This Is What I Dig*

Music became my companion in the mid-Sixties, the era of the Beatles, the Stones, Frank Sinatra, and the Supremes, all vibrating from my transistor radio. Back then Raleigh had exactly four AM stations (Anyone here remember AM?). My dial (anyone remember dials?) was set to WKIX 850.

In 1971, I began working. As my wealth increased I bought stereo components and listened mostly to progressive rock (Emerson, Lake and Palmer, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, and Yes). I was snobbish then toward Southern rock, but secretly enjoyed the melody in Free Bird. (Yes, Bryan, I feel your pain.) The Who’s sheer energy of course made a strong impression.

In the early Eighties, I worked at the Spectator magazine (anyone remem- never mind). Film critic Godfrey Cheshire introduced me to a then-unknown band called U2, and other off-the-beaten-path artists (the dB’s, Marshall Crenshaw, Let’s Active). The Clash astonished me with its sheer force and political savvy.

As the New Wave crested, I discovered Talking Heads, Big Country, and Simple Minds, who had only one American hit (Don’t You Forget About Me) but leaped to stardom in Britain. The wordplay of Elvis Costello never failed to tickle my fancy.

After these performers dropped from the commercial radar, I lost touch with rock and pop, keeping up with only U2. Of course I was exposed to rap, but felt I was no longer in the prime audience of recorded music. Although certain songs intrigued me on a sonic level, the language and misogyny put me off. My brother re-introduced me to rhythm ‘n’ blues, bless him.

Often thanks to NPR, I met such artists as Jane Siberry and Mary Chapin Carpenter. Somehow Dwight Yoakam made his way into the mix. My friend Tammy introduced me to a barely-classifiable band with the peculiar name of They Might Be Giants.

Also during the Sixties and Seventies, my best friend Mike insisted I listen to classical. I resisted. Much to his disgust, I only converted when I saw A Clockwork Orange and traced the originals stolen by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. For several years I focused on the symphonic work of the Romantics (Beethoven, Brahms). In my Dad’s music appreciation course, I discovered The Rite of Spring, which still thrills me.

During the Eighties, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s station, WUNC-FM, led to several revelations. One afternoon they played a harrowing concerto called Tabula Rasa, by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Other programming sent me to minimalism (then a new movement) and its champions Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and John Adams.

Since 2010 or so, I have discovered YouTube as a music source, and plumbed the back catalogs of They Might Be Giants and Simple Minds. Few new artists cross my path now, although a Facebook ad alerted me to the cheery synth-pop of CHVRCHES.

It all jostles for attention in my head. Music is the touchstone of my experience, and I hope it is for you too.

 

* Song title stolen from the Sneakers, whose members went to Let’s Active and the dB’s.

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