The extent of my musical awareness more or less ended with ABBA when I was around 9 or 10. Without real knowledge of music or what was out there, I had very little understanding — all my musical exposure came via my parents, who listened to classical or talk radio. Not much for the nascent music listener.
One day, my cousin Erica arrived with a cassette tape by The J. Geils Band. Erica is my oldest (and to a 9-10 year old, also my wisest) cousin, which meant the four of us (my sister and I, Erica, and her sister Lauren) stole downstairs with the portable tape player to listen to Forbidden Music.
Okay, no, it wasn’t Forbidden. Very little seemed verboten in my family’s house, it’s mostly that since we had so little exposure to much of anything beyond what CFRB 1010 played (read: precious little), this might as well have been planning an uprisal.
Synth keyboards, rock drums, electric guitar power chords. To a kid weened on a steady diet of classical (which to this day, I likely don’t appreciate as much as I should because I heard it to the point where I don’t hear it anymore), this was the auditory equivalent of a first dropping of LSD.
I’m not going to sit here and wax poetic about J. Geils’ artistry or their impact on music history, etc. Because it wasn’t about the band, the Freeze-Frame album, or even the eponymous song. It’s that this particular point was when I realized that there was, truly, something else out there.
I remember dragging my mother into the record store in Oakville Place (I remember where it was, though I can’t remember the name), and begged her to buy me the Freeze-Frame album on cassette tape (I didn’t have my own record player yet, and our old Mickey one had long since been donated). I remember the guilt as we left the store, tape in hand, feeling like I’d betrayed my upbringing in music, that what I liked wasn’t what my mother liked. In my mind, I was being rebellious.
That tape was played to destruction, no amount of careful retentioning with a pencil would ever repair the kinks that came from the periodic bung-ups when static cling causes the tape to roll into the wheels. It would eventually be replaced by a CD, then a digital download, until (now) it sits somewhere in the cloud.
That first exposure still remains with me, the feeling of awakening that I hope to find with any aspect of my life.
Interestingly, the song ended up providing more meaning for me later on, as I started to gain a love of photography. More than a few times, especially when I’m on vacation with my family and happen to capture them in the act of whatever, I’ll hear the opening of the song as the moment is captured in the camera, and the montage of my life in music continues.