My sophomore year of high school was eye-opening. It was the year I joined the men’s choir. It was the year I met Jason, Eric, Tim, and Bill. It was the year I started playing D&D. This was the year I started reading Tom Robbins and Kurt Vonnegut. It was the year I learned how music questions and changes the world.
I came out of St. Ambrose after eighth grade liking the music that my parents liked. Billy Joel, John Denver, Peter Paul & Mary, Kenny Rogers, Simon & Garfunkel. All pretty mellow, and let’s be honest, pretty white bread. That’s fine, and that has its place…I still listen to this. But I’ll never forget when Tim popped a cassette into the boombox and played California Uber Alles by the Dead Kennedys. The drums, the driving bass, Jello Biafra’s crazy vocals; it blew my mind.
Each of my friends introduced me to a style of music I’d never heard before. James gave me old Genesis, Aldo Nova, and the Art of Noise. Eric gave me Marillion. Bill, Jason, and I got into Prog Rock about the same time: Yes, Asia, and ELP. There was metal as well: Iron Maiden and Queensryche. Tim, though, Tim gave me some of the stuff that made me realize just how powerful music can be. Tim introduced me to punk via Seven Seconds and the Dead Kennedys. He introduced me to rap, as well. Imagine a bunch of suburban white kids rolling through Brunswick, Ohio, in Bill’s pea-green ’74 Cadillac Coup de Ville listening to Straight Outta Compton by NWA at full blast.
Is this comical? Of course, it is. But it was NWA that opened my eyes to how different things were outside of our little Midwestern wonderland. It was punk that showed me how directly you could question authority and made me want to understand the social side of what they were protesting. I was a dumb, pretentious kid with no perspective, but suddenly I had a window to a bigger world, and I was hungry for it.
I’m not sure I made good use of that knowledge, but when I meet people who don’t have it, I pity them; their worlds are small, lacking in external perspectives.
And now, when my kids walk in on me listening to something expected, and they ask, “What is this?” I get a big smile on my face.