Inspiration comes from strange places. My latest bout would never have happened if it hadn’t been for a burst water heater.
That part of the story’s not worth recounting – suffice to say that a new carpet had to be installed in the basement – but while my family began moving furniture back downstairs, I made a crucial discovery: a shelf full of records and tapes that I’d never bother to look through.
As we put the boxes back in their place, I intended to take a cursory glance through the collection. That glance became a wide-eyed stare, as I ultimately realized what I was looking at.
Many of us, when we’re very young, have vivid memories of our early introduction to pop music. Mine come mostly from later in life; there wasn’t much musical action in the house beyond the radio and the occasional cassettes. Compact discs were alien concepts until the age of 12 or 13. Some of us seal this gap by raiding our older family members’ collections. Again, I never did that either – my only working knowledge of a record player involved asking to hear a 45 RPM copy of Huey Lewis and The News’ “The Power of Love” over and over again.
After finally lifting the curtain on my family’s musical history, I’m frankly confused. Some of the records made perfect sense, given what I know about my parents. The volumes of Barry Manilow and John Denver I expected; my mom is a fan of each, which in turn has given me not only a surprising tolerance and appreciation for each of them but a strong belief in never judging the music tastes of another individual. The Chicago LPs and American Graffiti soundtrack made sense knowing that my father is a die-hard oldies fan. (If you’re from the New York area, you probably can recall how miserable you were when WCBS-FM 101.1 turned into JACK-FM in 2005 – my dad was as bummed as you. Thankfully it has since changed back.)
But some were just out of left field. I never quite expected to find Daryl Hall and John Oates’ Bigger Than Both of Us or The Bee Gees’ Spirits Having Flown in the mix. I certainly never guessed Iron Butterfly LPs and Johnny Cash’s Live at San Quentin would sit on a shelf next to The Carpenters’ Close to You and Lionel Richie’s self-titled debut. It was an odd series of moments all around – but one that really changed my perspective on sharing music with others.
We really never can tell much about someone until we’ve seen their record collection. It sounds cliched, but it’s true. Think of your friends, relatives or spouses and the moment you knew what kind of music they listened to. How did it change your perspective of them? Can two people get along if one of them worships Prince and the other rolls their eyes at him? Such is the power of music. Especially with tempers raging high across the Internet, moments like these make us remember that music isn’t here to split us up, but draw us together.
Feel free to share your tales of digging into someone else’s collection, while I figure out why there are vinyl, cassette and CD copies of Neil Diamond’s Heartlight in this house.