When I was a kid, my dad, a concert pianist, spent hours every day practicing the piano. While he practiced late at night I played with my stuffed ponies in bed, making them ride across the blankets in step to his sonatas. My parents owned a piano business and sold Kurzweil keyboards when they were gaining popularity in the 80′s, so I had unlimited access to these instrument in particular, along with plenty of space to explore the notes on the scale and different instrumental sounds on the keyboard.
When I was two, my mother remembers turning the stereo off while some people were gathered for dinner. I went over to the stereo and started hitting the speaker and wailing. She turned it back on and I was quiet and content again.
As I grew, I unconsciously decided that I wanted to broaden my horizons. I liked classical music, sometimes, but it seemed like there might be something with a heavier motif.
When I was 8 or 9, I snuck into my mom’s office to see what she had. She kept “bad” records (according to my dad), like Michael Jackson, records the church my parents grew up in judged. At my friend’s houses I discovered Madonna. My friend and I would hide in the closet and listen to Madonna’s greatest hits on a white tape using a tiny personal tape recorder.
Going into the record store was like entering some strange futuristic world full of beeping tags and shrink wrapped tomes to the gods of music. Access was granted through the exchange of green pieces of paper my mom kept in her wallet, paper she sometimes would use to buy me one thing I wanted.
Most of the time, I borrowed music from neighbors, boys who had access to things like White Lion or Oingo Boingo. Secret stashes of music my parents would never approve of. It was thrilling to seek these out.
When I was in fourth grade, I played the Back to the Future soundtrack over and over on my beat up walkman. I played it when I was drawing on the white board in my room. I played it when I was roaming the creeks looking for things to collect, while I walked down the street or while I rode my bike. I listened to it so much my mom took it away from me and hid it. I later found it in her underwear drawer. I was addicted to the Huey Lewis song, “The Power of Love.” I wanted to live in a world where every action I took was important, could change the past, present and future all at once. The soundtrack made me feel this. And adults had the power to take it away, just by deciding to.
Once, when I spent the night at my grandma’s house, my aunts tucked a couple of tapes into my sleeping bag with me. Kate Bush’s The Whole Story and Peter Gabriel’s So. I was pulled into a dark, beautiful, creepy world I never wanted to leave. The combination of instruments and vocals moved me in a way I couldn’t explain. These secret tapes were the answer to everything.
Once in a while I would hear a song I really loved on the radio, and I couldn’t press the red record button fast enough. I cobbled together mix tapes consisting of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence,” Erasure’s “A Little Respect,” Roxanne’s “It Must Have Been Love.” Music played out loud on the school bus gave me access to the boys I liked, to the secret world of the cool kids who sat in the back of the bus. Music was a secret language with many tongues; once you found the right tongue you could speak to people like yourself for the first time.
I stole a single cassette tape once, from Tower Records when I was around 10 years old. I felt so guilty I couldn’t sleep that night. It was from the movie Mermaids, a movie I’d had to watch at my friends house because my parents forbade it. Guiltily I confessed to my mom while she was trying to go to sleep. She helped me take the tape back to the record store with a handwritten note saying, “I’m sorry.” I left it on the counter when no one was looking and ran out the door.
In my teens, a guy friend turned me on to Nirvana. Another guy said Nirvana was lame, that I should listen to Metallica. I listened to both. I spent hours reading the liner notes to every Guns N’ Roses album, had a huge crush on Axl Rose. I spent hours learning the songs from Use Your Illusion I and II on the piano.
No one was going to take away my music. If they did, they would succeed in brainwashing me. When I got sent away to our church’s girls camp in the summers, I snuck my walkman into my suitcase. At night, I fell asleep under the stars listening to Nirvana’s Incesticide or Guns N’ Roses Lies. I felt safe with my headphones on to keep the crazies away.
I found all the back archives of Depeche Mode, The Cure, and others. I inhaled Nine Inch Nails. During a phase during my freshman year hippy friends introduced me to Grateful Dead bootlegs, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Duran Duran. I searched dusty record stores for The Magical Mystery Tour, Houses of the Holy and Rio. Inside these records was the key to a magical world from the past filled with mysterious teenagers who could give me the answers to the universe. I devoured a whole genre from Hendrix to Joplin in one year of high school when I was supposed to be studying.
I often tried to go to shows, but I lived so far out in the sticks, without a car, that it was virtually impossible until I was near 15. The radio was playing U2, Portishead, The Flaming Lips. I culled the BMG music catalog for albums, ordering the requisite 12 cds and never paying for them, multiple times over a few year period.
I had a very brief period in which I tried to curb my music addiction (after spending time in a strict school in another country where music wasn’t allowed much) listening only to The Carpenters and Enya to purify myself of the sin that was rock music. That didn’t last long at all. Darker albums called to me and I acquiesced, home at last.
And then, in the 2000′s, while searching for a cheap show to go to for one of my music classes, I discovered some indie bands through a guy at Hot Topic. Vast. Unified Theory. That led me down a rabbit hole. Suffice it to say I learned more about the music industry than I ever wanted to know. I took classes. Moved to LA. Kept practicing the music I’d been working on since I was 13.
The next few years, as I got access to unlimited internet connection, I discovered even more music. An ex’s girlfriend opened up her CD case and showed me all the bands she dug: dark industrial music. My boyfriend, now my husband, shared a whole CD case full of music I’d missed out on in my teens. Thrill Kill Kult, Ministry, Switchblade Symphony, God’s Kitchen, Slayer. Industrial, Indie, House, Psychedelic Trance, Heavier Metal. In turn, he discovered my more mainstream albums, the whole discography of The Cure, Tori Amos, Nine Inch Nails. Music was life blood to both of us and it’s kept us in love with talking to each other for over eight years.
Not much has changed. I still write late into the night with my favorite songs playing in the background. Music can take me out of myself, can make me feel whole, can help me through any emotion. Music connects me with others, feeds my creativity, gives me reasons to continue trudging along.
These days, I write fun music reviews for an Indie music site, troll blip.fm for tunes and talk music perfundities with my friends during my free time. I love music. I love finding new music. I love playing it, working on it, singing it, listening to it, harmonizing with it, analyzing it, tearing it apart. I spend time critiquing it, creating it, writing about it and finding it. I recommend stuff to friends, they recommend stuff to me. I’ve been known to dissect songs for hours in the car on road trips, much to the chagrin of anyone who isn’t as obsessed with it as I am. I’m a huge music nerd. And without it, the world becomes a sterile cold place. From Beethoven to West African guitar to Combichrist, I listen to it all.
I used to spend hours making elaborate mix tapes. Now my itunes library is so full I have to do mass prunings. The access to music in this day and age is UNBELIEVABLE. What was your path to music? Were there certain bands that your parents thought were taboo? How do you feel about it? What would you do without it?