Songs. Pt one: Back to the Suffering, thank you.
We collected songs the way some people collect comic books, baseball cards or shoes, holding each song close to our hearts-an immediate mood changer. Everything was about either setting the mood, matching the mood or of course changing it. Growing up, feeling separated the sounds of music provided an elixir to a sometimes utter feeling of isolation that helped many of us through the suffering afternoons and evenings of adolescence. An opportunity to escape in our bedrooms, or when we hit sixteen in our cars, feeling a sense of escape as bald tires lifted us from the mundane often cruel existence of high school, forming rapid distance from a parking lot of rusted junkers and peers that were only peers by age not interests. An album was like a vacation, a chance to step into the life of someone bigger than life, who told a story that we could relate to and at times only dream about.
At the end of my fifteenth year, as another Ohio summer slowly cranked the humid grind of days, I heard Lou Reed for the first time as I picked meat off of fifteen boiled chickens in the kitchen of a small hippie Mexican restaurant in Athens, Ohio. Within two weeks I had half his catalog and later that summer Polygram released the long out of print (only fifteen years or so at that time though) Velvet Underground records. Providing my achingly boring existence with colors I thought only capable by moving to New York City, which seemed a million miles and countless years away. From there, I discovered a mountain of underground sounds such a R.E.M., The Replacements, the Lyres and a host of other bands arising from the underbelly of the vapid clean sounds of commercial radio. I was hosting my own radio show at Wittenberg University by the end of the summer, where I was exposed to even more music such as the Minutemen, Black Flag and English pop like Echo and the Bunnymen, early Adam and the Ants and Joy Division. I was prone to like the more pop oriented stuff associated with the Paisley underground, the Long Ryders, Beat Farmers, and Let’s Active, my punk-rock credentials have always been more of an attitude than a sound.
When Jenny and I began dating within a year and half of my musical revelation, I suppose I appeared exotic, at least as exotic as a lonely but confident seventeen year old can appear in rural Clark county Ohio can appear. After school, the gravel parking lot of Northeastern high school would be filled with the canned sounds of Def Lepard, Hank Williams Jr., and early bland banal sounds of early hair metal which in one fell swoop took any danger left in rock and roll and bottled it for the safety of every Spencer Gift shop in every mall in suburban America. It was the bane of my existence, and I took it seriously. Jenny climbed the stairs up to my bedroom on our first date, as I had no job, no money and nobody at home to watch what I did. We carried a six pack of Pabst Blue label and I opened her eyes to the sounds of early R.E.M., Lou Reed and early Bowie which she had never heard. I had about seventy records at that time, and 100 cassettes, she had never seen so much music. Perhaps it was the sound of the unknown that propelled her to fall in love with me. She had never heard any Rolling Stones besides the hits off of “Tattoo You” and “Satisfaction”, so hearing “Some Girls” and “Sticky Fingers” helped lay the ground for me to present myself as someone who I wasn’t quite sure who I was to the funny, eccentric girl of seventeen.
All most of us wanted to ever do was to listen to music, to have temporary deliverance from the reality of our surroundings, an atmosphere that at times inflicted tiny pointed darts of pain in all of our lives. Witnesses to the bruised and at times, bludgeoned emotional lives of our parents, music was (and is) the balm that allowed a mind to turn off and get lost in the wonder of being. It helped that our parents were either unavailable or scattered in the morasses of their own lives and insanity that they couldn’t pick up on the comical dangers of the Ramones or tender loss of the Smiths, it was our own secret. At times, this was the equivalent of hugging a building for redemption.
As the door to the bedroom or car shut, the stereo turned to ten, head bouncing, cracking-out-of-tune voice bellowing out the words to “Bring on the Dancing Horses”, I was fortified for moment. And when the song ended, it was back to the suffering.
Jerry and I met, we immediately found the kindred spirit of songs, of a hook that could flinch you away from now and fling you to there. There being, the space between emotion and dreams, of feeling pleasantly lost while three chords matched whatever feeling you had. For Jerry, his musical upbringing was graduate school compared to mine, by growing up in Parma, at the metaphorical foothills of the Terminal Tower in Cleveland, he had the luxury of hearing first hand (while in high school) such wonderful sounds as the Mice, Death of Samantha and Spike in Vain and was only a few short years removed from The Dead Boys, Pere Ubu and the Pagans. Jerry was a romantic at heart, whose hope for a life that only existed among the sung and written word would always tragically disappoint him. This romantic ideal would always show when he played solo under the moniker of “The Cocaine Sniffing Triumphs” (itself a homage to The Modern Lovers), as he always covered The Ramones “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” and Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory.”