Sunday, September 28, 2014


I am 11 years old and in the garage of our house on 63rd Street in Los Angeles. The radio is AM and tuned to 93 KHJ. "Layla" plays and I am lost in the beauty of the piano coda.

( We will not speak of the lounge-lizard version Clapton did in the '90s, the one that won him the 1992 Grammy Award for Best Rock Song. Nirvana and its teen spirit were gracious in defeat.)

Music had marked me for all of my life. Dad had a guitar. His brother, Gene, has a TV variety show in Cali. I grew up playing. And listening.

Albums and 45s to Stereo 8, cassettes (and cassingles!) to CDs, MP3s to M4As to streaming — ah, streaming, the Holy Grail for people who like to live with an ever-evolving soundtrack in their heads. Spotify is my drug these days. I can mainline some Dala and The 1975, a little Passion Pit, a dollop of The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die. Bump with some alt-J and some Kendrick, The Wailin' Jennys and Marina, Holy Folk and Charli XCX.

Friends of a certain mindset are mired in the muck of old music. It's not a function of age — I know a guy in his 20s who thinks good music died in the 1970s. It's about being more comfortable living in a simpler past, either real or imagined.

We are, after all, well into in the weird times, everything moving at the speed of light and no barriers so hang on. It felt a lot safer when I didn't have a smartphone and I could be dumb. But who wants to be safe and conventional and ignorant? Taboo is much tastier.

People who let themselves get lost in the safety of the Old Days often grow frightened and confused when confronted with reality. Disaster often ensues. Paul Tagliabue made a big fuss announcing Janet Jackson as the hip headliner of the 2004 Super Bowl, seemingly unaware that he was touting an artist whose heyday was firmly fixed in the '80s. Next thing you know there's a nipple. Who didn't see that one coming?

Lookit: listening to old-school Miss Jackson 'cause I'm nasty is all good, but it's no way to go through life in the 21st century. She gets three songs in the memory banks, tops. Current is the currency of this era, and staying with or slightly ahead of the curve is necessary to keep the winding shroud on the shelf.

Hence the joy of Spotify, where you can also suss out your friends' moods by eyeballing their play selections. The HR boss at the Factory rocks it to Tool, Metallica, Nirvana. My AP friend Chris is Pet Shop Boys until he dies. Joanna likes to channel Regina Spector when she runs.

It's also serious fun because there's a lot of great new music out there. It's not the rock gods of the '70s or the synth of the '80s and that's fine. It's vital and relevant. Never mind the naysayers; they're still lost in the '90s. Don't get me wrong — it was a great decade for music and the fun that went with it, but that's in the museum now. Shh. Use your inside voice.

The soundtrack from my past is a nice place to visit on a rainy night when I can't frolic in the light of the now. I like those visits. They're what I have left of the people who once let me be in their orbits.

Every time I hear "Layla" I am back in that garage in the 90001. Back in that kid's body, all big-headed and big-eared. It's a real time machine, that song. And the best part is, I've got a thousand, ten thousand of those things cocooned in my head, each one set to a different time and place. All I have to do is listen and they take me there.

Siri: play "Runaway."

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