The first time I heard my favourite band
The first time I heard my favourite band
I will never forget the first time I heard my favorite band.
My best friend and I were at his house after school.
He hurried me into his room with urgency and told me in excited hushed tones to close the door. “What!?” I asked him as he stood there with his arm tucked away under his school jumper, holding some hidden treasure that from the look on his face was obviously about to expand our 13 year old’s perception of life and the universe.
He slowly and carefully pulled out the hidden arm to reveal the forbidden treasure: a cassette that he had taken from his eldest brother’s room, which was a crime punishable by being pinned to the floor and having your face slapped repeatedly until you proclaimed that the elder brother sitting on your chest was your master – and that you were really a girl that ate dog poo. But this was worth the risk.
“Wait until you hear THIS” he said, waving the cassette slowly back and forth in front of me as my body almost shook with the anticipation of what was about to be bestowed upon me.
I had always liked music – actually, you could say loved.
From a very early age, sitting in front of my parents’ record player soon became one of my favourite places to be. Escaping from the world that already seemed to be shifting away from the wonder and playfulness children naturally embody and into something far more serious and heavy.
Headphones on and record spinning granted me an escape from what seemed to be the inevitable chore of having to grow up and get serious about the expectations already being heaped upon me about life and what I needed to become in it.
And so the sounds and songs of the Beatles, The Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel and such that inhabited my parents’ record collection took me away to another place where I would never have to face what all children know is the beginning of the great saddening – where the true beauty of life and the universe is swapped out for a ticket to ‘The Real World’.
But this, I could tell, was different.
This wasn't the same as those records. This wasn’t something that belonged to my Mum and Dad (i.e. the generation we could blame for heaping that weight upon us). From the very first note – the first earth-moving chord of the band that led into the grooves of the fattest drum sounds I had ever heard, and vocals of such reckless vivaciousness – I knew that this was just for us.
These sounds, these songs, understood us. They knew exactly what we were going through. And it seemed, they knew exactly what to say, exactly what to do, and exactly what to give us so that we could retaliate to what was happening around us, in a way that we had never heard or felt before. It was different, and all of a sudden I was different. I felt different, I walked differently, spoke differently. And things were never the same...
From Angelic Child to Angry Man
I find it fascinating now . . . to observe the culture of popular music and how it infiltrates to each and every aspect of a teenager’s life as it did mine. It is easy to see how the age-old distraught parents’ story of rock and roll being the destruction of their ‘perfect’ and angelic child might be thought of as the overzealous imposition of extreme fear-based control by out of touch and conservative parents . . . but looking back many years later it is obvious to me that not long after the moment I first heard my favourite band, I was very different.
There are the things that are obvious. Of course there are the fashion mistakes that are ‘sooooo cool’ to only those in the know and completely ridiculous to everyone else (including the wearers themselves, 10 years down the track when they look back!) And another obvious one is the language that comes seeping into the consciousness to alter the way I related to others through the way I spoke.
But there are other things too that were not so obvious to me. The way I walked changed. The way I sat. Who I wanted to spend time with as I moved from child to ‘angry young man’. From a bright and sparkly child who enjoyed being in the world and relating to people I was soon found spending every spare second locked in my poster covered room, music blaring as loud as possible and jumping all over the room playing air guitar and banging my head like Angus Young.
Now it’s fair to say that there is an immense amount of pressure on any teenager in the modern world. Puberty, peer pressure, the desperately failing education systems around the globe pouring tons of expectation and narrow conformity onto the shoulders of children like cement from a cement truck without ever actually taking the time to connect to that person and find out who they really are.
As a professional musician myself for many years, I was always of the impression that music was about the healthy expression of emotions that come with the territory of being human. And that in the practice of ‘expressing’ these emotions we can find connection and community while celebrating and transcending our cultural, social, economic and even spiritual differences. And it would be fair to say that this is the outstanding cultural assumption of music, art and dance and all forms of artistic expression around the globe for as long as we can remember.
But is it possible, even just possible to consider, that music was not just a harmless expression of emotions for me, or indeed that it may not be the healthy cultural champion it is heralded as – but that my exposure to that music affected me in a way that influenced and determined the way I thought? And possibly even handed me and instilled those same emotions in me, in ways that were not truly mine?
Of course, by this stage at 15 years old the other things that seem to come hand in hand with rock and roll started to have influence too – and of course it is a given fact that those things start altering everything about you.
There is however something that I have recently realised. Before I tried drinking alcohol as an underage teenage boy, or any of the other crutches and attitudes towards life that followed, when I was still balancing on the scales between that playful innocence and the great sadness, it was the music that first called me to lean my weight ever so slightly to one side. It was in the music that I found my response to all those things that were going on around me in which I seemingly had no control. Those responses and reactions were not the healthiest way of dealing with things.
In the face of a strict Catholic school, that as far as I could see was doing a fantastic job of draining the light from its students’ eyes and storing it as its own treasure to bathe in like a wicked pirate, I found the willingness to hold myself in defiance; even if it only meant switching off and not engaging to the point of being an emotional brick wall.
And there were always the more aggressive forms of ‘sticking it to the man’ such as talking back to teachers and parents with blatant defiance, or skipping class to go and smoke cigarettes. In the face of the rapidly breaking down communication with my parents who did not seem to understand what I was telling them about the aforementioned school, preferring to force feed me what was ‘best for my education and future’ (merely the same line they had been fed themselves), I found the ability to rant and rave and fight and spew anger in unprecedented waves of retaliation.
I could go on and on.
Sound familiar? Sound like a teenager you might know? Quite common really, isn’t it? But the question I have been asking myself is, are these things just a ‘normal part of being a teenager’, or is there something else going on?
If I look back at that time I can see a distinct change.
How did I learn how to BE these things? To embody these things? I mean these things weren't just something I did.... I LIVED them. Three months earlier they were never there as part of my social repertoire – completely unheard of. And yet in a very short space of time they became my everyday way of being.
And as I previously mentioned, it was the whole package: how I walked, sat, spoke and dressed. What I ate and consumed – including the obvious consumption of poisons of which I was aware of the damage I was causing myself by ingesting them – but simply did not care.
Suddenly, I only wanted to be friends with those who listened to the same music as me. In fact, more than that: as a fan of my favorite bands, it was my JOB to hate those that listened to bands of a different style. If I was a fan of AC/DC, it was my JOB to HATE fans of the Cure or Wham! Even if last year they were my friends (and deep down I liked the songs).
And where did I first learn to ignore the sacred and amazing relationship between women and men, the incredible innocence of youth and wondrous amazement of the beauty of the feminine, and instead give up and join the boy’s club of girls being something to ‘get’? Could It be possible that the lyrics and subject matter of my favorite music was the first place I came across those attitudes?
I am not suggesting that music is the cause of all the woes of teen angst and rebellion. It is obvious there are many things there as a society that we need to look at on a much deeper level, and the culture of music is just one of them.
But one thing I know for sure.
If I look at the greatest influence on my life in terms of how I dealt with those things that were happening to and within me as a young teenager, and the greatest influence that I used to form the social behaviours that became my coping mechanisms, attitudes and the way I chose to live and feel about myself that then determined how I grew into adulthood . . . that influence was my favorite band. And, if I am honest – none of those things that I took on were for the better.
Now as an adult, after spending many years working and living as a musician and sound engineer, I've always been aware of the profound effect music has had on me, my life, my emotions. I’ve championed it and those that are dedicated to its art as a noble and passionate expression of the highest form. It has been something that has always had the ability to move me. Anyone who has been a fan of music or worked in the industry knows it's a form of energy. Anyone who's been to a concert has felt the vibration of the drums and bass not just in their ears, but felt it pulsating through their entire body. In other words – our cells are aligning to the vibration of the music.
That's an interesting concept: so if our cells are aligning to the vibration of the music, what effect does that have on how we think and feel?
In her Article 'Losing ourselves in the effects of music’, singer/ songwriter of many years Jenny James explores and shares recent research that expands on this. That music is a vibration. It is an energy that moves through us. And it is very clear to me from my experience that music can ‘alter’ the way we feel. This then, naturally can alter the way we think and our relationship to the world and others.
The anger, depression, withdrawal from the world and desire to self-abuse and abuse others, the ‘stick it to the man’ attitude and reckless irresponsibility that gets passed off as part of ‘being a teenager’… all these things were inherent in the music I listened to. In a matter of months I went from a boy who cared about those around him with warmth and tenderness to an aggressive, self-centred and destructive young man, discontented with everything and everyone around me.
The vibration of the music we listen to may just affect us in more ways than we are willing to admit.