Thinking back, as I often do, I was trying to pin point the moment where music infiltrated my life. The single greatest musical occurrence which paved the way for my lifelong obsession. There isn’t one. It wasn’t like I heard The Beatles and said, “oh my, I will be apart of this.” While moments like that have happened, they were more turning points in the already predestined rock screenplay that is my life. I say screenplay because I feel the only place fitting for my tales is in the movies. I don’t know if it’s because my warped memory has an internal 5.1 surround sound soundtrack or if it’s because I’m convinced my ending will rival that of the number grossing film of all time. Let’s hope it doesn’t involve Leonardo or some selfish broad leaving me to drown in icy waters.
While there wasn’t a single standout musical moment, there certainly was a significant person. Growing up my family structure changed quite a bit, we didn’t become a true nuclear family until I was about 16. No matter where I lived in the country, at least one of my extended family lived with us (or we lived with them), namely my Uncle Donnie. Whether it be a massive old farm house in Maine filled with grandparents and cousins, a tiny apartment in Southern California, or your typical neighborhood cul-de-sac home in Utah, he was there.
Donnie was the youngest of my Father’s brothers who was no more then 18 years old when I was born. He traveled the country with my Dad doing construction and is apart of every early childhood memory I have. Once I became old enough to eat solid foods and use the bathroom on my own, we’d hang out. Because of him still being more of a kid rather than an adult, he had no problem watching Saturday morning cartoons with me or spending the day at the pool. He was young and hip, always coming home late from concerts or seeing the latest movie. He made friends anywhere he went and just being in his presence I was continually exposed to the greatest rock music ever made- though I could have cared less. I was just happy to be hanging out with my Cool Uncle.
I’ll never forget the day when Donnie taught me how to use his stereo. We were living in the big Maine farmhouse and he had one of the bedrooms upstairs. Just being allowed in his room, which was off limits to all the other cousins running around, was an honor. While Donnie was really easy going and laid back, you never went into his room or messed with his stuff. I was given a backstage pass. He had a massive water bed topped with an amazing flannel comforter, lamps with beaded shades, an American flag which covered an entire wall, a mirror with pictures of his friends plastered all over it, and on the back of his door was a Heineken poster of a topless woman- the first pair of jugs I can remember fanaticizing about. It was such a foreign escape, never had I been in a place so mysterious or intriguing. The room even smelled different then the rest of the house.
Donnie’s Kenwood rack system was taller then I was. It was equipped with a massive receiver, a 31 band personally configured equalizer, tuner, turntable, dual recording cassette decks, and a CD player. It was a thing of beauty even by today’s standards. You have to remember that this was 1989. Compact discs weren’t even mainstream yet, although he already had several hundred lining the bookshelf. He showed me how to use the four buttons which allowed me to play CD’s; system power, eject, play and stop. He threatened my life if I didn’t push stop before powering down the system, I didn’t understand why but I agreed. Similar threats followed as he told me what he’d do if he were to catch me touching any of the other knobs or buttons that didn’t involve the four he covered. Again, I agreed but I remember it being torture to lie in his bed and look at the EQ and not being able to slide things around. I just wanted to see what it would do… I held my end of the bargain though. My time messing with knobs and buttons would come later in life.
Donnie also had strict rules about what could be played on his stereo. He convinced me that if a rap CD should ever somehow make its way into the changer, it would cause an entire system meltdown.
“Rap CD’s are made differently, this is a rock only stereo. If you want to play rap, go out in the yard and plug a couple of speakers into your ears. If you hold the CD up to the sun just right and spin it fast enough on your finger, you might get it to work.”
I laughed and said “yeah right!” but secretly wondered if it was true.
With that, hours upon hours were spent listening to music. I’d hang out in his room after school listening to The Beach Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Guns n’ Roses, and Van Halen. Donnie would periodically leave CD’s out that I should listen to but those were my favorites. A long time has passed since the Heineken girl rocked my world but the music has stuck with me. I was first in line to buy Stadium Arcadium, I keep setting my watch back for Chinese Democracy, and I was honestly shocked and upset when Van Halen cancelled their reunion tour with David Lee Roth a week after announcing it. I should have known better but that little 7 year old boy inside of me couldn’t help but be let down.
It’s funny though, isn’t it? The things that were so important to you in the past have the same life span as an 80’s rock god? Guns n’ Roses represents all the friends you’ve lost touch with. You always say you’re going to call them and hang out but you don’t. Just as Axl has told us for the last 13 years that Chinese Democracy will be in stores next month. You don’t create any new memories with GNR, just relive old ones.
In my case Van Halen would represent Donnie. When the band was together with Roth there was nothing that could top them. They had music, image, attitude and a live performance that was second to none. They couldn’t keep it under control though; alcohol, money, and power ripped them apart and they fought over the most petty situations. Finally it blew up and became the end of an era. Sure, you randomly bump into Roth at a bar and reminisce about the good ol’ days. You might even suggest a reunion tour. It doesn’t happen though, it never will.
I guess that’s why I identify the most with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Not only were they there for me when I discovered music but they’re here for me now. No one thinks of them as this drug induced, funky rap rock band from 1983 anymore. They are highly renowned Grammy Award winning pop culture icons of 2007. They’ve come a long way and so have I. Our music has matured and throughout the years I’ve grown as a person just as they’ve grown as a band. We’ve seen ups and downs, and have experienced loss. We’ve worked out most of our issues and are excited for the possibilities of tomorrow. The Chili Peppers won’t be around forever but so far they’re the only ones who have been around since the beginning. There’s something to be learned from that.