Maybe I was a precocious preteen or more mature than my years, but I began buying records at the age of 12. They were different times. Being a child of the 70’s meant Wrangler or Levis’s with a macramé belt. We were not dealing with child safety laws, so we had giant glass balls on strings to click clack together. We also had the pretty glass windchimes. They were rectangular pieces of glass, painted with tiny flowers (in paint that may or may not have lead) and held together by red thread. By today’s standards, this would be all over the news for child labor laws, paint safety laws, choking hazards, glass chips…..but in those days, it was just a lovely chime tinkling in the lazy summer breeze.
In fifth grade, I was busy learning the lyrics to “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Elton John. My classmates all hated “Angie” by the Rolling Stones and gushed over “Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks. History shows which one lasted longer in the annals of rock and roll replays.
In my small Connecticut town, I had the freedom to travel by bus to the Mall. The large department store was G. Fox & Sons and they had a record department! Imagine actually having a section just for music. Today, all CDs are lumped in with the electronics ~ everything from earplugs, Android players, iPhones, cables, chargers, and computer games lumped into one section. Not quite the Wall of Sound I had in my mind.
Thinking of those times, we would save our money to buy records or go to the candle store. All kinds of beautifully scented candles and candle stands were sold. Incense came in sticks and cones; we bought seals in monograms and designs and sticks of wax that we lit with matches. When the wax got hot, we dripped it onto our envelopes and stamped the imprint of something clever before we sent our mail. Again, today try explaining that we are letting our preteens purchasing hot wax and melting it in your bedroom. Everything is an uproar today that was more relaxed it seemed.
Mom and Dad were overworked, underpaid and tired raising all of us. Well, OK, some things have not changed….
In those days, record companies began experimenting with vinyl so you could purchase picture discs or colored wax. The Holiday Inn hosted tables and tables of record collectors and sellers. It was there that I collected my George Harrison pic disc that was only released in Europe. I became the proud owner of two colored vinyl 45 records: Grand Funk Railroad pressed onto gold and Electric Light Orchestra on a beautiful lilac purple. The first 45 I ever bought was “Black Water” by the Doobies.
Stereo systems proliferated and we tried to go bigger or more compact depending on the advent of electronics imports. I still have my turntable and vinyl albums; I simply don’t have the heart to let them go. Even the circular labels around the tiny hole meant something. I had to collect Beatles albums, but it was most important to find them with the Green Apple label indicative of the earlier pressings.
Amazingly, all of this took place before 8th grade. At that wonderful time in my life, the biggest part of me was my curly hair. Who knew how many times the face of beauty would change over the coming decades? A whole world of wonderful music in the 70’s for us to enjoy with singers and songwriters like James Taylor and Carole King. We would get together and sing while someone played a great big wooden guitar in our natural un-synthesized voices. These songs still bring comfort and I know that I am not the only one that feels that way.
I am old enough to remember when Rap first came on the scene in the 80’s. I did not like it then and do not like it now. The days of finding a Harry Chapin playing at the Bottom Line in Manhattan and having him autograph a book of his poems, meeting fans face to face, and sharing a grin, are long gone.
The world went crazy when John Lennon was shot. Where to go? It was the kind of surreal news that could not possibly be true. We walked to the hospital where he was brought near Columbus Circle. When we could not find access there, throngs and clumps of people gathered at the Dakota at the edge of Central Park. At the idealistic age of 17, I stood among the one million mourners standing vigil in Central Park while music played and an oversized black and white photo of John Lennon was positioned on the clam shell stage. We carried signs and sang along while newspapers and TV stations filmed our impromptu love-in for a representative of a different time.
We were so proud to see the greatest bands of the time at Madison Square Garden. Genesis and the thrill of Phil Collins on drums mixed all ages; the stockbrokers I worked with, during the day as a sales assistant, would be there in t-shirts smoking pot and cigarettes in the stands. Today, bags are checked and metal detectors have replaced the innocence and exuberance we felt.
Recently, I had to stop listening to music for a month as part of a mourning period. How odd it felt not to have any music in my background as I always had. Would my loved one really want me to change so dramatically to prove my love? Probably not, since my music was part of who I was and the love I was sheltered in included that part of my personality.
When I felt I could integrate some of my previous daily habits again, the radio was suddenly a vast island. There was such joy in the notes, bouncing along with the peppy tunes, singing the beautifully and thoughtfully written lyrics, and admiring the clash and clang of the piano keys and guitar riffs.
The age of those fine singer songwriters have been replaced with others trying to make their way to the top with use of street teams, social media and You Tube. Each generation tries to find the musicians who speak for their generation. But I would like to think that love sounded much nicer and meant more in our romantic age without warning labels on the shrink wrap.
Retail psychology determined that playing “older” classic songs would cause us to shop more. Playing it in Old Navy is fun, but won’t make them more money from me. My children saw my head-bobbing and lyric-singing just once. After that, I was told to hand over the money and just wait outside.
Today, my life is filled with work, challenges, bills, adolescent angst and childrearing, good times and bad. But for me, music is still the ultimate statement of joy and belonging. Singing along to the “oldies”, as they are known, bring back memories of shouting “Bohemian Rhapsody” at the top of our lungs at 2:30 a.m. in Brooklyn with my brother and other college friends. The summer we moved to New Orleans, everything was packed except my tape of “Glass Houses” by Billy Joel. I know all the lyrics and the music brings all the memories back to me.
Music is the great equalizer. Regardless of where we grew up or what our first language was, we lived for, and with, the music that was the soundtrack of our lives and histories. We may not remember our cholesterol numbers, but we know where we were when he first heard a certain song. Music renews our spirit, comforts our troubles, brings memories back clearer than any other reminder, and lets us travel in time in the blink of an eye.