It seems each time the calendar changes I mentally lay back in the grass, gaze at the sky, and reminisce. This year I've been trapped in those strange days of youth, ages five to ten.
I had a somewhat idyllic childhood, a seventies pastoral blend of Maxfield Parrish and Mayberry. My neighbors were farmers, quarrymen, preachers, and teachers like my parents. Every home (all five, mine included) was my own, every adult a parent and caregiver. We had a partyline; for those who never had that singular experience, it meant we shared a phone connection with multiple other homes (so you could pick up the receiver and listen in on other's conversations, naturally) and had to "arrange" calls with the others involved. We got a dedicated line I think about the time of my fifth birthday, which came with the ability to call anyone in town by only dialing the last four digits of their number. We hit the big time.
Music was a big part of that childhood. We got one TV channel (ABC, if memory serves), so rainy days and blizzards meant my parents record collection was the source of much entertainment. That collection, which is now an adjunct to my own, formed one of the building blocks of my musical taste; the Beatles, the Mamas & the Papas, Neil Diamond, Simon & Garfunkel. My mother also had a solid collection of classical music which lead to an oft-shared anecdote about me I don't remember in the slightest; on the turntable is Saint-Saens "Danse Macabre", and I am describing to her a scene of skeletons bopping about. This possibly apocryphal tale is one I often cite when discussing my musical education - I can't read notation without great difficulty (Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge/FACE; my second-grade music teacher would be proud), I can't whistle except one sad note, my singing voice is fine if greatly limited in range, and my instrumental prowess is sub-rudimentary - but I taught myself how to hear.
As my sister and I got older, my parents concern for our education caused them to move us from our eighteenth century community to a more modern one, where education extended past the eighth grade. I was seven, and by my tenth birthday two more pillars of my musical fundament were in place; classic rock and MTV. FM radio was ruled by the iron-fist of classic rock - by Boston and Led Zeppelin, "Godzilla" and "Iron Man." I could hear Mountain and Foghat, but not Chic or Elvis Costello. Unsurprisingly, 4/4 beat and electric boogie was added to the harmony-heavy bedrock of my youth. There was no Top 40 radio for us then - Casey Kasem was the sole proprietor of that mainstream ghetto, and Saturday mornings were a lifeline to current sounds. But then came cable, and with it that befouler of souls, Satanic warper of fragile little minds, the "new thing" - MTV.
Cable was in its hardscrabble early days, and it seemed every household got a free chunk of time to "try out" the full range of offerings. We had MTV either at its beginning or shortly thereafter (but it went the way of the dodo when the cable company wanted our limited funds), and it was through the idiot box I discovered the "New Wave" of music. Adam Ant, the Dandy Highwayman; Talking Heads, and their kaleidoscopic "Once In A Lifetime"; The Police, whose horse-faced (sorry, Stewart) drummer danced around but didn't seem to have any drums; and most importantly for me at the time, the oft-maligned "Police rip-off" band Men At Work. Men At Work's inescapable video for "Down Under" was an early staple at the channel, and was one of the first 45s I purchased (the earliest was Blondie's "The Tide Is High" for my sister's birthday in 1979). MTV also broadcast, very early one Saturday morning, a concert by the affable Aussies. I was enraptured - the songs I knew ("Who Can It Be Now?" was a monster hit too) were great, but they had other good songs, like "Be Good Johnny" and "I Can See It In Your Eyes." They were playing songs from Cargo as well, so when "Overkill' and "Dr. Heckyll & Mr. Jive" were released I was already familiar with them. This broadcast concert also led to the first album I bought - Business As Usual.
Business As Usual was that next step for me; from casual consumer - adrift in the cruel sea of playlist payola and market forces - to active participant, shaper of my own musical destiny. It was novel to me, listening to my music on my own terms, not just what others decided I should be force-fed. Men At Work set me on the path of an obessive, one who argues about the strength of album cuts versus singles ("Helpless Automaton" - showing the Split Enz inspiration was as, if not more, important than the Police - is one of the true gems in the Men At Work catalog, for example), of unappreciated artists and flawed masterworks. Unfortunately for my friends and family, the cost of Business As Usual was pretty much all I could afford to spare from my comic book buying money, so it was on my turntable for ages and ages. I think that was why one of my sister's friends gave me her 45 of the Buckner & Garcia classic "Pac-Man Fever." Otherwise, I can't imagine anyone making that kind of sacrifice.