summer of rock
summer of rock
Long Island, New York, 1973:
My cousin had this huge album collection. The albums lined his walls on wooden shelves that sagged under their weight. Each album was tucked in a plastic sleeve, and each sleeve was inscribed in indelible marker the artist, title and year of purchase.
1973, the summer I became interested in music beyond AM Top 40 radio, I snuck into my cousin's bedroom and went through his albums one at a time.
Led Zeppelin. Frank Zappa. New York Dolls. Genesis. Not all of the names stuck with me at that moment, but I would come across them again later, when I became a true slave to rock and roll.
One day, I'm pretty sure it was around the Fourth of July, I was in the room again, staring at the vinyl and the artwork on the covers. I wanted to listen. I wanted to hear. Something about those rock and roll records drew me towards them. I heard footsteps coming up the stairs and hurredly picked an album from the wall. Led Zeppelin 4. I ran out of the room, down the hallway and hid in the bathroom until I was sure my cousin had gone out again. When he left I went back in his room and lifted the lid to the record player.
I pulled LZ4 out of its cover and placed it gently - using just the edges of my fingers the way I was told - on the turntable. I lifted the arm, positioned it over the very first groove. I put the needle down.
Hey hey mama said the way you move, gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove.
The lone, strong voice coming from the speakers made my heart skip a beat.
Then that guitar. The voice again. The guitar again. I was mesmerized.
The song ended. More scratches and crackles, those sounds of well-loved use that cds do not let you hear.
It's been a long time since I rock and rolled
Yea, yea! I've heard that song before!
I skipped over The Battle of Nevermore, skipped over Going to California, although later I would come to love that particular song for sentimental reasons. I listened to When the Levee Breaks five times before I gently lifted the vinyl from the turntable and placed it back in its sleeve. I held the album against me. My love affair had begun.
I tried Led Zeppelin 2. Oh, my. Heartbreaker. Ramble On. Living Loving Maid.
I sat in that room for hours, pulling albums off of the shelf, sampling them and putting them back, committing the names and lyrics to memory.
Black Sabbath. The Who. Alice Cooper. T Rex. David Bowie. MC5. I was in a frenzy, sampling everything that looked like it wasn't your typical AM radio fodder. Iggy Pop. The Doors. Velvet Underground.
I stopped reading teen crush magazines that summer and started reading Creem. I spent hours examining every word, every story, every feature article. When I was done with the magazine, I would cut out the pictures and hang them on the bulletin board in my room. I wrote letters to the editor, usually berating them for one thing or another. Creem pissed me off but, for a while, it was the only rock and roll magazine that mattered.
I spent most of that summer in my room with stealthily borrowed albums. Sometimes, the music would shake the walls. Sometimes, it would shake my very soul. Always, I would be creating my own American dream of becoming a rock star or at least a rock critic.
Through the years my tastes changed. Bands came and went. I did the whole punk thing, and the underground thing and the heavy metal thing. While the genres have changed, the rock and roll underlying it all has stayed constant.
Still, on hot, humid summer days when I escape to the dark of my air-conditioned bedroom to beat the heat, I can close my eyes and be back there. The scratch of the vinyl. The feel of the needle under your finger as you gently wipe dust from it. I think about that summer and how rock and roll changed my life. It took me down a different path, a different excursion than I thought I would travel. I never did become that rock critic (although I did a stint once for a local music paper, but they fired me after my first review was a scathing indictment of Mark McGrath), although I do spend a lot of time criticizing the current state of rock.
1973, my summer of rock and roll, the summer that shaped the rest of my days.