Christmas is upon us and as I was fighting with the lights and decorations in our yard recently, I saw some kids down the street playing on their bikes and jamming tunes loudly via their iPod. It was as if the Ghost of Christmas Past had come to visit me.
I was fortunate to grow up in a neighborhood where we could play freely without worrying about much of anything. We built forts of a “Galleywinter” type nature, rode dirt bikes, played ferocious tackle football tougher than anything we saw when we finally put the pads on, snuck peaks at our friend’s older brother’s dirty book collection, and above all else, we had fun and listened to music. Life was so simple then, and each year we aged, we made things more complicated for ourselves. How I wish I could go back, if even for a brief moment.
The soundtrack to that simple life was provided by one of the greatest Christmas gifts I ever received: a Fisher-Price cassette player. It was ugly, bulky and brown. It only had four buttons, the kind simple enough for a pre-schooler to understand yet large enough for a blind elderly person to punch. I’d gotten some pretty cool stuff from Santa, including a Suzuki 4-wheeler, gokart, basketball goal, football player Cabbage Patch kid…but this was my version of A Christmas Story’s Red Rider bb gun. It was an escape. It was a way to feel older and more mature. Living vicariously through music I was just beginning to encounter and was far from comprehending.
We found ways to attach the cassette player to our handlebars while we raced BMX style. We had it ever present as we played home run derby. Along for the ride it went on trips to the West Pool. The first thing I remember listening to on it was a Hank Williams Jr. tape I had confiscated from my father. The title was The Pressure is On, and it included subject matter that amused and confused those of us just past the Sesame Street stage. Tunes such as “Country Boy Can Survive” and “All My Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down” hooked us with their melody and we loved to sing along even though we didn’t know what a hangover was or exactly how much it stung to have chewing tobacco glance your eyeball. Other favorites during this time period were Bruce Springsteen, George Strait, Conway Twitty, Willie Nelson and Alabama.
Growing up in Texas, it is ingrained in your DNA to dig Mr. Strait, and “Ocean Front Property” had me believing that you could really see the ocean from Arizona. I used to pedal to the tune of “On the Road Again” and “Born in the USA.” I loved the Boss but as a child, I seemed to find more enjoyment out of Cheech Marin’s “Born in East LA”…much to the chagrin of my older sister and parents.
Compact discs were on the horizon, but we still employed the use of the old Fisher-Price deluxe. However, we began to mirror our life cycle and our innocence began to slip away with our musical preferences. Around this time period, hip-hop began infiltrating our suburban neighborhood and neighborhoods like ours across the country. The rise of Run DMC and Beastie Boys led us to the first four rap acts to grab our attention. Tone Loc, Sir Mix A lot, 2 Live Crew and Kid N Play. Tone Loc seemed to be our favorite, I think it had something to do with a girl named Sheena that was in our 4th grade class. 2 Live Crew just made us giggle, even though we didn’t understand the lyrics (although we thought we did at the time! HA) An older kid in the neighborhood got his hands on the As Nasty As They Wanna Be album and made us a tape of it. For you youngsters, this is how we did it in the pre-burning/file sharing days.
School recess and clubhouse meetings were accompanied by recitings of the “Naughty Nursery Rhymes.” While Sir Mix A Lot taught us what it meant to be swass as we attempted the Kid N Play dance routine. The large, thumping bass of the rap music never sounded too swell coming through the tiny four inch Fisher-Price speaker, but it got the job done.
I’d be remiss to not mention the impact that hair metal had on us as kids. We were mesmerized by bands like Bon Jovi, Warrant, Poison and frightened by Guns N Roses. We usually loaded the kid-style boombox with hair metal tunes when older sisters were around. We were young but the influence of rap and hair metal combined continued to make our lives more complicated. Now, we were trying to impress girls. Little did we know that this would be a life-long process with which we’d never achieve full satisfaction.
At some point not long after the hair metal/girl episodes, we all became young men with cd players and Walkmans. We traded in our bikes, neighborhood streets and backyard football for Camaros, backroads and school-sponsored football. And the simple life we enjoyed was forever gone. But does it have to be?
The point of this trip down memory lane is that although the method of music delivery has transformed for all of us in this digital age, and we are all bogged down in the drudgery that comes with being a responsible adult; we all need to take a trip back to our childhood neighborhood, dig out that favorite Christmas gift of our youth. So, I will now pull out that ol’ Fischer-Price cassette player and rock out to some Dokken…even if it’s just in my imagination. Merry Christmas from Memory Lane!
-What a crazy football year! Baylor won the Big 12 and Texas State is bowl eligible without a bowl to call home. I’m a Longhorns fan,but can’t help but be happy for the hometown team. What Coach Briles has accomplished here in Waco is one of the most impressive coaching jobs ever. I know my grandad, Baylor class of ’49 via the GI Bill, is smiling down on how the Case was closed out. He was a season ticket holder from inaugural season until his death in 1993. I’ve seen many years of bad football there. And some exciting times too, including many HS playoff games. Farewell south Waco memories. You left in style. I’ll catch up with you next year down by the river off 35.
-We’ve survived Icepocalypse 2013. Being holed up for many days is frustrating. At one point, I found myself without wifi and playing solitaire with an actual deck of cards like some sort of caveman.
-Ray Price is in a bad way and I hate to hear that. He’s a true Texas legend and one of the greatest voices country music has ever been graced with.
-A good friend of mine was moving this past week during the terrible weather. Moving sucks. Plain and simple. Other comparably annoying things include: folding/hanging clothes, going through security at the airport, trips to the dentist, gas prices, and Yankees fans (except Donovan Dodd).
-I can’t believe it’s been 9 years since we lost Dimebag Darrell. And 33 since the tragic taking of John Lennon’s life. Two of my musical heroes gone too soon at the hands of madmen. It’s a sad, crazy world we live in…luckily music like theirs reminds us of the good times too.
-I’d rather pay triple retail value than fight the Black Friday crowds.
-Snow days aren’t as fun as an adult.
-Our year end “Favorites” piece will be posted next week. It’s our version of Best of lists, be on the lookout.
–This month’s recommended album: Lincoln Durham-Exodus of the Deemed Unrighteous. This came out in October and it’s been percolating in my subconscience ever since. Dark and brooding without being overbearing, this is a soulful, foot-stomping revelation of groove that continues Durham’s sullen Ray Wylie Hubbard as one man band show.
–“Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.”-Mark Twain