Discover more from Their Music is My Life
Make Every Song You Sing Your Favorite Tune
How a stolen mix tape created a lifelong passionate music fan
It wasn’t like it happened over a long, extended period. It was an instant transformation. If you can be simultaneously dumbstruck and awestruck, I was. Of course, I had heard music before, but I had never experienced it. When the song ended, I pushed stop on the cassette deck and sat in silence for a few minutes. And then I pressed rewind.
I grew up in a small New Hampshire town with a population of approximately nineteen-thousand people. In 1986 I was a freshman in high school. I had the normal interests of most thirteen-year-old boys, especially music.
The teenage years can be challenging. You learn a lot about what you are all about. You start developing your identity and identify with the things that interest and inspire you. What captured my attention the most was music.
Growing up, music was always playing in my house, room, car, and walkman (constantly on my walkman). Music meant good times. No matter what the time, place, or occasion, when the music played, the good times rolled. And in high school, the good times usually rolled at house parties.
If you wanted to be one of the cool guys at the party, you either brought the beer, had the girl, or played the music.
Nothing said you’ve made it! as a freshman more than when you found yourself at a “senior party.” The people at these parties had a good two to three-year head start on being cool. I wasn’t cool, but I was willing to learn. There was one party in particular that is important to this story. One of my friends was a bit older, and he had an in at the party. He said he’d get me through the door if I paid for his beer cup. Game on.
My usual play at these parties was to find a chunk of wall near the stereo where I could blend in. In between quick heads-down, no-eye-contact trips to the keg and back, I stood plastered to the wall, keeping a low profile, surveying the scene and looking for opportunities to venture out - if I dared.
My proximity to the stereo was no coincidence. I had observed that if you wanted to be one of the cool guys at the party, you either brought the beer, had the girl, or played the music. I placed my bet on the tunes and the guy with the carrying case full of mix tapes.
This guy owned the stereo. It wasn’t his, but he owned it. No one got near it without his darting glance, and no one even thought about trying to play a song or flip a tape without his permission. Every song he played was perfect. This guy knew what songs to play, when to play them, and what reaction he would get. He had the pulse of the room. There were fist pumps, sing-a-longs, and backslaps for hours. This was the guy I needed to study - and steal from.
At the end of the night, I made a bold move. The stereo guy had piled up all his mix tapes on the table next to where the stereo was perched. On my way out the door, I stabbed my hand into the pile of mix tapes, grabbed one, and jammed it into my pocket as fast as possible. This was a heist of the highest order. If caught, I risked all future access to the other side of the velvet rope of the in-crowd. It had to be done. I needed to find out this guy’s secret.
I popped the cassette into the deck and hit play. After a few seconds of stone silence, it hit me.
I got home late that night. The next morning, I still had the lingering effects of a head full of beers and didn’t get up until close to noon. I was lying in bed and remembered the mix tape. I shot up, reached for my jeans lying on the floor, pulled the tape out of the front left pocket, and made my way straight to the cassette deck.
The cassette was wound to Side B. Should I rewind it to Side A and start from the beginning? Surely the sequencing was important to its magic. Screw it. Let fate run the show. Start with Side B. I popped it into the deck and hit play. After a few seconds of stone silence, it hit me.
First came the old-timey arm around your shoulder, welcoming acoustic guitar notes. Each is deliberately pulled and plucked to set the stage for the traveler of this song’s winding journey. Next comes the plodding, thump and thud of the drums to set the tempo for the trip, followed quickly by the jaunty piano that adds a spring to the step.
And then comes the truth.
“I pulled into Nazareth, was feeling’ ‘bout half past dead.”
It was Levon’s voice that demanded my attention. It rang so true, real, and unlike any vocal I had heard. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I believed him wholeheartedly. He was narrating this wayward traveler's story and the people he encountered along the way. Fanny, Carmen, Miss Moses, Anna Lee, Crazy Chester, a dog named Jack, and The Devil, too! There was so much sympathy in the story and the sound. It was tangible. You could feel it.
Before this experience, I didn’t know who The Band was or was all about, but after four minutes and thirty-five seconds of listening, I understood. The sepia tones, the unpretentiousness, the sense of community, and the empathetic musical relationship between the Woodstock crew were evident in the sound and spirit they created in, The Weight.
I was knocked out. Locked in. Real gone. This was more than a song. It was something special. It resonated. I played it repeatedly without listening to the rest of the tape. It changed how I listened to and thought about songs. I had crossed over from just listening to being immersed in the music and wanting to know more.
I felt a new appreciation for not just the music but for the musicians and the musicianship. I wanted to understand the context behind all of it. I went spiraling back into The Band's history, its members, backgrounds, and influences. From there, I spiderwebbed into learning about the blues, country, and soul music. I got deep into Bob Dylan and was spurred on to the Byrds and Gram Parsons. I learned about the friendship between Gram and Keith Richards, which started my hero worship of Keith and my dedication to the Stones. From the Stones, I circled back to the blues, Jimmy Reed and John Lee Hooker. And on and on and on.
It was a virtuous cycle of learning about how musicians were all connected by a love, appreciation, and respect for music. Musicians are fans, too. As a fan, they pick up the mantle of creativity and expression for every fan that can’t. They continue to push the sounds further to express themselves, allowing listeners to take what they create and wring out the emotional resonance from every note. Yes, that may be a saturated take on it, but I am a romantic all the way.
The first listen to The Weight was when my obsession with music began. This was when I began learning about and listening to as much music as possible. This was when I became a passionate music fan.
I’ve spent years of my life listening to music. I feel so connected to the songs. It’s why I started Their Music is My Life and where the concept was born.
That passion continues to the present day. I want to celebrate the music I have spent a lifetime enjoying. I love talking with other music fans who have the same passion. It’s fun to get deep into the songs and swap backstories, tall tales, theories, and experiences.
I’ve spent years of my life listening to music. I feel so connected to the songs. It’s why I started Their Music is My Life and where the concept was born. I refer to my favorite albums and songs as “my music.” I own over 1,100 albums (once CD’s now digitized, plus albums bought as downloads) and over 700 long player records. It’s “my” record collection. It’s “my” music. It’s a part of me.
From a kid hiding by the stereo to a fifty-year-old man who’s created a publication to pay tribute to the music he has come to love. I am here for the music.
If you are too, in the next post, we start our trip through the playlist of my life’s greatest hits told through their songs. The playlist is broken up into phases and stages that contain songs that speak to that period of my life. I’ll take us through each of them, one by one. I’m not a writer by trade, nor do I possess much talent, but I can tell a story. I’ll do my best to share my experiences in a way you can connect.
I’d love to hear what you think. Share your feedback and song stories of your own in the comments.
Until the next post, take a load off. We have a long journey ahead of us…
Join me in celebrating the inseparable connection between life and music.
First Up in the Playlist:
The Great Magnet