Test Of Time

Like an old friend you haven’t seen in years, listening to music from the past effortlessly triggers memories long forgotten

by Lee Abraham

Most folks don’t like to move. At least that’s what I hear. Can’t say I’m one of ‘em though. Sorta grew up movin’ from one town to the next. It’s like a never ending opportunity to change, grow and experience new things. You see a lot. But maybe the best part of moving is the way it weeds out the weash. You know -weash-... stuff that’s weak or harsh, and all the unavoidable negative bullshit in between that goes along with this thing called the human condition. Nothin’ more liberating than watchin’ a big, fat, bag-o-weash disappear in the rear view mirror.

Of course the yin to weash’s yang is the good stuff that makes the cut and moves along with you. Stuff like your favorite blue jeans and that beat up old wok that still makes a mean stir fry. And yeah, you find out who your friends are when you move. It’s not so much a matter of who keeps in touch that tells ya, it’s how things go when you cross paths again. Everyone’s experienced that ‘never missed a beat’ feeling with people you are -really- close to, even though you may not have seen them for years. Like I said, moving weeds out the weash.

So anyway, I’ve been back in San Diego for about a month. For the past eight months or so on the road I had my essential listening collection with me. A lot of jazz, ambient soundscapes, world beat, and other stuff conducive to creating the proper ambiance for writing. And then there’s a healthy dose of ‘psych-up’ stuff, mostly cassette tapes with songs from a carefully selected variety of artists guaranteed to push my increasingly difficult to locate get-off-your-ass button. Ironically, these tapes are also great for driving. After plunking down the security deposit and first month’s rent for my new digs, then retrieving the storage room full of furniture, clothes, sporting equipment and way too much other crap to mention, the process of organizing the apartment began. Of course, I started with the necessities. What a joy to get that stereo fired up!

Eight months of discman/boombox technology is fine for traveling, but nothing makes me feel more at home than the warm glow of an audio enduced, hi-fi, high volume eargasm. Especially, when playing some ‘long forgotten,’ favorite tunes. Creating the illusion of order from the all too real disarray of my new apartment, I realized that my own collection of music fell into three different categories: CD’s; cassette tapes; and LP’s.

Of course the CDs are the most recent additions and are pretty much what I spend the most time listening to these days. The cassettes clearly reflect a heavy Grateful Dead influence. Like many deadheads, I went through a fast and furious period of trading tapes. And I’ve got all the boxes of dusty old cassettes to prove it. Plenty of other stuff on cassette too, but over half of my tapes are Dead shows. In addition to the Dead, there’s a healthy dose of Phish, the Radiators, Miles Davis, Widespread Panic and lots of other live stuff from -King Biscuit Flower Hour- or -Live From the BBC- radio broadcasts.

Now in all truth, it was only last night when I finally tackled organizing my LP’s. And yes, I still have a turntable to play ‘em. Even if it is a little worse for wear and tear, particularly the ‘needle,’ which somehow got bent way outa whack, my good old Marantz "Auto Return, Direct Drive" spinning platter still spins. Didn’t even look too shabby after a good dusting. One of the coolest things about the turntable is a dial for speeding up or slowing down the rotation. Can’t even guesstimate how many hours I spent in past lives mesmerized by the oh-so-trippy little orangish light that sort of bounces along, indicating if the turntable is spinning at the proper speed.

Stoked by the fact that I could still listen to these old records, I began alphabetizing. Even though I had been gone for eight months, it had actually been several years since I hooked up the turntable. And of course, these LPs are the oldest part of my music collection, which dates back to the late ‘60s. My first two LP’s were The Monkees self titled debut and "Meet The Beatles," which had a couple of my all time favorite sing-a-longs, "I Saw Her Standing There," and "I Want To Hold Your Hand." Maybe it’s selective memory at work, but I can’t recall if I got the Beatles or the Monkees first. I do remember that I had some of the small ‘45s,’ even before the LP’s. Both the "Ballad of the Green Berets" and Johnny Cash’s single, "A Boy Named Sue" were a couple of my faves as a kid.

As I sorted through the records, a handful of LPs jumped out at me like unexpectedly crossing paths with an old friend at a concert. Taking a moment or two to get reacquainted with the album covers and liner notes, my mind flashed back to points on the line from high school and college when I was first finding out about the musical phenomenon known as "jamming." Here’s some of the LPs that permanently altered my state of consciousness:

-Allman Brothers - Live At The Fillmore East. This was the ultimate ‘air guitar’ album! While the interaction between Duane Allman and Dicky Betts had me pluckin’ belly button and fantasizing about what it would be like to be able to play guitar that good, it was the brilliant bottom end work of Berry Oakley on bass that pushed the action, and really made this music so irresistible.

-The Band - Rock Of Ages. If the Allman Brothers, -Live At The Fillmore East- was the ultimate ‘air guitar’ album, -Rock Of Ages- was the ultimate ‘sing along’ album. Still is. Meaningful lyrics, captivating melodies, and passionate performances are a timeless combination.

-Commander Cody & the Lost Planet Airmen - Lost In The Ozone. Like a lot of folks, my first exposure to the Commander’s good time, rockin’ swing was the radio hit, "Hot Rod Lincoln." Looking through the record bins at the local Sam Goody back in the mid ‘70s, I came across -Lost In The Ozone-. Not only did the cover art, an illustration of a stoner music freak smoking a fatty and sporting an illegal smile, catch my eye, the spacy title captured my imagination. Funny how the more things changes, the more they remain the same...

-Creedence Clearwater Revival - Willy And The Poor Boys. Another top notch sing along record. Not a lot of extended jammin’ on this album, but what the hey, with songs this good, who cares?

-The Good Rats - Tasty, and also Ratcity in Blue. I remember the first time I saw the Good Rats at a local bar called "Tuey’s" out on Long Island. I was still in high school and underage. By that time, I had already purchased a couple of their records and knew all the words to their songs. The Good Rats used to bring out a garbage can full of rubber rats they’d throw out to the audience for souvenirs. Actually got one that night. Sure, I had to fly into a mad scramble on the floor to come away with the rat, who I might add lost an ear in the fracas, but I still have that one eared rat. Not to mention the memories.

-Grateful Dead - Steal Your Face, Europe ’72. Although I had heard a little Grateful Dead here and there, it wasn’t until I saw the Grateful Dead movie on Christmas Eve, I think it was ‘78, that I got on the bus. Went out and purchased -Steal Your Face- the day after Xmas and totally dug it. Went back to the record store and bought a few more Dead records, most notably -Europe ‘72-. Aside from the awesome jams, the cover art was by far the coolest I had ever seen. Just thinking about that now famous liner note: "Dead Heads - send us your address and we’ll keep you informed," and the long strange trip that followed, makes me smile.

-Hot Tuna - Burgers. When it came time to really cut loose in the dorm, -Burgers- was the album that got played. Very few records take listeners on a wilder trip - from the lush acoustic majesty of "The Water Song," to "Keep On Truckin’s," hippie fried ragtime, and the heavy crunch of "Ode For Billy Dean," -Burgers- was, and still is, serious brain food.

-Little Feat - Waiting For Columbus. A good buddy turned me on to the Feat during our last year of high school. I thought they sounded like a funked up cross between the Dead and the Band and totally got off on their unique blend of chops and inspiration. Can you say, ‘road drivin’ music?’

-Bob Marley - Babylon By Bus. One of my all time concert highlights was seeing Bob Marley and the Wailers live on Halloween night back in ’78 or ’79, at some Ivy League school. Pretty sure it was Cornell. I still have the poster somewhere. Doesn’t matter though. Seeing Bob Marley perform was a truly spiritual experience, and listening to the crackling energy on each and every track of this incredible triple live album still gives me goose bumps...

-Marshall Tucker - Where We All Belong. Half studio, half live, and all good. "This Ol’ Cowboy," just gets better as the years go by, and the fired up jammin’ on "Ramblin’," and "24 Hours at a Time," still sound as good today as they did way back when.

-Neil Young - Comes A Time. Regardless of how cold the New York winter’s got, listening to Neil’s acoustic guitar and I-don’t-care-if-you-like-my-voice always seemed to warm up the dorm room. Another sing along classic.

-Frank Zappa - Apostrophe. Funny, strange, and very different than all the other music I was into at the time, listening to Zappa was like ‘getting’ an inside joke or belonging to a secret society. And as the years went on and my interest in jazz grew, so did my appreciation of Zappa’s artistry.

So many memories, long forgotten, yet triggered effortlessly by looking at an old record, or listening to a song. Hmm, maybe it’s time to dig into those boxes of concert tapes...