I was driving in the car the other day and an old Beach Boys song came on the radio, followed by some Bob Dylan (Sirius 21: Garage is THE station). It reminded me of my childhood. Not because I was a kid when the songs came out. I wasn’t even born. It reminded me of my childhood friends. Other than my brother (who, to this day, remains my very best friend), I didn’t have a whole lot of friends before the age of 12. I was a nerd. Serious nerd. Aw, who am I kidding? I AM a nerd. There’s no WAS involved. But back in the early 80s, I was a nerd who had a few friends but often felt isolated. What changed when I was 12? We moved and that move sent me to St. Theresa’s Elementary and for the first time, other students were incredibly warm and welcoming and happy I’d joined them. All of this despite the fact that I had three-day-old cat scratches running down my entire face. That’s another blog post, though.
Here’s the thing: Music has always been my friend, even when I felt like I had none. Music saved me then and it saves me now and it will always save me.
Hearing the Beach Boys made me think of this:
I didn’t have a Walkman. I had one of these portable cassette recorders and a pair of earphones. That was my Walkman. I am pretty sure my grandma bought it for me at “The Base.” My grandfather was career US Navy and this allowed my grandma access to local military bases, where she would shop at the commissary (no taxes!), let my brother get flat-top haircuts at the barber, and purchase sundry items at the Exchange. I seem to remember her getting me this player on the cheap, along with a shit-ton (my favorite unit of measurement, by the way) of C Cell batteries. I carried that cassette player everywhere and listened to it as I fell asleep at night. In addition to some Beach Boys cassettes, my musical arsenal included Duran Duran, Aretha Franklin, Van Halen, and homemade tapes of songs grabbed off the radio. High end shit.
In third grade, I took the school bus. I only remember certain things about this. I remember that we had a driver who would go fast over speed bumps if we all chanted “BUMP, BUMP, BUMP” before hand. Since we were without seatbelts, this gave us a millisecond of weightlessness, just long enough for all of us to slam our heads on the ceiling of the bus and then come crashing down to our seats. We were all very sad when that driver didn’t show up anymore. I also remember seeing the aftermath of a car-on-bike accident one rainy morning and feeling like I’d been punched in the gut all day. And I remember listening to my Beach Boys tape and having some older boys (maybe 6th graders?) ask what tape I had in the player. “The Beach Boys,” I told them. They all sort of nodded absent-mindedly (probably because I didn’t have a tape worth stealing) and then one of the boys said, “Did you know that none of the Beach Boys knew how to surf? It was all an act.” I looked at him, studied his earnest face, and then started crying. The boys turned around and sat back in their seats, confused, I am sure, by the suddenly bawling little girl behind them. I don’t know why this information crushed me. I guess I felt cheated. If the Beach Boys didn’t actually surf, what else wasn’t true? Did the members of Duran Duran actually wear lipstick, like my mom claimed? When the teacher said we didn’t need to worry about earthquakes or nuclear attack, but still had to run drills and hide under our desks, was she (Nick Rhodes lip)glossing the subject? And a cynic was born.
It didn’t stop me from loving the Beach Boys. Or Duran Duran. Or any other music. Those were my friends and we take our friends for who they are — false imagery or not. I get obsessive about music. Not in a Nick Hornby way with lists and quantification, but more in that I go on jags of certain artists for a while. I always seem to have some song stuck in my head. I closely associate certain songs with certain times or events. I have my iPod on me at all times.
It’s a long way from a cheap cassette recorder to a 120 GB iPod, like another lifetime or even another planet. But I am still the same music nerd, needing that music to take me through this weird and marvelous life we lead. Needing those friends.