Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts


Not/Quite Remembering: A Musical Odyssey Pt. 1

Posted on August 11, 2010 at 12:59 AM

Not/Quite Remembering: A Musical Odyssey Pt. 1


Part One of a Journey through my life soundtrack of the past three decades. Songs, moments, revelations and the like. Part One, here, is all the "early years" that was the decade of the 1980s - what I can remember of them, at least.

The 1980s

The Pre-Teen Years

Music makes up our lives, whether you're aware of it or not. I was going through a lot of music recently, trying to work on my overly-large Itunes collection, when a lot of songs started coming up. I'd play them, and in a flash I was transported back in time to moments they brought out. Some moments were like a "soundtrack" that made me think of them, others were reminders of hearing that song during certain points in my life and all those feelings and memories come running back. Suddenly, I was back in elementary school hearing Guns N Roses for the first time, or in the car on a family trip listening to Green Day on a CDWalkman or, more recently, leaning back on my apartment balcony, prepping to move to California, drinking a beer as Van Morrison's Moondance bellowed in the background.

I started a list. Just writing down songs that were important to me or were able to transport me to another time and place at first. Whether they were good or not is irrelevant, only if they fit that purpose. It started small, primarily dominated by early 1990s and early 2000s (I would say the turning points of my music fondness) but soon grew to a large page until I, suddenly, had far more than could be surmised in one singular article, especially if I wanted funny pictures and videos. In fact, make that four parts: three covering decades, and one final look at the importance of music in our lives and the final 20-song "Soundtrack" I would build if I had the chance to put it all together.

So I welcome you on this journey with me. Let's start in the era of my birth, a time of awesome action movies and bad clothing decisions.

Early 1980

Memories of this time are certainly blurry, especially during the early years because I was born in 1980.  One in particular song sticks out: The Monster Mash. I had a little record player in my room and listened to this record constantly. I think my love of horror/suspense can really be traced to this, especially when it's combined with the next song that emerged, alongside its respective film, when I was about four years old:

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By this point in my life, I had a lot of little records, 7" vinyls of Huey Lewis and others, but I can't remember them entirely and at such a young age, they were more just things to listen to than to really "listen" to, if that makes any sense. I think some Genesis was in there too along with other 70s/80s rock/pop like The Police or Dinosaur Jr.

The big hit of this period, though, was anything Van Halen. Odd, considering I was never a huge fan, but "Jump" is a song that's hard to not smile at, much less remember so well.


The Mid 1980s

A Specific Moment: According to record and chart history this would have been 1985 and my age was five years old. It was a cold winter day and I sat in my mother's El Camino with a bad heater. It was running and my mother was in a store, or maybe it was a bank, dropping something off. Jefferson Starship's Sara. It's an incredibly sappy song, yet every time I hear it, it takes me back there. More interesting, though, is I remember actually being moved by it. Five years old moved by a song I barely could comprehend lyrically? I would hear this song throughout the 1980s, and even then it would take me back to the moment sitting in that car.

Soon came my first exposure to one Michael Jackson. I can't recall the why, when or how, but I remember a field trip in the mid to late 1980s. We went to the library. Somebody put in a video. It scared the shit out of me, especially this shot:

You know...for kids!

Gah! What kind of school you runnin' here? Why would you show that to kids!? 

But you know what? Despite the nightmares, I loved it. I realized that I loved to be scared.

Thankfully great songs came from MJ that helped block out those early memories of that moment. Billie Jean and Bad in particularly started to get played on this new thing called MTV. But more in MTV in a bit.


A Specific Period: 1987: The Miami Vice theme song and Phil Collins In the Air Tonight playing in a small, one-bedroom apartment. My mother met the man that would eventually become my step father. I identify these two songs with him because his small apartment had them playing quite a bit.

Later that year, I joined him in one of the few times I remember going to a record store. My mother, raising me on her own, wasn't too much into music or, at least from what I remember ages 1-6, didn't ever go into record stores that much. Most of what I learned about music and what I liked /didn't like I got from movies. Ghostubsters. Back to the Future and an endless number of Disney movies we'd watch in school like the folk tunes of Robin Hood and that catchy song by Merlin in The Sword in the Stone. (Hi-Ho had double impact in my mind as it not only was in Snow White, one of the first movies I remember seeing, but also in Gremlins...also one of the first movies I remember seing). Naturally, I drifted more towards the soundtrack section of the story because that's what I identified with. At the time, I wasn't too sure who this Motley Crue, Heart, Boston, Mike and the Mechanics and Genesis things were that my step-dad was picking up and that I remember listening to either in the car or off his old dual-tape deck.

He also picked up some Wham and Mr. Mister...yeah. He did introduce me to Jethro Tull's Aqualung, though...probably the first song I can recall that would be labeled "Classic Rock" at that time. Classic Rock, for me, would come much later, though. Rock n' Roll, though, was soon to be really discovered...

Also in 1987: My friend Jacob invited me over to listen to this new, amazing tape he just bought. It was a single....and went a little something like this:

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*Insert Scanners Head Explode Gif here

The voice, the guitars, the beat, the energy...I'd heard plenty of rock before, from Motley Crue like I mentioned to 80s New Wave that I wouldn't even really listen to until twenty years alter, but nothing ever blew my little mind like Axel Rose's wailing and Slash's awesome guitar riffs. I wouldn't really explore rock music for another fifteen years, so this was the first I really grabbed on to it. It's at this moment, now looking back, I can see as the roots of my love of rock and roll. That led into the next decade. The grunge, the experimental and new sounds and anything rock and roll.

Around this period, my step-dad was in the process of taking all of his old vinyl records and recording them on to tape. I can't remember all of them, but one that was barely music related is still fond in my head.

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Buried him with a donkey....he's my favorite honkey.


I never got the jokes, or knew what a Honkey was, hell I was only about seven or eight, but I loved that song to death. It rhymed and everything.

The Late 1980s - My Memory is far Clearer

My uncle was always the "music" guy in my family. Primarily into anything acoustic, such as Jim Croce (same as my step dad) and James Taylor, he was also well into classic rock from the 60s and 70s (decades later I'd find out why, he was pretty much a hippie that had seen and done it all, which explains his fondness for Pink Floyd). I would take guitar lessons from him at one point, one of the first songs he tried to teach was Let it Be by the Beatles. I had a kids-size acoustic guitar and everything, even guitar picks.

I think I can originate my love of the guitar, again, back to my Uncle, but many years earlier. I was probably only four or five and recall going into his room at my grandparents' house and strumming his guitars. He'd play a song or two for me, but I can't recall what they were, sadly. I can only remember the hum the strings made and the image of him on a couch or at the foot of his bed strumming and plucking away.

It made noises and everything.

Eventually he and my mom had a falling out, which naturally blew over a few months later, but I never went back to finish those lessons. Yet, I still play around on the guitar to this day, as well as piano, and make up songs as I go. This is probably the first time I was exposed to The Beatles, but I was far too young to get into them much less appreciate them at this time. We'll get more into them in the coming decades.

The late 80s also brought in the most disturbing video from my youth as the world of MTV flooded into homes, maybe next to that Genesis video where everyone were puppets and, as I mentioned earlier (though it was a short film) the Thriller "video/movie" that haunted me. It would be Tom Petty's Don't Come Around Here No More, though, that disturbed my young, impressionable mind the most.


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 About as uncomfortable and weird as the Disney film. No Oysters were harmed this time, though.

I wasn't huge into Petty. My uncle was, actually. I actually gradually started getting into him over the next decade with Wildflowers re-exposing me to him and revisiting his hits that, even in the early 1990s, were still very popular and getting a good amount of radio play (Free Fallin and Running Down a Dream notably which were out in 1989). This video, though, still bothers me to this day. It's the cake-eating scene at the unsettling.

Videos were becoming more and more prominent during the period. From Chevy Chase in Paul Simon's "Call Me Al" or the classic riffs of Bryan Adam's "Summer of 69" or the Beastie Boys "Fight for Your Right (To Party)." Those videos are remember well and the songs because of it. This was when MTV gave a damn about music. Now, knowing they're absolute thanks to the internet, they're a mere shadow of what that channel once stood for. It's those tunes that would influence things to come.

A Specific Moment: 1988 I was laying in my parents bedroom early in the morning. I was getting ready for school and on the TV popped Don't Worry Be Happy by Bobby McFarrin. In hindsight, that song sucked, but you have to appreciate the message. It seemed to make everyone in a happy mood wherever it went.


One Final Memory: Growing up, your music awareness is pretty much limited to what your parents liked or enjoyed. One muscian closed out this decade with a huge, massive hit: Billy Joel's We Didn't Start the Fire. The video was always playing. The song was always on the radio. I can remember my parents buying the cassette and listening to the song and my reading the lyrics sitting on the edge of their bed in the new house we just bought.

If you listen to the song now, you start to see why: Joel was their generation, and his lyrics was literally a nostalgic trip down memory lane for them - just like this blog is for me. 

Final Thoughts

As a kid in the 1980s, music was more relevant to certain memories than anything I went out to buy or enjoy. I was a kid, afterall, so music wasn't associated with "appreciating" it or even listening to it intently. Not until the next decade would that start to emerge (and I'll point out the specific albums that started it all).

Also, not until much later did I actually go back and start listening to 80s music. But this isn't a retrospective on a decade, only my growing and learning and, eventually, love and appreciation of music as I grew up. When we get to my college years, strangely enough, is when decades like the 80s and prior were stuff I really listened to. Sure - bands like Journey or The Talking Heads or U2 were huge in the decade I grew up with, but I actually never listened to them when I was a kid. They were just always in the background. Sure, I "heard" those songs growing up, but they didn't register just yet. Not like they do today. My "musical mind" just wasn't ready for it.

That would all soon change, though, as the early 1990s marks the first major turn of my music fondness: music as your adolescent identity and finding stuff on your own.

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Reply toosmartforbond2
8:08 AM on September 2, 2010 
I still love King Tut. And everything Steve Martin has ever done.
Reply J. Conrady
11:00 AM on September 2, 2010 
Steve Martin's book (which i haven't finished sadly) is a brilliant memoir too. The guy is a hell of a writer.
Reply toosmartforbond2
9:46 PM on September 2, 2010 
J. Conrady says...
Steve Martin's book (which i haven't finished sadly) is a brilliant memoir too. The guy is a hell of a writer.

I never read his memoirs, but I did read some of his other books, and he is a hilarious man in print, stage, and film. "Picasso and the Lapine Agile" was one book (also a play?) and his collection of essays ("Pure Drivel") is also hilarious ^_^