I’m not quite sure why or for how long it happened, but for the first 5-8 years of my life I was forced to listen to country music. Is it because I live in West Virginia? Perhaps. Is it because my mother was raised on the same music and, being that my father worked midnight shift, my mother was always in control of the car radio? More than likely. Either way, I have grown to resent my mother for her actions. She’s the reason I made a cassette of myself singing Shania Twain’s “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” when I was way too young to understand the sexual implications of the song. I think my father may have found this cassette soon after I made it.
I think that is why the following story happened.
I don’t recall the time of day, the destination, or even the automobile itself. We cycled through many different station wagons during my childhood. I still drive one that used to be the designated “Family Car”. Those of you who know me have seen it once of twice. Regardless, we were taking a ride in one of our station wagons. I was in the passenger’s seat and my father was at the helm. I believe it was the first time I had taken a ride alone with my own father, which may seem a little strange considering I was 8 or so.
I remember getting into the car and fastening my seat belt like a good boy. I had reached toward the radio to turn it on and starting fiddling with the buttons to find the local country station, which I believe was 102.7 FM. I don’t recall the call letters though, as that was the last time I would listen to that station. My father took his eyes from the road for a moment, and asked a simple question. “What are you doing?”
“I’m putting some music on, daddy!”
He looked back at me with that same expression of wonder and misunderstanding. “Wait a minute. Just…. stop.” I thought I was in trouble for some reason that I couldn’t truly understand. “Here. I’ll put on some GOOD music.”
My father’s hand went to work undoing what I had done. Not looking away from the open road, his fingers played on the buttons of the radio until he was confident that he had found the correct one. Pressing it, the radio flipped from 102.7 to 94.3 FM, WRLF and as if by some divine providence, the tuner hit the station at the perfect moment. A song had begun to play as soon as 94.3 was reached.
I sat in wide-eyed amazement, listening to what was exiting the speakers as if I was hearing music for the first time. In retrospect, that’s what was happening. My ears had been clogged with years of country twang and hick lyrics, but as I sat listening to this new music, all of that melted away. I remember hearing what sounded like a chorus of angels, enveloped in light, singing the first meaningful lyrics I had ever heard on the radio. In a way, it was as if God himself was speaking to me through this music. Through the radio, he said:
“Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide,
no escape from reality.
Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see.”
Little did I know that it wasn’t God that was singing, but instead Freddy Mercury (although, I understand if you can hardly find a difference.) The voices were then followed by soft piano, wailing guitars, lyrical wordplay, and every other bit of “Bohemian Rhapsody” that makes it (one of) the best song(s) of the last century. (Sorry, boys, but it just can’t stack up to Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor”.)
I remember sitting still and listening very intently through the entire song, wondering how it could get any better.
After Queen had finished with their epic, a very different song began to play. The song was Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2”. I listened as I had to the song before, understanding the feeling of defiance in the singer’s voice. I was in elementary school at the time, so I had at least a few years of experience with various teachers and understood at least a baseline dislike for certain teachers. Perhaps, I didn’t understand the point completely, but I knew something amazing was happening.
And, as most of you know, I am still a huge fan of Pink Floyd. Most of you have seen me in a Pink Floyd shirt. I own several.
Either way, the fact that I still remember this can speak to the depth at which music can touch a soul and affect a life. To remember almost 15 years later the first song I truly heard should show everyone something. Frankly, I believe this event to be one of the most important events of my life. I don’t remember the first book I read. I don’t even remember the name of the first girl I rounded 3rd base with (a story that will never grace this blog. Trust me.)
Music, however, has been a huge part of my life ever since, and everyday I silently thank my father for single-handedly bestowing the gift of music upon me. He may not be able to play an instrument and he has absolutley no understanding of basic music theory, but the instant he passed onto me the music that he had grown up with, he changed my life forever.
So, Dad… I’ve always had a deep respect, and I mean that most sincerely.
And, Mom… I know it’s only rock ‘n’ roll… but I like it.