Wednesday, November 20, 2013

When Classic is Just Rock

I wouldn't say that I know a lot about music. I don't know all the trivia, and I play only a little piano from childhood lessons. Yet music is a constant. If I'm driving around town or working around the house, I always listen to music. These days, my tastes run to folk and country, nostalgic '80s music, and classic rock.

A friend recently mentioned that she had "never heard classic rock until college." I was completely bewildered. How was it possible to be born in the early 1970s and not have classic rock as a life soundtrack?

It was the first time I realized that my rock music education was atypical. Others weren't listening to Bob Dylan and The Beatles when they were toddlers. Their elementary school years weren't accompanied by Springsteen and Jackson Browne. I was listening to "classic rock" when it was new, and my musical memories likely are those of someone older than my years.

Bob Dylan Blonde on Blonde album cover

It started in the crib. To get me to sleep, my mother put a transistor radio in my crib. I would fall asleep to rock stations for years.

Although it may have started with a transistor radio, I really have my mother's siblings to thank. My uncle was only twelve when I was born, and I grew up tagging along behind him and his teenage friends, listening to their music. My aunt was in high school when I was born, and years later my first sleepovers would be at her post-college apartment, where I'd sift through her crates upon crates of albums.

The Beatles White Album photos

I don't know if other kids listened to rock music before starting school, but what would become rock iconography surrounded me. My uncle had The White Album photos tacked up above the couch in a perfect line near the ceiling. His T-shirt sported Jackson Browne's face from his eponymous first album. Dylan lyrics hung on the wall, poster-sized, at the top of the stairs.

When I reached middle school, I would visit my aunt's apartment, open the double closet doors, and sit on the floor in front of her album collection. I can still feel the album covers under my fingers and hear the quiet thump of one vertically-stored album falling into the next as I searched for new treasures. I discovered The Kinks and The Eagles, learned that "Walk This Way" was not just a Run-DMC song, and listened to a lot of Springsteen. I'd stay long enough to pirate two albums onto cassette, one per side.

Jackson Browne album cover

The satellite radio stations I now listen to feature the music my teenage aunt and uncle grew up with, as well as the '80s music of my own school years. Nearly every song conjures a memory of a particular time, place, and person. For the most part, this is less true with the classic rock songs. They are integral to me but ingrained before conscious memory took hold. Only certain songs--"The Pretender," "Like a Rolling Stone," or "Thunder Road" make me think broadly of my aunt and uncle, who unwittingly contributed most of my musical education.

I'd like to say thank you to both of them. Some important things you don't learn in school. This was one of mine.


  1. Susie: Now you can bring your kids and I'll turn them onto my 400+ C.D's of music. I took all those LP's and put them on to CD's! I even have all the new artists since the 70's & 80's,90's such as Lifehouse, Crowded House, Collective Soul and Live just to name a few. I even like Katy Perry's Roar!!!! Where the LP's were in that closet is now occupied by my CD collection. "Walk On The Wild Side" author Lou Reed just died recently. Losing a memory of the past with that song!

  2. Susie: I was touched by your blog.

  3. I loved going through those albums too! I met your aunt the first day of first grade and went through grade school and high school with her. We just had dinner together on Saturday. I have CD's that she recorded for me. I enjoyed your blog. Your aunt sent it to me.