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The Song Remains the Same

March 17, 2012

Reelin’ and Rockin’ – Chuck Berry

The first record album I remember having as my own was a Chuck Berry greatest hits collection called Johnny B. Goode that my mom bought me.  I had one of those briefcase-like record players with the cover that latches and a handle for carrying around.  I distinctly remember lugging that record player into the downstairs living room as a roughly 9-10 year old, getting out the Chuck Berry LP and putting on the song Reelin’ and Rockin’ over and over again so I could learn all the lyrics and sing along.

The company that pressed that record (Pickwick) knew what was up ‘cause they put a big pink sticker next to Chuck on the album cover announcing the inclusion of Reelin’ and Rockin’ amongst the disc’s gems.  I liked all the songs but that one song was by far the one that most called out to me.  The whole time countdown scenario was the coolest thing I had ever heard – time was passing and Chuck was trying to have as much fun as possible before it got too late!!  I could totally relate.

Well I looked at my watch, it was 9:21
We was at a rock’n’roll dance having nothing but fun

Well I looked at my watch, it was 9:43
And everytime I spinned she spinned with me

Well I looked at my watch, it was 10:05
Man, I didn’t know if I was dead or alive

Well I looked at my watch, it was 10:26
But I’m gonna keep on dancing till I get my kicks

I wanted to sing along to the whole (more than four minutes!!) song but the lyric was pretty complicated.  No verses repeated (although some lines did).  It took a while but eventually I had the whole thing down and I could just let it play through and warble along while dance-running around the room.  It was probably my first experience with getting completely pulled into a song and just plain feeling the joy.

As I listen to the song now, I realize it is probably where my taste for chugging electric guitar began as well – what with the freight train-like repeated riff throughout – but back then it was all about the super cool story and the obvious fun that was happening in that song’s world.

As I was getting lost in Chuck’s rock and roll dance party fun circa 1974, that now more than half-century old song had only been recorded 16 years before.  Hell, my daughter’s 16 now and she was a little tiny baby bundle of joy only a second ago.  Time is not a long journey.  Everything happened right now in the blink of an eye.

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     Dizzy – Tommy Roe

My earliest song memories are a few scattered things my folks would play or sing around the house.  However, besides the theme song from The Monkees TV show, the first song I specifically remember enjoying with my friends and completely apart from my parents’ influence was Dizzy by Tommy Roe.  I couldn’t have told you it was Tommy Roe singing at the time, nor even until a few years ago when I finally looked it up.  For a long time, I thought it was maybe done by The Archies and in my memory I sometimes mixed it up with the song Spinning Wheel by Blood, Sweat and Tears, a tune with which Dizzy has next to nothing in common save for the fact they both came out in 1969 and share the word “spinning” in their lyrics.

I have a clear as crystal recollection of 5-year old me just outside the car port at our house on Greenfield Avenue in 1969 with best friend Brian and one or two neighborhood girls of the same age as we repeatedly twirled around until falling down while chanting those opening lyrics:

I’m so dizzy my head is spinning
Like a whirlpool it never ends

The theme was pure childhood joy and freedom and lack of cares.  Untainted fun was happening.  As I think about it now, I take note that the moment of joyous fun which I have remembered clearly for 42 years despite its having no greater importance or meaning was coupled with some kind of physical action on my part that temporarily fuzzed my brain and affected my perception/balance.   Hmmmm…

Dizzy:

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Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash

If I were allowed to recapture and relive one moment of my life, the choice would probably be to go back and troll for rainbow trout in the Lucerne Bay section of Flaming Gorge reservoir on the Utah/Wyoming border.  We used to regularly go up to my Grandpa’s cabin in Manila, Utah, for the weekend with grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins and it was, at least in my memory, idyllic.

There was the gigantic fireplace burning big old logs every night, the eggs and bacon and pancakes cooked up by Grandpa on the coal-burning stove in the cold, early morning, and the slow, relaxed trolling for rainbows out the back of Grandpa’s fishing boat or our own pale blue ski/touring boat, which tended to move too fast for trolling and required us to drag pails or buckets on ropes out the back to slow us down (if memory serves).  We could set up as many as four people fishing at a time, with one out each side and two out the back.  All the rigs were set up with Grandpa’s Kelly Spinners and worms on hooks about a yard behind them.  I remember Grandpa having no patience with anyone who couldn’t put their own damn worm on the hook and also shaking his head if you missed setting the hook when a fish started nibbling.  I also remember that no one was ever as excited for you when you reeled one in as was Grandpa.

Our boat must have had an 8-track tape player, because Dad would often put in a Johnny Cash greatest hits collection that would play as we’d while away the time between bites.  I loved those stretches when the fish were only hitting on occasion, all of us nearly asleep in our seats as the morning sun glimmered down and the boat puttered along quietly, with Johnny Cash playing low out of the speakers.  I didn’t know which song it was at the time but whenever that lyric would play about Johnny letting his mom down and killing some poor bastard for no reason, my 8-10 year old self would pay close attention.  I was perplexed by the evilness of the act and imagined that suffering mom wondering what had gone wrong.  The words seemed eep, and contemplating them out there on the lake added to their gravity.

 When I was just a baby
My momma told me, Son
Always be a good boy
Don’t ever play with guns
But I shot a man in Reno
Just to watch him die

I can’t remember exactly when it might have been, but I believe one of the first times I ever gave Dad music as a gift, it was a collection of Johnny Cash tunes that included Folsom Prison Blues in memory of those fishing moments.  Besides playing catch in front of our house in Ogden, I’d have to say that listening to Johnny Cash while trolling for rainbows at Flaming Gorge is one of my most treasured Dad remembrances.

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Deuce – Kiss

Nothing will ever be better than what was new when you were 12.  I got the Kiss Alive! double album in 1976, about a year after it came out.  The country was celebrating a bicentennial (cool new quarters and all), Jimmy Carter was getting ready to win the presidential election and piss off all the same kids from the majority Republican families in our Utah neighborhood who had made fun of me for parroting my folks’ McGovern preferences back in ’72, and my parents were finally breaking up after a couple years with a lot of yelling.

All of that was just background noise to my adolescent ears however as they discovered the world-altering force of HARD ROCK and the mind-blowing power of the electric lead guitar.  When Ace Frehley played that little “de de de da de de da de de, de de de da de de da de de” thing after each of the first two lines of the second verse about 90 seconds into the live version of the song Deuce, I had literally never heard anything like it.  I would gin the disc up on my portable record player so I could listen to that little bit over and over.  I forced Mom to listen to that little portion (literally, those few seconds) and fully expected that she would be as deeply moved as I had been.  One day my older cousin Tammy – mouthwateringly wordly, rebellious, and dangerous and who I desperately wanted to impress – was coming over to the house, so I set up the record just right so I could drag her immediately down to my room and play that lead riff for her as soon as she walked in the door.  When she said something along of the lines of “sounds pretty cool,” I was walking on clouds.

Honey, don’t put your man behind his years
(De de de da de de da de de, de de de da de de da de de)
And baby, stop cryin’ all your tears
(De de de da de de da de de, de de de da de de da de de)

The highlight of the full make-up, original member, reunion tour KISS concert my wife and I saw in Mexico City in 1999 was when Deuce came as the third song.  My inner 12-year old blissfully welcomed literal tears of joy when Ace stepped to the front of the stage and launched into a perfect “de de de da de de da de de, de de de da de de da de de.”

Upon approaching the pearly gates when my time comes and being asked to fill out the feedback survey for the Life on Earth self-guided tour, I will without qualm check the box indicating that there was no more loving gift from God to his human children than the blessing of big, dumb, preening hard rock music.  To this day, while I listen to all kinds of music and artists and have over 20,000 songs uploaded onto my iPod, I always go back to the four-piece (lead, rhythm, bass guitar and drums) hard rock tunes with meaningless words and self-indulgent lead guitar solos whenever I need to smile…  and it all began with Deuce.

Deuce (live):

From → Family, Music

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