Part one: In which a child recognizes the power mysteriously held within a simple slab of vinyl.
When I was little, my parents had one of those sixties-style all-in-one console stereos. A big piece of furniture with a wooden top that flipped up for the turntable that was inside and doors that opened in front where the albums were stored, with speakers built in on either side. It traveled with us when we moved from Orange County, California to Western Colorado in 1969. My father was very conservative, and music wasn’t a big deal in our family. He played guitar a little bit, and we had a couple books of Americana music with songs like “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” and “Go Tell Aunt Rhody.” Living in Southern California in the 60s put us squarely in the center of the burgeoning TV culture, with at least a dozen channels available and Westerns like Gunsmoke or Bonanza and comedies like Green Acres or the Beverly Hillbillies making a big impression on me. I was a huge fan of Lucille Ball, and would watch Bozo the Clown in the afternoons after school. We used to always watch the Ed Sullivan show, and I remember when the Beatles made their famous appearance. I used to stand in front of the television when I was about six years old, pretending that I had a microphone and was hosting the Mark Metz show. One of my favorite pastimes was dialing ‘0’ on the old rotary telephone, and having conversations with the operator, whose name I thought was ‘Bago’.
I was well aware of the pressure of pop culture, and the rock-n-roll revolution of the Psychedelic Sixties was near at hand. My brother was seven years older than me and served as an adolescent lightning rod for the family, intuitively seeking out and drawing my attention to the more radical aspects of art and music. My father, on the other hand, was adamantly against anything that resembled “hippie crap” and so much of what I absorbed from the era was done under the radar. In fact, it was the “hippies” and the “rat race” that drove my dad out of Southern California and back to his childhood home, the Colorado Rockies. I remember riding around Los Angeles in my parent’s ’65 Ford Mustang soaking up the essence of West Coast Freeway Culture, hearing the Doors and the Beatles on the radio, along with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. To this day, I still love L.A. and welcome occasional sojourns to the land of palm trees and pavement. The AM-radio soundtrack to those formative days made a huge impact on me. “Popcorn” by Hot Butter (Gershon Kingsley), the first piece of electronic music to ever reach the top 40 also made a big impression, as did “Joy” by Apollo 100, (a Moog Synthesizer version of Bach’s Jesu – Joy of Man’s Desiring). Both of these pieces of music presaged my eventual life as a DJ and music aficionado. I was young enough to not exactly have a handle on the reality of things, confusing what my parents were talking about and what I heard on the radio. For instance, I was under the impression that my dad was commuting to Cambodia everyday, not to his neon sign shop in Irvine.
We were already well into the process of moving to Colorado in 1969 when Charlie Manson and his followers nailed the lid shut on the coffin of the psychedelic dream, sealing the Sixties with a dark legacy that they’ve never quite been able to shake. For our family, and my dad in particular, the Manson murders validated everything that was wrong with the hippie ideals, and was proof positive that the whole sex-and-drugs-and-rock-and-roll culture was a sham. Fear was the prevailing emotion when it came to the idea of ‘peace and love’ and with the Vietnam war running its course and the Kent State massacre bringing the reality of the military-industrial machine home to roost. It’s no wonder my dad was eager to bring his boys back to the land and raise cattle like good ranchers should. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and the Watts Riots didn’t help either.
He did his best to put enough distance between us and civilization to do the trick, but to no avail. Our 4,500 acre cattle ranch was 36 miles from Grand Junction, the nearest town, 13 miles past the end of the paved road, our driveway was called 7-1/2 Road, signifying miles to the Utah border. The Adamson’s were our nearest neighbors who lived 5 miles away, a clan of Appalachians who had managed to successfully squat on 5 acres carved out of the ranch for 16 years, thereby earning the deed to their land by back country squatters rights. It was a spectacular landscape, where the High Country of the Rocky Mountains fell away to the Red Desert of Utah. Our ranch was actually considered rather small relative to the sheep ranchers who had been in the area for generations, a few of the families grazed on spreads that were more than 100,000 acres. It was sparse, high desert rangeland, where productivity was measured in acres-per-cow rather than cows-per-acre. Wildlife, wilderness, and the Old West were the backdrop, haunted by Indian relics and artifacts leftover from a bloody history of conquest.
But a funny thing happened on the way back to the land, it turned out that one of his sons wasn’t having it. My older brother Randel, (now Rafi, lately of Chaing Mai, Thailand) wasn’t about to ditch the Paisley Promise of the 60’s in favor of some retro-Americana fantasy. While Dad was twisting his arm to get out there and bale hay like a good ‘ol boy, he had a better idea — sit in the living room and play his copy of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band over and over, marveling at the magic of it, and dreaming wistfully of the long-haired culture that was in full swing on the coasts. As a seven-year-old, I had a feeling that that record by The Beatles was a big deal. It had so many hints and intimations of secret knowledge, the keys to the culture wrapped up in a code. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds — rumor had it that they were referring to the very substance that was such a sensation in the news — LSD! Were people really getting high with a little help from their friends?
There was definitely a charge around that album in our house, and there’s nothing like a parent’s negative reaction to instill curiosity in the heart of a young one. My father thought he had safely left the Sixties behind, along with the Rat Race in Southern California, and here was my brother, worshipping a black vinyl talisman that brought the very essence of it all right into our living room in the middle of nowhere. I scarcely remember what records my parents may have had to justify the ownership of a console stereo unit, a few folk or Christmas albums, Perry Como, Lawrence Welk, maybe a Souza march. The sort of dreck you find in the scratched-up leftover bins of the Goodwill. But the fact that my brother could invoke the forbidden bohemian world with a Magical Mystery Tour to Strawberry Fields Forever simply by sneaking the brightly-colored LP out of his bedroom and dropping the needle in the family console meant that these plain black discs somehow held the metaphysical keys to worlds beyond in their mysteriously magnetic vinyl grooves.
(To be continued… an excerpt from My Life in the Beats of Wax)
Director of the Dance First Association
Publisher of Conscious Dancer Magazine