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Music That Changes The World

2004-09-14 22:14:53

The other night my kids' school had an ice-cream social fund-raiser. The kids had a blast running around playing and eating ice-cream, I had my usual fun looking out-of-place amidst the all of the soccer moms and dads, and everyone got to listen to the high-school jazz band playing in the cafeteria.

At one point they began playing Smoke On The Water.

And it hit me: that song is over 30 years old. And I'm sitting here listening to it being played by a jazz band. A jazz band composed of kids whose parents hadn't even reached puberty when the song first hit the charts.

Deep Purple But I still remember the first time I heard it, I was 12 years old, sitting in my room reading a Heinlein novel and listening to my dinky little low-fi clock-radio, and -- like thousands of other kids -- Ritchie Blackmore's amazing, simple guitar hook worked its magic on me. I turned the volume as loud as I could, and I knew that the most important thing in my life was to obtain an electric guitar, immediately, and by whatever means necessary.

It got me thinking: there have been but a handful of songs down the years that seriously heralded the onset of Something Big in music and life. Songs that were 'Kennedy Moments': decades later, I still remember where I was, who I was with, and what I was doing when I heard them for the first time.

Smoke On The Water was the first of them, for me.

Edward Van Halen Then there was Van Halen's Running With The Devil -- and, if you were lucky,the first time you heard it, it was immediately followed by Eruption, which was the first time many of us had ever heard anything as amazingly outrageous, delicious, and fun as finger-tapping (how were we to know the technique had been around for decades?)

U2 And then there was U2's Boy -- it saddens me to think that the vast majority of U2 fans today have not only never heard this album -- they've don't even know it exists. But when it came out in 1980, it was totally unlike anything we'd ever heard.

Peter Gabriel And around the same time, there was Peter Gabriel's third album. Some people say it was more of a studio technology tour de force than "real" music. But I still remember the way the little hairs on the back of my neck would stand up when I'd hear the drum intro to Intruder. Especially when I'd hear it at near-lethal volume on the insanely powerful quad system my college roommate and I had cobbled together.

Joe Satriani In 1987, it was Surfing With The Alien, by a hitherto unknown guitarist name Joe Satriani, who possessed the almost supernatural ability to make a guitar sound like virtually anything he wanted it to sound like. And who was, coincidentally, the teacher of Steve Vai, who really did possess a supernatural ability to make a guitar do anything you could imagine -- and a lot more things you couldn't imagine. Vai, as you may recall, played the Jack Butler, the Devil's guitarist in the 1986 movie Crossroads, and they got that little piece of casting dead right.

But then there was a long dry spell. Until that fateful day in 1991 when, still hurting from my divorce, I visited my high-school pal Jeff and he powered up his stereo, popped in a disk and said "listen to this." And Smells Like Teen Spirit came crashing out of the speakers at a ton of decibels and the simple chords and incomprehensible lyrics induced an involuntary smile that damn near broke my face in half.

Since then, I've heard a lot of music that I like. But I haven't heard anything recently that's had that special, wonderful kind of world-shifting power. I know it's coming -- in fact, it's long overdue. I don't know what it will be. But I'm waiting for it. Patiently.