A suburban guy growing up in the Fifties and Sixties had the opportunity to hear a lot of music. My parents had a big box in the living room that played South Pacific, Carmen, and anonymous blasts of classical. I had a radio by my bed, keeping me company through the long night, but I also had my own box that played yellow plastic records with songs about dogs, The Ballad of Davy Crockett, and a version of Alexander’s Ragtime Band that had a kind of rhythmic propulsion that excited a seven-year-old.
Alexander’s Ragtime Band (Not the same version, but you get the idea.)
At night, alone on the top floor, I heard ballgames and the local rock and roll station, WDGY, but also KOMA in Oklahoma City. I fine-tuned the dial and brought in WLS from Chicago and a station from Mexico with an other-worldly power source that blasted it into the ether. I discovered country music from somewhere in the south, which might as well have been another planet to a kid in Minnesota.
Walk On By Johnny Burnette
I remember being moved by Poetry in Motion and Walk On By, though in different ways. The Wayward Wind scared me. Hello Walls made me aware of my surroundings. The story of Running Bear and Little White Dove and their love that couldn’t die was just plain wrong, not to mention sad. Gene Pitney introduced me to the concept of hardcore romantic torment. That Town Without Pity with its little minds totally creeped me out. Charlie Brown and Alley Oop weren’t comics and I had no trouble relating to Poison Ivy. But I always wondered why Patsy Cline was out so late and what exactly was a Diddly Diddly Daddy?
Songs enter our minds and stay there. I can barely tell you about multiplication and only know that the Pilgrims ran into Plymouth Rock, but I know all the words to Love Potion #9 and Tossin’ and Turnin’. Scientists can explain it, but that doesn’t make for good listening.
Tossin’ and Turnin’
The music and the lyrics got more complex as time moved forward from these simple moments, but a blank slate is ripe for whatever gets written. Nostalgia, in all its glory, is a wonderful thing, but I’ve always thought that magic comes out of that box and that I am receiving a transmission from another world that demands and deserves my attention.
From these humble beginnings, a magnificent obsession was born.