Music means a lot to me. In high school I learned that it could be used to mitigate aspects of the worst of my mood swings. I’d listen to Judas Priest to burn through my rage, Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” as some sort of lyrical commiseration for alienation, and Oingo Boingo gave me somewhere to redirect surplus energy. Music got me through a lot of tough times, and still holds a near-mystical power over me as it does with most people, I imagine.
We had a small record player when I was very young and some kids records that I think came from the childhood of my mother. Disney singles of Cinderella’s “Bibbidi bobbidi boo” song and the like. My sister and I listened to them often and eventually we were allowed access to the bigger stereo in the living room and my dad’s LP collection. Oddly enough, other than the occasional Christmas album, I really only listened to a Roger Miller LP and the soundtrack from “Paint Your Wagon”. Still, it was enough to get me hooked and I began to feel the need to build my own collection.
By the time I was old enough to have an allowance I would usually spend some of it at the record store in Fashion Place Mall when my mom would cart us off shopping. Eventually I had a growing collection of 45’s. I vividly remember approaching the checkout counter at The Music Stop at the mall with the single for ELO’s “Turn to Stone” when I was about 10 or 11. A tall guy* waiting in line noticed what I was doing and asked why I was just buying a single when for the price of a few singles I could have the whole album. I remember feeling like I got caught doing something wrong. After about a minute I put the 45 back and started looking at the whole “Out of the Blue” album. I think it cost $8 and it was a real hit to my child’s velcro wallet, but I did have that much. I remember kind of sucking it up and making the decision to go with the cassette of the whole album.
You might have guessed that I’ve just finished listening to “Out of the Blue” for the first time in decades. I seem to have a couple of ELO compilation albums, but somehow “Out of the Blue” never made the crossover from cassette to CD. It seems to be beyond my abilities to get over the power of music to transport me across the ages. I haven’t heard (or thought of) “Night in the City” since my teen years, yet I find my mind leading the music by a half a second anticipating the lyrics.
My morning class in my freshman year in high school had a pair of talkative girls, probably seniors, who liked to tease the shy little freshman that sat across the table from them**. One day they asked me what my favourite band was and I told them ELO and they laughed at me. Ever since then when I admit to liking ELO I feel a bit ashamed, and sometimes even apologize.
That one little interaction from those girls as well as the one from the guy ahead of me in line at the record store both had huge repercussions in my life. I’m forever altered by something so seemingly insignificant that happened in passing. I have no doubt that anyone but me involved in those exchanges has any inkling of the conversation’s existence, much less their impact. Listening to the album today brought both instances back to mind and has made me wonder how often I’ve off-handedly reacted to something that’s had similar repercussions for someone else. My thoughts tend to roll off the tip of my tongue without much consideration, and I imagine I’ve done my share of damage, though over the last half of my life I’ve tried to excise any mean spiritedness from my personality. Hopefully, as clichéd as it sounds, I’ve had a net positive result. Although it’s possible I wouldn’t feel too bad if in 40 years someone feels a little ashamed of admitting to liking One Direction because of something I said.
* He could have been 16 or 36 for all I could really tell at the time
**When they noticed him at all, which, mercifully, wasn’t often.