Around our house, it was show tunes mostly. On occasion, there’d be a wild foray into edgier genres epitomized by vocalists like Perry Como, Barbra Streisand or Dean Martin, but for the most part, when a record album was ceremoniously placed on the turntable, it was along the lines of The Sound of Music or Man of La Mancha or Fiddler on the Roof.
It wasn’t until sixth grade that I figured out that this sort of music was Seriously Uncool. Why so late? Well, for a bookworm with no older siblings and parents who had an ironclad rule that the driver always chose the radio station, there just wasn’t much opportunity for me to become aware of the audio revolution going on. (In fact, I was so out of touch, when a cool kid in the library got excited and started playing air guitar when he saw the book I was checking out — a science-fiction yarn by Robert Heinlein called The Rolling Stones — I had no idea what was happening. I may have thought he was having a seizure.)
But Christmas changed everything. Under the tree, I unwrapped my very own transistor radio. I do believe I shrieked with joy, uncaring that it only picked up AM stations. For the next 12 hours, that tinny black oblong box was glued to my ear. I heard George Harrison singing about “My Sweet Lord,” the Jackson Five lamenting “Never Can Say Goodbye,” Carlos Santana yearning for a “Black Magic Woman,” Ike and Tina Turner’s incendiary version of “Proud Mary” … well, you get the idea.
It was a long way from the easy listening station, let me tell you.
Now, of course I didn’t go straight from “If I Were a Rich Man” to “A Day in the Life.” For example, the first album I bought with my own money was (shudder) The Best of Bread, and my first 45 was Don McLean’s “American Pie” (which, truth be told, I still sort of love). But once I got a taste of real rock and roll, of the way the music could move you, I never looked back.
In the years since, I’ve seen hundreds of bands, collected thousands of songs, and sung along to the car radio more times that I can count, just about always with the windows rolled down and the volume turned up. I’ve had all sorts of soundtracks to my life, and the trigger to memory is, more often than not, hearing a certain song brings back key moments with razor-sharp clarity.
Eventually, I even found a way to make a living by combining my two very favorite things — music and writing — and wound up building a pretty enviable life that involved a modest bit of acclaim, copious amounts of free music, and a chance to meet, interview and write about bona fide rock stars.
One of the main things these larger-than-life icons had in common with one another was passion. Whatever their genre — rock, hip-hop, folk, blues, techno, metal, whatever — the most extraordinary rock stars were the ones who cared so much it was almost painful to hear them talk about their music. They infected me with the desire to care that much about my own work and fired me up to be the very best writer I could be.
To me, it’s that sort of zeal that makes a person a rock star. Whether or not you ever take the stage, if you can inspire others with your enthusiasm, if you give it your all, whatever “it” is — congratulations, you are a rock star.
And this issue is packed with that exact sort of rock star. While none of them have sold out an arena (not yet, anyway), all of them are awesome enough to inspire a standing ovation.
Oh, and if you’re like me, you’ll enjoy the issue even better if you read it while accompanied by your favorite song. Can music save your mortal soul? Debatable. But if you ask me, it’s simply not possible to be too old to rock and roll.