So there I was in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, bouncing foot loose between videos of a Grateful Dead concert, a montage of live Rolling Stones shows, and an exploration into the makings of all the Beatles albums. I watched the entire movie that honors the Rock Hall inductees. Before I left, I spent a few minutes (Okay, maybe it was an hour and a half) selecting albums and songs at one of the personal, headphones-listening jukebox stations. I’m sure I baffled the teenager beside me when I sang along to every word of such cuts as “Dangling Conversation” and “April Comes She Will” by Simon & Garfunkel and “Songs to Aging Children” and “A Case of You” by Joni Mitchell.
Excuse me, but my own adolesence and young adulthood were talking to me. I had to listen, and talk back.
In my work helping ordinary people write their life stories in a memoir or autobiography, I suggest that they consider devoting some time and attention remembering back to the music that has shaped their lives. There are memories and meanings in there, I tell them. Go find them.
So that’s what I did indoors for six hours instead of grazing on a sunny afternoon, as the Kinks once sang. I sang along to some memories. I remember inheriting dozens of rock albums from my older brothers and sisters: the Beatles, the Stones, the Moody Blues, Judy Collins, Jefferson Airplane. They had gone before me and knew how the music of “now” could stir your soul or pull you through, and they were generous enough to pass them along to me at a time of need and receptivity to the fun and meaning of rock.
So I blasted those albums in my bedroom, and then discovered WBCN in Boston back when the term “alternative rock FM” meant something. I had discovered a lifeline. I had found an ally for troubling questions, disturbing feelings, and a passionate hope for tomorrow. With its messages of definance, vulnerability, love, mystery, and independence, the rock music of my choice helped usher me across the threshold into a tenuous adulthood.
At the Rock Hall, I felt a deeper appreciation for this loud and vibrant gift. Rock music came of age just when I was trying to. We made it together. Though I grew up in the 60s, I didn’t do drugs. It was rock that took me on a wild ride into other dimensions of thought, feeling, experience, and connection to the sense of community for which I yearned. It comforted and reassured me, sure, but it also elevated me, as Bruce Springsteen often explains today, into an elevated place of living and experiencing.
Once I was old enough to get out to see rock and roll live, it also established an arena for vivid memories. I remember watching Jethro Tull in a Hampton, New Hampshire inside venue with no seats while watching cops violently hold off kids trying to crash the gate to get inside. I remember watching the Kinks perform their Tommy-like rock opera, Preservation, in Boston’s Music Hall, where I also got tickets to back-to-back shows for Neil Young in his solo days. At that same venue, I remember watching the curtain come up to Bob Dylan in a Harvard T-shirt and Joan Baez in a Boston University T-shirt as they sang “Blowin’ in the Wind” together. I remember watching Poco live at Boston Garden during one of those nights of teen mischief that could have cost me dearly but fortunately didn’t.
I let go of those albums, allowing my mother decades ago to sell them at her yard sale where the lucky purchaser praised my taste in music. They had served their purpose for me, and looking back today I can see how the rock groups and individual songs framed the changing states of my relationships with my parents, my distant older brother, my best friend in high school, and my first girl friend who became my first wife. At the Rock Hall, I had a bunch of those moments when one song was triggering what could have been pages of writing about my life story. You’ve had those too, right? Preserve those memories about your music; they may be all that’s left for you.
I had my ticket stubs for awhile. Wish I had kept them, especially when I paused at the exhibits of concert posters beckoning you to come see the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and more…for $5.50. Even with an adjustment for the passing of 40-plus years and inflation and all that, wouldn’t it be nice to see a ticket price like that pop up for one of Bruce Springsteen’s stadium shows these days? But as Mick would say, you can’t always get what you want.
Those rock-inspired memories are still reverberating in my mind. I’m thankful to have them. And I can’t wait for the next opportunity to invite one of my life story ghostwriting clients to “Tell me about the music you loved when you were young….”
– Kevin Quirk, who still wonders if John Lennon was trying to make us believe that “I buried Paul,” helps women and men of all ages write the most meaningful stories of their lives. He is the author of “Life Is a Book And It’s Time To Write It: An A-to-Z Guide to Help Anyone Write Their Life Story.”