“After Silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music” - Aldous Huxley

There isn’t a part of my memory that recalls a time where music didn’t exert a power in my life and a hold over my actions.

My mother was a Baptist and we attended church on Sundays where I tried and sometimes succeeded in convincing myself that I could see ghosts in the church but mostly was just bored, except for the singing. Hymns were the first public musical experience that showed me the power of music to create community.

There might have been another example-carols sung among family members at the holidays but singing in church had a quality about it that still travels with me today. It linked total strangers into a communal experience that made them feel connected to a bigger whole. Setting aside the discussion of religious content, the songs sung by the congregation were folk songs. Songs of great familiarity that spoke to the sort of human concerns everyone in the room shared.

Shortly after the congregation contributed to my musical education, the first in a long series of musical events caused me to take notice. At some point during the summer of 1963 while attending camp, one of the counselors played Dylan’s 'Blowin’ in The Wind' for us. We all learned the song and sang it in a rousing fashion as a group sitting under the old oak trees rooted on the hard packed dry ground. I was certainly too young to have understood it all but even then the words connected. “Yes, n’ how many times must a man turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see.” There was then and is a fury and fatalism driving the lyrics that still delivers a gut wrenching punch some 48 years later and caused a very young version of me to sit up and take notice.

As I grew older and in part due to my Mother’s Baptist inspired Bible thumping insistence that while at home I was not listen to or possess any rock and roll on record, listen to any on the radio or watch any on television, music became a serious obsession for me. I would save allowance and buy singles and an occasional album from our local store and keep it at my best friend’s house. Well before I was supposed to have a record or record player at home, I found a Silvertone record player that would play my 45s and LPs through a mono speaker in a cloth covered case at a garage sale and brought it home to hide in the bottom of my closet for the day that I would be allowed to play it. Later, when my parents finally had to give in and allow me to listen to records (a trade off negotiated after the demise of our television) I managed to bring the whole thing out in the open and slowly began the work of adding to my developing collection of LPs and 45s.

Early on, I established a pattern based on poverty; a new record was a difficult thing to come by and when fortunate enough to squirrel enough away to get a new title, I would shop in a very careful manner. Records would live on my record player for days and sometimes, if the record was particularly good, it would stay for weeks on end. It is still true to this day. When I find a record that really makes it’s mark on me, I listen to it over and over and often find myself going back to it even years later with the same listening intensity. A few years ago, I had a two month re-acquaintance with Dylan’s 'Blood on the Tracks' that proved very rewarding; there is a lot about that record that I failed to grasp at 17 that I have a better understanding of today.

Some of the first records that I can single out as ones that fall into this category are albums like Cream’s 'Wheels of Fire', listened to in my older cousin's garage bedroom wallpapered with black light posters from his dad’s head shop, 'White Room' blasting from a frankenstiened stereo rig or my coveted personal copy of the Beatles 'White Album' spinning over and over on songs like 'Dear Prudence' or 'Helter Skelter' would form a sort of soundtrack to the events of the summer of 1969.

Much in the same way, albums like X’s 'Los Angeles', The Dream Syndicate’s 'Days of Wine And Roses', The Incredible String Band’s 'Liquid Acrobat Regards the Air', John Coltrane’s 'A Love Supreme', Joy Division’s 'Unknown Pleasure', Mission of Burma’s 'VS', Carole King’s 'Tapestry', Teardrop Explodes 'Ouch Monkey EP', Gang of Four 'Entertainment', Dylan and the Band 'Basement Tapes', Dylan’s 'Desire', Pere Ubu’s 'The Modern Dance', Echo and the Bunnymen 'Crocodiles', Harry Nilsson’s 'Pussycats', George Harrison’s 'All Things Must Pass', Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young with 'Déjà Vu', Neil Young’s 'Tonight’s the Night', Lou Reed’s 'Berlin', Opal’s 'Happy Nightmare Baby', Patti Smith’s 'Radio Ethiopia', The Silos’ 'Cuba', Alejandro Escovedo’s 'Thirteen Years', Townes Van Zandt’s 'Rain on a Conga Drum', Wire’s 'Pink Flag', Brian Eno’s 'Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)', Velvet Underground’s 'White Light White Heat', Fairport Convention’s 'Liege and Lief', John Cale’s 'Fragments of a Rainy Season', Nick Drake’s 'Pink Moon', The Triffids’ 'In the Pines', Gillian Welch’s 'Time (The Revelator)', Steve Earle’s 'I Feel Alright', Joan Jett’s 'Bad Reputation', The Sex Pistols’ 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols', Public Image Ltd’s 'Metal Box', McCoy Tyner’s 'Extensions', Lenny Bruce’s 'Live at Carnegie Hall', The Dead Kennedy’s 'Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables', Richard Thompson’s 'Across a Crowded Room', Vic Chesnutt’s 'Little' along with many others would at one time or another capture my spirit for hours on end.

As I edge up to marking a half century avidly consuming the music around me and as much as I still can swoon over a particularly bent and well formed bit of feedback, transform myself with a sinister groove or make believe I can sing harmony with a particularly catchy hook, it is still the words that make it all work for me as with the early days in the summer of 1963 when I discovered the power in the lyrics of 'Blowin’ in the Wind'.

There is one abiding constant in all of this; there is always something new to discover. And when a good story, or a particularly perfect universal observation, is married up to its soul mate in melody or rhythm, it is one of the more sublime moments life offers.

As a regular event, someone will surprise me with a recording that brings to life a voice I’ve never heard or a journey well observed that I might hope to travel. Each discovery can elevate and illuminate in ways I had not guessed were coming. I have learned to value these moments as though they will never come again. And yet they always have and, I fervently hope, they always do.

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ie London, England

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