Category Archives: music

In My Room

It seems to me that Cole’s post would be incomplete without the lyrics to the Beach Boys’ 1963 song “In My Room.” Written by Brian Wilson, along Gary Usher (Usher was not in the Beach Boys, but was part of the surf-music scene in Southern California), the song captures the emotional intensity of being a teenager, alone and cocooned in a private realm.

Few singer/songwriters do such fantasies better than Brian Wilson.

In My Room

There’s a world where I can go
and tell my secrets to
In my room
In my room

In this world I lock out
all my worries and my fears
In my room
In my room

Do my dreaming and my scheming lie awake and pray
Do my crying and my sighing laugh at yesterday

Now it’s dark and I’m alone
but I won’t be afraid
In my room
In my room

Only The Lonely: Post by Cole Odell ’93

Technically, this is a guest post, but once we get Cole his log-on privileges, he will be a regular contributor to Music at Sixty-Eight Degrees. We also hope to get him up to Middlebury from his home in Brattleboro for a turn on the radio show.

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In my personal experience. fandom can be a lot like masturbation: a solitary pursuit, often done in the privacy of your own room. Maybe that’s because I first came to fandom through comic books, not sports, well before geek culture conquered pop culture. Also, I grew up in a small, sleepy Vermont town. The idea that other actual people shared my interests took a long time to present itself to me. I now make regular treks to Comic-Con in San Diego with my best friend from Midd and tens of thousands of other fans, but no matter how big the crowd gets, part of me still feels alone in it.

This attitude has bled into my experience with music. Did I mention I grew up in small-town Vermont? That meant a radio dial filled with 90% static and 10% classic rock, top 40 or country. No college stations. A cable system that didn’t pick up MTV until 1987. A cohort whose collective musical tastes ranged from the Doors, Rush and the Stones, to Led Zep, the Who, and…not much else.

Geographic isolation also meant no rock concerts nearby. And to my parochial thinking, rock towns like Boston or even Northampton might as well have been the moon. Instead, being a music fan for me meant staying up until 1 AM on a school night hoping the radio would play my request for “One Night in Bangkok”; learning everything I could from the occasional copies of Rolling Stone; perusing my parents’ neglected record collection, or hanging around the record store.

Things changed over time. First, there was my high-school pastime of driving endless loops around town with my friend Todd, and Prince. Our mutual admiration for Sign ‘o the Times and Lovesexy marked my first instance of shared music interest. When MTV finally hit our area, it became a huge, if halting topic of conversation, as I found I spoke in Cure, P.I.L. and Love & Rockets, while Todd conversed in Crüe, Ratt and Winger. But at least our enthusiasms were within spitting distance.

Then my first concert, when I yielded to Todd’s hair metal devotion for a “99 Rock FM Party Bus” pilgrimage to see Skid Row and Bon Jovi in all their leather-pants-wearing, fireworks-exploding glory alongside, for the first time, thousands of genuine screaming fans. Still, as guilty-pleasure catchy as “Runaway” may be, I knew I wasn’t one of them.

Finally, Middlebury College remade me, especially my experience at WRMC. The station exposed me to a huge amount of music new and old, and providing regular access to live shows, shared with fellow fans I still consider some of my best friends—people with whom I still swap Spotify playlists, go to occasional shows, and have endless “have you heard this band” conversations. That said, today I live in a slightly larger Vermont town, with a spouse who’s a passive music fan at best, kids with little interest, and very few local friends who kept paying attention past their 20s. Most of my time spent with rock and roll is the same as it was when I was ten. Just me and the music.

Being There

Matt’s post about being a fan called to mind the first rock concerts I went to as a teenager. I purchased my first record—a 45—when I was in sixth grade (“Grazing in the Grass” by the Friends of Distinction) and my first album shortly thereafter (by Blood Sweat & Tears).  But it wasn’t until I was in high school that I went to a concert on my own.  I remember going with my family to see Judy Collins at the Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Fall, Ohio, about 30 miles outside Cleveland.  I must have been fourteen or fifteen, and this was a pretty tame affair: lawn seating, blankets, and white wine (for the adults).

My next concert was much different, and marked my first real outing as a rock fan.

The big event was something called “The World Series of Rock”—one of several all-day concerts held in the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium in the 1970s. Torn down in 1996, the Stadium was a cavernous structure that held over 80,000 people and served as home for the Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Browns.

For the management of the Indians and the Browns, the World Series of Rock must have been a questionable proposition, regardless of the revenue opportunities, since the concert brought thousands of people on to the field and chewed up the turf. But for concertgoers—at least for me, a sixteen year old—it was a kind of delirious mayhem.

The first World Series of Rock concerts took place in the summer of 1974, and I attended two of them. The first included the Beach Boys, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Joe Walsh, and REO Speedwagon. The second featured Santana, the Band, Jesse Colin Young, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.

The crowds that attended these concerts were huge and rowdy (drugs and alcohol had their effect), and I remember feeling exhilarated—and a little fearful—when I ventured onto the infield and was engulfed by a mob of people.  It turns out my apprehensions had some merit since several people ended up getting seriously hurt when they jumped or fell from the second deck of the stadium.

There is nothing like a live concert to drive home the sensory pleasures of rock ‘n roll. It’s a full body experience, especially if you are an adolescent male.  I remember hearing Lyrnyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” for the first time (in the smoking lounge of my high school) and thinking of it as some kind of revelation (just short of “Stairway to Heaven”).  Seeing/hearing it performed live at the Cleveland Stadium—with dual guitar solos—did not disappoint.

The fact that I saw this concert with thousands of other people raises a question that Matt suggests in his post.  Can you be a music fan by yourself?  Or does being a fan necessarily mean being part of a larger collective?

Being a Fan

I would like to take a second to discuss this photograph. And, yes, I can hear you: “Here he goes again. First, procrastination and now college hoops. What, exactly, does this post have to do with music.”

Well, I’ll tell you. It has to do with being a fan, specifically how being a fan of something or someone when you are a kid is impossible to replicate in adulthood.

This picture was taken in December, 1982; I was 12 years old and a rabid fan of the University of Virginia basketball team. Growing up an hour or so away from Charlottesville at a time when the Cavaliers were one of the best teams in the country and featured the best player in America, Ralph Sampson, I lived and died with UVA hoops. Nothing was as important. And while I still follow the Cavaliers and consider myself a big fan of both their football and basketball teams, it’s not the same. I was reminded of this the second I took a look at this photo, which an old friend pointed out to me with the message, “Get ready for some serious nostalgia.”

As soon as I saw this image of Ralph battling with Patrick Ewing under the basket in what was then called “The Game of the Century,” I was hit with a wave of emotion that is near impossible to describe. Seeing that uniform, and not just that uniform but that uniform in that particular moment, frozen in time, made me feel for a nanosecond like I was 12 again, and there was no more important thing in my orbit than the fate of the UVA basketball team. And then the feeling faded, like a wisp of steam evaporating in the air.

Had I been a music nerd rather than a sports nerd at that time, I imagine that I’d have a similar reaction to artists who I first heard as a young adolescent, when one’s love for something is unencumbered by, well, real life. As it is, I still have visceral reactions to albums that I remember my parents playing at that time (The Beatles’ “Abby Road” and Lester Flatt’s and Earl Scruggs’ “Nashville Airplane” are at the top of the list), but the feeling is not as intense as it would be if I had wanted to be a musician or a music journalist.

So, what about you? What takes you back to adolescence and makes you feel like a kid again?

Procrastination Nation

I’m a procrastinator. A big one. And I don’t know if this is true about others who are prone to procrastination, but I am more likely to put off doing something if the task involves subject matter that I’m really interested in. Take the Sunday New York Times, for instance. I often read the sections I’m least interested in first, and “save” the sections I’m most looking forward to reading. This means that I am about 12 weeks behind in reading the Sunday Times Magazine and have fallen into the borderline (?) obsessive-compulsive habit of saving the Book Review and Formerly-Named-Week-in-Review sections for the following Sunday, at which point I read both right before I take a look at that day’s paper. (Yes, it can be exhausting being me. I’m sure it’s even more tiring living with me, but you’d have to ask my wife.)

Now, I’m sure you’re asking (that is, if you are still on this page): What does this have to do with music, specifically as it relates to this particular blog that Tim and I are starting? Well, for nearly two weeks I’ve been intending to write about REM, specifically the band’s decision to call it quits after 30-odd years of playing music together. I’ve put off this effort for a number of reasons—none of which have to do with the hubristic notion that I’ll be writing anything profound or different. Rather, I’ve put off this idea because I’ve been looking forward to it and because, well, I do have some things to say. I’m just not ready to say them yet. Because it’s something that interests me. (Again, exhausting.)

But, I don’t want you, dear reader, to go away empty handed. That is to say, I want you to come away from this post with something more than a handle on my neuroses, so I thought that since it’s the beginning of fall, now would be a good time to offer up a few recommendations for new music that has caught my attention. (And lest you worry that I’m not interested in this post, understand that I intended to do this last week.)

Matt’s picks

  • Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Hysterical
    These guys made a big splash in 2005 with their self-produced, self-released eponymous album (that was really quite, quite good), followed that with a mediocre second album a few years later, and have now atoned for their sophomore slump with this infectious, shimmery release.
  • Beruit, The Rip Tide
    Yes, this album sounds like just about everything else these guys have done, but that’s not necessarily bad, is it? Melodic, eclectic poppy fun.
  • Marsalis & Clapton, Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton Play the Blues
    I mean, why not? Two of the masters jamming together…what’s not to like?
  • Tony Bennett, Duets II
    Ok, I need to explain this one. I don’t really care for Tony Bennett (I’m a Sinatra guy) and I’m usually suspicious of these duet efforts (unless it’s, like, Armstrong and Fitzgerald), but after reading Gay Talese’s profile of Bennett in the New Yorker, I was intrigued enough to sample a track on iTunes, and damn if I wasn’t impressed with Bennett and Lady GaGa’s version of “The Lady Is A Tramp.” Out of pure snobbery, I had never listened to Lady GaGa before, but she can sing, really sing, and you can tell that she and Bennett hit it off. (And this was the subject of Talese’s piece.) Now, I’m not sure the entire album, is worth a buy recommendation, but this track certainly is.

Pure Pop for Now (or is it, Then?) People

Last week Nick Lowe came out with a new album called That Old Magic, and it’s really good. I’ve been a fan of Lowe since his first solo album, which was released in Britain as Jesus of Cool but was retitled for the American market as Pure Pop for Now People. This was 1978, and as a college student who aspired to be cool, I found Lowe’s music just the ticket. It was melodic, clever, ironic, and poppy.  One song on Pure Pop is called “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass,” while another is about a woman eaten by her dachshund.  Lowe also wrote “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding,” and produced several Elvis Costello albums. As an iconoclast, Nick Lowe knew how to have fun.

In more recent years, beginning with his 1994 album, The Impossible Bird, Lowe has been writing and singing songs that evoke Buddy Holly, Frank Sinatra, and his former father-in-law, Johnny Cash.  This is Lowe in a more reflective, wistful, even soulful mode.  More lounge crooner than New Wave rocker—and a good deal older (he is now 62)—this Nick Lowe is still completely immersed in pop music.  It’s just that the vantage point and emotional perspective have shifted. Like his previous four albums, That Old Magic is filled with longing and tinged with the blues, including an awareness of what it means to grow old as a pop singer.

You can read about That Old Magic and Lowe’s career in this New York Times piece, or listen to Terry Gross’ interview of him, which aired this past week on NPR and features an in-studio performance with Lowe covering several songs.

And on the subject of old pop music cycling into the new, you don’t want to miss Gay Talese writing in The New Yorker on Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. Pure pop traveling across the generations, sped by desire.  (Unfortunately, if you don’t subscribe to the magazine, you won’t have full access to Talese’s article.)