The (musical) soundtrack of my life

From the time I turned 13, in 1977, the continuous underlying musical soundtrack of my life was hard rock, primarily Led Zeppelin (whose heyday occurred mostly before then), AC/DC, Van Halen, Rush, Bon Jovi and the Scorpions.  Most of the time, I was blasting all these bands on my stereo as loud as I could.

My 1978-79 high school ID card. Mid-way through the transition of “old Jon,” a clean-cut, very obedient, awkward Jewish kid, to the “new Jon”: an awkward, disobedient, long-haired rock star wannabe.

As I look back now, that extreme volume was driven by two factors.  First, that that’s how that music is meant to be played.  Second, as I describe in my book, I wanted it as loud as possible to help drown out the other “soundtrack of my life”: the near-constant screaming that reverberated through my house since I was a toddler, of which my brain made a permanent recording, and still plays during my nightmares.  (While I also listened to more thought-provoking bands during this period, such as Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Fleetwood Mac, Kansas, Styx and others, my “staples” were the hard rock boys.)

Van Halen, 1978

I started attending hard rock concerts around 1978, with emphasis on two bands: Van Halen and Rush (more below).

And I think what my parents hoped I’d find by going to synagogue and being Bar Mitzvahed, I found being amidst 30,000 other stoned out kids rocking to 140db music by our rock gods.  I had all the band T-shirts, which of course didn’t fly so well at home – but that was half the point.

These puff-haired rock gods were my heroes. What George Washington, Audie Murphy and Glenn Miller were to previous generations of young men, these drugged-out, sex-crazed, carefree power-rock guys were my role models, when I had none others.

Here’s a documentary about the rise and influence of Van Halen — which intersected with, and helped inspire, the transition from “old Jon” into “new Jon.”

I knew I’d never reached the “coolness” of my rock star heroes.

My primary mission, as I recall, was just to try to avoid being uncool, and do whatever I could to snatch a little piece of “coolness.” Granted, for a time I had the hair, the electric guitar and some singing and songwriting abilities.  If I’d been at least minimally at peace with myself, it would have been a lot easier, and I might have gotten somewhere. But those weren’t the cards I was dealt. So I used as many drugs as I needed to drown out the pain and memories, until I began cleaning up my act, in 1987 (age 23).

When I reached high school, a whole world of new things were awaiting me – including the most important part of rock music to a young guy like me: beautiful girls.  Being an average-looking guy with a terrible home life wasn’t an asset in trying to mingle with them.  Being artistic, musical, funny and modestly charming, was, at least a little bit.

Me at age 14/15 in the school lunchroom.

Below: Videos of the songs of my life, year by year

As far as the songs that were released during the period 1977-1989 (when I was 13-25), here are the ones I remember as largely constituting the musical soundtrack for each year of my life.  Although a mild shift occurred in the mid-80s, when I was in design school, to alternative/new wave (eg Simple Minds, The Cure), I quickly returned to my roots, mostly with Bon Jovi and a few of the other big-hair bands in the late 1980s.  (Which was ironic, because that was when the universe dealt me its next cruel joke – rapidly taking away all my quasi-rock-star hair, leaving me looking like a 50 year old accountant at age 25.)

Two more major changes were to occur soon thereafter: I got into Bruce Springsteen in a big way in the early 1990s, but after my mom passed in 1997, I found myself gravitating to country-rock, led by Mary Chapin-Carpenter (I discuss the profound impact that her music has had on me here).  And since moving to Charlottesville, VA in 2001, I get an awesome mix of the best music of today and yesterday, thanks to the world’s greatest radio station: 106.1 “The Corner.”

1977: Rush “2112”

To a goofball kid with no direction, but yearning for inspiration… going to a concert by these guys from Toronto was pretty much nirvana (especially as it was nearing the end of disco). This version of the concert video was shot many years later, when the stage show was far advanced, but the origins of it were present in 1977-78, when I first started to going to their shows, in Chicago. (If this video was yanked, find others here.)

1978: Van Halen “Runnin’ With The Devil”

One year after my Bar Mitzvah, I had to choose between following the Torah, or following my rock gods. To my parents’ dismay, it was clear that my soul belonged to rock & roll, ad I know this song in particular disturbed them. Which, I guess, was half the point of Van Halen writing it – and my loving it (no, I was never a Satanist). (If this version was yanked, find others here.)

1979: Van Halen “Dance The Night Away”

1980: AC/DC “Back In Black”

What can I say? How can one listen to their teachers when they’ve got this soundtrack rolling around in their head? Oy vey.

Also in 1980: The Who “Baba O’Reilly” (“Teenage Wasteland”)

The movie “The Kids Are Alright” was released in 1979, and for me and my maniacal friends, “Baba O’Reilly” became one of our anthems. “Teenage wasteland… they’re all wasted!!!” was as close to a pre-orgasmic celebration as any of us could achieve, as our brains were pickled in whatever intoxicants happened to be available.

1981: AC/DC “For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)”

(If this version is yanked, find more here.)

1982: Scorpions “There’s No One Like You”

(If this version is yanked, find more here.)

1983: Sammy Hagar “Your Love Is Driving Me Crazy”

1984: Van Halen “Panama”

1985: Simple Minds “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”

A close second: U2 “A Sort Of Homecoming” (live). The first time I heard this song, performed live, it struck to the deepest depths of my being, and haunts me to the present day. I think this is because, in part, I’d been yearning for a place to call “home” since I was a child, and didn’t discover it until I discovered Charlottesville, VA in 1997. But spiritually, this soaring tribute to freedom, friendship and yearning is the soundtrack to the music video of my life, in total. It’s better heard only, without any distracting visuals.
(If this version is yanked, find more here.)

1986: Bon Jovi “Living On A Prayer”

1987: The Cure “Just Like Heaven”

Again, this was one of the alternative music genres that I got into during and after graphic design school, but didn’t fully appreciate until years later. I never dug the goth-rock personas, but in my book I have a lot to say regarding what I learned about not judging anyone by appearances alone.

1988: Bon Jovi “Bad Medicine”

1989: Bon Jovi “Born To Be My Baby”