I recently embarked on a journey of self-discovery. I decided to do the 10 Days of Albums That Influenced Me Challenge on Facebook. Since each entry is a mini-blog unto itself I decided to just turn the first five into a blog post. It’ll give you a chance to get to know me a bit better.
This challenge is already giving me some insight into my own personal history of which I don’t know that I was fully aware until now. You should do this challenge just once in your life. You may find that music is more important to you than you know. Or you may not. In any case, here are my findings thus far.
DAY 1: “Greatest Hits” by Ronnie Milsap is the first album that I remember paying attention to that was not made for children. Almost every song on it takes me back on the Mississippi River on my parents’ boat (we had an 8-track player) when I was a child. There are other songs that take me back to that same place (“Right Here Waiting” by Richard Marx, and “Oh Sherry” by Steve Perry) and there are other songs around that time that I considered “favorite songs” (“Summer of ‘69” by Bryan Adams, and “St. Elmo’s Fire” by John Parr) but this entire album takes me there as a whole, though “Smoky Mountain Rain” and “Daydreams About Night Things” are stand-outs. Also, it is because of this album, I am sure, that I wanted “to be Ronnie Milsap” when I grew up. I did not want to be like him. I wanted to be him. So, I think this is a good place to start.
DAY 2: “Girl You Know It’s True” by Milli Vanilli – First things first, no this is not a joke. I am dead serious. This album influenced me for a few reasons. First, I was only 10 or 11 at the time but I liked the music. I also liked the New Kids on the Block like everybody else, but I had a feeling that even though Milli Vanilli was all over MTV and Top 40 radio, somehow this “band” belonged just to me and it was the first time I ever had that in my life. I didn’t think anyone I grew up with knew about them, a delusion that was backed up one day when we were invited to bring our favorite tape to school. I told a classmate I had Milli Vanilli and they repeated the name back to me, perplexed. I didn’t care. Second, my family was not an R&B household. This music passes for R&B I guess, so it expanded my musical pallette. And thirdly, in the end my brief fascination with Milli Vanilli taught me to look for authenticity in the artists I listened to. If you don’t know their story, look it up. When the news about them broke, a great philosophical question arose: Whether it mattered that the faces and the voices did not match up, as long as I thought it was good. I tend to think it does matter, but what do I know?
DAY 3: “Skid Row” by Skid Row – I first had this album on cassette but gave it away at some point. I bought it on CD a few years ago, and was amused that I still knew almost every lyric. The album represents my first “rebellious stage” with it’s “Youth Gone Wild” ethic. Every kid has to go through those stages. It’s healthy. I loved Guns n Roses, and I had their t-shirt and poster but that was almost solely based on “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. I actually listened to Skid Row’s whole album over and over again. You don’t need merch for that. The album doesn’t have a LOT of substance (a couple of lines in it are actually really not cool, looking back, but it’s good to be exposed to that too. You can learn a lot from a bad example). But at least it felt authentic. I even wrote a short story for a school assignment in which the protagonists were called Sebastian (Bach, Skid Row’s lead vocalist) and Ricky (from “18 & Life”). And how does one ignore lines like “Boss screamin’ in my ear about who I’m supposed to be/’Get you a three-piece Wall Street smile and son you’ll look just like me’/I said ‘Hey man, there’s somethin’ you oughta know/Park Avenue leads to Skid Row!'” and “She blew my mind behind the record machine/She was a shitload a’ trouble called the subway queen”?
DAY 4: “August and Everything After” by Counting Crows – I never bought another Counting Crows record and I don’t have this one anymore, but when it came out it exposed me to music from a much more artistic/poetic point of view than I was used to. A lot of the lyrics’ meaning were mysterious to me, but I knew they felt very important. And I was fascinated by the very evocative titles like “Perfect Blue Buildings”, “Murder of One”, “Raining in Baltimore”, etc. At night with the lights off when I was allegedly sleeping, I’d sit up in my bed and pretend to be on stage with a band (the band had a name. It was “Equilibrium”) lip syncing along with these songs. Why this album made me do that, I can’t say. Even if I did have the talent to sing on stage in real life I wouldn’t have the guts, but I had my rock and roll fantasies. To this day though, if “Mr. Jones” comes on the radio, odds are I’m going to sing every word of it fer ya.
DAY 5: “Vs.” by Pearl Jam – It seems the fall of 1993 was a pivotal time in my development as a music fan. My DAY 4 pick came out about a month before this one, and while I had both of these on steady repeat, I also had a close friend playing Snoop Doggy Dogg’s “Doggystyle” in one ear, and my siblings playing Garth Brooks’ “In Pieces” in the other ear. I respect the poetry of rap and the story-telling of country, but rock and roll prevailed. It isn’t lost on me that had I leaned one way or the other, had I not heard something in Pearl Jam’s “Vs” I may be a very different person today. I strongly believe music can do that. Either one of those paths would have been fine. I just would have been different. The road not taken, you know? I credit this album with teaching me some expressive vocabulary like “dissident”, “indifference” and “listless.” I actually wrote a “song” just because I wanted to use that last one…for some reason. And with that, we’re one step away from a string of major discoveries for me. Stay tuned.