Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Three Albums That Changed My Life

Today I'm going to reflect on music that changed my life. For the younger readers out there & for the sake of clarity, I will be referring to them as "albums". In the interest of full disclosure, I only owned one of the three in "album" form...but you get the point.

So, in somewhat chronological order, are the Three Albums That Changed My Life!


As a little kid in pre-car tape deck Southern suburbia, my musical influences were limited to (a) what my parents listened to on the radio and (b) what records my parents played around the house. That and "Hee Haw" every Saturday night. So, I grew up listening to Johnny Cash & the Statler that I still enjoy, but first liked because of genetics and osmosis.

Then in 1980 "Glass Houses" was released. I don't remember exactly how I discovered it...I think the first single was "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me" and I probably saw Joel sing it on "Solid Gold" (which I would watch after Sha Na Na...yeah, I was that guy). But when I heard it...something clicked. I got the album and realized for the first time that music was more than background noise. I won't say it "spoke" to my 11-year old self, but it was certainly the first album I truly loved on my own.

It still a great record with some fantastic songs..."You May Be Right", "Don't Ask Me Why" and the aforementioned "Still Rock & Roll", but even the non singles are pretty bitchin'.


To be fair, I got into Springsteen the way that most of non-New Jersey America did...with "Born In The USA", and on the strength of that record I had gotten several of Bruce's earlier work. I liked it...but wasn't really blown away. Then, in the fall of my Junior year in High School, the Live set was released...and then the lights went on and I was Born To Run.

It can be argued that all of Springsteen's best music is about alienation and being the outsider (ironically, the same could be said of Billy Joel). As I rolled into my junior year, I was all about feeling like the outsider. Now, pretty much everyone who has ever been 16 feels like this and in retrospect I didn't have it all that bad, but I did have a penchant for running outside the pack. I went to movies I wanted to see by myself if I couldn't find anyone to go with me, I didn't drink or party and I was looking for music that reflected how I felt....and boy howdy, did I find it.

From the opening acoustic version of "Thunder Road" recorded in a small club to the closing strains of "Jersey Girl" played before a packed house in Giants Stadium, this 3 record set put words and music to all of my teen angst. Bruce knew what I was going through...and even better, knew that eventually everything was gonna turn out all right. I didn't have a girlfriend or a cool car...but I had Bruce and the Band and that was enough.


By 1994, things personally were looking up. I had a job that I liked and was good at. I was happily married. The family was doing ok. But there was something missing. I found it wandering through a Turtles Record store.

There was a cd playing...the voice sounded vaguely like Springsteen, but when I asked the clerk who it was, he told me it was this singer/songwriter named Todd Snider. I listened to the whole album in the store, bought it and listened to it for about 2 months straight.

It was the track "I Spoke As A Child" that sealed the deal. Twenty Five is an interesting're definitely an adult, but there's still time to decide what kind of adult you're going to be. You can chase money and success or you can appreciate the good things that life has to offer without compromising who you are. In the song, Todd is paraphrasing the biblical passage "When I was a child, I spoke as a child", but then adds the poignant twist "I wish I could remember what I said." It was a wake up call to remember the good things and count your blessings.

Now, just in case you think Todd is all maudlin and weepy, he also sings about a band that refuses to play on "Talkin' Seattle Grunge Rock Blues" and claims that, despite his bad habits that he still believes he's an "Alright Guy".

I've gotten every album he's released since then and seen him in concert half a dozen times. He's like the main character from Kris Kristofferson's song "The Pilgrim":

He's a poet, he's a picker, he's a prophet, he's a pusher
He's a Pilgrim and a Preacher and a problem when he's stoned
He's a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction
Taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home

So, there you have it...Three albums that changed my life. I have a lot more artists that I love, but these three were the ones that made a difference.

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