Almost 30 years ago probably one of the more formative events in my life occurred. My father left my mother, and shortly thereafter my stepfather entered my life.
Independent of any other emotional or parental changes, one singular part of that transition has affected me above all else: My stepfather introduced me to rock and roll.
I’m overstating it a bit, I’d been soft rocked by adult contemporary as a child. But regular rock and roll was the devil’s music, and I was repeatedly told by my father I was going to hell for purchasing my very first cassette tape: Queen’s The Game. In our house it was mostly gospel, Mickey Gillis, the Gatlin Brothers, The Oak Ridge Boys, or Streisand and maybe, just maybe, those out of control rebels The Bee Gees. Neil Diamond was also allowed, sparingly.
When my mom first met Ted, my eventual stepfather, we were still struggling as she was a single parent trying to cope with her new situation and raising three boys. Once they started dating, we got to visit his apartment. At that time, I believe Ted’s album collection had reached close to 1000 albums.
You have to understand just how much physical space 1000 vinyl records takes up. It’s just gargantuan. His entire place seemed to be one large record storage area. And he was a fan not just of classic rock but of the modern stuff I normally wasn’t allowed, some classical, jazz, etc.
When I was 11 I got my own self contained record player with speakers. And Ted immediately began to give me all his older stuff (so that he could justify buying new copies). His system was a high-end adjustable automatic turntable with tracking, connected to massive Cerwin Vega speakers via an amp. Mine was a two speed manual unit with small tinny built in speakers, so the fact I had hand me down worn copies of his LP’s really didn’t matter.
What mattered is that while I wanted Michael Jackson and Taco, what I got was Jimmy Buffett, Bruce Springsteen, Poco, and an education into classic rock and roll that, lacking the albums I wanted, I had to play because they were the only albums I had.
Over the next year I bet I was the only 11 year old in early 1984 listening to Dylan, Brinsley Schwarz, Jethro Tull, Beatles, Stones, and my Stepdad’s favorite, It’s a Beautiful Day and Blood Sweat and Tears’ “Child is Father to the Man”
Fast forward to today, my stepfather’s marriage to my mother lasted almost two decades, but they eventually divorced. But he’s probably one of the most profound influences on my life and my appreciation of music. I still remember once I got a cassette recorder system that recorded from the phonograph. I made a general mix tape for myself of my favorite stuff that got spied by an older kid in middle school who grabbed my walkman.
“Cream? Led Zeppelin? not exactly new age music” he mocked as he read the tape label I worked so hard on. My Depeche Mode and Duran Duran cassettes were in my backpack still but that was ok. I look back on it now as a validation, not that the modern music at the time was bad, but that I was capable of enjoying it all.
This Christmas I thought of that time in my life. My stepdad’s vinyl collection is long since sold and he’s relocated to his hometown of New Orleans. On a whim I hit Amazon. I sent him the following:
Along with cables to make sure it would all work. I sent him this note:
Almost 30 years ago, you introduced me to so much music via your record collection. Included in this package should be everything you need to start your record collection over again. Much love and merry xmas, Stepto and Rochelle.
I hope he likes it as much as I think he will.
I hope he knows just how important his gift of music was to me.
I hope my brothers remember to send him more albums as their part of the gift.