History of Rock and Roll

I’ve got a confession to make.

When I was a teenager, I thought listening to rock music made you do drugs.

This wasn’t something I learned from my parents, who had no issues with my brothers (and sister? I suppose so) listening to rock, sometimes at ungodly hours and deafening volumes. I grew up hearing Styx, The Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Rolling Stones, and other bands, I don’t remember the names. Probably because I was trying to avoid a contact-rock-music-drug-influence.

To my knowledge, none of my siblings ever did drugs. Of any kind. I am not sure any of them even smoked a cigarette. But somewhere, I got this idea lodged in my brain; that rock and roll=drug addict.

In my defense, as the kid who strove to be as trouble-free as possible so my mom wouldn’t have another thing to worry about, avoiding rock and roll was an easy choice. I loved playing my mother’s old sheet music, and listening to her Sinatra and Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole albums. I listened to her music to be closer to her.

So when I did listen to contemporary music of the era, I veered toward performers who were similar to the crooners she loved. Barry Manilow (STOP LAUGHING) was one of our shared music experiences; he was a pianist who wrote lovely tunes that were pleasant to sing. Billy Joel wrote music just like the stuff she listened to when she was a teenager. It was perfect!

But in harkening back to my mother’s good-old-days, I didn’t get to enjoy my *own* good-old-days. And yes, the 80s were an era of some craptastic music (I’m looking at YOU, Madonna), but there was some amazing stuff from that time, too.

I mean, Prince? Come on. I had a friend who was berserk about Prince, and the whole thing scared the hell out of me. But that wasn’t about drugs, that was about sex. Prince oozed sex, and there was no way I was going anywhere close to THAT mess. Not if I wanted my mother to be happy.

Tim was a puzzler for me. He was a HUGE fan of Van Halen, who reeked of both sex and rock and roll, and yet Tim remained pristine, untouched by the evils of rock music. Yeah, he smoked for a while, and even wore a leather jacket, but he is as virtuous as they get. I figured his interest in those bands was academic; he is a guitarist, and he wanted to learn to play like Eddie Van Halen. Okay, I get that. No drugs required.

Tim also loves Rush, who still smack of such geekery I can’t believe they are considered a “rock” band. They’re rock’s haute couture, tweezering guitar riffs onto antiseptically constructed drum and chord cadences. Perfect band for my ultra-linear husband.

It wasn’t until my first college boyfriend introduced me to Jethro Tull, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, AC/DC, and these guys

that the world of rock music opened up for me. I swam in deep, vast lakes of energy and passion and movement. As with many others, Led Zeppelin captured my heart instantly, giving me an auditory backdrop against which my young-adult drama played out. I didn’t care that they sounded like the hellscape of every drug-induced hallucination imagined by my fertile mind; their musical and lyrical perfection married completely with their unhinged, soaring flight into pure emotion. I also didn’t care that my boyfriend actually did drugs; in our six month relationship, I never caved to his invitations to join him in indulging. Thus armed with the knowledge that I could resist the temptation of both rock and a handsome, sweet, ginger-haired pot-smoker, I felt free to explore at will.

Having kids set back my musical education about 10 years. Determined to protect my children from influences for which they were too young, I only allowed the TV to be tuned to PBS, and the radio to be tuned to Christian rock stations. At the time, I believed the hackneyed reasoning that it was the music, not the lyrics, that made rock so compelling, so while my kids were young, they were only exposed to the “pure” stuff. When my son reached the age of 10, the wheels came off that wagon, and I allowed him to tiptoe into popular rock music, with the caveat that I had to okay all of his choices.

Man, what a tight-ass I was about that.
I tried to be good (you listening, Mom?) and raise my kids right, but when Tim came back in my life, he gently nudged me back toward the enjoyment of rock. In one of his sweetest Dad moments, Tim took Matt to his first rock concert: they saw the same band that performed in Tim’s first rock concert so many years before. Tim and Matt saw Van Halen perform.

Matt was hooked. And he turned around and introduced *me* to some of my favorite bands to this day; Foo Fighters, Audioslave, Velvet Revolver, Incubus. Listening to the conversations about music between Tim and the kids, I learned all the things I had hidden from as a teenager; that rock is a form of expression that reflects the urgency and intensity of young adulthood; that rock can free a part of your brain to scream and thrash and rail at the world; that this violent, ardent music can give voice to things for which there may not be adequate words.

Led Zeppelin reigns as the best rock band of all time, and (duh) my favorite band. My tastes are sufficiently diverse now that I can’t pinpoint any one type of music as “mine”, but this turnabout on rock and roll made me realize I had to be open to everything. I was confident in my ability to resist any pressure the music might try to exert on my behavior.

These days, my playlists are random and divergent. I tried country and couldn’t find anything redeeming about any band except the Dixie Chicks, so you won’t find that, but my tunes range from Beyonce to Jacques Brel, from AC/DC to EDM, from Joy Division to The National Parks. I will listen to anything that makes me happy, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. A lot of different music makes me really happy. And listening to huge variety makes me happy. And it makes me think.

Music should strike fire from the heart of human soul.
–Ludwig van Beethoven
At this point, I can’t imagine my life without Zeppelin; hot summer nights driving around the city wouldn’t be the same without “Kasmir” shivering the speakers. Without Zeppelin, I would never have discovered the thrill of AC/DC, Heart, Silversun Pickups, or Radiohead. The list is long. And, of course Bruce Cockburn, but that’s a different blog posting.

So if you know of some music I may not have heard of yet, bring it! Send me a note or share something on Spotify. I’m willing to try anything, sometimes more than just once!
And yes, I was wrong. Rock and roll does not make a person do drugs. I’m sure people who do drugs might also enjoy rock and roll, but as my science friends are wont to remind me, correlation does not equal causation. It’s a tragedy that I allowed fear to prevent me from enjoying something so electrifying, but I’m making up for my lapse now.

If you’ll excuse me, I have a new Prince album to dive into.

2 thoughts on “History of Rock and Roll

  1. 1. RUSH is perfect.
    2. My house was the opposite. I have always been a fan of rock, and to this day every project Robert Plant has done has captured me. My parents thought I was going straight to Hell.
    3. You’ve lived in one of the centers of creativity in the rock world. And now you live in another one. Enjoy!

    • Rush is perfect the same way a Zen garden is perfect: a little annoyingly, and NOT rock and roll at all. Plastic, tidy, way too clean. Rock is messy, like life. A little crazed, a lot out of control. Rush is…not.

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