No Accounting for Taste

Thursday, October 11, 2012 | 0 Comment(s)

Over two years ago, back when this was a baby blog, i got a few of these "blog awards," which at first i thought were just recognition for being an amazing writer, but then quickly realized were also, in fact, part chain letter.  The chain letter part asked the blogger who received said "award" to respond by replying to subject or question X, and then give the award to someone(s) else.

I never completed any of these blog requests.  Now, one of two things has happened since.  Either A) these blog awards got seen for what they truly are and subsequently stopped being given.  Or B) because i failed to continue said blog chains, people stopped sending me awards and I was subsequently shunned from the greater blogger community.  Honestly, I'm not sure which of these possibilities has come to pass . . . perhaps a combination of both A and B . . . but either way, I ain't seen a blog award since the turn of the decade.  

Recently, I couldn't think of anything particularly compelling to blog about and it dawned on me that these awards were also a subtle way to give fellow bloggers ready-made subjects for future blog fodder.  And so, just short of 3 years tardy, I will respond to one of the blog award questions.  

The lucky award (which i can't even begin to look up the name of) was received from my  friend Una over at Sassy Curmudgeon.  It asked me to recall what the top 5 albums of my childhood were.   I should begin by stating that i am in no way "defined' by my music.  Hell, "my music" is simply the songs and musicians I either illegally downloaded in college (before it was illegal?  maybe) or was given to me by more musically inclined people.  Before CD's, I got almost all my musical exposure from mix tapes.  It's not that I don't have a musical opinion (i like to understand the words they are saying), its that i have always related to music through movement.  Songs make me want to move a certain way.  I can only imagine that painters see visual art in a more complex fashion than musicians.  Accordingly, while i bop along to a random house band, I watch my musician analyzing the meter, bass, harmony, etc. as they take in the music being played.   It does come full circle.   When i watch a dance concert, not only am i taking in the use of space, repetition, tempo, but more often than not, I'm wiggling around in my seat almost physically empathizing with the dancers.  We all have our things.  

So, in choosing the 5 albums of my youth, this list is shaped considerably by A) what i was (or rather, was not) introduced to and B) of the songs I was exposed to, did i have the ability/motivation to get anentire album.  As you'll see, whenever i did get into an artist, i hoarded.  Thus, there are some "pairings of album" that were the result of buying both albums simultaneously and then listening to them back to back for 6 to 9 months.  

As a final note, you'll notice there is no Grateful Dead, Guns N' Roses, Metallica, etc.  I was an innocent little kid, and these bands all sounded terrifying to me.  My childhood brain conjectured that these "hard rock" bands must all sound like either heavy metal or what "acid jazz" sounds like today.  And no one told me differently, so I have a big hair rock blind spot that somehow only let Jon Bon through undeflected.  

1. Ruth Pelham - Look to the People

This one is a no brainer. Ruth Pelham sang the kid's songs of my childhood.  We sang these songs as a family on car rides, and we substituted in lyrics to her song "My Grandma" so it told the story of my Grandma Francis on her 70th birthday.  Her songs speak to kids about fundamental pieces of development and exploration: Seeing the world with all of your senses (from memory, "there's magic in the morning and a big surprise, all the things you can see without your eyes."), Embracing and appreciating the various parts of your community ("We're all a family under one sky, we're a family under one sky), to the feeling of safety falling asleep in the arms of family knowing they'll be there when you wake up (Go to sleep-y little angel, and momma will wake to you in the morning.  Go to sleep-y little angel, and momma will wake to you in the morning, the sky is bright in the light of the moon, i will come and sing you this tune, singin, 'close your eyes, your sleepy eyes, and momma will wake you in the morning.'").  I still catch myself singing these songs absentmindedly.  In some sense, if the mind begins as a unburnt CD, this album is the foundation on which all other music was built upon.

Incredibly, a few years back my brother was with his wife swimming at a remote watering hole up in the Berkshires.  And, while it was a good 20 years later, he just knew he recognized the face of the older woman, there with a friend.  And eventually, it clicked.  She was the voice of his childhood too.  He introduced himself and shared what an indelible impact she has had on his life.  She was as gracious as you'd want a childhood icon to be.  Giving of her time (they chatted quite awhile) and self (no defensiveness or concerns for privacy around a fan).  Granted, she hasn't sold as many albums as Kanye, but so often we are left reconciling the untainted memory of our childhood heroes with our adult knowledge of those same individuals' transgressions.  But Ruth Pelham cradles her audience lovingly and lives out the mission statement of her life's work: "(through innovative educational programs, learning and training materials, and original songs) to build peaceful communities and empower individuals to be responsible local and global citizens in a world greatly in need of hope and possibility."

Couldn't have said it better myself.  

2. They Might Be Giants - Miscellaneous T / Flood / Apollo 18

My first "double album" selection, is actually a triple album s election.  Which means i got these all simultaneously, and listened to them for a year without substitution.  They Might Be Giant made me believe that there might be a place for me in the modern musical world.  At the time i didn't realize that TMBG were themselves somewhat of a side-stream band (as opposed to main-stream?), which today would be considered "indie-cred."  Back then it just meant I could get fairly last minute tickets to their Albany show.  Their 4:31 long musical mash-up "Fingertips" off of Apollo 18 had 21 completely different sound tracks that made complete sense to my constantly recalibrating mind (i believe they call it "ADHD" now).  They are bizarre and quirky and smart.  In that order.  And boy did they always look like they were having a blast playing music.  At said Albany concert they whipped out a Swiss Alphorn  and jammed out on it for a song or two.  They continue to be my definition of experimental music and they are my earliest recollection of having a personal opinion for a band.   i knew them and i liked them.  case closed.

3. Billy Joel - The Stranger & Storm Front

My best friend growing up was obsessed with the Piano Man.  And who could blame him.  While we were growing up he pumped out hit after hit while simultaneously pumping out supermodel (Elle Macpherson) after supermodel (Christy Brinkley).  Only in my now slightly aged years can i decipher which of these albums came first, and which years later.  They have merged into one "super hits" album in my consciousness.  You could agrue that The Stranger and Downeaster Alexa were the best back to back tracks on any album, and I wouldn't even be able to correct you (they were on separate albums)

More than that, Billy Joel's songs had narrative, they had insight, and they had backstories.  He also was one of the best rock pianists of all time, but i honestly think the other 3 talents garnered him equal amounts of fame.  I pictured myself on that fishing vessel, tearing at the waves off the Massachusetts coast.  I played out my own high school dramas in my head, embodied by Brenda and Eddie and their incomparable Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.  I looked for the Stranger inside myself and my friends, and I lost some religion (REM took the rest) when Only the Good Die(d) Young.

Later in my childhood, Billy would bless us with my most comprehensive high school history lesson (We Didn't Start the Fire) and the best song to wake up to (River of Dreams).  If only he hadn't run his life/car into a bottle/tree, who knows what music of his i'd be loving today (and yes, i did see Movin Out the musical dance collaboration on Broadway).  

4.  Counting Crows -- August and Everything After

Now, don't get me wrong, this is a great album.  Very few weak spots (it is my childhood's version of the Postal Service album Give Up).  But the reason this album is so firmly placed in my top 5 is that somehow, in the process of packing for a 2-month long bus trip across (and then back across) the country, I happen to pack only this one cassette (remember tapes!).  And while I may have borrowed an album from a friend here and there, it was much more 'me' to just listen to the album i brought over and over and over and over and over again (around this time they had mastered the technology in walkmen that enabled "automatically flipping" to side B.   So,  just as the wheels on the bus went round and round, so did the tracks go from A Murder of One, ironically, back to Round Here.  It's amazing I never had white-boy dreads i listened to Adam Duritz so much.  I'm surprised my peers on the bus didn't start calling me Mr. Jones, or at least the Rain King.  

Just as the wheels on the bus went round and round, so did the tracks go from A Murder of One ironically back to Round Here.  It's amazing I never had white-boy dreads i listen to Adam Duritz so much.

5.  Jim Croche -- Photographs & Memories

While Jon Bon's Slippery When Wet was a close 6th, Jim Croche takes the final spot with his Greatest Hits collection.  On some level having a greatest hits album seems like cheating in a list such as this. But, considering he is the artist I'm most proud to have on this list (after Ruth) and that he died at 30, two months before his final album was released, and well before i was born -- i'm giving him a free pass here.

Operator is still one of my favorite songs ever written.  It hits such a solitary and universal chord for all those who have ever looked for love or gone out on a limb for someone. it transcends.

When i moved to NYC post college and found myself utterly miserable traveling hours a day underground, packing myself against strangers like sardines, and spending endless effort trying to meet up with friend, no song expressed my anger and backlash towards the city like New York's Not My Home.  It still is "New York's song" to me, more than anything ol' Blue Eyes or Jay-Z have ever done.

And then there were the pertinent life lessons, from the absurd:  Don't spit into the wind.  Don't tug on superman's cape (ok i knew that one already).  Don't pull the mask of the Lone Ranger (for goodness sake!).  

To the philosophical:  Don't sit there while someone decides whether or not they want to be with you (One Less Set of Footsteps).  The moment you think you're the toughest, or best, or untouchable, you will meet the person tougher, better, and touch-able.  Probably in a bar.  And you will be in trouble (Don't Mess Around With Jim AND Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown).   

And if all this wasn't enough, he also sprinkled in some love songs that make you want to love your lover better.  Or find a lover to love that much.  (I Had to Say I Love You in a Song -- which heartwrenchingly came out post-humously & Time In a Bottle)

This album also went on to inspire TWO WWF wrestlers: The Junkyard Dog & Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.

So yah, it's a great friggin album.

Runner's Up:

Boyz II Men: Cooleyhighharmony
New Kids On The Block: Hangin' Tough
Bell Biv DeVoe: Poison
Sheryl Crow: Tuesday Night Music Club

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