Music has always thrilled me.
As a little kid I remember a cheesy portable record player, with a tone arm heavy as a log and a needle on the end of it as big around as a No. 2 pencil. Maybe it was the equipment that fascinated me as much as the music, because, really, all I had was a Gene Autry record, a 78, I think, Gene singing “Here Comes Santa Claus” b/w “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” There had to be other records, but my memory is hazy. There might have been a comedy record by a guy named Yogi Jorgensen, who pretended to be drunk. I might have had “How Much is That Doggie in the Window?” by the fabulous Patti Page. Hey, don’t blame me. I was four years old. But I enjoyed messing with that little record player, and I played those records until my parents must have wanted to scream. I shudder today when I think what the tone arm and stylus must have done to those poor old discs with every play.
You might think it was a lame time for white American music. But it was the very early 1950’s, and I know now that there was a lot of cool stuff going on. Just not at our house. Musically speaking, I guess my parents were dorks. It wasn’t their fault. I remember the music that came on the television: Burl Ives, Perry Como, Dinah Shore. I was so brainwashed that when Elvis showed up on The Ed Sullivan Show in the Fall of ’56, when I was 8 years old, I was as disgusted at his filthy gyrations as The New York Daily News, which reported that Elvis â€œgave an exhibition that was suggestive and vulgar, tinged with the kind of animalism that should be confined to dives and bordellos.â€ Hmmph.
The following year I went by myself to see “Rock Around the Clock” with Bill Haley and the Comets, and I think I can say it changed my life. I had never seen anything like it. The bass player fell down on the floor and played the big upright bass as it lay on top of him. If the sexual suggestion wasn’t strong enough, girls in the on-screen audience twirled their poodle skirts so you could see their panties, and all the dancing was done with what seemed like erotic abandon.
I wanted me some of that.
I completely lost interest in Patti Page. I tried to get my father to build me an electric guitar (I don’t know why I didn’t ask him to buy me one. Maybe I thought such a strange contrivance had to be custom-made. It certainly didn’t look anything like my Uncle Ralph’s ukulele.)
That was how it started, the obsession. It would be five more years before I got my first guitar, but I was mesmerized that afternoon, and I haven’t really come out of the spell yet. Maybe I never will.