Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Almost Perfect

Adopting a lesson from writer and educator Don Graves, I took the phrase I Remember and set to writing for five minutes with as much detail as possible. Well, it is rarely five minutes, and for me, that is part of the point. I use the same exercise to conclude my current podcast series of interviews (I Remember) with people recounting their family heritage.

I remember sitting by the console stereo with my fingers on the play and the record button, waiting for a favorite song to come on the radio. It spent hours with my fingers glued to those buttons.

We called radio stations and requested songs, dedicated them to our favorite 7th and 8th grade girls and hoped that they were listening too. We rarely pressed the record and play button soon enough to catch the entire song, and even when we did the DJ was usually talking over the music--right up to the first lyrics.

We made choppy cassette tapes. Fragments of songs. No rhyme or reason to what was on the tape. Sometimes it took days, even weeks, to make a full cassette of songs. We were at the mercy of the radio and the reception we got in our house that night.

Since I didn't have older siblings, my mom's album collection was a part of my first exposure to music. I don't remember her buying albums. It always struck me that buying albums was a luxury we could no longer afford once I arrived.

So many of those albums are now considered classics from the 60s and 70s. Dozens of them filled the bottom shelf on the television stand.

During the summer and we no longer had school, I sat in the house alone all day somedays until mom came home from work and I looked at album covers while an album played as loud as I could stand it.

Album covers mesmerized me. They were strange and beautiful and my first exposure to art.

I don't remember ever seeing much art and even if I did I don't remember it. But I remember those album covers.

The album covers were master classes in photography, color, and creativity. I remember a Billy Joel album most vividly. Lit by an ashy light, his face floated in a dark space and his eyes had a touch of the amber in them, like a cat. It was spooky and surreal. I'd never seen anything like that before.

In different ways the images activated things dormant inside of me.

I'd look at Led Zeppelin IV a lot. Most of my friends loved the album, the music. And I liked it too. But I was drawn to the cover of the hunched man with the bundle of sticks cinched to his back. I wanted to draw it. I wanted to see it live. It had texture I wanted to run my hands across. I pulled that album out every day.

I'd turn on the television to Bullwinkle. The music was turned up louder than the television. For a long stretch the first album every day was Goats Head Soup by the Rolling Stones. Something in Jagger's voice kept me coming back to that album day after day.

I remember laying flat on my belly on the carpet. Colored pencils and markers scattered all over the place along with the album covers. Dozens of them spread out as if threw them. But I didn't. I just kept pulling them because I wanted to see them again. Angie! wailed out of the stereo speakers and drowned out Rocky the Squirrel's whining on the television.

I filled the house with music and sound. I filled it with color and line. And I filled it with my imagination. It was almost perfect.

I drew my own album covers by copying what I saw. And then I drew portraits of made up people and I drew portraits of famous people. I drew crazy interstellar lands and I drew peaceful scenes of empty city streets. And I'd crumple up the paper and start all over again.

But mostly I sat on my knees, and looked at the album covers.

Day after day after day.

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