I’ve always loved music and it has really played a huge part in my life. I am lucky enough to have three older siblings, two of whom are 9 and 11 years older than me. Because of that, even though I was born too late to enjoy the music of the late ’60s-early ’70s myself; I was exposed to a lot of really good stuff through them. I remember coming across two albums in particular as a young boy. One was Paul McCartney’s first solo album, (McCartney) which had what looked like maraschino cherries on the cover. It also had “Maybe I’m Amazed,” which to this day is one of the greatest love songs I have ever heard and “Every Night,” which is awesome too.
A second glorious discovery was the Faces’ “A Nod Is As Good As a Wink... to a Blind Horse.” That got me on to hard rockin’, British boogie-woogie style, which eventually led to my obsession (and I mean obsession!) with the Rolling Stones when I was about 14. I have often wondered how a country impoverished by its experience in the Second World War, created so many great bands. Obviously, they were piggybacking off Elvis who was copying and mainstreaming the music of the Mississippi Delta, but man, did they make it great! The Beatles obviously, but add the Stones, The Who, The Faces, Traffic, the Kinks, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, The Police, Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello and far too many more to mention. It really boggles the mind.
Personally, I became under the thrall of the Stones to such an extent that it became rather unhealthy for a time. Keith Richards is not a proper role model for any 15-year-old and I made my share of poor decisions in those days but man, did I enjoy the ride. The Stones albums from Beggar’s Banquet in 1968 through Some Girls in 1979 (with the possible exception of Goat’s Head Soup which still has some great tracks on it) is, I think, the greatest run of music ever created by any band. I also adored Neil Young, Tom Petty, Lou Reed, (and of course, his earlier band the Velvet Underground) The Grateful Dead and was introduced to John Prine and many other folkies/bluegrass players by a group of guys with whom I painted houses. I have a pretty good voice and a good memory for lyrics and as I belted out the tunes like “Paradise” and “Sweet Revenge” while we painted, I’m just glad I didn’t fall off a ladder!
I’ve come to realize that my adolescence was a lot like a Bruce Springsteen album — one of the early ones. A lot of time spent on the Jersey Shore, a little out of our minds but not doing anyone any harm, thinking that the latest relationship we were involved in was the linchpin to the world’s continued existence and that our opinions were somehow deeply meaningful and profound. Oh, the sweet self-delusions of youth!
I went to many live shows, mostly at Madison Square Garden and the Brenden Byrne Arena in North Jersey. Those were the days when the drinking age had just changed from 18 to 21 and, particularly in New York City, no one seemed to care what you did as long as you were non-violent. We would partake of our recreational stuff and then go to the Beefsteak Charlie’s in the MSG plaza where you could get all the beer, wine or sangria you could drink for the price of an over-priced, poorly cooked steak. That was heaven to a 16, 17 year old! As Keith Richards once sang, often times, “I wasn’t looking too good but I was feeling real well.”
One of my happiest discoveries in those days was when my best friend and I played his father’s copy of Bob Marley’s Exodus. Oh My God! My mind was blown! I remember walking to my job as a busboy when I was 15 listening to Bob Marley’s Exodus, Peter Tosh’s Wanted: Dread and Alive or some Yellowman or Gregory Isaacs (all are dead now except Yellowman who lost most of his left jaw to skin and bone cancer) on my Walkman. For some reason, in my mind’s eye as I often remember the snow was gently falling, as was dusk. It was awesome.
I left for college in NYC in 1984 and met a guy who became my best friend, Justin. I was wearing a Bob Marley T-shirt when we first met and it was an immediate and total connection. He turned me on to more Punk/Ska New Wave influences like The Specials, The Jam, and The Clash, Bad Brains, Fugazi, Jawbreaker and many, many others. Those were great times with many live shows at the Bottom Line in the Village and at “Concerts on the Pier” which were outdoor summer shows, rain or shine, on the Hudson right next to the USS Intrepid at 46th Street. Miller sponsored those concerts and the cheap beer and great music flowed.
Between my continuing love of music — I just turned my 7-year-old daughter on to the Talking Heads and the Flaming Lips — and a career in education, sometimes it seemed like my youth extended into my 50s. I still go to many live shows. This year I’ve seen Joe Jackson, Lez Zeppelin (an all-female tribute band), The English Beat, The Psychedelic Furs, SOJA, the Wailers, Ziggy Marley, Mark Knopfler and Sting. I have Five for Fighting lined up in December and Colin Hay (who is far better solo than he ever was in that silly 80s band Men at Work) next April. I am sure I will squeeze in a few more shows in between. If I am not singing around the house for a day or two my family starts to wonder about me. With my repertoire and all things considered, my still good voice and memory for lyrics, they start to worry about me! Music brings joy to me and through it, I bring joy to the ones I love. It does not get much better than that.
David E. Staveley writes (and sings) from Monrovia and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.