Chapter 8: Just Like Tantalus’ Blues: Verse 2

vinylMusic fans fall into two primary categories:

  1. Listeners, for whom music is simply the soundtrack to their lives, something to listen to, to dance to, to have fun to; and
  2. Devotees, for whom music is something to study, something to immerse oneself in, to feel and understand and even believe in.

AND, a subset of the Devotees are…

  • Musicians: those who want desperately to do more than just listen to music, they want to make music, and to make other people happy with the music they make.

I was a Musician trapped in a Devotee’s body, trapped there by parents who were indifferent to my passion for music. Oh, when there was a school assembly in spring of my 6th grade — a recruitment event for school orchestra, which started in 7th grade, an event where all of the orchestral instruments were there and you could wander around and try everything, and I, intimidated by other seemingly more complex and difficult to learn instruments, chose the trumpet, with it’s three simple-looking valves — my parents agreed to rent one so that I could take lessons at school. But, when the trumpet proved deceptively difficult, despite my fervent efforts to practice regularly, or when, as 3rd trumpet in the orchestra, I got excruciatingly bored playing quarter note rhythm lines, and when I needed someone to encourage me to hang in there, to stick with it, or try another instrument perhaps, well, parental support, for me, just didn’t go there, for music was merely a dispensable extracurricular activity, there was no future in music, no “realistic” path to the penultimate goal: financial security.

And so, I retreated into my Devoteehood, a particularly orthodox, even evangelical denomination, and upon entering high school I met a small group of like-minded, fellow adherents. Together, through many hours of reading — vinyl record liner notes, Rolling Stone magazine, biographies, etc. — many hours of marathon listening sessions, taking turns playing DJ at the turntable, and attending every concert we could make it to — we kept our faith in the liberational capacity of music.


I Lived High Fidelity Before High Fidelity was High Fidelity

I’m a HUGE fan of Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel High Fidelity, as well as of the 2000 film adaptation by Stephen Frears.

However, long before Nick Hornby wrote his book — including the characters Rob, Dick and Barry, the owner and two employees of a record store, three hardcore music geek Devotees who spend their downtime compiling Top Five lists of albums, songs, opening songs on albums, etc. — some of my friends circa high school and I WERE those characters.

While I didn’t work in a record store, my buddy Keith Friedman did, and yet it seemed he, Mike Kramer and I spent half our lives in record stores, and, starting in the early 1980s, 15 YEARS before High Fidelity was published, we regularly rattled off our Top Five and Top Ten lists to each other, struggling to make the right choices, beating ourselves up or teasing each other over careless, obvious omissions…

It. Was. Heaven!

Well, gulp, 30+ years later, while we don’t exchange our lists nearly as often, they still spontaneously erupt from time to time, and I just happened to transcribe and keep one such eruption for posterity.

Here now is an excerpt from a January 2012 discussion that took place via text messages and emails — edited for flow and clarity — and if this doesn’t remind you of High Fidelity you either didn’t read/see it, or you weren’t paying attention. (BTW, 4708 was an address we lived at together back in 1989 or so.):

Keith: Dear Boys of 4708: If you had the chance to request and listen to, front row center, one song to be played by Pete Townshend, solo acoustic, what would it be?

Me: One song?! Impossible! Unheard of! Absurd! Instead, here are my Top Five off the top of my head, in no particular order, and retaining the right to add and subtract unlimited times for the rest of my life: 1. The Shout; 2. The Sea Refuses No River; 3. Drowned; 4. Blue Red & Grey; 5. Heart To Hang Onto

(Long pause.)

Me: …6. Keep Me Turning; 7.Love Ain’t For Keeping; 8. The Seeker; 9. Stop Hurting People; 10. So Sad About Us.

Mike: First of all, Keith and I were talking earlier tonight and your list of Townshend songs blew us away! We were saying that, in the future, we need some warning if you’re going to pull out the big guns like that. I mean, The Sea Refuses No River? Acoustic??? It may be TOO brilliant for my pea-sized brain to comprehend. Pure genius.

If I had to pick one song, right now, off the top of my head, I might pick After The Fire. The Naked Eye would be up there. Oh, and However Much I Booze. And Substitute is high up there as an all-time favorite. It’s hard to beat, “I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth.” It’s lines like that that makes me think maybe all humans aren’t completely fucking horrible.

Keith: One child going nuts, the other not going to bed, but here’s my list: 1. The Kids Are Alright; 2. The Seeker (“I learned, LEARNED how to raise my voice in anger.”); 3. Imagine A Man; 4. A Quick One (available on YouTube in the attic series); 5. The Sea Refuses No River (or any other Ecclesiastes-Townshend collaborations).

I can also go for Sea and Sand…especially at this point in my life…I don’t remember ever hearing Townshend do a solo acoustic version.

Keep Me Turning…nice call, Howard! Vegas didn’t see that one on the list.

Me: What can I say? I’m honored and humbled at the same time.

Mike, Naked Eye is inspired! In fact, I now intend to learn to play that song!

Also, Substitute really does hold up in a big, big way. I think of very early Beatles songs, classics for sure, but they don’t effect me in nearly the same, deep way that early Who songs do.

Keith: The Naked Eye solo acoustic. Holy Crap. Has it been done? If not, should it be required by law?

Latest headline in the London Times “The Boys of 4708 sue Peter Townshend for not playing The Naked Eye solo acoustic.”

P.S. I woke up this morning with one thought: How did I forget English Boy?

My apologies.

Me: Keith, I can’t believe I didn’t comment on this last night, so it must be that I was so utterly stunned by your selection that I was left wordless, but…

Imagine A Man?! Absolutely. Brilliant! (BTW, I just wrote that while listening to the version of A Quick One on YouTube that you recommended. Great fun!)

Mike: Keith, I remember in high school or college you quoting the song Is It In My Head? – You referred to that line, “I see a man without a problem.” And then you said, “I want to be a man without a problem.” Ho-ly crap.

You know what? I’m putting that song on my list. My head might explode though if I heard Townshend sing, “I pick up phones and hear my history. I dream of all the calls I miss. I try to number those who love me, and find exactly what the trouble is.”

If you guys need me, I’ll be under the table in a fetal position.

See what I mean?

Secretly though, I wished I was a Musician, a secret seed that, well, who knows, might possibly, some day, germinate and take root.


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