Saturday, April 16, 2011

My Very Un - Rock 'n' Roll Family

Before we get too far down the rock n roll rabbit hole of my life, it should be noted that I was always a good kid.  VERY un-rock 'n' roll in fact...and I still am in many ways.  I've never been excessive in my behaviors and I come from a great family.  Seriously, I hit the lottery when it comes to parents.  They are strongly pious Midwestern folks - and they love the hell out of me...even though my life path has been quite different than the one they might have chosen for me.  To be sure, they weren't "COOL" parents.  This made teenage rebellion easy.  I didn't have to do anything too bad to assert my independence.  Playing guitar and listening to loud music was enough to piss them off at the time.  More on this in later blogs.  But first meet my parents: Sandy and Steve. 

My mom, Sandy was never a risk taker and she has lived her life according to very traditional values.  For most of my childhood, she stayed at home and shuttled me and my brother to sports practices, music lessons, and the like before eventually resuming her career as a Medical Records Administrator at a children's hospital in Indianapolis.  She is truly the kindest woman I know.  I've never heard her say a bad word about anyone; and her patience is her greatest strength.  As a kid, I vowed to never be like her (housewifery looked so damned un-fun).  As an adult, I work everyday to be a little more like her.  Cliche' I know...but what are you gonna do.  

My dad was a bit more of a firecracker.  He and I are alike in many ways and I have always been a bit of a daddy's girl.  As a young man, my dad was a scratch golfer who played on the University of Florida's golf team while simultaneously dreaming of a writer's life - all cigars and Cuba and long hair and libraries.  Ultimately, the tide of his times carried him down a more traditional path and he attended law school, got married, and became a father.  He has really been a wonderful dad but there were times when he struggled with both his faith and his life choices.  A dark depression descended in his mid-30s and even after trudging through that difficult time, he experienced mood swings and stress-related anxiety attacks that occasionally cast an ominous shadow over the household.  Anything could set him off on a bit of an angry tirade during those times - music playing too loudly, a B- on a report card, a pair of shoes not put away.  To cope with this uncertain energy that occasionally hung over the house, I developed a habit of sitting in dark rooms with music blasting - my respite from those brewing storms that usually passed into a new day without incident.  In more recent years, much of my dad's tensions have settled and he's become quite calm and satisfied with the outcomes of his life...even as he has watched me trudge through my own struggles.

As blessed as I am to have come from such a solid and loving family, my parents' relationship was a bit of a conundrum to me.  On one hand, they followed very traditional gender roles.  My dad worked while my mom handled the household management.  My dad is all-man and my mom is quite petite and girlish.   On the other hand, they always encouraged me to do whatever I liked - especially if it WASN'T a traditionally girlish pursuit.  They embraced and encouraged my natural athleticism and assured me the proverbial glass ceiling didn't exist for me - that I could accomplish anything I wanted.  Meanwhile, the gender attitudes within my hometown were very traditional.  When I followed my big brother into little league baseball and peewee basketball, random strangers would occasionally say things like "girls don't play sports" or "girls shouldn't be competing with the boys."  As a good athlete, I was allowed to be smart but not pretty. Some people in town assumed I was a lesbian because of my interest and aptitude for sports.  In short, I received a lot of contradictory messages that related to being a girl; this undoubtedly fueled my interest in pursuing paths that challenged the barriers of what women can and should do...what they can and should say...etc.  As music became a fundamental aspect of my emotional balance during stressful times, it also became the primary forum through which I felt I could explore and challenge these issues.  

Friday, April 15, 2011

Might as Well JUMP!

Van Halen 1984
By the time Van Halen released 1984, my brother was 14 and had begun embracing the rock music of the day.  Somehow, he sneaked this album past the eyes of our very protective parents, who would probably have found the image of a baby smoking inappropriate for us.  Knowing now about Eddie Van Halen's unquenchable addiction to cigarettes (he smoked through throat cancer treatments) the cover seems comically apropos.  But at the time, the idea of a baby smoking was quite shocking to me.  I was vehemently, aggressively obsessed with smoking and all its dangers.  At the time, my favorite uncle was a smoker and every year, when The Great American Smokeout came around, I demanded he quit for a day, which he usually did, reluctantly.  Unfortunately for him, I didn't stop there.  I was a kid on a mission to save his precious lung tissue and I inundated him with school handouts full of pictures of black lungs and diseased hearts.  As far as I was concerned, smoking was the scariest thing in the world and it needed to be eradicated.  Needless to say, this image of a BABY smoking managed to intrigue me with fright.  I had to give it a listen...and goddamn those songs!  They were...they still damned good!   Jump!  Panama.  I'll Wait.  This was the first album I'd heard that made me want more.  There were only nine songs.  NINE!  Why not 10 or even 12 I wondered.  Just MORE! 

Once I'd been sucked in by those songs, and that scary smoking baby, I turned my attention to the band's images on the back of the album.

There was David Lee Roth bathed in shadow, with shirt off, face slightly down, eyes up in direct gaze, long windblown hair - I'd never seen a guy with such long hair or a gaze so penetrating except for maybe in mug shots on the evening news.  He was almost as scary as the smoking baby.  And, I liked spite of my god-fearing, vanilla, professional class "long hair is bad" upbringing...or maybe because of it, I liked it.

Soon, we would have MTV, and it was all downhill from there.