I had the extraordinary luck to grace the stage and read the following at the massive Park West on Armitage Avenue for the Chicago Humanities Fest a few years back. The program was called "The Year In Review: 1990." featuring 12 storytellers, one for each month. Irving Welsh did December.
-- And here we are... birthed timid but wise from the decadent beakhead of the 1980s ala Werewolves-of-wall-street and Reganite-o-tronics. Finally we've truly entered "the last great decade" for connecting our optimisms. And like most of the time before and since, much of the coolest history in America is being made right here, in that fated year of the Metal Horse, not a leap year, rolling in cold and furious with its Valentine's Day snowstorm, onto the banks of Lake Michigan, into the bowels of glory that are the smelly onion...
In this shortest and finest of months, yours truly has just entered double digits! That's right, as of February 19th, 1990, I am the big 1-0! And I won't live to set foot in Chicago, Illinois, until another 18 of these long years of youth have passed. And with them, the enforced piano lessons, and chorus. Then the guitar bug, and insomniac communions with six strings on a no-name knock-off model and a mini-amplifier by Gorilla. The modest dual tape deck/boombox used to record concerts on the radio and make killer mixes. And the crummy kit with the broken cymbal, and years of drums in the high school marching band. A first CD player is in there somewhere. Along with weekend trips to the record store in the local mall, even if I couldn't afford a thing.
But thru it all, ugly but proud- a fixture of the living room- the 2-speed belt-driven Sanyo turntable attached to stereo cabinets, or a headphone set. All thru which in that frozen season, I listened to Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon for the first time, what showed me a promising future in the past eras of the dusty sides of my parents' vinyl collection, stacked nearly as tall as I was then, and taller if you threw in their double spindles of 45s.
I'm sure I'm not alone when I say my musical tastes and interests manifested in-kind on the pre-pubescent diet of boy-bands and rap and pop. Holding steady at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for my birthday week is Paula Abdul's "Opposites Attract." Bought with my own cold hard b-day cash is the exciting acquisition on cassette of LL Cool J's 'Mama Said Knock You Out' album. And one never ever forgets the timeless and ubiquitous Mr. Michael Jackson, even tho' it is Janet (Miss Jackson, if you're nasty) who is also currently on the charts trailing not too far behind Paula with "Escapade."
But my airwaves were about to be taken over in a big way by the offerings of the occult gods behind '120 Minutes' now in its 5th year on MTV. With guests and luminary hosts like Iggy Pop, Robert Smith, Debbie Harry and Joey Ramone- it turns out staying up yawning way past my bedtime really meant I was begging to be fed something of cultural significance in the form of the music video. Still more mixes are made of those too, thanks to a sturdy VHS recorder...
And back on those equally snow-dusted farm hills of Pennsylvania, tucked away in a second story bedroom still so far-far-far away from the low-lit haunts of the Metro, The Vic and Lounge Ax, I begin to use these tools to work the edges of my life into a personality. Chicago is a big-city place so removed from my consciousness it might as well be the moon- a moon now hovering close as a new idea thanks also to coveted issues of Alternative Press and SPIN magazines, who show my own true face back to me in the form of quite a few folks you can't forget, namely The Smashing Pumpkins and Veruca Salt. Two Chicago-born outfits that are still making music, who helped to show me what it was to collaborate and risk and be a part of it all. To take the next best step, as if into a breathless dream, and be in a rock band.
The point is, and I'm not alone on this either- music is responsible for my being here. Together we boast a strapping legacy. These urgent dead-of-winter gifts of rock and roll carry me and many others as best they can thru the darkest icy-wasteland hour and back into the light: they know us. They love us. They helped us grow up.
So, whatever music you're listening to- keep on listening. Because it is almost spring, and the sound it makes cannot be ignored.