Photo from Schism.
No first-time record collector ever realizes how worthless copies of the White Album really are, at least not at first. The last time I saw anyone try to trade one in, the record store owner offered a dollar for it, at best.
The Beatles, as the record is officially referred to, is one of the eternal masterpieces of the pop rock genre, and one of the more telling time capsules from the post-modern chaos of the late ‘60s ever set to magnetic tape or vinyl…but you can buy it for ten dollars in ‘the Used’ isle at your record store? Here’s why. In 1968, the White Album sold nearly 10 million copies alone. That means there’s around 15 million dads in the English-speaking world today who still have an original pressing of that record likely sitting in their basements, waiting for their teenage sons to discover it for free.
The catch, of course, here is you had to be one of those 15 million kids in the English-speaking world to have the lucky golden ticket—I mean, white record.
One of the benefits of living in Catholic suburbia was that your father’s wilder years of self-discovery were just sitting at your fingertips (which means, only if you are willing to search the basement for them). That is where in the DeMello household I discovered my dad’s record collection which included the only evidence of his not-often discussed glam rock period during college. At first, I was drawn into The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust pretty immediately. I think that’s because when I was younger, my mother had me on a pretty strict music regimen of Broadway musicals. So yes, makeup and theater still appealed to me then. (Don’t even get me started on The Wall.)
That’s a significant moment for a young man in his mid-teens to think, “I have been a total geek for this sort of stuff my whole life and had no idea where it came from.” Pause for a moment, then say, “Now I know.”
On the road to deciding the man who you want to be, it’s those little secret rites of passage locked in your parents’ closets (like say, a mutual Bowie-fandom) that tells your later years not to worry, there’s a good reason why you love this stuff.
Did I mention we both dressed up as Alex Delarge from A Clockwork Orange for Halloween in our mutual junior years of college? Man, fake eyelashes get annoying.
These life lessons teach you that it’s best to start your first friendships with whatever nerds you can find who will nod to these same drum beats. Those men either turn into uncles, or end up—at worst—planning your bachelor party.
I’m telling you about nights spent at Summer Running Camps (you know, like where you’re supposed to train for High School Track & Field?) reciting facts our fathers told us about Eric Clapton.
“Did you hear how he offered to join The Band?”
“Did you know he stole George Harrisons wife, and that they had a guitar-off to see who could keep her and Eric Clapton won?”
“Did you know that he’s the one soloing on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’?”
All said with such earnest.
These boasts of trivia were not meant to fend off our fellow bucks, they were meant to connect. I found more than common bridges of repression and dejection in those cabins, I heard the need to find someone worth being with.
Then winter 2004 blew around and I grew closer to my dad’s prog-ier tastes. I’m not talking about Pink Floyd (I loved them more than he did), I’m talking about Yes, about King Crimson—most of all, I’m talking about Frank Zappa. “Peaches En Regalia” is one of my father’s favorite songs. He wasn’t crazy about the whole Hot Rats record (I was) but all of the melodies here, every layer of them he could recite while sitting driver’s seat, mid-car ride.
In speaking of priceless moments while driving me to band practice, none became more epic than when the Boston ZLX classic rock station decided to play my father’s favorite band from college. As an authority on 20th century music and a mild Roman History aficionado, I can claim that the effect that the break up of the Beatles had on pop culture was, at the time, not unlike the effect that the fall of Rome had on Europe for the centuries prior the Industrial Age. Who was the only band who could see my father through such dark times? The only one mighty and manly enough to let the lead singer play a flute!
You guessed it, Jethro Tull. When “Locomotive Breath” came on the radio, my father would rock the driver’s seat back and forth like a teenager with the youthful spring of remembering when the term “heavy-metal” meant more about volume than it did texture. The same went for “Purple Haze.”
It was within those father-son discussions with him that I realized what Frank and Brian Wilson had in common, and what exactly Bruce Springsteen was chasing on The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle. Have I ever told you my dad’s story about seeing Bruce Springsteen? This was back when Springsteen was a nobody. He would tell this story every time my younger, more vulnerable self told him that I wanted to be a musician.
“If you’re going to do this, you have to blow your main act out of the water. I saw Bruce open for Bonnie Raitt in the fall of 1974. I had no idea who the hell he was but by the time he was done, no one remembered who they paid to see,” his memory mused. “That’s how good you need to be.”
If anything can be said about rock entering it’s golden years these days, it’s that at one point it did have a staggering amount of energy about it. Seeing evidence that my father did in fact have that energy every once in a while reminds me of why my job is still important; of why raiding your father’s forgotten treasure helps me remember that inheritance means so much more than the cultural real estate between plastic and sound.