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.