Monday, July 19, 2010

People And Things That Went Before (Songs 'n' The Hoods Part 1)

Growing up a music fanatic in both the lower West Village of Manhattan and Brooklyn's Sheepshead Bay in the 70s wasn't always fun and games. The "neighborhood" guys where I lived in Manhattan weren't so forgiving for my longish hair and not so secret love of all things Bowie and Bolan. One afternoon, on my way home from school and my standard daily visit to one of the many record stores on Bleecker Street, three of these tree stumps in Keds followed me, throwing bottles, rocks and cans, taunting me with the creative cheer, "Fuck you, you Mott The Hoople faggot," until one of the bottles actually hit me. That last move sent them and me, running.

A worse day, was when the same trio threw me against a car, grabbed my record bag out of my hands, took out my just purchased Patti Smith "Gloria" picture sleeve and started playing Frisbee. (Remember, these were guys who thought a fatty embolism was a guy who ran numbers on Mulberry Street.) I learned quickly how to hide 45s from the thugs of Thompson Street.

Brooklyn was a little more open minded. Those "friends" didn't care what music you listened to. They just beat the crap out of you, no questions asked. It was all very random in Sheepshead Bay, like these teenage girls, inseparable, possibly sisters but I can't recall, who would change personalities with the street lights. On Saturday, you'd partner up with one of them and happily play doubles paddle ball at the schoolyard of P.S. 254. Then on Sunday, that same girl would greet you with "Get the fuck off my block, asshole!" They weren't easy to look at either. The cuter one resembled Vic Tayback and could crush big olive oil cans with her chin. If I remember correctly, they did like Pink Floyd and David Bowie, though.

Still, at 15, I listened to it all, especially the Beatles, who had been my band of choice since I could walk. I had the luxury of two uncles, one in each borough, with very eclectic record collections. The Brooklyn collection offered everything from British Invasion to my first experiences with reggae and swing. Manhattan's uncle offered everything from Frank Sinatra and Led Zeppelin to Renaissance and Bob Dylan. I had two of the best record collections at my fingertips all for the price of a round-trip subway token.

There was also my grandfather, living in the same apartment building as I did, whose record collection consisted of anything he found for a buck on Canal Street. (He found some great stuff, Sergio Franchi's Christmas album notwithstanding.) My neighbor below me and still a friend today, also possessed some of the coolest records I had ever seen, including British pressings of the Hollies and the Stones, as well as choice albums by Thin Lizzy & Deep Purple. Then, there was a friend of my Manhattan uncle who first turned me on to Todd Rundgren, Roy Wood and Prince. To him, I am forever grateful.

I couldn't escape it all if I tried.

Going back to a day in 9th grade, two of my friends each brought in some records we loved, hoping to impress the others with some after school listening. We convened at Joey's house on Morton Street. I still remember my two choices, Ian Hunter's first solo record and the Beach Boys "Sunflower." I would have done just as well bringing in a paperback copy of "Silas Marner." All I got in return were 4 hairy-eyeballs. (My next two choices, if this ritual made it out of the first week, would have been Harry Belafonte's "Calypso," one of my grandfather's faves and a record I still find very charming, and the soundtrack from "Superfly." I can only imagine the berating.)

I politely listened to their choices, which included the soundtrack from Grease, Olivia Newton-John's Greatest Hits, and Elton's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." I loved Elton, and didn't mind the other two. Why were they so put off by my choices? All these years later, well into our 50's, I'd lay even money those three guys would probably act the same way.

Music snobbery still rattles me. I think about the term "guilty pleasures" quite often. I don't feel guilty about liking "Point Of Know Return" by Kansas or "Since You've Been Gone" by Kelly Clarkson." These are very good records and if I was arbitrarily stopped on the street for an iPod check, no song playing would elicit an apology out of me.

I have a bottomless well of stories from Brooklyn and Thompson Street, most of which helped educate me musically and many of which are to blame for my rampant gushing. I'm going to attempt to get to a lot of them and include some pertinent music along the way, assuming of course, those Brooklyn girls aren't reading this and are now headed this way, brass knuckles in place.















steve simels said...

Good lord. I lived on Morton street for a year or two in the 70s.

And for what it's worth, as to your larger point -- I know the feeling.

soundsource said...

great post, actually on of your best. If I may play literary critic for a moment, really will written and well developed.
If I can add something regarding guilty pleasures, I think the point of guilty pleasures is not a record that you would be embarrassed about personally but one that the general public would not get you liking (and by general public I mean music snobs). So maybe that will help you get off the schneid and put together that great mix which I for one can't wait to hear.
Keep writing those musical memoirs I think there's a future in it young man (pushing 50, feh)

FD13NYC said...

I'll never forget the countless good times you and I had listening and collecting great music growing up.

Never be bitter about people who didn't know good music if it bit them on the ass. It's all about what you like and who you revere musically. Always has been.

Keep going through your life enjoying what you can. You've learned a lot in these many years, myself included. Never give up the musical flame, I know I won't.

steves said...

Great piece, Sal! I grew up on the Guyland, but we had our fair share of troglodites as well. I wish I had a quarter for each time I got ridiculed for liking Dylan in the 7th grade (if I remember correctly, the Doobies were big at the time).

As far as the guilty pleasures go, it's none of my concern if someone is a Supertramp fan, but I'd still rather not hear it myself.

Gene Oberto said...

Second that emotion from soundsource, it truly was one of your best.

As to a guilty pleasure for me has always been "How Long?" by Ace. Never tire of hearing it.

The part of the musical love we all share on this little corner of hyperspace is the being turned on to something I never knew existed before.

Brian turning me on to the James Taylor Apple LP. or learning about Little Feat after being blown away by "Feats Don't Fail..."

I'm a little more jaded now, it's takes a lot more to get me up off the chair to CRANK IT UP, but it still happens and, god willin' and the creek don't rise, it will continue to.

Sal Nunziato said...

Thanks everyone. As I was writing this piece, the memory was coming alive and some other great incidents came to mind. I hope when I get to those, you'll find those just as interesting.

misospecial said...

Love the post, the memories, the sentiment, and the writing. Love seeing the origins, your rites of passage. More, please!

Anonymous said...

Growing up I enjoyed playing music for my friends that I "discovered" via college radio or Rolling Stone, Musician or Trouser Press magazine. Their reactions were almost always underwhelming. They seemed to need to have their musical choices validated by radio before they could enjoy it. I loved finding music with "enough hooks to..." before it made it to radio if at all. I specifically remember being told that U2 and Peter Gabriel were shit before they achieved mainstream success.

And Steves, Supertramp holds up quite well. Give "Crime of the Century" a try.


Jeff in Denton TX said...

Enjoyed the post. Your point about what constitutes a guilty pleasure makes a lot of sense. (I, too, have been sucked in by the pure pop of BSB's "I Want It That Way.") I guess my idea for a guilty pleasure would be something akin to: "I know this artist/song really has little artistic value, but I like them/it anyway, dammit!" BTW--The stuff that got you beat up is MUCH better than what I had in mind. Being slightly less than a decade younger than you, my tastes were shaped in the 80's--sometimes in reaction against them. My personal Guilty Pleasure list includes these cringe-inducing performers: Loverboy, Barry Manilow, REO Speedwagon, Bryan Adams, Styx, and Kenny Loggins. Yes, I own CD's by all of these people. None of them are among my favorite artists, but each has enough stuff I enjoy to merit at least a "Best of" compilation in my library. Great art? No. Just fun.

FD13NYC said...

Sal, name one of the Guilty Pleasure mixes: "I Really Always Loved These Songs So Fuck You All, Past, Present And Future. (thank you)

Michael Giltz said...

How did the troglodytes know you liked Mott The Hoople? How did they even know the name "Mott The Hoople?"(I know, I know. Artistic license. Funny too.)

Michael Giltz said...

And why do you feel so guilty about guilty pleasures? You want to insist there's no such thing for you as a guilty pleasure. If you like it, it has some merit. Bull. I enjoy "Safety dance" by Men Without Hats but even their NAME has no merit. (Hey, that's pretty funny.) Soundsource has a good attitude: stuff other people would think was lame, so does the attitude of screw everyone, I like Dust In The Wind. BUt then there's the real guilty pleasures: stuff you don't think has merit but still enjoy for the memories or some other vague reason.

Sal Nunziato said...

Everybody knew everybody in that neighborhood, so you'd walk out of the record store and BOOM--"What's in the bag?"

Sal Nunziato said...

I don't think I said I felt "guilty" about guilty pleasures.

cmealha said...

Take comfort in knowing that the idiots from Thompson Street are stuck in the same 70's mind set and you've evolved.

If you do put together a 'guilty pleasures' mix you have to include Xanadu. There I've come out.

FD13NYC said...

If you have to include Xanadu on a mix, try to use the ELO version, if necessary. ONJ had some good songs that I liked though. There, I've said it, and no one could bend my album covers for it.

David Handelman said...

this is a great post. I hope all those kids who beat you up are now unhappy grown-ups.

Back in the day, music HAD to be learned via community, often by older kids. I mean, you could read Rolling Stone and buy something because of words on a page, but most radio formats weren't playing the kinds of things you're talking about.

I belonged to the "Record Club of America" and got Goodbye Yellow Brick Road with my subscription....Hm. Maybe there' a blog post in all this.

cmealha said...

Noooo! The whole point is ONJ with ELO!

soundsource said...

I always felt that the Bishop of NYC from the 50's Cardinal Bad Spelling was a guilty pleasure and a really bad pun, wink wink

itsok2beright said...

I think I knew those girls. They used to steal my lunch money.

Well written post that music people could relate to. Guilty pleasures, are pleasures nonetheless.

Sal Nunziato said...

you absolutely know those girls, itsok2b. Just no mentioning names.

Dusty said...

Nice piece, Sal. I remember the first time we got to bring 45s to 7th grade English class. I was so stoked to share "Evil Ways" by Santana. But then Eric Boykin dropped The Temps "Can't Get Next To You Girl" and all bets were off. My cousin who was attending Kent State bought me their Greatest Hits, Vol. II that Christmas. I wore it out!

charlie c. said...

Great piece to come home to Sal. I can't wait to move on to the others. Forest Avenue on Staten Island had one record store -- The Record Baron. It was there that our little group convened on Saturdays cobbling together what little cash we had to make our astute choices.
Guilty Pleasures abound! No apologies -- just knowing that you are so far below the popularity/hipness curve that you can't even get there from here . . .
Gastronomically speaking -- the guy on the bench next to you is enjoying a box lunch from Zabars while you (me) scarf down a Fluffernutter.