In talking about their inspirations and influences, musicians often mention their parents' record collections. That's understandable, as, early on, these are the tunes that shape us most.
While I was only in a band for a short stint in high school, the music of my youth, and of my parents' adulthood, is somewhat congruous. As a teenager, I discovered their collection—a broad selection of cassettes, vinyl and compact discs. My stepfather housed his stereo in a wooden cabinet he built to fit each component. There was a designated shelf for the tape deck, record player, CD player, receiver and, of course, space at the bottom for the music. While waiting for the bus each morning, I would cycle through the stacks. That's how I first heard Rush and Floyd, Frampton and Fagan. Songs like The Beatles' "A Day in the Life," Steely Dan's "Dirty Work" and Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill"—along with the grunge movement—served as my soundtrack.
I recently realized that the tables have turned, and I am now a musical mentor to my own son, Oliver. He'll likely thumb through the music I own by the time he's a curious teenager. That is, of course, unless it's tucked away on hard drives. With most music being available primarily online now, most people's tangible collections have been relegated to multiple gigs of MP3s stored alphabetically in folders on massive external drives. No more ring-worn records or bulky furniture for physical media; these days it's just gleaming Western Digitals and Lacies.
I, too, have a large digital music collection, but one of the main reasons I've moved to buying more vinyl of late is for Oliver. The possibility that he could have a musical quest similar to my own feels important. I remember the days where all I did was listen to my parents' music, discovering a new Led Zeppelin tune and how it had affected the new music I liked. I learned to respect this music for how it shaped the culture—the culture of my parents, that is—around it. This was the soundtrack to my parents' early adulthood. My stepfather no longer has a record player in his house, but I do; years ago, he passed the records down to me. I now own many of those records that I listened to as a child. Every now and again, I even break out a little Oak Ridge Boys.
Just a few days ago, my mother was upstairs preparing a bath for Oliver. He suddenly ran over to her, holding a red 7-inch single in his hands, screaming, "Record! Record!" "Is that what I think it is?" my mother asked. Sure enough, it was her 45-rpm single of Dee Dee Sharp's "Do the Bird." It had been sitting on a lower shelf in my office. Oliver handed me the record, and I popped in the plastic adaptor. I put the needle to the record: "Look out, look out! There's a big bad bird that's flying around." My mother and Oliver danced on the slate tile floor, singing while the water filled the bathtub. I smiled as three generations bonded over a piece of plastic made in 1960. Good thing Oliver didn't drop a hard drive in the tub.