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Dr. Robert: He’s a Man You Must Believe

May 18, 2013

Going through the slow dissolution of your parents’ marriage is not a lot of fun for anyone, but I think it can be especially tough when it happens concurrently with your own adventures in puberty.  I don’t have a lot of specific angst-filled memories related to the divorce, although I know that, from my youthful perspective, the ultimate separation was the welcome finale to what had been an unpleasant few years in a household weighed down by shouts, cynicism, resentment, and sadness.  What I do remember in great detail from that time period however is the blooming of the intense love for music that still significantly defines who I am even now, three and a half decades later.

I ain’t no psychologist, but it seems reasonable to suspect that my discovery of the joys of shutting myself alone in my room to spin record after record may have reflected not solely a reaction to the unquestioned power of the tunes themselves, but also a subconscious desire to simply “be removed.”

At some point in our waning interval as an unbroken family, my two younger sisters and I were happily dropped off at the house of our Uncle Bob and Aunt Karen while our parents enjoyed a weekend away.  Although details are sketchy in my recollection, it must have been an especially rough patch in my folks’ denouement as I recall Uncle Bob taking me aside as the eldest and inquiring as to how we kids were doing.  On the other hand, another memory of that weekend is Uncle Bob becoming fixated on my pubescent zits and embarrassing the hell out of me by trying to teach me remedial face washing techniques, so who really knows what deeply-hidden traumas have contributed to that particular weekend being etched into my psyche.

Uncle Bob, my pop’s twin brother, was a successful doctor and medical administrator and my sisters and I thought of his family as wealthy and their home as pretty fancy.  The house was big enough that I was able to isolate myself downstairs while my sisters and our three cousins, all of whom were younger than me, played upstairs or in the yard.  It was during one of these self-segregations that I discovered and became infatuated with my uncle’s big reel-to-reel tape player.  Uncle Bob cheerfully taught me how to operate it and showed me where he and my aunt kept their tapes.

Among piles of classical recordings that meant nothing to me, I came across two 120-minute tapes entitled “Beatles 1” and “Beatles 2.”  While The Beatles had broken up maybe five years earlier, I was well aware of them and had heard many of their most popular hits on the radio throughout my childhood.  As such, it was obvious to me that those were the tapes I should listen to.

I loaded “Beatles 1” onto the tape deck and settled into what I recall as a big, round Papasan-style chair to listen.  While most other memories of that weekend are clouded and patchy at best, I remember laying there for hours listening to that music as if it were yesterday.  I still clearly recall my giddiness each time a never-before-heard Beatles song would waft out of the speakers and my happy surprise at discovering that the tapes automatically reversed to play side two as side one ended.  Over the course of those 2-3 days, I went downstairs alone to listen to each of the 2-hour tapes more than once and each time I remember feeling unambiguously happy and unencumbered.

Three Beatles songs that I heard for the first time that weekend really imprinted on me.  “I’m Only Sleeping” with its moody bass, eerie backwards guitar fills, and airy backing vocals remains a favorite to this day.  “Doctor Robert” also stood out, likely as much because it was about my Uncle Bob (Robert), the doctor, as because of the wonderful harmony vocals, blissful church organ underpinning the well well well you’re feeling fine” lyric, and the gleeful guitar lines.  Finally, “I’m So Tired” with its catchy, easy-to-remember lyrics became my go-to song for shower singing, an honor it has retained for 35-plus years now.

In the near-term aftermath of that weekend at Uncle Bob’s and my music-as-escape revelation (although not understood as such by me at the time), I firmly planted my feet on the path that would lead me to become the music obsessive I am today.  In an explosion of flowing epiphanies, I discovered heavy music, became a KISS fan, harangued my Mom sufficiently to get her to gift me the Beatles’ Revolver and Rubber Soul albums for the first-post-split Christmas, and developed a preference for a closed door.

The Beatles - Rubber Soul     

Uncle Bob died in 1989 in a scuba-diving accident.  He was three years younger when he departed this world than I am as I write this.  How I wish I could share the above story with him now.  I’d like to thank him for letting a confused young punk screw around with his fancy tape machine and especially to let him know that me, my sisters, and my parents are all now doing well and feeling fine.  I miss you, Doctor Robert…

Dr. Robert:


From → Family, Music

  1. This has me thinking about the theory I have about music that hits you at that “coming of age” time and stays with you forever—I like the way you say it “imprints” on you. You can tell because if you ask someone their favorite band, it always seems to be from this period in their lives. And I have asked this question many, many time times. But as you say “I ain’t no psychologist” and I loved the Beatles early but it was “London Calling” when I hit my late teens that really knocked me over!

    • I think your theory is spot on, although damned if I can’t help myself but to believe that my “coming of age” music was somehow objectively better than everything before or since just the same. (smile)

  2. I think that’s a beautifully written tribute.

  3. Really nice piece. Great stuff.

  4. Ovidiu Boar permalink

    Confessional writings about one’s early experiences with music were always among my favourite things to read about – and yours was truly was one of the best. Congratulations and keep it up.

    • Thanks very much for the kind words, man. It is neat how music can often become so closely tied to one’s experiences and memories.

  5. mamamilkies permalink

    Hi! Cameron here. Your sister sent this my way. Lovely and wonderful to read. Seeing “Dr. Robert” through another’s appreciative eyes is priceless. Thank you. I miss him, too. My mom still has the reel to reel and Beatles 1 and Beatles 2 if you ever need to relive the experience. 🙂

  6. A rich story, beautifully told.

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