Friday, January 2, 2009

After the Gold Rush

A handful of moments shaped my musical tastes. As a young boy the first thunderclap came from The Beatles' debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. It was captivating. The excitement that followed that February night was something that will stay forever etched in my mind. My two older sisters streaked out of the house after the show had ended to talk excitedly about what they had just witnessed with the two girls who lived next door. It's impossible to overstate how important that telecast was because even I realized, at the tender age of eight, that these four mop tops marked a revolution away from the syrupy homogenized sound that popular music had become.

The next major awakening came sometime after I turned 15. My oldest sister had abandoned an album when she moved out of the house called "After the Gold Rush." When I first listened to it the shaky voice left me wondering how anyone that could sing this way could be allowed to make a record. But when I came upon "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," the tune spoke to me as it would to any lovelorn teenager. It didn't take long for the album to become my favorite and my appreciation for Neil Young would grow from there.

Neil Young performing "A Day in the Life" at Farm Aid

It was the night of my high school graduation that my favorite teacher and soon to become lifelong friend gave me a lesson in scotch and Bob Dylan. I don't know where my head or my ears had been. Dylan had never struck me until I heard "Freewheelin' Bob Dylan." Tony Gauthier gave me a rousing lesson in the early works of America's greatest songwriter.

The final piece of the Dylan puzzle came later that summer after seeing my rock hero Neil Young for the first time in concert with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, in an epic show that featured the Beach Boys. I went to a party in a Kansas City suburb after that mind numbing concert for a little more beer and a little more weed. Blonde on Blonde was playing and that night I was completely hooked. I also got my first introduction to the Grateful Dead at that same party and a second love was born, one that would also be nurtured by Tony.

The final piece to this five legged musical stool would come more than a decade and a half later. The then love of my life had begged me to take her to see U2. Not four years earlier I had turned down a chance to see the band play free when they were filming "Rattle and Hum," at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. Standing that night not ten feet away from the Edge was a sonic awakening that took hold of me in ways that I'm still trying to come to terms with. It wasn't just loud, but the energy that this Irish band brought to Arrowhead Stadium, the stage craft, the whole visual experience of Zoo TV, and the music, which was lyrically gripping, turned me from a doubter into an instant fan. For that Alice, I will always be indebted to you.

I've been fortunate to see all of my favorites perform except for the Beatles. To me seeing them on Ed Sullivan those three Sundays in a row back in 1964 would be impossible to top. They would appear one final time on Sullivan in 1965 but the icing to that cake came on The Smothers Brothers Show when they performed "Hey Jude." What a magical performance.

I would admonish anyone to see Dylan or Young before they're gone. As for me, I await U2's return to the U.S. hopefully later this year when they tour with their new album due out in March. It would be nice to be able to wash "Popmart" out of my mouth once and for all.


  1. Uncle John, You're such a wonderful writer! Mom forwarded me your email about the big race and I thought it was just great. I'm really glad she shared your blog with me too. You've officially been added to my favorites and I will be checking your blog whenever I am bored to tears at work for pick me up.

    Oh, and if you haven't ever read Sex, Drugs, and Coco Puffs by Chuck Klosterman you really should. :)


  2. I'm trying to get to Young, but I keep missing him!