The Blue Box

I’ve been buried in musical nostalgia for the past few days, and it’s been wonderful.

My family is a very musical family — all of my immediate family, and the majority of my closer relatives, have at one time or another in our lives played at least one instrument and sung in choirs — and my parents have a huge vinyl collection. While the majority of my mom’s side of the collection focused on classical and choral music, my dad’s albums, and those that they collected together, skewed more towards the pop music of the time, mostly folk, country, blues, and rock and roll. Understandably, this collection had a huge influence on my and my brother’s musical tastes.

When we got old enough, we had free reign over the music collection and dad’s record player on the family stereo, and we were encouraged to discover which albums grabbed our attention. Music was meant to be appreciated, not just as noise in the background that nobody pays attention to, but as a soundtrack to whatever was going on. I can remember many housecleaning days when mom would head off somewhere, leaving the boys to take care of the house, and dad would tell us to pick something to listen to and put it on, telling us to “turn it up to the threshold of pain” as we worked.

The musical education went both ways, as well, as Kevin and I grew older and started exploring and diversifying our own tastes. Sometimes mom and dad would enjoy what we brought home (a few years ago, I got a kick out of introducing dad to the country-blues-acid house fusion of Alabama 3‘s “Welcome to Coldharbour Lane” album), sometimes our choices fell flat. Even when they didn’t “get it,” though — and this is one of those not-so-little things that I will always be grateful for — they never condemned what we listened to or told us we shouldn’t listen to it, but they’d ask us about it, and we occasionally had some interesting discussions investigating why something worked or didn’t work for us.

One winter day, Mom and I were driving out of Anchorage to Eagle River, and I put Pink Floyd‘s “The Wall” cassette into the car stereo. As we drove along, listening to such lyrically cheerful songs as “The Happiest Days of our Lives” and “Young Lust,” Mom expressed her distaste at the content of the songs, and wondered how in the world I could be interested in such depressing music. The rest of the drive turned into a long discussion of the story and themes present in “The Wall,” what Roger Waters was expressing, how the music and lyrics worked together, the imagery in the film, and why I enjoyed the album. While I don’t think Mom is ever going to be a big fan of “The Wall,” I love that her response was a discussion and examination of why I was listening to such a dark work, rather than simply declaring it “off limits.”

But I digress.

When Kevin and I were younger, and too small to work dad’s record player, we had our own: the classic Fisher-Price phonograph. Not the glorified music box, with brightly colored plastic ‘records’ that tripped music-box teeth in the arm, but a real, working record player. To go with this, Dad gave us a small blue box (well, blue, white, and green, but I’ve always thought of it as blue) with a bunch of old 45s that he and his brother Doug had collected when they were younger.

These 45s were some of the earliest pop music education that we got, and it was an eclectic one indeed. The Beatles, Merv Griffin, The Animals, The Partridge Family, Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Four Tops, Fats Domino, and quite a few others. As we grew older, Kevin and I occasionally contributed to the box, adding 45s for AC/DC, Cyndi Lauper, Ozzy Osbourne, and a few other more modern artists. I credit a lot of my current all-over-the-place musical tastes to the eclecticism of this little blue box, and the hours spent playing the treasures inside it on that little old Fisher-Price player (which, as of a few years ago, was still in working order and in Kevin’s possession, though I don’t know its current disposition).

I’d worried for the last few years that the box had disappeared, but I really should have known better (I do, after all, come from a family of pack rats). Earlier this week I got a couple boxes of goodies from my parents, and in one of those boxes was the fabled blue box.

This week’s “when I’m taking a break from schoolwork” project has been reacquainting myself with the blue box and the music of my youth. I’ve scanned the labels for all the discs and added them to my vinyl photoset, I’m almost done recording all the music to my computer, and after a bit longer, will have it all edited, cleaned up, and imported into iTunes. Once I have all the audio archived, I’ll be packing this up and passing the blue box on to Kevin to share his boys, my nephews.

For those who are curious here’s a list of everything that the box contains. To the best of my knowledge, anything pre-1980 comes from mom, dad, and my uncle Doug; anything from 1980 on was added by me or Kevin.

One thought on “The Blue Box

  1. You are fortunate indeed to grow up in a family that has eclectic musical tastes or at least is willing to be exposed to different genres of music. It does help to round one’s self out and expose yourself to different things. I take a similar attitude with food. My folks never shied away from exposing us to all sorts of different stuff. Where most people turn up their noses when talking about anchovies I’m the one who says “bring it on!” There are very few foods I don’t care for. Some I don’t make an effort to get, but there’s pretty much nothing that I won’t eat :) As far as music I too was exposed to lots of different music. My dad would often bring home LPs from the Portland (Maine) public library. Dad and mom were fond of Broadway musicals and I was exposed to many of them by dad’s trips to the library. And as far as music goes my musical taste is fairly eclectic though I do have to admit that I’d rather leave rap alone. For some reason I’ve never been able to wrap myself around it. But as for music I say everything in moderation. No constant diet of anything whether it’s classical, show music, country, pop, metal I can deal with it all, just not a steady diet of any one thing in particular.

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