The roads that bring us to certain music can be fascinating. They can also be embarrassing. This came to the forefront of my mind when a friend posited the idea that I write a post about acts from early in my music-enthusiast career who have had great influence over my current tastes. I realized that the biggest influences were my parents’ music… and Duran Duran.
Hey, who were you listening to when you were ten years old?
Yeah, I thought so.
I believe one of the best moves I ever made was to listen my parents’ music. My dad is an Elvis man, no two ways about it, and stubbornly holds to the idea that anything recorded after 1969 is, more often than not, crap. (I couldn’t even get him into the Brian Setzer Orchestra.) My mother has always been more open to current music, but she also played the music of her youth at home alongside the then-current crop of country music superstars (Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, etc.) and whatever I could influence her into liking. The soundtrack for car trips was always supplied by Majic 105.7 – a station that has now, sadly, abandoned most of the classics of the ’50s and brought, in my opinion, far too much late ’70s and early ’80s music into their rotation – and I would often lay down in the backseat while giving my attention to the Beatles, Elvis Presley, the Supremes, the Coasters, the Rolling Stones, Fats Domino, Little Richard and whatever else rolled through the speakers (except Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons – I never liked them).
While some of the bigger stars from those earlier days of rock and pop have been so overplayed that I’d be perfectly okay never hearing some of those songs again (sorry, Beatles. Sorry, a section of the Rolling Stones back catalogue), I still happily listen to some of those artists today. As a matter of fact, I’m listening to the Coasters as I write this.
Allowing myself to be open to this music that came “before my time” eventually led me to seek out music that came even earlier. The blues of Mississippi, the jazz of Harlem, the country of Appalachia. I was a roots music fan before I even had the phrase “roots music” to reference. This bedrock music forms the template of the music that appeals to me most now.
Now to address the… less-cool side of my musical influences.
Duran Duran was not the first music that I went crazy for. Before them, there were flirtations with Michael Jackson and Rick Springfield, the kind of music you could hear on any Top 40 radio station in the United States at the time. If you lived in certain areas of the country, you probably heard Duran Duran on your local Top 40 station, as well, but I grew up in the boonies, nearly an hour away from Cleveland. We coudldn’t get cable television until satellite dishes came into affordable use, a few years after I moved away from home. I was exposed to Duran Duran via the music video programs that were popular at the time, like Friday Night Videos and a great program called 23 Music Magazine that came out of Akron on one of our UHF channels.
Then, as now, I ate up music-related information, and when I accompanied my mom on the weekly grocery run, I would head off to the magazine section where I would thumb through the pages of the teen rags and music mags until my mother came back to collect me, when I would inevitably plead with her to buy whichever magazine appealed to me most that trip. I would gravitate toward the magazines that had the best pictures of and information about Duran Duran. This usually meant I’d go home with a copy of Star Hits, sister publication to British mag Smash Hits. I don’t know if the music covered in these magazines was considered “alternative” in Britain, but it was practically alien to my little patch of the U.S. I remember the surprise and delight I felt the first time I saw a picture of Robert Smith, with his Sputnik of hair and smeared lipstick.
Once I plundered whatever Duran Duran-centric information was contained in these magazines, I would read about all these bands I had never heard of and ended up accumulating reams of information about bands like the Cure and Depeche Mode before I ever had the opportunity to hear their music. Eventually, I found my way to a radio station run by the Akron City Schools system that played a block of alternative music in the afternoon (but would sometimes fuzz in and out of reception) and an alternative music store on the campus of the College of Wooster that helped me finally tap into the sounds I was reading about. With this came the revelation that the very best music available had to be searched out. I’ve been searching – and finding – ever since.
These two influences converge nearly perfectly in some of the artists I love most today, like the Felice Brothers and A.A. Bondy, who take their cues from roots music and release their work on small, independent labels. Despite the heralding of the “death of indie”, independence is still alive and well in music. And despite the worldwide availability of music and music information thanks to the internet, you still have to know where to sit in order to have the best music fall into your lap.