Thank You for the Music!

Thank You for the Music!

Thanksgiving is a time for reflecting on all the things we’re thankful for, be it large or small. As such, it occurred to me that we often neglect to properly thank the people in our lives that helped shape our musical taste. As I set out to change that, I extended the invitation to the rest of the Popdose family. So as you settle into the post-turkey dip, stop, reminisce, and practice some gratitude with us. —Michael Parr

My high school was near my aunt and uncle’s house. My uncle worked in a steel mill, and when he worked the swing shift, I would go over to babysit my cousins for the few hours between when he left for work and my aunt came home. He was a big fan of the big album-rock bands and he had a subscription to Rolling Stone. This was a novelty for me, because my parents have no taste in music. (My father knew every single elevator music station in the state of Ohio and could switch seamlessly between them whenever one started to fall out of range.) Anyway, I would sit at my cousins’ house on those afternoons and listen to Uncle Chuck’s records and catch up on any Rolling Stones that had accumulated since his last time on the swing shift. That’s how I learned about the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Who, not to mention Bruce Springsteen, Pure Prairie League, and Rush. Thanks to Rolling Stone’s coverage of that crazy New Wave movement, which the editors weren’t sure they liked, I learned all sorts of trivia about bands I had never heard of like Elvis Costello and the Attractions and Siouxsie and the Banshees. I knew what to buy when the National Record Market started carrying these records, even if they weren’t getting any radio play in Youngstown.

When my uncle was on the day shift, I’d go to my grandfather’s. He also lived near my high school. He played BBC World Service on his world band radio and served me generic cookies. That was is a nice memory, too, but not a musical one.

My aunt and uncle eventually left Ohio to take a transfer with my aunt’s company after my uncle’s employer shut down. They ended up splitting up, so I probably haven’t seen Uncle Chuck in 15 or 20 years. I still think about him, though, and I wonder whatever happened to his favorite piece of memorabilia, a poster with the original cover of the Beatles’ “Yesterday and Today”. —Annie Logue

It would be a stretch to say I grew up in a traditionally musical household. Sure, my mother had well worn copies of Barry Manilow Live!, Bat Out of Hell and the Grease soundtrack, but I wouldn’t say that the influence strayed beyond the mines of mellow gold. Like many of my Popdose brethren, I had a voracious appetite for every note I could get my hands on. I’d scan the FM dial, recording my favorite tunes first on recordable 8 tracks, before moving onto piles, upon piles, upon piles of cassettes.

It was the summer of ’89 (I think) and I was spending a week with my Aunt Mary and Uncle Barry. That summer I was my Uncle’s assistant as he was painting a house. I can’t really recall what we’d listen to in the truck as we’d make our way out to the house each day, but I vividly recall the mix of Beatles tunes that we’d listen to all day as we worked. I’m pretty sure that the lightbulb that went off over my head was visible from space. I was smitten with “Michelle,” and bopped along to “Drive My Car,” and was absolutely hooked. After that summer I’d devote hours to devouring every note the Fab Four recorded, yet I don’t think I ever thanked my Uncle for sharing The Beatles with me. So thank you, Uncle Barry, for sharing your love of the four lads from Liverpool, and creating a life-long fan. —Michael Parr

I have two primary people to thank for my interest in music, my grandmother and my mother. As a child, my grandmother made sure that I experienced as much of the world as possible. When it came to music, that meant a series of classical music concerts. In those days you got all dressed up and made a whole evening of it. Although my grandfather came along, it was my grandmother that made it happen.

I don’t think my father had any interest in music at all. Thankfully my mom felt differently. She had her favorites too, First among them was Harry Belafonte, and we made the short journey to the Mosque Theatre in Newark, NJ on several occasions to see him perform. There were also the comedic folksingers known as the Limelighters, led by Glenn Yarborough. It seems like we would see them every time they hit town for several years.

My grandfather was responsible for taking me to one of the most memorable concerts of my childhood, but it had more to do with his friendship with a card-playing buddy than it did with music. The son of my grandfather’s friend was a guy named Mort Stevens. Mort was the musical director for Sammy Davis, Jr. for many years. One year my grandfather took me to see Sammy, and Mort got us backstage for a meet-and-greet. It was a thrill for me.

The final influence was my older cousin Mitchell. It was he who took me to Newark to see Bob Dylan in 1966, and Ray Charles at around the same time. Unforgettable.

So it was with those influences in my mind that I set out my own to see shows by the time I was 13 or 14. Thanks to my grandmother and mother, there was never an objection. I saw the Beatles when I was 13, and the Stones for the first time the following year. The Dave Clark Five, the Byrds, and the Beach Boys soon followed. —Ken Shane

I think that in many aspects, my family’s individual parts were so different from each other that I was able to draw a little from each person. Examples: my mom loved the music from the late ’50s and early ’60s but also was very open to everything new. One of her favorite albums before her passing was Tracy Chapman’s Crossroads album.

My father, on the other hand, really didn’t have much use for new music. About the most current thing he liked was when Alan Parsons Project put out the song “Time” (late ’70s/early ’80s?), but mostly because it sounded like the Beach Boys. Instead, he was always most interested in the crooners like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and, his favorite, Perry Como.

My grandparents on my mom’s side were deeply into country-western. My grandfather was particularly enthralled with Hank Williams Sr. I had a cassette recording of Pop playing the guitar and singing “Your Cheatin’ Heart”. For many years I kept the tape in a safe place because it was a sort of family treasure to me.

A side note that will become relevant in a paragraph or so: New Jersey is a ridiculously humid state. During the summertime, the real reason why people rush to the shore is not because of an influx of horny guidos and guidettes. It’s because the coastline is one of the scant few places here where you can’t feel the stickiness so much.

Upon my grandfather’s passing, I sought out that cassette. For many years I thought it was important to get it transferred to digital, but I procrastinated. I don’t know. For the longest time, maybe I thought I was keeping a piece of him all to myself with that cassette. He meant so much to me. He had at his house two guitars (one acoustic, one electric), a banjo (which he didn’t particularly like), and two organs (which he liked a little better). His was the perfect classroom for someone who was becoming obsessed with music, not only in hearing it but in making it.

Well, it was time to “release” his rendition of “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” I thought that if everyone could hear him singing, one more time at his funeral, that would bring a smile to their faces. To my horror, the humid Jersey summers had caused the cassette spools to seize into two circles of immovable oxide film. My grandfather was gone from all of us, but for me at that moment perhaps a little more so.

Many years later I put out an album called The Look and Social Discomfort. The last track was “But Sleep Won’t Come The Whole Night Thru.” I didn’t think I could do Hank Williams justice, but I was sure I couldn’t do John Rue justice, so I tried something else entirely.

Without these divergent poles within my family, I don’t think I would have such a wide-ranging love of music as I do. My musical worldview would be much narrower, less inclusive and, altogether, more boring. I am thankful to all those who took the time to play me the music they loved because it allowed those songs to “infect” me too. —Dw. Dunphy

I owe my love of music to my Dad. My parents divorced before I can remember anything and I used to spend every other weekend with my Dad. Once I reached my teen years my Dad was living around the corner from a record store that would stock all the new 45s of the day. I don’t really know when I started buying records, or what my first record was (my first CD though, was Colour by Numbers by Culture Club) but I do remember Dad handing me a $20 and letting me buy whatever 45s I wanted each week. At $2 a piece I could buy 10 as the owner of the store never charged me the extra sales tax as far as I can remember. I think he got a kick out of seeing a young kid come in to buy the new INXS or Whitney Houston record.

I would put a stack of five on the turntable at once – you know, back in the day they had arms that held the records up, more like a jukebox kind of thing – and listen to them and the set of five that followed right away. My Dad would write a number inside the sleeve, put an address label on the record itself and write the name of it down on an index card before filing it away. To me that was odd at the time but now that I’m totally anal about having my stuff in order and knowing what I own, I go back to that point and remember it came from my Dad. Of course now, I have everything on searchable spreadsheets but still do have the records.

When I was in college and wanted to do an ’80s radio show, it was my Dad that let me “borrow” (I still have them a decade and a half later) about 400 45′s to get it started and I certainly owe a little bit to him for helping me pursue my ’80s collection, which now stands at about 5,000 LP, CDs and 45s large. I guess the thousands of dollars I’ve spent on it is more my fault though.

I remember my Grandfather with a lot of old records and playing around with Lenny Dee and Boots Randolph, you know, the records you now find in every thrift store in America. And I remember my Mom with her couple dozen 45s wearing out “You Dropped A Bomb On Me” by the Gap Band, “I Love a Rainy Night” by Eddie Rabbitt, “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen “Right Down the Line” by Gerry Rafferty and “Born to Be Alive” by Patrick Hernandez. But it still goes back to my old man who got me Lita Ford, Samantha Fox, Tiffany and others that I have the fondest memories of. And speaking of thrift stores, on three different occasions I’ve been looking through records only to come across one with a “Jack Steed” address label on it.

For one reason or another my Dad and I didn’t talk much for many years after I started living on my own and while we still only talk on occasion, it’s not nearly as frequent as it probably should be. Because of that, I’m pretty sure I’ve never thanked him for getting me into music and letting me explore whatever sounds I wanted to. So Dad, thanks (yeah, you too Mom). —Dave Steed

I’m not sure if there’s one person in particular I should or even could thank for my love of music. One interesting quality about me is that I’m sort of a sponge, so many of the people I’ve encountered over the course of my life have, intentional or not, served as teachers over the course of my musical education, and I’m still learning. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a household full of people that loved music. My aunts and uncles combined to create a huge collection of music, filled with the soul and disco hits of the late Seventies and early Eighties. My folks threw house parties several times a year, set up a dance floor (complete with strobe lights and a DJ) and I was allowed not only to stay, socialize and dance, but I was usually allowed to thumb through the crates and crates of records. This alone thrilled me. From my grandmother, I learned to appreciate everything from reggae and calypso to salsa and merengue to Jim Reeves and Tom Jones. My neighbor Andrew was in love with The Police (he named his dog Sting), Queen and Devo, and from watching shows like “Solid Gold” and Casey Kasem’s “America’s Top 10″, I learned to appreciate a lot of the easy listening stuff that was on Top 40 radio back in the early Eighties. There was a little indie record shop called Carl’s on East 48th Street & Church Avenue, three blocks from my house. I remember being in that store at the age of 4, picking out a record every week (or at least it seemed like every week) that the proprietor would let me have for free.I got one of those Fisher-Price record players at the age of five or six, and was going into my piggy bank to retrieve money and buy records on my own within a year of that.

I was eight when I was uprooted from Brooklyn to Michigan to live with my mom and my stepdad. Things definitely changed then. There were no more house parties, and due to various circumstances that I’d rather leave unpublished, my musical education turned into a covert operation. The three years I spent there were pretty miserable, but I remember one of my elementary school teachers, Mr. Duffy, taking an interest in me and my love of music. I remember him giving me a cassette tape that had Rubber Soul on it, and completely falling in love with The Beatles. When I went to New York to visit my grandparents that summer, the two cassettes I bought on my now increasingly rare trips to the record store were Prince’s Parade and Rock & Roll Music, a compilation by The Beatles. I must’ve been the only kid in the ‘hood in Brooklyn blasting “Dizzy Miss Lizzie” and “Revolution” out of a boom box on my front stoop. Bless my grandparents for not only tolerating but quietly indulging my addiction. Even as I got older and they bitched about my allowance money being spent on music to the exclusion of just about anything else (glasses? Who needs new glasses?), my grandfather would slip me cash anytime I was within sniffing distance of a record store practically up until he passed away when I was 16.

In the almost twenty years since, my absorption of music hasn’t stopped, and you could even argue that, thanks to the internet, it’s sped up. I’ve discovered music through co-workers (the one thing I miss about working in a record store is the recommendations of colleagues and customers…OK, that’s not the only thing I miss…), friends eager to feed my addiction and colleagues who mention a favorite song or band of theirs in passing. Hell, writing for Popdose has easily added another shelf full of CDs to my music collection, whether it’s been Robert Cass and Matt Wardlaw singing the praises of Todd Rundgren or Dave Lifton getting me up to speed on Teenage Fanclub and Marshall Crenshaw. I’d like to think I’ve turned more than a few folks on to some of my favorites as well. I’m pretty sure a handful of my friends have bought (or at least checked out) records by everyone from Anthony Hamilton to Mumford and Sons based on my recommendations. My track record hasn’t always been perfect-I apologize to all of my friends for yammering about Maroon 5 for a solid year-but I think my opinion is appreciated, anyway. Most of the time.

All of the people I’ve mentioned and more have been important figures in my musical education, and I thank them dearly for fostering a love and appreciation (some would say addiction) for music that’s kept me sane and provided the soundtrack for a lifetime of highs and lows. However, I think I owe my biggest thanks to music itself, for existing and providing comfort and context when it’s been most sorely needed. —Mike Heyliger

“I like all kinds of music” is something said by people who really don’t like any music at all, because if you did, then you’d have some strong opinions one or the other. As for me, I like two kinds of music: great music and fleeting garbage. As the youngest of three children, I have an older sibling to thank for my appreciation of each genre, my brother and sister, respectively.

Around when I was four or so, my brother became a teenager, and subsequently a voracious consumer of music. Whenever he’d hear something he loved, inclusive, gregarious big brother that he is, he’d invite me into his yellow-shag-carpeted bedroom to share it with me as soon as possible. I don’t think too many four-year-olds knew Van Halen’s 1984, Blondie’s Parallel Lines, or The White Album front to back, but I did. One of my most treasured family mementos, and pop culture artifacts, is a mix tape he made for me in 1984. It’s most of 1984, Thriller, America’s “You Can Do Magic” and various Steel Breeze deep album cuts. My brother would continue to expose me to good music as I got older, introducing me to the Kinks, Pixies, They Might Be Giants, and Nirvana after he saw them perform at his tiny northwestern hippie college in 1989.

And then there was my sister. I heard just as much, if not more music in that same yellow shag-carpeted bedroom she inherited after my brother moved out. It was just a bit more, you know, girly. But ’80s pop is tremendous, or at least I think it is because it was something my sister and I shared together. I remember her freaking out over “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go,” and “You Give Love a Bad Name” and that kind of enthusiasm is infectious. She loved Bananarama, and New Order, and obsessively recording Friday Night Videos. Perhaps the coolest thing she ever did for me was make me a little bit cooler—when she was 15, she went to an INXS concert, and bought me a T-shirt there. It was huge on me, as I was 8, but damn I looked good. —Brian Boone

Music was truly a family affair with the Medsker clan. It began with our mom, who passed down her love for the Beatles, Elton John, Billy Joel and the Moody Blues. (True story: a friend of my mom’s gave her his copy of Abbey Road after its release, saying, “This is just too heavy for me.”) These bands influenced all of us at first, but it wasn’t long before my older brother and sister started growing up and going their own way. And I was right there to soak it all up.

My brother Steve lived in Florida with our dad. He would come up around the holidays (bitching about how redneck Ohio was), and he came armed to the teeth with new wave. One year, it was Devo’s Duty Now for the Future. The next year, it was the B-52s’ Wild Planet. The year after that, it was the Boomtown Rats’ The Fine Art of Surfacing and the English Beat’s I Just Can’t Stop It. MTV had just launched by this time, so I was familiar with all of these bands already, but I never had the cash to buy any of their records, and I sure as hell wasn’t hearing these songs on the radio. I felt like I had just been let in on a well-kept secret, and I relished having these bands to myself. Of course, my friends all thought I was a weirdo, but that was probably going to happen regardless of what was in my Walkman.

My sister Ann, meanwhile, would come back from college break with these newfangled records called 12″ singles. The first one she brought home, no joke, is “You Are in My System” by Robert Palmer, the unofficial Popdose anthem. A couple of years later, Ann and I decorated the Christmas tree while playing the extended mix to “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood a good four months before it cracked the Top 40. She also bought Icehouse’s first album upon its release, which I promptly taped, and taped me a copy of Roxy Music’s Avalon, along with a few cuts from Manifesto, once I expressed an interest in the band. When she graduated from college in 1986, I hit the campus record store and found a used copy of the Icehouse album, and snatched it up. Later, a friend of mine noticed that my last name was written on the back cover. Yep, I had bought her copy of the album. Talk about bringing your influences full circle.

Thank you Mom, Steve and Ann, for showing me the way. I hope I’ve done you proud with what you gave me. —David Medsker

Even though I grew up in a college town, being a high-school student in a lily-white hamlet in the not-too-deep South in the early ’80s was a seriously sheltered existence. Our cable system didn’t even offer MTV until after I’d left for college in the fall of ’83. Pop and album rock were pretty much all that was available on radio, and the B-52s, Elvis Costello, or anybody more edgy than that seemed to be entirely the province of the punk/arty/maybe-gay clique. The rest of us, handcuffed to our Styx/Rush/Journey/Foreigner treadmill, dared not go near. It was only during the summer after graduation that I finally was baptized into the church of alternative rock, thanks to a friend of my brother’s named Mackey Fitzgerald.

Mackey was a vertically challenged kid, a year ahead of me in school, who that summer was biding his time on the way to cooler things by clerking in a shambolic used-record store. One day he and I struck up a conversation — one of those “You haven’t heard THIS? What’s WRONG with you?” conversations — and he wound up shoving an armload of LPs across the counter and ordering me to go listen to them. The stack was laden with things I’d missed while I was overplaying my Hall & Oates albums — among them Armed Forces, East Side Story, Remain in Light, The Specials, Fool Around, Sound Affects, Rocket to Russia … and a new debut record by some band called R.E.M. When I was done with those, I brought them back and traded them for another armload of stuff — more new wave, but also some older music I had never opened myself to: the original Nuggets album, the Raspberries, a four-disc Buddy Holly box, etc., etc.

By the end of that summer Mackey had completely transformed my music- listening agenda … and had introduced me to an activity that would define my relationships with numerous other friends throughout college and afterward: home taping. I took to college a cache of 100 or so homemade tapes that hadn’t been on the shelf on high-school graduation day — and by the time college was over the collection was so big my dad had to build me a revolving tower to store them all. So thanks, Mackey, wherever you are these days … and thanks to all the friends who shared their music collections with me over those years, and accepted mine in return. (And thank you, Maxell and Memorex and TDK, for facilitating years of “record”-button abuse that would make the RIAA’s collective head explode.) —Jon Cummings

Mike Woolley looms large on the south side of Chicago.

Part of it is literal; the guy’s like seven feet tall, and maxes out at about 300 pounds. (Even as a “vegetarian,” his meal of choice was a cheese pizza, french fries, and cold beer.)

The other part of it is more ephemeral, but no less substantial. For years as a high school teacher, first at an all-boys Catholic school at 115th and Cicero and now at a public school in the south suburbs, he’s helped shape tens of thousands of fragile teenage minds, in ways he probably doesn’t even realize. Whether organizing rowdy debates in his U.S. History class or leading a ragtag shaggy band of smart-ass outsiders in IHSA regulation speech competitions, the man made an impact. Still does.

I learned a lot from Mike Woolley, but today we’re talking about music, so I’ll tell you what he taught me about what I should be listening to, and what I shouldn’t, and why that matters.

I don’t remember the first time I heard a Bruce Springsteen song, but I remember that Woolley loved the Boss, had since he was a teenager himself. He used to talk about some short dude sneaking in behind him to attend a gig on the River tour. So when I found my way to Springsteen, part of the appeal on some level was in trotting down the same path Woolley himself trod down as a lad. I admired him so much that I felt compelled to explore the same music he loved…

…with a dose of some music he hated as well. Before I found Springsteen, somehow I found Elton John, my first musical obsession. I got the To Be Continued… boxed set on cassette one year for Christmas and that was all I listened to for a long time. Woolley savaged me over it. I’ll never forget him driving me home from a speech meet in a Rent A Wreck van (yep, that was the name of the rental company) and screaming at me, “Someone saved my life tonight…sugar bear? SUGAR BEAR?! And you LIKE this shit?!”

That was the heart of what I believe I took away from Woolley, and what I know so many of his students took away too–that capacity for unwavering critical thinking, to dive into a brilliant Springsteen epic or a sliver of pop trash like an Elton John single and ferret out what makes it great or awful, and why. He taught it in his classroom, and he taught it in the front seat of a Rent A Wreck on a freezing Saturday afternoon. Thanks, Coach. I still love the Boss, and I still love the Rocket Man. You can’t win them all.—Matt Springer

Although I have no doubt that he stands behind his statement, I have to respectfully disagree with Brian’s statement that “‘I like all kinds of music’ is something said by people who don’t really like any music at all, because if you did, then you’d have some strong opinions one way or the other.”

I like all kinds of music…or, at least, I tend to be able to find merit in most of the kinds of music that I’ve heard, anyway. And I definitely have some strong fucking opinions. I just tend to work through those opinions in my head and figure out a less belligerent (but hopefully still entertaining) way to express them before I get around to releasing them unto the world.

Mind you, I get what Brian’s saying, and I don’t disagree with the general premise. It’s just that, at least in my case, my musical tastes have been influenced by so many different people with so many different tastes in music that, if you play me something, statistically speaking, I’m more likely to like it than not.

Who do I have to thank for this?

First of all, there’s my father, who listened to Johnny Cash’s Live at Folsom Prison in his pick-up truck, along with the greatest hits of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, but wasn’t afraid to switch things up and educate me on the musical showmanship of Al Jolson. (He also had an album by Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts, but I wasn’t allowed to listen to that.) Then there’s my mother, who enjoyed a steady diet of Barry Manilow, Anne Murray, and Neil Diamond but always had an open mind whenever I played her whatever my latest musical fascination may have been. Even my younger sister, Jenny, had an unexpected effect on my taste in music, falling for the music of a-ha and Stevie Nicks – and, by extension, Fleetwood Mac – well before I’d given them my attention.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention my cousin Hortense, who, despite still being the only woman I’ve ever actually known personally whose name was Hortense, is – even now that she’s in her eighties – still an incredibly classy lady, someone who’s seen Elvis, Liberace, Tom Jones, and just about any other legend who passed through Roanoke, Virginia in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. She also gifted me a carton full of LPs when I was just entering double digits, though the only two that really made an impact on me were K-Tel’s Dumb Ditties collection and, for some reason, the New Christy Minstrels’ Land of the Giants. Go figure.

Other key people to thank:

Betty Steiner, my next-door neighbor, who changed my life immeasurably by giving a young lad a copy of the Beatles’ 20 Greatest Hits album.

Tom Nuckols, who invited me to attend a screening of Sid & Nancy at the Naro Expanded Cinema, in Norfolk, VA, giving me my first exposure to the Sex Pistols on the drive over.

A really hot punk / new wave girl named Kelli Hanig, who assured me that I’d really love the Cult’s Electric, thereby unwittingly convincing me – wrongly, as it turned out – that she’d think I was cool if I bought it. (I did love the album, though. Eventually.)

Brian Becknell and Donnie Sadler, with whom I shared a love of pale white British bands that continues to bond us together to this day. We used to make “rolling lists” of 100 albums we either desperately wanted or had heard really good things about, using a roll two 10-sided dice to determine which album on our list we were going to be buying on payday.

Bob Fulford, who introduced me to several artists, though his spot here is secured by the one-two punch of Syd Barrett and Robyn Hitchcock.

Bruce Brodeen, whose Not Lame catalog blew my mind and emptied my wallet on a regular basis, and the Audities list as a whole, for helping provide additional insight into which of Bruce’s “extremely highly recommended” albums were most likely to be up my alley.

Traci Consoli, the older sister of one of my best friends, who – during a trip to visit their family in Lafayette, California – introduced me to Agent Orange, the Cure, and Social Distortion in one fell swoop, then took me out for sushi and used record shopping in Berkeley. Damn, that was a good day.

Lastly, but most importantly, I owe a never-ending stream of thanks to everyone I ever worked with at Tracks, Record Bar, and/or Blockbuster Music, but when it comes down to it, the biggest thanks must be reserved for Jeff Castelloe, who helped secure me the job in the first place. I walked into that place convinced that my taste in music was set in stone. Turns out it was really just wet cement. I learned to appreciate pop, rock, country, R&B, rap, classical, jazz, new age…you name it, there’s some artist or other within the realm that I’ve listened to and enjoyed. There’s also some shit that I downright hated, of course, but some of the stuff I was sure I was going to hate…? Actually not that bad. Who knew?

Long story short, it is from the people at the record store – mostly my fellow employees, but also a few customers, too – that I learned that, yes, I really do like all kinds of music.

And for that, I am thankful. —Will Harris

It was probably in 2006 when a friend – I think I remember, but I can’t be sure – told me about the Hype Machine as a way of learning about what’s out there. I subscribed to its RSS feed and skimmed through it every time it filled up in my aggregator to look for interesting new music. Once in a while I’d find something good, but too often this would lead me to blog posts that all seemed to be rewrites of press releases with an mp3 or two.

Every once in a while something I probably hadn’t heard since my childhood would stick out from the various Flavors Of The Week. I’d go to the blog post and discover incredibly smart and wickedly funny writing about these acts. It could be anything from five random songs, a Top Ten chart from the 1980s, a career retrospective of a particular artist, or a soft rock hit from the 1970s, but it would always come from the same two sites, who seemed to be carrying on a conversation with each other in their posts. Occasionally I’d comment on their blogs, other times I’d link to them from my own. But mostly I just read them, and the brilliant nut-jobs that made up the Comments section.

Unfortunately one of their site disappeared without warning in the summer of 2007, but soon after we were told not to worry because something bigger was coming on January 1, 2008. After it launched, I reached out to them to appear on my old podcast. We talked for about two hours about our musical guilty pleasures and had so much fun that we instantly decided to do it again a few months later. I also joined their roundtable discussion that had moved from the now-defunct site. About a year and a half later, I started contributing regularly to the new site, and I’ve been here at Popdose ever since.

So this Thanksgiving I’m grateful not only for the music I’ve discovered (and rediscovered) through my friendship with Jeff and Jason, but also for the community of fans – both writers and readers – that they’ve built here. Because the only thing better than music is the ability to share it with those you care about. —Dave Lifton

Music, by and large, is supposed to be an outward experience, the kind of thing that brings people together beyond all boundaries. For much of my life, that hasn’t been the case. In fact, if it wasn’t for Mur, it might still not be the case.

“Mur” is Tracy Murray, who for over two decades taught vocal music at South Plainfield High School in South Plainfield, NJ. He’s not your typical music teacher. Tracy didn’t do his job the way you might see it on Glee, where everyone’s doing ridiculous choreography to sickly-sweet arrangements of pop music. Nor did he go for songs on the cheap, arranged for four-part harmonies by an ensemble whose voices were in the miserable throes of puberty. When you heard a concert he put together, it sounded real. Were a group of girls going to cover Shakira’s “Objection (Tango)”? Then he’d put together another group of instrumentalists to back them up, accordion and everything. “Bohemian Rhapsody” done by the men’s select ensemble? You’d better believe there’d be a guitar solo worthy of Brian May.

When I met Tracy, I didn’t know much about music. I listened to film soundtracks obsessively and was taken by the works of Michael Jackson and Duran Duran, but that was about it. How is a kid like that going to fit into a high school crowd in the 2000s? Well, he wasn’t – but Tracy saw that passion and encouraged it. We both shared a love for soundtracks – he didn’t convert to CDs until the E.T. soundtrack was released on the format – and his unabashed enjoyment of upbeat, piano-based pop had a profound effect on the amount of Billy Joel and Ben Folds Five albums on my shelves.

Being friends with Tracy meant you were going to learn a lot about music, on both a technical and emotional level. One year, we’d tackle sacred pieces by Rossini or Verdi. Another year we’d tackle Broadway showtunes or songs from Disney films. No Christmas concert would end without a triumphant run through Handel’s famed “Hallelujah” chorus. An eclectic mix, to be sure, and one that alienated some students weaned on boy bands. But the stuff he opened my ears and mind with enabled me to do my best at writing about all kinds of music genres.

It’s a friendship that I’m proud to say has stuck long after my graduation from high school. It’s never more than a year or two before we attend a concert together. It isn’t more than a few weeks that I’ll let him know what exciting songs I’ve heard lately. When health problems forced him into a far-too-early retirement, I made sure to attend his last concert. Music, it turns out, really is a great unifier of people, and I have Tracy Murray to thank for showing me that. —Mike Duquette




  • Dennis

    Great stuff, everyone!

  • dk

    From a kid who was growing up north of Boston, thank you to all the college radio stations and to the antenna that helped pull in their signals:  WJUL (Lowell? before it became ‘FNX?) or WUML?) WUNH (the freewaves, Durham, NH), WMBR (MIT), WBZC (BC), WPAA (Phillips Andover), WPEA (Phillips Exeter), and the still mighty WERS (Emerson).  I’m sure there are others to thank, but, kids, in the days long before the internet, these stations brought such an amazing range of music to a twelve year-old who was trying to figure out what was wrong with him because he didn’t want to join his peers in lockstepping to the mall to buy “Blizzard of Ozz”.