It was the early 1970s and we were living in Portland, Ore. I was 11 years old in the sixth grade, and bell bottoms were in vogue and so, too, was rock ‘n’ roll. During breaks in my sixth-grade class, we’d sit around a table, plug a headphone into a turntable and listen to an album brought from home. That’s where I first heard Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.
At home, an old turquoise-and-white AM radio sat next to my bed, and I often fell asleep listening to Neil Young’s plaintive “Heart of Gold,” and America’s “Horse with No Name.” That was when I bought my first record album — James Gang Rides Again, the breakthrough album by the band led by future Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh — and I listened to it over and over again.
Music had so captivated us, the younger generation, that our school sent notes home to our parents in response to the second-most popular song in 1972, “Alone Again (Naturally)” by Gilbert O’Sullivan. The concern was that the melancholy tune would affect us adversely. Parents were urged to watch us for signs of depression.
By the time I was in high school, I couldn’t wait to get home with a new album I had purchased so I could sit down and devour it: listening to the groove powered by my Sansui receiver; appreciating the cover art design; and reading more about the recording in the liner notes.
Listening to music was pure ritual, and it was a bond that my close friends and I shared — and it sustained me for many years, until something else — parenting — took its place.
Packed and unpacked
In October 1995 I sold all but about 200 albums, packed up my stereo and moved to Minnesota, where I kept said albums and stereo in boxes for years. In 2010, when my wife and I sold our split-level home in Woodbury, I also sold my turntable, amp and speakers in a garage sale.
Since then, we have moved three times. We packed and unpacked, recycled and donated. Now our belongings fit comfortably in our two-bedroom duplex — and we are finally relaxing into what appears to be a new normal. It feels like taking a breath of fresh air for the first time.
Love for music
The simple truth is that my love for music was never packed away; like everyone else, I just changed how I listened to it. Record albums were replaced by CDs, and CDs were replaced by “the cloud,” and shorter attention spans focused on songs, not albums. I found myself listening almost exclusively on my computer, and music often only served as background embellishment while I worked.
Fortunately, life has a way of circling around again. I now meditate daily and find value in being present, and I am looking forward to taking the time to truly devour music again — the slow way, listening to one album side at a time, with no distractions.
I am putting a new stereo together again with the help of craigslist and eBay, and my record albums are unpacked. I began alphabetizing them last night, remembering a little something about every record in my collection.
In this crazy time of change, let’s all slow down and take the time to truly listen, for in the grooves are melodies that stir the soul.