And that title pretty much sums it up because throughout my youth the rec room in our basement was a sometimes room for entertaining but, more importantly, a sanctuary where I carried out my studies in music.
The only child’s goto move is ‘alone time’ and much of that was spent sifting through mountains of albums, unconcerned with genre or style, breathing it all in like fresh air on a spring day. When I was old enough to play my dad’s records and, moreover, when I was old enough to buy them myself, I listened to anything and everything and within every genre it seemed there was something there for me, some sort of random gem that spoke to me.
I think it’s usual for most people to be attracted to certain specific styles and that’s how artists find their audience and listeners find their favorites but, for me, there was value in nearly everything because it always seemed like a big room of relatives all joined at the hip. Genres drew inspiration from one another and the linage of music was exactly that; artists and composers who studied their predecessors with the same intensity they examined their contemporaries.
One big ball of energy is how I viewed the whole of music and I could be inspired by any branch of it and while my tastes appeared on the surface as an improbable mish-mash, I always felt like to exclude something was to lose something and I just had to hear it all. My only requirement is that it had to be quality work but that never seemed to be a problem.
The result of this audio love fest was, for example, an evening of selections like this: Peter, Paul and Mary – Late Again, Jack Teagarden – “Basin Street Blues”, Dinah Shore – “Buttons and Bows”, Jimmy Smith – “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”, Jerry Lee Lewis – “Great Balls of Fire”, London Philharmonic – Bruch’s ‘Scottish Fantasy’, 4 Seasons – “Sherry”, Errol Garner – “Misty”, Beach Boys – “Good Vibrations”, Gershwin – Porgy and Bess, Dave Brubeck – “Blue Rondo à la Turk”, The Ventures – “Walk Don’t Run”, Dave Dudley – “Six Days On The Road”, The Beatles – “Within You Without You”, Otis Redding – “Respect”…you get the point.
So I sat down there on the couch, in front of the old Zenith stereo cabinet record player, night after night, losing myself in the wealth of variety, learning instrument techniques and vocal harmonies and a pile of other essentials that I’ve ended up using almost every day of my professional life as a musician.
As a kid I didn’t share all of these things with my buddies because rock and roll/pop was their thing, as it was with most of my friends. I was pretty sure they didn’t care about my eclectic choices and I didn’t think they’d get it if, after listening to the new Neil Sedaka song, I just slapped on an old Jimmy Durante recording. I was confident that I’d be mocked and then I’d have to get pissed and toss the lot of ’em out of my lair and so I kept these preferences to myself because, well, I get me.
This was somewhat of a curse because I desperately wanted to share all this bounty with other people. I remember in college, somewhere in my 3rd year, an ex-girlfriend of mine came over to my apartment and, knowing she was a musician herself, I played her one of my favorite big band/blues recordings, Jack Teagarden singing “St. James Infirmary”, a live performance while Teagarden was playing trombone (and singing) in Louis Armstrong’s band in the late 40’s.
I got so ridiculously excited that she was listening to this that after it was over I went into some weird dissertation for the next 20 minutes on his stylistic vocal choices and broke down the trombone solo and on and on and on, and then I caught myself. It was probably how she was looking at me that snapped me out of my rambling trance but I suddenly realized that I was that kid with the new bike, wanting to ride it all over the neighborhood to show my friends.
I was embarrassed…but only a little.
Especially when you’re younger you expect everyone to be as enthused and moved by the things that move you and, of course, that’s rarely so. There was one person that did have some of that same Renaissance approach to the arts and he wasn’t even a musician. My friend, George and I, pals since Kindergarten, became quite close during our high school years and, seeing a kindred spirit in me, he was not the least bit hesitant to show me what he was into musically.
But as much as he loved James Brown and John Lennon, he took the entire recording experience to another place with his passion for…speeches. Technically, this wasn’t music but to his ears it was a concert and I’d go over there some days and he’d be listening to Martin Luther King’s masterful oration and he’d know the speech word for word. OK, he lost me a little bit with UCLA basketball coaching legend, John Wooden, and his locker-room motivational speeches but it was music to George’s ears and he would explain to me the life lessons Wooden was imparting on his players.
Still, no one in his family quite got what he was doing except me and that’s primarily why we were such fast friends. George was just as passionate about those speeches as I was about my musical menagerie and, in the end, we both derived inspiration from these recorded works that was unobtainable in any other fashion. More about George later.
I think the larger point to be made is regardless of the nature of that which brings profound joy into your life, grab hold of that thing and find a place for it in your heart and make it a source of power you can depend on. That’s what the arts are for, to lift our incomplete souls out of the crapper and onto the runway, and I’ll always be grateful for my little rec room and its endless gifts.