A lot of recent writers have spoken of the worm hole. For us geeks, the phrase is used to describe a moment in time where a focal point in your adult life opens a gigantic window into an unassuming passed moment of your childhood, where time didn’t really exist. A place where that exact temporal blip stretches infinitely around you, and you were oblivious to its import all at the same time. It’s a better analogy than most people think. Once you go through it, it takes some time to understand fully what has happened.
It’s 2009 (!). I just got done jamming out to Rock Band 2 after some prep work for my first day back to work from the winter holiday. I head back to my office to check on email.
Downstairs, a dark siren call climbs upwards. I’ve been trying to avoid this since I first saw the poster signs 50 feet high in Times Square in 2006. Mamma Mia. A musical based on Abba music. I knew when I first heard of it a movie was inevitable.
DO NOT HUM. *DO* *NOT* *HUM* *DANCING* *QUEEN*
My mind imposes a steel lock on my jaw. I will not indulge, I will NOT reveal the depth of my knowledge of Abba’s music, my early exposure to it. But I have to go downstairs to cook. Resigned to my fate, I trudge down to roast a cut of salmon for the night’s meal, while a joyful and cackling-with-glee Rochto "re-introduces" me to these songs. These songs I have known all my life.
Take a Chance on Me, I’m exposed to, as if it’s new.
Knowing me, Knowing you.
Waterloo, for fuck’s sake.
I season the fish and put it in the oven, crack open a beer, and resign myself to the inevitable. I’m going to be listening to this, and even asking for certain songs to be played, for a good bit of the evening. I wonder, perhaps in desperation, when it was that I grew past the music of my parents—and suddenly, blindingly, it’s 1981.
There’s a silver unispeaker tape recorder/player hand-me-down from my paternal grandfather in front of me. There are two cassette tapes sealed in Sears plastic. I have my bone handled lock blade pocket knife, the one my mother flipped out when my father gave it to me for Christmas. And I am about to discover my own taste in music.
I could fairly say my family household growing up was a musical household. My father was a devout Southern Baptist, with a rich voice and a talent for instruments such as the accordion and piano. The overall bent in the household with my father’s stern guidance was gospel or southern country gospel. I grew up humming Micky Gillis, the Statler Brothers, The Oak Ridge Boys. I knew southern religious music like the back of my hand. Forbidden was the dark side of country for me, Guy Clark, Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash. Hell even Jerry Reed was borderline for me to be allowed to listen to.
My mother was a little more contemporary. While my father was away the house was filled with Streisand. Abba. Bee Gees. The most innocent of the 70’s disco and pop scene.
Christ, by the time Xanadu came out I could have sung every song unheard, so exposed was I to the proto-80’s pop that my mother called her relaxing music. (As a side note my mother was also passionately into Gershwin which I got exposed to at an early age, as were both my parents into classical.) That music to this day is weirdly like comfort food. Where nostalgia grabs me by the shirtfront and jerks me back to 9 years old like it did tonight.
That tape deck was heavy in my hands. Think of it as the pre-cursor to the tape based Walkman. It was the type where all the buttons were at the bottom, tape cartridge in the middle, and the speaker was on the top. Now this was a device of the 70’s. It was the type of player where you had to press play *and* record simultaneously to get it to record. It was one of those where the "Stop" button was critical to actually keeping your tapes in working order. The black cassette loader popped up when you pressed eject. No stopping the tape then a motorized lifting of the mechanism here, people. Eject was a mechanical switch where, even if the tape was playing, the tape loader violently jerked it from the cradle and *ejected* it. If you weren’t careful, it might as well have been labeled eviscerate. More than one Alvin and the Chipmunks tape had been unspooled due to the impatient NOW of the eject button.
I think everyone has a musical awakening. A moment when the entire world suddenly opens up like a locked portcullis into a castle filled with treasure and mystery. A place where you cannot go back once you enter, and where the consequences of entering are far far worth the entry. For me, it’s the summer of 1981, and a momentary abundance of allowance.
I’m at Skyview elementary school. Just before the end of that school year, what was for me third grade, my class was allowed to bring in anything we wanted from home on vinyl to listen to for music class. I can’t remember what I brought, I suspect Gershwin because we had so few LP’s, but one girl brought in Queen’s "The Game" and her song she played was "Another one Bites the Dust." For the first time in my life I was transfixed by music. I was locked, watching a turntable needle roll out for me music that roiled my concept of beat and lyrics. The bass of Queen! That drum beat and Freddie Mercury’s amazing voice.
I had studiously saved my allowance for several weeks in preparation for the coming onslaught of new Empire Strikes Back toys that Kenner was going to release for the movie. But that summer weekday on a trip to Sears I begged my mom to let me use my twelve whole dollars on cassette tapes, for the first time. Wisely, my mother figured that music was better than plastic toys and acquiesced. I feverishly picked two. Queen’s The Game and the soundtrack to Raiders of the Lost Ark. She had to spot me a dollar but I came home with two highly treasured items. I listened to them all day in my room. I was completely mesmerized and adrift in what I had discovered. I remember being deliriously happy.
All highs have a crash. My father returned home that night and was furious. I had no idea the fight my parents had, perched in my bed with a book and headphones listening to my new music. No idea that is until my father calmly came into my bedroom. He sat on the edge of the bed and turned off the tape deck. He informed me gravely that we needed to pray.
Now in my house when a parent said you needed to pray that meant someone had died or was very sick. I remember having to pray when my aunt’s pregnancy turned touch and go for a bit, or when my grandfather had to have surgery.
This must be serious.
My father clasped my hand then proceeded to pray fervently, out loud, to Jesus Christ not to let my eternal soul be damned to hell forever because I had purchased the devil’s music. He said he knew it was too late but that he hoped that I would learn from this mistake and dedicate my life to undoing this horrible, fatal, sin of buying a Rock and Roll tape.
Keep in mind there was no preamble here, just launch right into a prayer about how I was going to hell for sure and could the good lord please see fit to maybe overlook this transgression. By the time he was done praying I was in tears. He left the room without saying anything else.
I don’t know if I got any sleep that night but I remember the staying awake in torment part. I had no idea I had done anything wrong, no clue as to why Jesus would be so against something I found joy in for the first time. After a while though, I remember thinking that perhaps my father was an idiot. After all, music wasn’t in the ten commandments. Certain types of music didn’t seem to be delineated in Sunday School like other behaviors. This was shocking to me to even consider. My dad! An idiot! I mean, who damns someone to hell over tapes? It was an awakening on many levels for me all in one moment.
Damned to hell. For all eternity! For Queen! Fine, I decided. If that’s the penalty I’ll argue it on the back end as to the stupidity. Unknowingly, I was already forming a judgment based on my father’s behavior that he would do nothing but bolster for 20 more years.
You often don’t control when you are jerked back from the worm hole. With a bit of a start I suddenly saw Rochelle scrolling through the tracks on the Mamma Mia DVD and Voulez Vous popped up.
"Voulez Vous! Play that one." I said.
"You don’t know this, it’s not what you think it is." she replied.
"Yes it is," I sang the chorus, "Look I know these songs better than you do." She shrugged and laughed and played it. And it was awesome.
The kitsch washed over me like fire. I’m in hell, just not the one my father envisioned. Another one bites the dust.