When I was a teenager, my life was defined by music and words. And these two forces culminated in a special sort of ecstasy every time I bought a new record album.
Each step of the ritual remains as engrained in my memory as the grooves in the now dusty and warped vinyl disks.
I cradled my new record between both hands. Gently placed it on the turntable. Dropped the needle. Rushed to sprawl across my twin bed in the room I shared with my older sister, and picked up the stiff cardboard album jacket.
Only then, once the music began, did I allow myself the magic of studying the album's back cover and--if I was particularly fortunate--the lyrics printed on the liner. A song never hits its mark, never fully transported me from my parochial world, until I read the lyrics.
My friends and I listened to all the popular rockers. My first concerts included Aerosmith and the Stones. We all had our favorite Party Music and later, our favorite Cruising Music, enjoyed on tape by the lucky few with an eight-track or cassette deck in their car.
But at fifteen, I envisioned myself a poet. And, especially when I was home--alone in my room--I gravitated toward the musical poets: the brooding deep-thinkers, the songwriters who wrote of soul-searching, lost love and loneliness.
Not that I personally knew much of those emotions, except a bit of youthful discontent and rebellion. I'd been enveloped within a safe harbor, with loving parents and a secure neighborhood. I was never sexually abused nor truly socially maligned. The worst horror I'd experienced was the betrayal of a teenage boyfriend.
So what drew me to these types of songs? Did I simply want to open my arms to the shower of all human emotions? Was I under the power of hormonal overdrive? Was I suppressing a buried sadness I wasn't willing to acknowledge or admit?
Even at those occasional moments in which I did feel burdened by some teenage angst or weepiness, I immersed myself in it. I listened to my old favorites: The Beatles, Bob Dylan or Neil Young. I'd hear Cat Stevens' Father and Son, and know my feelings were universal. Or read the lyrics to The Needle and the Damage Done, hug myself and hold out hope that my life would end less tragically. I'd drop the needle on the stereo a second time, a third.
I'd listen and sing along, until feeling worse somehow made me feel better.
Later, I'd find myself writing my own poetry. I configured pieces of my emotions into rough words I might decide to submit to my high school paper, but more often than not would just hide in a notebook under my mattress.
I haven't written a poem in thirty years. My writing has changed, as have my reading tastes. Yet nothing still touches me more than a melancholy melody or an introspective tune.
Oh, how I still love a sad song.
It's not the same now, of course. I seldom buy a CD. When I do, I don't sprawl across my bed, pull out the paper insert and attempt to memorize every tiny printed word.
If songs still came embedded in scratchy 33 1/3 rpm disks, with full-size graphics and lyrics, I wonder how music might affect me now. Would it still encourage me to dig deeper within myself? To try to connect with others through their musical words? To live fully--for a few moments--within someone else's soul-searching short story?
Or do we view the world in a whole different way when we're young?
All I know is I never felt so sad, so often, as when I listened to music at fifteen.
Man, did it make me happy.
What kind of music moves you? Does a sad song make you better? Do you still hoard all that vinyl, inside dusty boxes in your basement?