Thursday, January 26, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 2

Here we continue on my musical autobiography.  At this point in the story I’ve now entered school and am starting to be exposed to movies and other pieces of pop culture that will influence my listening tastes.  Which, let’s be clear, are still far from my own.  Let’s continue…

Thriller - Michael Jackson

I did the bulk of my growing up in one house, but that house was actually my third. I have no memories of the first, but I have some scattered flashes of the second. And one of those is of me and my brother upstairs dancing to “Thriller". Of course the music video is legendary (I'll go as far as to say "best ever"), but at the time I knew nothing of such things. Zombie dance not required for enjoyment.

It's funny, because one of the other memories I have of that house is a reoccurring nightmare of my 1st grade teacher turning into a lion and chasing me around the house. I think that dream only stopped once I developed the ability to fly (just in the dream, not in real life, sadly). Anyway, it seems like that nightmare could maybe be related to Michael turning into a wolfman, except I know that I didn't see the music video until years later.


So, Ghostbusters is an awesome movie. This is fact. But apparently the theme song developed magical powers over me.

Here's the story. I'm at a roller rink birthday party. It's my first time on skates, so naturally I'm terrified. After much effort I make it into the rink itself. I slowly circle via the edges with a death grip on whatever rail-substitute is available. This is not going well. And then the Ghostbusters theme starts to play. I instantly find the courage to let go of the rails. I ain't afraid of no ghost! In just a few moments I'm transformed from skating invalid to booty shaking pro. The song passes but the inspiration stays and I'm good to go for the rest of the party.

Apparently my source of mojo did not go by unnoticed. Fast forward many years and I'm in middle school. I have this friend who's also a girl (scandalous, I know). We hang out semi regularly, but of course at this age I'm at the mercy of adults for transportation. So the two of us are getting a ride from my mom when she starts relating the story of my Ghostbuster triumph. Naturally, I'm mortified; she's embarrassing me in front of a girl! Of course now it's all adorable, but at the time... well, you remember what it was like to be that age, but as a rule mothers are incapable of adolescent empathy. It's okay, I got over it.

Hangin' Tough – New Kids On The Block

I'm pretty sure Nickelodeon introduced me to this boy band. I tried to track down which show they would have been on, but I just couldn't bear to wade through that crap on YouTube. Let's just say that kids that age are defenseless against packaged pop music, and I was no different.

I had a breakthrough revelation related to this song. I had a copy of the track on cassette tape, right? At some point I realized that I could copy the song multiple times in a row so that I didn't have to hit rewind to hear it again. Oh yes, that happened. I had a tape that was all "Hangin' Tough."

A lot of the dates before this are hard to place, because fundamentally I wasn't processing contemporary music. Even if it was something close, I was still lagging behind. "Thriller" came out in 1982 I was one year old, so I'm pretty sure that memory comes well after its release. Likewise, Ghostbusters came out in 1984 when I was three, so I know I didn't see that in the theater. It's far more likely that I saw "Ghostbusters" some time a lead up to seeing "Ghostbusters II" in 1989, which I believe I did see in the theater. But New Kids on the Block is such a precise slice of time that I know this memory is from 1988 or at most 1989. Step very far on either side of that line and NKOTB is totally irrelevant (sorry, Tricia).

Along with placing these memories in time comes other weird details. Like I remember making that infinite "Hangin' Tough" tape in the room that had become my brother's bedroom but still had the bunk bed. So I guess around seven or eight years old is where I first got my own bedroom.


At some point around 1987 I got a Nintendo for my birthday. I don't think my parents knew what they were getting into. My brain previously hadn't really wrapped itself around this whole video game thing. But when I had Mario at home... holy crap it dug deep.

I didn't really start to think about video games as a musical influence until around 15 years later. I'll talk more about that reconnection when the time comes later in this series, but this time right here is when the seeds were planted.

There are many games with excellent chip tunes that stand the test of time, but Mega Man is one of the best. In 1988 Mega Man 2 hit the scene and the music was really good. Not at all familiar, but still truly excellent. I'm placing this in the timeline according to Mega Man 2, but of course this was an influence that took place over many years from many sources.

You'll notice I haven't linked to a track here. It's hard to get a public use copy of any old video game music, and I'm not going to ask you to run an emulator. The best I can do is list some stuff that approximates and some roundabout ways to get the originals.
  • The Megaman Network has the entire catalog of classic Megaman tracks, but only available as a bulk download. The track I wanted to choose for this entry is "Metalman" from Rockman 2, but "Bubbleman" and "Dr. Wily Stage 1" are also excellent. From Rockman 1 you can also try "Bombman" and "Cutman".
  • There are lots of modern bands that do covers of video game music. You can listen to the Minibosses do an entire medley of Megaman 2 here, although they take it to a metal place which might not connect with you unless you're overwhelmed with nostalgia for the originals. Here also is a reinterpretation of the Bubbleman theme by Entertainment System
  • Here is a straight up recreation of the original Metroid theme that I can link directly through Zune. Not Mega Man, but still good classic video game music.
  • I'm also feeling the need to put "Another Winter" by Anamanaguchi from the Scott Pilgrim game soundtrack here. It's crazy how a track from 2010 invokes 20 year old nostalgia.
Chip tunes have some severe limitations that in the right hands can be turned into something incredible. The inability to simulate real instruments is an obvious aspect of it, but there are many less obvious considerations. For example these old systems couldn't really do proper chords, so the musicians worked around this with arpeggios of those some chord patterns, often creating a completely different perspective on established genres of music. There are few things as wonderful as creativity working under constraint, and that's what chip tune music is all about. At the time these were just beeps and bloops to me, but the sophistication behind some of those compositions influenced me in ways that it would take years to understand.

No Woman, No Cry - Bob Marley & The Wailers

I have fond memories of listening to Bob Marley and reading Dragonlance. That probably sounds strange. It's not so much that they went well together; It's just that these were things I was experiencing at the same time, some sometimes they overlapped.

I liked "No Woman, No Cry" enough to put it on repeat in our fancy new CD player (yes, we're moving beyond cassettes now). I remember reading right up until the point where the family was leaving for a brunch thing. I flipped off the stereo, closed my book, and we headed out. Later that day when the family came back someone flipped on the stereo to have it still playing "No Woman, No Cry".

Special mention to “Jammin’”, which I definitely got down to. But it isn’t the poignant memory that “No Woman, No Cry” is; it’s just a good song that I enjoyed now and then.

I think this was the end of listening to the same song on repeat. Legend was a hard album to process in sequence; it's kind of all over the place, with pockets of stuff I flat out didn't like. This made it easier to skip around and burrow in to the songs that I did like. Soon I would have access to my own music and start appreciating the power of the album.

1 comment:

  1. Hello there! A friend directed me to your blog. I'm enjoying reading which songs were your most influential. I think we all have a list. Some of mine include Crystal Gayle’s Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue (when I was little, I asked my mom how a “doughnut” could change the color of someone’s eyes. Ha!), John Denver’s Grandma’s Featherbed, Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust (my first single!) and numerous musical soundtracks. I still enjoy hearing all of them once in a while, but they are not things I can really sit and listen to anymore. They are more memories than music in my brain. In my early 20’s, I spent one great summer driving around my hometown in a visually derelict, but otherwise smokin’ hot 1971 Plymouth Valiant. It had a cassette player and I had one cassette tape in for the entire summer: Roger Miller’s Greatest Hits.It came with the car and seemed to fit the vehicle: I never considered taking that tape out of the player. When I hear a Roger Miller song now I can smell the old vinyl interior and hear the roar of the old slant 6 engine. Good times!
    Btw, my one song cassette tape was of Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger singing State of Shock. Oh man.

    I'll look forward to the next installment. :)