Friday, July 15, 2005

"At the end of my rainbow lies a golden oldie..."

My dream, for as long as I can remember, was to own a music shop. Before I was even in kindergarten I was digging music and studying the labels of my Mom’s and older sister’s 45’s. I couldn’t read much beyond a few three-letter words like C-A-T, yet knew exactly which records were The Beach Boys and The Beatles by the distinctive yellow and orange yin-yang label of Capitol Records. I’d get them confused at times, since both bands were on Capitol and began with the letter “B,” but either way I figured I was coming out ahead, because I loved both bands.

I knew all the words to “She Loves You” and “Sloop John B” long before learning the normal kiddie songs like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “London Bridge is Falling Down.”

Dragging a stepstool from the kitchen to the living room, I'd position it in front of the stereo cabinet (back when record players were large, polished wood furniture pieces) and stick the records on endless repeat. I would shimmy, dance and spin around until my tiny legs would buckle, sending me crashing to the floor, exhausted, laughing, and very dizzy. I was always careful with the tone-arm because not only did it resemble a long thin black snake, it also had a nasty habit of issuing an electric shock if there was too much static in the polyester/wool carpet. I dubbed the jolt a “snakebite,” and chalked up each "bite" as par for the musical course. In retrospect, it would have been easier on my current-charged fingers if the stepladder hadn't been metal, and would have been better still had I not had to drag it across the poly/wool carpet.

Early musical knowledge was certainly aided by the fact that Mom was a big music fan herself with a seemingly endless supply of Elvis (on RCA with Nipper the dog listening to the old phonograph), The Everly Brothers (on the purple Cadence label) and Sam Cooke (Specialty Records, label: yellow & white). She never made a fuss and in fact encouraged me to haul out those 45s and pop them onto the record player.

When I ventured from the labels I recognized there were still more surprises. There was an entire collection of Hank Williams, George Jones and Mom’s favorite, The Louvin Brothers, among many others. Long before I came along Mom had been a member of The Louvin Brothers Fan Club and had gone to every show they performed in a three state area. She sang me to sleep at night with their standards, and even now, whenever I hear someone covering “In The Pines,” I feel sleepy and at peace with the world.

My sister was another matter entirely. She forbade me to enter her room, let alone touch her precious Beatles records. Of course, she had to go to school and I didn’t, so Mom would happily let me play whatever I wanted, as long as the records were put away before the 3pm bus brought my sister screaming back into the house. Rooting around through her records was my favorite hobby, one which gave me an extra thrill because of the clandestine nature in which I had to listen to them. It was through her that I first heard Van Morrison, The Rolling Stones and of course The Beatles and Beach Boys.

She also had records with labels that looked scary, like Rare Earth’s “I Just Want To Celebrate,” which was a psychedelic forest of a label whose name escapes me now. There was another that showed a record with flames shooting out of the bottom of it. Had I been able to read, the name of the band would have given me more cause for alarm, as they were aptly named The Mind Benders. I usually shied away from the scary labels, because the music was too far out for a little pig-tailed kid such as I. Oh, no doubt about it, I’d grow to appreciate them in later years, but when I was a scrawny little girl the scary labels were too much of an aural assault.

There were also innocuous looking labels that packed a real punch, several of which I discovered during my covert listening fests. One was a harmless looking red and white label with a cameo of a woman stamped on it. It was, of course, The Cameo label, but I didn’t know that at the time. I gingerly put the record on and dropped the snakearm, only to be bombarded with a crazy man screaming “I NEED SOMEBODY TO HELP ME THROUGH” and it blasted me right off the tiny orange stool on which I so precariously perched. The band was ? and the Mysterians, and it became a quick personal favorite after I recovered from the shock.

Taking a deep breath, I flipped the record over and quickly fell in love with “96 Tears” as well.

Over time I wore the grooves clean through that record, and broke Dad’s chair in the process, spinning around and around in it until I was sick.

The other record I discovered that same day was on a colorful label that resembled stained glass and had a many armed creature encircling the top. It was a very early Buddah Records design, and would be rather collectible years later. Excited over the Cameo find, I plunked the needle on the record and waited eagerly, as sounds of a train chugging into the distance wafted out of the speakers. "Train hurry up, bring my baby back...Halleluah hear it comin' on down the track..." I’d never heard keyboards played with such abandon, and the 1910 Fruitgum Company’s “The Train” became a cheesy, lifelong favorite.

Now the highlight of each weekend was when Mom packed me and my sister into the blue Buick and headed to Lakes, the local music shop. I’d wander along the shiny pink and cream tiled floor, peering at all the pretty labels and wondering what jewels they beheld.

The place smelled of music to me, a heady combination of pine and freshly minted vinyl.

It was on one of those trips that I decided that owning a record store was the best thing in the world. Mr. Lakes, a tall ginger haired bluegrass musician and owner of the shop, would always ask me what I wanted to hear, slide a footstool my way so I could choose from the many colored paper jackets and labels, and seemed pleased to oblige my many requests.

My sister would stand with arms crossed, rolling her eyes and huffing as I plucked record after record out of the bins to hand over to kindly Mr. Lakes. It was from these randomly chosen records that "Solider Boy" by The Shirelles and Danny & The Juniors' famous "At The Hop" became part of the family collection. I could have happily stayed there forever, and my brain buzzed with possibilities.

You got to listen to every record in the world, anytime you wanted, plus there always seemed to be folks sitting around playing guitars and singing. To an impressionable, music loving 5-year old, it was complete nirvana.

My future would be one continuous groove of excellent tunage, or so I hoped.

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