I know the instant my taste in music changed. It was the summer of 1971. I’d just turned 20 and had begun serving two years in the US Army. At one moment my favorite music included Neil Diamond, the Four Seasons and Tom Jones. The next moment I …
I know the instant my taste in music changed. It was the summer of 1971. I’d just turned 20 and had begun serving two years in the US Army. At one moment my favorite music included Neil Diamond, the Four Seasons and Tom Jones. The next moment I heard Neil Young singing “Southern Man” and something inside of me changed forever.
Growing up, I could have thrown a rock and hit most of the people I knew because they all grew up within a few miles of where I was born. We had similar backgrounds. But the Army tossed me into a cultural salad bowl. People talked funny, ate different foods and wore clothes unlike any I’d ever seen. They also had different tastes in music.
I saved money and bought pizza-sized vinyl records. I invested in a good stereo system and headphones. I stuffed my footlocker with music and gave away everything else that took up precious space in my cube.
On days when I felt lonesome, and home seemed like a million miles away, I’d put on a record, lie on my bunk, slip headphones on my ears. The music took me away.
In basic training, our squad was only together for about six weeks, but communications school was much longer, which gave us plenty of time to sort out personalities and form friendships.
Once in Panama, our duties were more like jobs. We went to work early and got off around three p.m. This left a lot of free time on our hands, and I don’t recall a time that music was not playing on one of our stereos.
It was there I first heard John Prine, who is a singer-songwriter. His pure music had a profound impact on me. His songs made me want to be a songwriter.
Bob Dylan, Moody Blues, America, and of course Jimi Hendrix all spent time going round and round on our turntable.
My friend Jock Crawford, who was the only person I know that was at Woodstock, was a cubemate in Panama. He was from an affluent family in Atlanta and had attended Sewanee College. He introduced me to music that I would never have heard.
I remember having lengthy discussions about melody and the choice of lyrics. Music often means different things to different people so we didn’t always agree, but those conversations gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation of music.
Years ago, Jock and I exchanged letters for a time but we’d lost touch. This past week I heard a Led Zeppelin song that caused me to flashback to those days in Panama. On a hunch, I searched Facebook and bam there he was. I sent him a private message and a few moments later he sent his email address.
It only took a few lines before the subject turned to music. We talked about the music we listened to forty years ago, and Jock gave me the name of a new artist that he just recently discovered.
My email exchange prompted me to dust off my turntable and pull my old albums out of the closet.
Even through the clicks and scratches the music still resonated with me.
In a sense, music was part of the fiber that wove our friendship together. It gave us common ground a point of reference.
Music does that.
Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book Life Goes On is available on Amazon.com. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.