The Best Of Times
I’ve spent a lot of time in headphones. Not the hip, white Ipod ear buds. I’m talking about the clunky, heavy ones that lock the world out, and keep the music in.
My earliest experience with music was via a powder blue Fischer Price record player. Later, my grandparents bought me a bright pink Radio Shack transistor radio. But the music that mattered the most, the sounds that really began to transform who I was becoming, came from my parents Magnavox cabinet stereo console.
This thing wasn’t just an AM/FM, cassette player and turntable, it was furniture. It was a huge oak paneled thing the size of a couch. And when I was a kid — eight or nine years old — living in Oak Park, IL, I spent hours and hours sitting in front of it Indian-style listening to records. Heavy rotation at the time consisted primarily of Neil Diamond’s “The Jazz Singer,” Journey’s “Escape,” the “Fame” soundtrack, and especially Styx’s “Paradise Theater.”
“Paradise Theater,” you’ll recall, was a concept album about the rise and fall of a Chicago landmark. It was a Dennis Dee Young rock opera with a few coke-addled Tommy Shaw rockers in-between. Though I didn’t really know any of that at the time. I only knew that I could sing along, and that if I closed my eyes, I could imagine myself on stage at the actual Paradise Theater. It was close enough to be real, but distant enough to be fantasy.
Years later, on New Year’s Eve 1988 or so, a colleague at the video store I worked at gave me a joint. My best friend, Sibby, and I smoked half of it before falling into our respective stupors: he, in front of a Flyers game, me in front of the stereo (then a Fischer console system with a still-novel CD player). I put on Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” and — like so may stoners before me — disappeared into the music. Again, I closed my eyes, and imagined myself surrounded by towering amplifiers on an enormous stage.
I have stood on hundreds of stages since then, some enormous, some not. I have disappeared into the music thousands of times. That transformation, that transition out from the flesh and into the ether, never fails to move me to me deepest places. Last night was no exception.
Strap on some headphones. Have a listen. Tune the world out, and the music in. See where it takes you.
I’ll meet you there.