the Wilburys. Or at least listened to their CDs, which the missus got me for Christmas or my birthday just a few years ago after the 2 CD/DVD set came out. Man, I love these discs. Like I said, I’ve become a huge Tom Petty fan over the years, like every sane person I love the Beatles and George’s last record Brainwashed, I’ve got a few Bob Dylan records (I bought Blonde On Blonde used at my beloved Boogie Records after hearing Jack Black’s character admonish a customer for not owning it in High Fidelity, which I love) and had very little experience with Roy Orbison, but the combination of these incredibly strong musicians and singers in one place is even more amazing than I expected.

You might think with such big, huge talents there might be an undercurrent of divaness on the records, but there’s nothing of the sort that appears on either of the records or the DVD. In fact, the records feel like a perfect symbiosis of these creative geniuses. All the more impressive is that the first album was completed in 10 days! It’s like these guys just ooze goodness.

The songs break down into two basic camps. First off, you’ve got the ones where one of the men takes over on vocals with the others coming in for backing vocals and harmonies. My personal favorite of those is the Dylan-fronted “Tweeter And The Monkeyman” and not just because I like monkeys. It’s a great story song with all the perfect parts: simple, understated playing, a solid lead vocal and perfect backings. The other camp is the one in which each singer takes a turn at a verse and has fun with it, like the above “Handle With Care,” “Last Night” and “End Of The Line.” Those are my favorite tracks because I like hearing everyone having a turn.

Obviously, the first record is better because Roy Orbison is on it. Even without knowing much about him, his voice is SO iconic and just shines through every time he pipes up. I get chills listening to “End Of The Line.” The video for that song, which is a tribute to Roy, is also pretty moving. For some reason embedding is disabled, so you’ll have to go here to check it out.

So, if you’re a fan of any of the above musicians, hell, even if you’re not, I can’t recommend a record to you more than this set. Even though the second record isn’t as good as the first, it’s still a fantastic piece to listen to. It’s just hard not to imagine how much better it would be with Orbison’s vocals. The DVD’s a great addition with the basic videos and the True History of the Traveling Wilburys is amazing. Completely recommended!

Music Doc Triple Feature: True History Of The Traveling Wilburys (2007), Concert For George (2003) & Anvil! The Story Of Anvil (2008)

I watched these three movies over a pretty spread-out period of time, but I figured they’d make a good trio seeing as how two the first two are directly related and the most recent reminded me of the other two. First off, I want to talk about a 25 minute documentary on The Traveling Wilburys that came with the self-titled three disc set that includes the band’s two CDs and a DVD with the doc and some music videos. The Wilburys were a supergroup in the late 80s consisting of Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, George Harrison and Jeff Lynne (I’ll do a Supergroup Showcase about them soon). I’d always heard about them, but never really heard them, so once this set came out, I asked for it for Christmas and got it, but I didn’t actually watch the included DVD until a few months back.

The film covers a recording session and what makes it so interesting is seeing how much these musical giants just hanging out in a house, playing guitars, singing songs and having a helluva good time while doing it. We–or at least I–tend to deify guys like this, they are incredible musicians and some of the most important people in rock, but this movie shows them as just regular people and I dig that. Regular people writing a song a day and making an album of it. The just sounds fun to me. Even more fun because of who’s involved and some of the interesting things they did like drumming on the refrigerator and recording that! I’d definitely watch a longer version of this doc.

Soon after the first Traveling Wilbury’s record, Roy Orbison passed away. Many years later, George Harrison died leaving a final album called Brainwashed unfinished. His son Dhani and friend Jeff Lynne came in and finished the record and I have to say it’s amazing. One year after his passing, a small army of musicians got together to celebrate Harrison’s life. The concert, which was filmed and called A Concert For George, is split into a few parts. The first section is a very moving and intense series of performances by Ravi Shankar’s daughter Anoushka and an Indian orchestra. This isn’t the kind of music I usually search out, but it was beautiful.

Between this group of performances and the next more mainstream set, the surviving members of Monty Python came out to do “Sit On My Face” and then “The Lumberjack Song” which apparently also included Tom Hanks, but I completely missed that and only read it later. The remaining set consists of performances by Eric Clapton, Dhani Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Gary Brooker, Joe Brown, Sam Brown, Jools Holland, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Billy Preston, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and others on their own and together. I’m a sucker for these kinds of team-ups in the musical world and can’t think of a better reason to have one than to celebrate such a great musician’s life. It’s too bad that Bob Dylan couldn’t be there for a reunion of the surviving Wilburys, but that would have been amazing.

From the celebration of one of the greatest and most successful musicians in the world, to a look at some of the most obscure. Anvil! The Story Of Anvil is a documentary following the trials and tribulations of a Canadian heavy metal rock band called Anvil who were supposedly a big deal on the scene back in the day. I’ll be honest, I’m not 100% sure this whole thing isn’t a hoax. I’m no expert when it comes to heavy metal by any means, but I’ve read enough issues of Guitar World in my time to feel like I have a fairly good grasp on the scene and I’ve never heard of them. The movie starts off with some pretty big deal metal musicians like Slash, Lemmy, Scott Ian and Lars Ulrich singing Anvil’s praises. It just felt a little off. Then, they reveal that one of the two original band members’ names is Robb Reiner which sounds and awful lot like the name of the director who did This Is Spinal Tap. From what I can tell, the movie is all real, but I still had a big question mark in my head the whole time which takes away from things a bit.

The rest of the movie shows how shitty things are for the guys in Anvil. They’re working crap jobs in Canada, doing tours of Europe where they don’t really get paid any money and everything goes wrong and struggle to create quality music with nearly no budget. If you’ve seen American Movie, you’ve seen the basic premise of this movie, but this one has heavy metal and that one has movies. Which isn’t to say Anvil isn’t a good movie. If it is real, it definitely captures the general hopelessness that these dudes are surrounded by at all time and refuse to give in to, which is incredibly admirable. Plus, watching the movie made me want to listen to some more metal. Anyone got any suggestions?