My wife and I were watching a movie the other day and I caught myself listening to the background music, noticing how it flowed so well with the movie. This got me thinking about how music is everywhere: TV, sporting events, even retail and grocery stores. We use music to mark special events such as birthdays, weddings, and even death. When you really start thinking about how long music has been around, not just in a human cultural aspect, but as a part of life in nature, you can go back not just thousands of years, but millions. Mating calls of the first animals to walk the earth, down to the guttural songs of our oldest Neanderthal ancestors. A single song can transport us back in time to remember a single event or an entire day. Here is part of my musical life journey.
I was born in March 1968. A very influential band in my music career was born the same year, but we’ll get to that later. I don’t remember individual songs of my very early youth, but I do remember my dad listening to his jazz and big band music on a reel to reel. I also remember that my parents bought me a very small record player in pre-school and supported my music development by buying albums of artists that I liked.
Living in Idaho, country music was popular and I remember hearing the music of John Denver and Kenny Rogers on the radio before disco took over. However, I had found my favorite station, which would fade in and out due to living at a distance from it. It was a “rock” station and because of this influence, Aerosmith, The Eagles, KISS, and similar bands made it into my record collection.
In 1977, I saw Star Wars in the theater and like most nine-year-old boys, was blown away. Not only did I get the soundtrack, but also the The Story of Star Wars on record. Thanks to Star Wars, I was introduced to the incomparable John Williams and his compositions. That same year I asked my parents for a mix record of popular rock music. On that record was Foreigner’s Cold as Ice. If I hear that song on the radio today, I’m immediately transported back to my bedroom in 1977 playing air guitar to the solo of that song.
1980 found me in transition. Not only did I move from Idaho to Rhode Island, but my entire music world was changing. I turned 12 years old just before moving and was so completely awe struck by one band that I purchased my first record with my own money. AC/DC’s Back In Black was a pivotal album as both it and the move to RI ushered in a heavier level of music for me as both rock and metal radio stations were more prevalent.
The combination of a new town, new school, and new people left me transitioning from being very popular to being at the bottom. I fell in with a rather tough crew for the rest of my school years. I remember us as the “tough, semi-jock, metal-head crew.” Being in a “tough crew” led to us listening to tough music, laden with tons of heavy guitar, lyrics, and percussion. Judas Priest, Ozzy, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Van Halen became an everyday part of life.
In 1982, I borrowed a bunch of records from an older kid and my life changed forever when I pulled out an album with the words Black Sabbath (also born in 1968) in purple lettering and Master of Reality in black. I put the album on the record player, dropped the needle, and was shaken to the core of my being. Coughing emanated out of the speakers followed by the opening riff of Sweet Leaf. Even though I had some heavy music in my listening repertoire, this was on a whole different level. That day, that song, made me want to play guitar and other than a five-year break in the 2000’s, I have never stopped playing.
Little did I know that that song, and the guitar and amp my mom bought me as a gift (a 1984 Aria Pro II ZZ Deluxe and a Peavey Backstage Plus), would become such important aspects of my life. Around 1984, my world was once again changed when I was listening to the Headbanger’s Ball and heard Creeping Death by Metallica. This experience rounded out my major influences for early guitar playing: Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Judas Priest, and Metallica with some Ozzy/Randy Rhodes thrown in the mix.
After graduating high school in 1986, I found myself at Navy boot camp just one month later. One of the first things I did when I got to my permanent duty station was to buy a guitar (Yamaha SE250) and a Tom Scholz Rockman headphone amp so I could play on the ship. 1986 also saw the release of Metallica’s Master of Puppets and it is still, to this day, my all-time favorite album from their collection. However, a different influence came out that defined my time in the Navy.
In 1987, during one of my tours in the Persian Gulf, Guns N’ Roses Appetite for Destruction was released…and I hated it, until I started listening to it and it became synonymous with my time in the Navy. In 1988 my ship, among several others, was invited to the Rose Festival in Portland, OR. This is a weeklong event held annually to thank the Navy for their service. The first night the town hosts the Sailor’s Ball. As it would happen, I met a girl named Christy that evening who would become my companion for the entire week. Whenever I hear Cult of Personality by Living Colour, I immediately think of that night and the following week.
In 1990 I helped my shipmate drive home cross-country and we stopped to see Christy, who was attending college in Kansas. We stayed the night, talked old times, and I showed off my new guitar, a 1988 USA Jackson Custom Shop. Once again, I think of this time and this girl and I think of Skid Row’s, I Remember You as our song.
When I got out of the Navy in 1990, I moved back home to RI and began college. Over the next six years of school I was playing guitar constantly, even jamming with people at parties. One of my best friends at the time was a metal head as well and he played a song from a new album that had just come out. My jaw hit the floor as I heard Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power for the first time. This was and still is absolutely awe-inspiring to me.
I graduated in 1996 with a dual B.S. in Geology and Geological Oceanography and soon after, started working at a local job site. In 1997 I got a government job at NOAA in MD as an oceanographer. I also started dating a girl I’ll call G who would become my wife a few years later. As I said earlier, weddings are significant events where music was involved and this one had A LOT of music. The big song for us at the time was Aerosmith’s I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing.
In 2002/3, for various reasons, I put my guitars in their cases and set them in the garage for what I thought would be forever. I had hit a plateau in my playing where I just couldn’t move forward and my job was becoming very demanding, as well as my marriage. 2007 rolled around and a game came out called Rockband. I HAD to have it and told my wife about it repeatedly. One day she got irritated and told me, “You don’t need the damn game. You’ve got three guitars in the garage, USE THEM!” So, I went out, bought a very small practice amp (Vox VT20, awesome) and began learning to play guitar again.
There were major changes in my playing and it took me about a year to get proficient again but I kept with it. Somehow, over the five years of non-playing, my ear had gotten very good at hearing music notes so much so that I could play the song in my head and then play it on guitar. I also began writing my own music and lyrics, even writing an entire concept album of lyrics.
In 2008, a new song came out on the radio and the band caught my ear, even though it was never announced on air who they were. The vocals were a blistering roar and beautiful at the same time and the riff and drums were just plain HEAVY. Finally, a DJ said the name of the band, Slipknot, the song Psychosocial. WOW! That same year Metallica’s new album, Death Magnetic was scheduled to be released. It was getting a lot of hype about being very old school and I was hopeful as I went to purchase it the week it was released. Sure enough, it had an old-school vibe and I gave it a thumbs up. As time continued to pass, my music was getting back to its old self but my marriage was on the decline. I would need music more than ever for this next stage.
Next week I’ll continue the story. Thank you for reading and please feel free to comment below!!
-Scott Duncan – MU Columnist
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