I’ve been thinking about music, and about dancing, and how I love listening to one and watching the other (when done well), but cannot do either.
I’ve listened to music for as long as I can remember. My early memories are of Michael Jackson, of Madonna, of Tina Turner and the Monkees, and then, as I became old enough to be marketed to, of New Edition, New Kids on the Block, Debbie Gibson and Rick Astley. I listened to my radio, begged my mother for cassettes. Anything I didn’t have the ten bucks for, I’d tape off of the radio. I made mix tapes from Top 40 Countdowns. I listened to Casey Kasem every weekend. It’s true that my listening tastes could be questionable, but it was the eighties and I wasn’t worldly enough to know the difference.
I finally went to my first concert at the age of eighteen, and I’m lucky enough to have seen many of my favorite performers – and many, many more – live in the ensuing years. There’s a bit of a magic in a live show; something wonderful about watching a performer do what he does, or hearing a crowd sing along to songs that they’ve carried with them for years. I saw Tina Turner in 2008 and couldn’t help crying, because my grandparents saw her on her Private Dancer tour in the 80’s, and I tend to sometimes intermingle my memories of Tina Turner with them in some weird, nostalgic pull. I had composed myself by the time she showed us how she does “Proud Mary,” however, and damned if we didn’t all roll on that river that night.
I thought my grandmother was so cool when I was little. Sure, she was only forty-seven when I was born, but I didn’t realize at five, six, seven years old that “old” people listened to cool music… or that fifty-somethings were surely not old. Nanny owned Thriller, Like a Virgin, and hell, even a Culture Club album, unless my mind is playing tricks on me. Nanny and Pop-Pop once bought me Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy for Christmas. As the story goes, the clerk at the store got a kick out of “old people” buying a Seattle grunge CD. Perspective is an interesting thing.
Music has always fascinated me, and dancing has, as well. The closest I ever got to being light on my feet was when I briefly took ballet lessons as a kid. I didn’t last very long; I got bored of doing pliés and not much else week in and week out. So I hung up my leg warmers and leotard (except for that brief talent show delusion I had in fifth grade) and watched MTV instead. Michael and Janet Jackson, with “Thriller” and “Rhythm Nation”. Madonna with “Vogue”. Paula Abdul. Even later, I will admit to watching NSync during their “No Strings Attached” period and being impressed with the dance moves. As for me? I don’t dance. I am the Brandon Walsh of New Jersey; mostly a wallflower, except for one time, in eighth grade, at the end-of-year social, where I got on the floor, moved about a bit, and danced to Billy Idol’s cover of “Mony, Mony” with classmates and our teachers. Ouch!
I will never be a dancer, but I will always appreciate. It’s why I tap my feet and nod my head at a live show. And, rhythm or not, the melody is what I can relate to. It’s what has brought me to Strawberry Fields over the years, to sing along with Beatles fans. It’s what had me shelling out a large chunk of money each year to see performers on the stage throughout my twenties and early thirties. It’s why I had hundreds of CDs and have tens of thousands of tracks in my iTunes library. It’s why I scrobble to last.fm. It’s what had me crying in the weeks after Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston died. I don’t get hysteria, fainting and freaking in the presence of someone. But I do get the pull that music has on people. I feel that pull. I’ve felt it as Stevie Nicks sang “Landslide” and as Bruce Springsteen sang “Thunder Road” and Steven Tyler sang “Dream On” and, while there is plenty going on in the world, always, that we should be paying attention to, it doesn’t make music and what it does to people any less valid.
This essay was originally written in June, 2009. It is published here with edits.
“Stereo” photo: givesmehell