Green is the cat’s eye that glows in this temple

The following 1000 words of mildly interesting thoughts are brought to you today by iTunes shuffling to Love At First Sting, which teleported me back to the living room floor in our house in Sunland, surrounded by M.U.S.C.L.E. figures while I tried to figure out which ones I was willing to trade the next day at school. Through the magic of memory, the scene shifts to my bedroom around the same time, where I carefully copy a program from a computer magazine into my TI 99/4a computer, and then to the same room where I fudge a roll because I really needed my WIS roll to be higher than 8 for the Wizard I was making. I’m at the desk where I do my homework, trying and failing for the nth time to draw Eddie on the cover of Piece of Mind. I am a child, a pre-teen, and always, always weak and weird and awkward and strange. But I have music, and that is comforting.

There’s this moment in a child’s life when they start to build a sense of self, as they develop their own likes and dislikes that are more complicated than “I don’t like milk” or “I want to have more ice cream” (ICE CREAM HAS MILK IN IT YOU STUPID KID! THAT’S WHY YOU DON’T KNOW ANYTHING! YOU’RE STUPID KIDS! JUST TELL ME HOW TO FIX THE FREAKIN’ SHOW! *cue Ralph Wiggum turning the dial to sad.)

For me, this sense of self is heavily tied to music, to the exclusion of almost everything else. My earliest memories all feature music in some sense, from listening to Fleetwood Mac and Elton John on my parents’ record player with the giant can headphones and the 20-foot curly cord to sitting with my first wind-up record player out on the lawn with a 45 of The Beatles Love Me Do that belonged to my mom. Those memories are from around 1975 or 1976, I guess, and in my memory, they look like the pictures in The Happiest Days of Our Lives.

My whole childhood, my dad had great taste in music: ELO, Boston, Steve Miller Band, Pink Floyd, and whatever was on KMET. My mom was … not so much. She was all about Barbara Streisand and Joni Mitchell and Christopher Cross and artists that just seemed whiny and wussy because they were. I spent a lot of time in the car with my mom when I was going on auditions, and  I still hear Streisand in my nightmares. When dad took me on auditions, we got to listen to The Doobie Brothers, mom! I MEAN JEEZE.

My musical awakening came in the fall 1984, when I was 12, and a kid I knew at school slipped me a cassette tape at school. It was Judas Priests’s Screaming For Vengeance. I thought the cover was cool, and when I got home that day, I played it on my little single-speaker tape player thing that was standard issue if you were a lucky kid in the 80s.

I wasn’t sure about this music when I heard The Hellion, but by the time Electric Eye was finished, I was on board. It was You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’, though, that hooked me. I still can’t say why, but when I bought the album, I put that song on every single heavy metal mix tape I made for the rest of the 80s … even the ones with Metallica. I took the cassette back to him the next day, and asked him for more heavy metal. In the coming weeks, he gave me Ozzy, Iron Maiden, Dio, and The Scorpions.

I loved them all, saved my allowance, and bought my own copies of Diary of A Madman, Number of the Beast, and Love At First Sting at the local record shop. (I should point out that we were in a parochial school at the height of Reagan’s Conservative American Nightmare, and the Satanic Panic was about to hit its peak. It says a lot about my parents that they let me buy Number of the Beast, instead of freaking out like a lot of parents did at the time.) I loved the thick, heavy guitars. I loved the raw vocals. I loved — I mean, really loved — Iron Maiden’s lyrics, which were smart, literate, and about history and mythology instead of less important matters.

I wasn’t an angry kid, I wasn’t a particularly rebellious kid (though I admit that I’d already decided that religion was something I didn’t want or need in my life, so listening to music every authority figure in my life besides my parents deemed terrible and ZOMG SATANIC did give me a bit of a thrill). I just really liked the music, and the artwork, and how it seemed like a natural extension of Thundarr The Barbarian for some reason. There was real power in the music that didn’t exist in any of the rock-and-roll I was used to. This music wasn’t about just sounding nice, it was about kicking ass.

This music became a huge part of my sense of personal identity. It was one of the first big choices I remember making for myself, because it was something that I liked, not because my parents or a relative gave it to me, or because it was something popular in school that I wanted to have. )Metal was decidedly unpopular at my school, and since I was already a nerd, I really didn’t need to give the Cool Kids something else to use against me on the playground).

And yet.

It became the soundtrack to my life. While I made D&D characters and dungeons (a little on the nose, I know, but it’s true) I listened to Maiden. While I played with my M.U.S.C.L.E. figures, I listened to Dio. When I played with my WWF action figures, my Transformers, or my Stomper Trucks, metal was there. I made dozens of mixtapes featuring the same songs in different order, always using Dee from Blizzard of Ozz to fill in the space at the end of each side.

As I got older, my musical proclivities changed. I fell in love with punk rock, then British new wave, then grunge. Metal was still there, but less and less frequently. I think it was Metallica’s shitty Black Album that started pushing me away. Not even Tool could bring me back. Thanks a lot, Lars, you dick.

Interestingly enough, as my tastes changed over the years, the one constant was the musical comfort food of my youth: Pink Floyd, Boston, and ELO, which all came from my father, and The Beatles, which came from my mother (true fact: my mom once got to sit in on a Beatle’s press conference when she was a kid. The way she tells it, John Lennon made eyes at her. TAKE THAT YOKO.) I mean, I still listen to that stuff today, and probably will for the rest of my life. It’s my classic rock, despite what the goddamn radio says today when it plays music from when I was in high school.
There are people in the world who can take or leave music. They don’t really care what’s on the radio, or even if the radio is on. I am not one of those people. Music is profoundly important to me, because it has helped me define who I am at various stages of my life.
I guess that’s why I was able to clean 10GB out of my iTunes folder yesterday, and still have 60GB left.

58 thoughts on “Green is the cat’s eye that glows in this temple”

  1. Thanks for this, Wil. You’ve always reminded me a lot of my big brother Marty, with your similar cheekbones & big brown eyes, and reading your childhood stories has always been comforting in a weird way because it reminds me of Marty patiently trying to teach me D&D, or even lazing on the couch late on a school night together watching Next Gen. And now I’m reading that you share a proclivity for metal with my big brother, who plays guitar & used to blow off his friends to “learn the new Metallica album.” Music occupies a fairly exalted place in my life, second in importance only to my family. So thanks for this lovely story, thanks for reminding me of my brother again. You rock.

  2. I’m just now reading this post, I’ve been busy (well, not really, substitute ‘lazy’ for ‘busy’). I was a little late in getting into music but it became a big part of my life, starting with country in the early 80s and progressing to metal and alternative. Today I like most all music except rap: classic, swing, older country, metal, classic rock, etc. I listen to and enjoy the local rock station which plays bands such as Avenged Sevenfold, Saliva, and Skillet, as well as Nirvana, AC/DC, Boston, T-Rex, and KISS – most forms of rock dating back into the 70s. I remember the Satanic Panic in the 80s, and I remember coming home from school to see my dad burning my sister’s Queen album in the early 80s.

    I do have to disagree with you about the Black Album. I love it and pretty much love most Metallica albums (other than St. Anger), especially And Justice For All, Master of Puppets, Load, and Reload. I also like their covers on Garage, Inc. I was really upset when Jason Newsted left.

  3. Thanks for writing about music the way you do, Wil. Because if you didn’t, I might never have discovered Wilco seven years ago, and then I’d probably not be as happy tonight because I finally got to see Wilco live on stage last night in Stuttgart. 1.500 kilometers of scary German Autobahn within 24 hours couldn’t keep me from going to that show, and after having been there, I’d even be willing to walk the same distance next time. Seriously. Music means a lot to me, too, and there are many artists and bands I enjoy, but few ever moved me the way Wilco does. So if I ever get the chance, please let me buy you a Guinness for bringing their music to my live! Until then: A huge thank you, welcome home after your long exile, and keep up the great work!

    1. I am so happy that you got to see them live! I got to watch Wilco soundcheck when they were here last year at the Wiltern, and just five songs blew my mind. I still haven’t seen a full live show, but I listen to a lot of them online.

      1. Then I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you – you just have to take the chance to see one of their shows, and they also should sing your favorite song because you promoted them on your blog ;-) The trick seems to be to buy tickets for a show that forces you to organize a trip there in time (missed them twice in Berlin and Gothenburg when I lived there and just would have had to walk to the concert). I was unaware they’d do so much of their whole repertoire, so pretty much expecting a kind of “Whole Love” tour, I wouldn’t have dared to hope for “California Stars” in my wildest dreams. But when that one was followed by “Handshake Drugs”, I seriously started to regret I hadn’t bothered to bring a “Marry me, Jeff!” T-shirt. And when they also did “Heavy Metal Drummer” AND “A Shot in the Arm” AND “Via Chicago”, I was pretty much in heaven. Oh, and not to mention that ROCKIN’ AWESOME KICK-ASS finale of “Monday”, “Outtasite” and “HooDoo Voodoo” that was the encore. Er. Sorry, got carried away there. You just go for it… and blog about it!!

  4. “There are people in the world who can take or leave music. They don’t really care what’s on the radio, or even if the radio is on.”

    I almost don’t want to know what is wrong with those people.

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