The other night, waiting on a friend at the Mets game, I was approached outside the stadium by a scalper.
"Hey, Pops," he said. "Need a ticket?"
My wife says if I only shaved off my gray beard, I'd still look 45. She's a sweet lady, but I'm not buying it. The scalper had me pegged pretty well. "Pops" is what I am, and I have to deal with it.
All this, I think, connects up to what occurred this morning in my car. I was tuned to oldies radio and listening to "Satisfaction" (the Stones' version) for perhaps the 2,000th time. And I suddenly flashed on the first time I heard this song. And the memory of that moment was so strong, and so satisfying, that the thought of being Pops for the rest of my life was not half-bad at all.
And then I thought back on similar virgin listening experiences—where I was, with whom I was listening and the impact of those songs on those precious life moments. Here's a quick sampling:
I was 16, on my day off as a summer camp waiter, cruising the back roads of southern Maine at unconscionable speed and the top down in the company of a counselor named Scotty Jackson. Scotty was my first, and last, man-crush; to my mind, an amalgam of James Dean, Marlon Brando and Steve McQueen, with dark, wavy hair, a killer smile and just enough of a live fast/die young insouciance to make him the rebel man-child I wanted to be at 20. When "Satisfaction" came on the radio, all of it—the speeding Thunderbird convertible, the wind in my hair, the exhilaration of being so young and fearless—meshed perfectly into the music. The word "groove" was yet to be in vogue, but in the purest sense, one man-child and one boy were grooving on that long-lost summer afternoon. Thanks for the memory, Scotty, wherever you are.
'Drive My Car'
On December, 3, 1965, the day "Rubber Soul" was released in the U.S., I was one of the first on line at our local record shop to buy a copy. Once I had it in my hot little hands, I headed straight for my girlfriend's house. She and a group of her friends were waiting anxiously for me to return with the prized package. I don't remember the girl's name, or where she lived, or almost anything about her, really, except that I hadn't gotten past second base and had hopes that the Beatles and "Rubber Soul" would celebrate me home. When the first album cut, "Drive My Car," emanated from the stereo, my teenage libido took a back seat to a sound I had never experienced. I think all of us in that room, on some level, knew we were listening to something special; something that would transform popular music forever. We just couldn't imagine the ways. Anyway, I got stranded at second.
'Light My Fire'
Again, it was in a car, with a college friend named Ned. We were driving on Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains, N.Y., in the spring of 1967 when this explosive burst of sound knocked my ears off. "What the fuck is that?" I remember thinking. Or maybe I actually said the words. A few bars into the song, I had the pedal all the way to the metal. Since that day, the Doors and four-on-the-floor have been synonymous in my life. Years later, I had the opportunity to share that musical memory with the man who wrote the song, Doors guitarist Robby Krieger. It made him smile.
Here, I'm cheating just a little. I had heard this song before, but there is a difference between hearing a song and listening to it. The first time I really listened to this song was in the movie "Boogie Nights." Those who've seen Paul Thomas Anderson's amazing film (or virtually anything this director has done) will know what I'm talking about. Anderson has this song going at full blast during an orgiastic, phantasmagoric, sequence featuring a drugged-out, weapons-toting psycho and a scared-shitless porn star. This is the only way to listen to "Sister Christian."
'Violets for Your Furs'
This beautiful, romantic ballad is featured on one of Frank Sinatra's seminal albums from his Capitol Records period in the 1950s. The first time I listened to this bittersweet song, it was in the company of a woman in my dorm room, and helped guide me well past second base. It also awakened every romantic bone (no pun, intended) in my body. Thanks, Blue Eyes, for everything.
The first time I heard this magnificent Stevie Wonder ballad was in my father's den, his sanctum sanctorum. He was a classical music collector, with a deep passion for Bach and some fondness for Broadway show tunes and swing. R&B was pretty far out of his wheelhouse. Nevertheless, I brought over a newly acquired copy of "Innervisions" to see what the old man thought of this breakthrough 1973 album, and the first black artist to experiment with an ARP synthesizer to create an immersive sound environment. The old man liked it. A lot. We spent a wonderful weekend afternoon, the two of us, in thrall to the wonders of the Wonder Man. Later, dad would come to love Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and the Temptations. Pops had good taste.