I know. I know. This is a gardening blog, but WordPress has issued a Daily Post Challenge , a writing prompt that spoke to me — or rather, that sang to me. The task was to pick a song — any song — and write about it.
My first impulse was to select “Autumn Leaves,” by Nat King Cole, and add a few leafy photos — and although I love the idea of being wrapped in the velvet of his voice, it almost seemed too obvious. Another time, perhaps, because this music post begs to be more personal.
For months now, Joe and I have been trying to simplify our lives, but there is one area of my own life that remains a hold out. It’s my vinyl record collection, which now sits — alphabetically, of course — in crates that are stacked in my closet. I’m having a very hard time parting with my records. I’ve been talking about it for about 10 years now.
My records, you see, are important to me. They are the records I’ve carried with me for decades, the records I used on countless mix tapes, the records I uploaded onto my computer and burned onto CDs, the records I now listen to on my iPod. Yes, these albums, 12” singles, and imports can tell a story of me better than any diary.
The collection begins with those first purchases made with my allowance money in my early adolescence, when my musical taste was still developing. It’s the only way I can rationalize my Barry Manilow phase.
Then, there was the disco period, records purchased after I first heard them on “American Bandstand” and “Soul Train.” I probably could have stuck with disco if it hadn’t become so commercialized and if my parents hadn’t started listening to it.
My music palate clearly needed to change.
And change is a good word to use, because I was changing as quickly as my record collection. I spent the bulk of my adolescence fighting my identity, denying who I was — a young gay man ashamed and afraid to be gay, living in a world — in Ronald Reagan’s world — when some things just weren’t spoken about, when there weren’t any positive gay role models. In fact, any talk of gay and positive in the same sentence usually meant HIV. In those dark ages, there was no Ellen, no talk of same sex marriage, no coming out.
As isolated and introverted as I often felt, music — specifically college radio — helped me to feel connected, helped me to think of a world beyond my high school walls. It was there that I first heard Depeche Mode’s “New Life.”
The synth-pop sound was unlike anything I had heard on top 40 radio — and it gave me the courage to be rebellious, creative, and more at ease with myself. That first listen eventually led to Duran Duran, The Clash, Psychedelic Furs, Romeo Void, The Stray Cats, Lene Lovich, Dead or Alive, Bronski Beat, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Adam and the Ants, Spandau Ballet, and so many more amazing performers.
Fast forward to my debut.
In the Long Island town where I lived, there was a very popular disco, Uncle Sam’s. For me, it always represented something magical, a means out of my suburban existence. On Wednesday nights, though, the venue was transformed into Spit — a club catering to the New Wave and Punk sound embraced by WLIR, a local radio station. The entrance was in the rear, where it was grittier and rougher than the glamorous front doors on the street side.
One Wednesday night, my friends and I walked in for the very first time and I was hooked. The lights flashed and spun to the music, the sound throbbed my inner core, and the crowd — in their shredded black clothing and metal accessories — teemed with energy.
But what made Spit special was the dance floor — or rather, the speakers that surrounded the dance floor. Female regulars would often climb on top of them to dance — entertainment for the creatures below.
I looked up at the dancers, admiring their confidence and uninhibitedness and love of life — and, I wanted to be up there. I didn’t know how I — a preppy-by-day, reserved, quiet, closeted kid — could do it, would do it. But the speakers were bigger than the sound that boomed from them. They symbolized freedom, a pulsating yellow brick road into a new world.
My friends and I often fantasized about getting onto those speakers, but no one ever made a move, no one wanted to be the first. Perhaps, in the words of Kajagoogoo, we were too shy.
That all changed, though, one Wednesday night, when I heard the sci-fi opening of “Planet Claire,” by the B-52s.
I moved away from my friends and toward a speaker. I leaned my back against it. I lifted myself up until I was sitting on it. Then, I stood up — suddenly aware that my legs felt like limp noodles — and I danced with myself, with strangers, with the masses, with my friends cheering at my feet, with the music filling my soul.
Now that I’m 50, my knees can no longer take the pounding that they once did. But when I pull out the crates from my closet, look at the album art, and listen to the music of my youth, I can still see the lights in sync with the beat. I can sense the crowd moving in unison to the sound. I can feel the intense rush of dancing on a speaker . . .
And I wonder: can I ever part with a record collection that makes me feel 19 and free?