Monday, December 15, 2014

The Sun Is Rising / Scare Away The Dark (TOTR 223/224)

#223 “The Sun is Rising”
Rev. Edward Clayburn – Wrong Way To Celebrate Christmas
African Children’s Choir – Kumbaya
Taj Mahal & the Blind Boys of Alabama – The Sun is Rising
Yusuf – You Are My Sunshine
Pentatonix - White Winter Hymnal
Jim Henry - The Tree
Mark Kozelek - O Christmas Tree
The Lower Lights - I Saw Three Ships
Kemper Crabb - Down In Yon Forest
Sufjan Stevens - Angels We Have Heard On High
Michael W. Smith - The Darkest Midnight featuring Bono
Emmylou Harris – There’s A Light
Loreena McKennitt - Good King Wenceslas
Revels Chorus - Wonderful Counselor
Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Singers - Christ Was Born On Christmas Morn
Rotary Connection - Silent Night Chant
Anthony Hamilton - Little Drummer Boy
Anthony Hamilton - Away In A Manger
Gregory Porter - Go Tell It On The Mountain / Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
Jesse Colin Young - Bring A Torch Jeanette Isabella
Great Big Sea - Seven Joys Of Mary
Elizabeth Mitchell - Children, Go Where I Send Thee
Johnnyswim - O Come All Ye FaithfulWe
Punch Brothers - O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Beta Radio - O Holy Night
Folk Angel - Joy To The World

#224 “Scare Away The Dark”
Beck - Morning
The New Basement Tapes - Kansas City
Ray LaMontagne – She’s the One
Foy Vance - You And I (featuring Bonnie Raitt)
Needtobreathe - Difference Maker
Angaleena Presley - American Middle Class
Against Me! - Two Coffins
Roadkill Ghost Choir - Womb
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - All You Can Carry
Delta Spirit - Take Shelter
Cold War Kids - Hotel Anywhere
TV On The Radio - Right Now
Ben & Ellen Harper - A House Is A Home
Jack White - Alone In My Home
Robert Ellis - Chemical Plant
Sun Kil Moon - I Love My Dad
Run River North - Growing Up
Johnnyswim - Live While We’re Young
Yusuf - Dying to Live
the Collection - The Art of Dying
St. Paul – I’m Torn Up
Natalie Merchant - Go Down Moses
Sturgill Simpson - A Little Light
Mike Farris - This Little Light
Passenger - Scare Away The Dark
U2 - Song For Someone (Acoustic) 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Before My Time (TOTR 222)

The Open Mind – Before My Time
Hot Tuna – New Song For The Morning
New Riders of the Purple Sage – Glendale Train
13th Floor Elevators – Dust
Quicksilver Messenger Service – Hope
Mountain Bus – Sundance
Farm Band – Let It Ride - 1972
Closer To The Ground – Closer To The Ground
Jo Jo Gunne – Flying Home
Batdorf & Rodney – Long Way From Heaven
Mother Earth – Deliver Me
Humble Pie – Alabama 69
Allman Brothers Band – Melissa
Brian Auger &Julie Tippetts – Freedom Highway
Simon and Garfunkel – Mrs. Robinson
James Taylor – Fire And Rain
Norman Greenbaum – Spirit In The Sky
Harpers Bizarre – If We Ever Needed The Lord Before
Dobie Gray – Drift Away
Gallery – I Believe In Music
Rhinoceros – It’s a Groovy World
Dr. Hook &The Medicine Show – Sing Me A Rainbo
Sailcat – On The Brighter Side of It All

Brewer & Shipley – The Light

Monday, August 11, 2014

Fool's Wisdom (TOTR 221)

Randy Matthews – Holy Band
Mustard Seed – Shepherd's Song
Malcolm & Alwyn – Fool’s Wisdom
The Eternal Savings & Trust Company – Karin
Cephas – Show Me The Way
Canaan – Jesus Revolution
Arthur Blessit – SoulSession (Excerpt)
The Joyful Noise – High On Jesus
The Four Corners Gospel Experience – Jesus Rocks
AndraĆ© Crouch and the Disciples – Satisfied
Michael Omartian – Take Me Down
Dust – Gone
Paul Clark – Which One Are You
Resurrection Band – Better Way
Earthen Vessel – Let Jesus Bring You Back
Spirit & Understanding – It’s Jesus That They Need
Master’s Lantern – Amen, Amen
Holy Ghost Reception Committee – Hey Lord
Azitis – From This Place
Jack Miffleton, Skipp Sanders, & The Group – Revolutionary Peace  
Agape   Rejoice
California Earthquake – Let There Be Light
Richie Furay – Dance a Little Light
Song of Solomon/Pete Giardina – Dance Song
Wilson McKinley – One in the Spirit
Barry McGuire – Love Is
God Unlimited – Joy  

Monday, July 28, 2014

In The Garden (TOTR 220)

Elbow – The Take Off And Landing Of Everything
Oasis – Up In The Sky
Paul McCartney – Heart Of The Country
The Beatles – Good Day Sunshine
Donovan – Sun
Christie Hennessy – Mr. Sunshine’s On My Side
Vashti Bunyan – Come Wind Come Rain
The Incredible String Band – The Water Song
Pentangle – Light Flight
The Albion Band – Rainbow Over The Hill
Clannad – Theme From Harry’s Game
Moving Hearts – May Morning Dew
Planxty – Well Below the Valley
Johnny Duhan – In The Garden
The Chieftains – Down In The Willow Garden
Van Morrison – In The Garden
Mumford & Sons – Thistle & Weeds
The Lost Brothers – Those Ancient Eyes
Fionn Regan – Hey Rabbit
Loudest Whisper – Lord Have Mercy
Bread, Love & Dreams – He Who Knows All
Simple Kid – A Song Of Stone
Boy George – King of Everything
U2 – An Cat Dubh/Into The Heart

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Gown of Grief: The Collection’s courageous collection of songs of mourning & celebration

No abundant bright bloom of flowers on the CD cover or obscure Latin in the title or gentle dance of cursive font describing the song list, nothing can hide that this is not your light-and-breezy summer release of cruising-with-the-top-down jams, but rather, a full-blown concept album of folk hymns about the art of dying.

The Art of Dying (officially Ars Moriendi) represents a brave and risky move for the make-it or break-it breakout album of an up-and-coming band. The Collection’s courageous collection of orchestral pop hymns chart and curate the grieving heart of a gifted songwriter and the community of bandmates and fans that surround him.

At a time when the flame of the alternative folk explosion still burns bright despite much backlash, this North Carolina ensemble shows up as the son of Mumford and Sons, married-to-Edward Sharpe’s second cousin, with too many members to pack the tiny stages of clubs and bars, with a sound fit for mountaintop vistas and songs as mystic visions that pierce the veil between life and death.

Despite the heavy earnestness of the entire package, it’s exactly the grief-support-group that my ears need, and I imagine a rendering of fragile faith and hope against hope that our world craves. The Collection manage to sing about Jesus and Thomas and the prodigal son without getting pushy, dancing on the fringe of explicit CCM, exploring sacred-meets-secular crossover paths and gritty crossroads that groups like Needtobreathe, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, and Gungor have already traveled.

Death remains that earthly finality to render our denial mute—and our religious musings about whether it represents cosmic reunion, bodily resurrection, or eternal rest are powerless when we admit that the mysterious premonitions of the “heaven is real” crowd are but passing glimpses and not bulletproof facts. The Christians that remain relevant in our world have invested in the Kingdom here, now, and all around us, and they don’t shove tracts that guarantee afterlife fantasies in our faces on the same streetcorners where tramps and hobos sleep and sometimes starve.

This album is everything but a tract, and a cosmic creation consciousness drips from every track as David Wimbish invites listeners on the single “Gown of Green” to “Stop looking at the ground, start looking at the leaves” because “up among the dirt and rust is where the kingdom breathes.”

This kingdom doesn’t suckle at the unenlightened nipple of mindless obedience to stiff doctrine, yet instead it feeds on seeds and weeds and breeds wild green freedom for the dangerous disciples daring to “sow the earth with diligence and love.” Anthems for an anarchic 21st-century faith do not come with pat power-point slides and tidy handouts and bullet-point programs for salvation.

Wimbish moans with melody and groans with gravity what we were already thinking: “a cross hangs around your neck so loose/and though it brings you life, sometimes it feels just like a noose/but god is not disappointed in you/but love and beauty haunt you in your dreams.” The Collection sip from the overflowing cup of spiritual freedom, and one taste of this new wine might make bland another taste of the lukewarm life-numbing churchianity still making its way around the land.

As my daddy departed this earth this past May, I must confess many attempts to review this album have been interrupted by uncontrollable fits of weeping. The solemn-yet-exuberant trance invoked by these songs does not easily evoke translation as a regular record review. These ruminations about death inspire a rant against death: I want to dance and scream and just cry some more. There is an emptiness on the other side of emptiness where it can feel pointless to carry on, because, we’re all just going to die anyways, right?

How quickly gratitude can give way to apathy when you suffer from the lazy grief of which C.S. Lewis wrote an entire book. Wimbish wonders if he even has the “right” to sing his songs in this world filled with wrong. I feel the same way about writing this review, not to mention the countless poems and sermons and social media statuses I continue to crank out, about a laundry list of worldly hopes and woes. Is anyone even listening? Does anyone even care?

Did you ever wonder if Jesus ever asked himself if anyone was listening to his crazy stitched quilt of parables and poems? Was anyone even nourished from yet another dinner party, another feast of bread and wine? Up-and-coming musical artists like The Collection don’t make much money to speak of and often go into debt instead. Sadly, there are probably several thousands of souls who would love to hear these songs but may not be plugged into the blogs and indie radio and social scenes that would make it possible. 

Yet—The Collection carries on anyhow, and those of us who get to wrap ourselves in these sonic poems and potent songs are inevitably changed and charged to share our reactions to these prophetic tunes. These tunes bring soaring melodies, mythic crescendos, orchestral aches, sponsored by a rambling circus-tent revival of songcrafters touring the country for just a few weeks in a rented van, before many return to dayjobs as educators and artists and theologians and recording engineers and foodies and what have you.

The Collection is a collection of friends I could not have dreamed into being. They hold open the door to heaven for just a few milliseconds, and the view is foggy with the limits of our vision, but the songs are bigger than they are, bigger than we are, and they are a form of poetry that even poetry cannot touch. Somehow, I hear angels, and my dead Daddy has a new body and is dancing with me.

For tour dates & more information about how to get your own copy of Ars Moriendi, please visit:

Photo by Stephanie Berbec Photography

Monday, July 21, 2014

Take Me To Church (TOTR 219)

Sweet Honey In The Rock – We All Everyone Of Us
(Part one – happy)
Sam Cooke – Happy In Love
Pharrell Williams - Happy
The Rolling Stones - Happy
The Lonely Forest - Warm_Happy
Kings of Leon - Happy Alone
The Turtles - Happy Together
R.E.M – Shiny Happy People
The Grateful Dead – Eyes of the World
(Part two – take me to church)
Ben Harper – Church on Time
The Flying Burrito Bros – Down In The Churchyard
Kenny Rogers & The First Edition – Church Without A Name
Love Song – Little Country Church
Lyle Lovett – Church
Hozier – Take Me to Church
The Raphaels – Life Is A Church
The Waterboys – Church Not Made With Hands
Gungor – Church Bells
(Part 3 – home)
Rodney Crowell – Hungry for Home.
Johnnyswim – Home
John Mayer – On The Way Home
Dawes – My Way Back Home
Rising Appalachia – Calling Me Home
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Home
Billy Bragg – Sing Their Souls Back Home
Delta Spirit – Home
Band Of Horses – On My Way Back Home
The Collection – The Art of Dying
David Crowder Band –Oh, My God I’m Coming Home
Earthen Vessel – Coming Home

Monday, July 14, 2014

Distant Lands (TOTR 218)

Hurray for the Riff Raff - Forever Is Just A Day
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - Stranger to My Happiness
Mount Moriah - Miracle Temple Holiness
Jill Andrews - The Mirror
Jenny Lewis - Godspeed
Nickel Creek - This Side
Willie Watson - Midnight Special
Br’er Rabbit - Distant Lands
the Collection - The Art of Dying
Ray LaMontagne - Airwaves
Lord Huron - I Will Be Back One Day
The Districts - Funeral Beds
Leagues - Haunted
Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors - A Place to Lay My Head
Johnnyswim - Live While We’re Young
The Replacements - Kiss Me on the Bus
Against Me! - The Ocean
Drive-By Truckers - Decoration Day
The Grateful Dead - St. Stephen
Jack White - Temporary Ground
Band Of Horses - Everything’s Gonna Be Undone (Live Acoustic)
Beck - Waking Light
Foy Vance - Guiding Light featuring Ed Sheeran

Monday, July 7, 2014

Changes (TOTR 217)

SNCC Freedom Singers - Woke Up This Morning with My Mind on Freedom
The Campbell Brothers - A Change Is Gonna Come
Brothers & Sisters - The Times They Are a Changin      
John Mayer - Waiting On The World To Change
Moon Taxi - Change
David Bowie - Changes
Ben & Ellen Harper - A House Is A Home
Cat Stevens - Tuesday’s Dead
Indigo Girls - Yoke
The Collection - The Gown of Green
Run River North - Banner
Circle Of Hope Audio Art - Make a Way
Rev. Roger Anthony Yolanda Mapes - We Are Angels
Against Me! - True Trans Soul Rebel
The Cult- She Sells Sanctuary
Origene - Sanctuary
Oasis Worship - Lord Prepare Me to Be a Sanctuary
Enigma - The Cross Of Changes
Scissor Sisters - Inevitable
Bronski Beat - I Feel Love
Troy Bronsink - Love
Jars of Clay - Inland      
Nina Simone - New World Coming
Rory Cooney - Canticle of the Turning
Peter Donnelly - Love With Me
San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus - Irish Blessing

Monday, June 2, 2014

Stand By Me (TOTR 216 for Kenneth R. Smith)

Frightened Rabbit – Swim Until You Can’t See Land
Band Of Horses – The Funeral (Live Acoustic)
Ryan Adams – Peaceful Valley
Billy Bragg & Wilco – Ain’ta Gonna Grieve
Coldplay – Midnight
U2 – Kite
My Morning Jacket – Look at You
Grateful Dead – Cosmic Charlie
John Denver – All Of My Memories
Harry Chapin – Cat’s In The Cradle
Cat Stevens – Father And Son
Simon and Garfunkel – The Boxer
Ben E. King – Stand By Me
Bill Withers – Lean On Me
Ben & Ellen Harper – How Could We Not Believe
Mary Gauthier – Mercy Now
Mike Farris – Precious Lord, Take My Hand
Crowder – Ain’t No Grave
Delta Rae – Dance In The Graveyards
Dr. John – When The Saints Go Marching In - (featuring Mavis Staples)
Jimmy Cliff – I Can See Clearly Now
Sweet Honey In The Rock – Breaths
Judy Collins – Battle Hymn Of The Republic (John Browns Body)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Higher (TOTR 215)

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Let’s Get High
Richie Havens – High Flyin' Bird
Chris Robinson Brotherhood – Rosalee
Grateful Dead – Wharf Rat
The Black Angels – I Hear Colors (Chromaesthesia)
13th Floor Elevators – (It’s All Over Now) Baby Blue
Umphrey’s McGee – ANDY’S LAST BEER
Amos Lee – Lowdown Life
Patrick Sky – Nectar Of God
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell – Chase the Feeling
Holly Williams – Drinkin’
Tedeschi Trucks Band – Whiskey Legs
Robert Ellis – Bottle Of Wine
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Codeine
Jason Isbell – Cover Me Up
Frank Turner – Recovery
Johnny Cash – I Came to Believe
Humming House – When The Dawn Becomes The Day
Earthen Vessel – Get High
Gungor – Higher
Imperials – Jesus Made Me Higher

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Saturday (TOTR 214)

Neulore – Shadow Of A Man
Johnny Cash – God’s Gonna Cut You Down
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals – Nothing But The Water
Delta Rae – Bottom Of The River
Emmylou Harris – All My Tears
Gary Louris – Gonna Be A Darkness
The Wright Brothers – Blood On My Name
The Liturgists – Saturday (Feat. Rachel Held Evans)
The Liturgists – We Believe- (Feat. Michael Gungor)
The Collection – Lazarus
Troy Bronsink – Rescue Us All Here
Sam Cooke – Were You There
Ashley Cleveland – Revive Us Again
Brother John Rydgren – Portrait of Christ
Randy Matthews – Son of Dust (1973)-Didn’t He
Bob Dylan – In The Garden
Needtobreathe – Garden
Needtobreathe – Multiplied
Needtobreathe – Brother
Jars of Clay – What Wondrous Love
Mike Farris – Can’t No Grave Hold My Body Down
The Grateful Dead – Throwing Stones
Rev. Roger Anthony Yolanda Mapes – Sweet Sweet Spirit (feat. Rev. Chanda Rule)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Brokedown Palace: American Music, American Land (TOTR 213)

John Coltrane – A Love Supreme (Part I/Acknowledgement)
The Impressions – People Get Ready
Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
Morphine – Kerouac
Eddie Vedder – Society
Jay Farrar & Benjamin Gibbard – Big Sur
Bruce Springsteen – American Land
Violent Femmes – American Music
R.E.M – I Believe
Humming House – Gasoline
The Dirty Guv’nahs – The Country
Janis Joplin – Kozmic Blues
Jim Morrison – Living In One Country
Jimi Hendrix – The Star Spangled Banner
The Velvet Underground – Heroin
Nirvana – All Apologies
The White Stripes – One More Cup Of Coffee
Bob Dylan – Ballad of a Thin Man
Rodriguez – This Is Not A Song, It’s An Outburst/Or, The Establishment Blues
Pete Seeger – Pretty Boy Floyd
Saul Williams – Give Blood [Phantom Dancehall Mix]
Rising Appalachia – Occupy
Patti Smith – Capitol Letter (from the Catching Fire soundtrack)
Grateful Dead – Brokedown Palace

Saturday, March 29, 2014

For What It’s Worth (TOTR 212)

 ** the history of my fandom continues with a hippy dippy trippy flippy mix fix**

The Fugs – No More Slavery
Phil Ochs – I Ain’t Marching Anymore
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Fortunate Son
Buffalo Springfield – For What It’s Worth
Country Joe & The Fish – Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine
The Stooges – 1969
MC5 – Ramblin’ Rose
Sly & The Family Stone – Everyday People
The Staple Singers – We The People
The Byrds – Eight Miles High
Jefferson Airplane – White Rabbit
Jefferson Airplane – Embryonic Journey
Jimi Hendrix Experience – Third Stone From The Sun
The Velvet Underground – Sunday Morning
Nick Drake – Northern Sky
Van Morrison – Ballerina
Crosby, Stills, & Nash – Helplessly Hoping
Janis Joplin – Me And Bobby McGee
Joni Mitchell – Woodstock
Canned Heat – Going Up The Country
Allman Brothers Band – Revival
The Band – The Weight
Arlo Guthrie – Coming into Los Angeles
Eagles – Doolin-Dalton
The Holy Modal Rounders – Hot Corn, Cold Corn
Grateful Dead – Uncle John’s Band
Gram Parsons – Love Hurts

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Like A Song (TOTR 211)

Bruce Springsteen – Dancing in the Dark
U2 – Like a Song
Big Country – Fields Of Fire
Mike Peters – The Stand
The Waterboys – Spirit
Simple Minds – Sanctify Yourself
Lone Justice – Soap, Soup And Salvation
R.E.M. – Harborcoat
Guadalcanal Diary – Fire From Heaven
Echo & the Bunnymen – Seven Seas
the The – This is the Day
The Cure – In Between Days
The Smiths – How Soon Is Now
Billy Bragg – The World Turned Upside Down
The Clash – Clampdown
Peter Gabriel – Biko
Violent Femmes – No Killing
Minutemen – The Price Of Paradise
The Replacements – Here Comes a Regular
The Layabouts – Seven Minutes
Suzanne Vega – Undertow
10,000 Maniacs – Back O’ The Moon
Cocteau Twins – Lorelei
This Mortal Coil – Song To The Siren

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Let The Sun Shine In (TOTR 210)

updated 11/9/2020

Part One: The Unofficial & Incomplete History of My Music Fandom

Bill Haley – Rock Around The Clock
Buddy Holly – That’ll Be The Day
Tom Lehrer – National Brotherhood Week
Pete Seeger – The Draft Dodger Rag
Bob Dylan – Blowin’ In The Wind
Harry Belafonte – Jamaica Farewell
Odetta – House Of The Rising Sun
Peter, Paul & Mary – 500 Miles
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sound of Silence
Beatles – Eleanor Rigby
The Rolling Stones – You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Jesus Christ Superstar Soundtrack – Superstar
Godspell Soundtrack – Day by Day
Hair Soundtrack – Flesh Failures (Let The Sun Shine In)
John Denver – Sunshine On My Shoulders
Don McLean – American Pie
Dan Fogelberg – Leader Of The Band/Washington Post March
Rose Royce – Car Wash
Commodores – Brick House
Village People – YMCA
KISS – Rock And Roll All Nite
Rush – Limelight
Santana – Winning
Journey – Wheel In The Sky
John Mellencamp – Jack And Diane
Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band – Roll Me Away

The living room floor in our first house in Cleveland had carpet where I would sit for hours, right next to the turntable on which I would spin records from my parents’ modest but colorful collection of vinyl. Between popular TV or movies and those records, a doorway opened into a vast new world of sound and style that continues to unfold for me to this day. 

Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” opened the popular TV show Happy Days and could easily be an apt metaphor for my emerging attitude toward life, little did I know the exalted plateaus and dark valleys that this rocking 24/7 would bring for most of my 46 years. 

We saw The Buddy Holly Story in the theater in 1978, the year it came out, and my introduction to rock’s tragic side had a huge impact on me. In strict temporal terms, our fascination with the 1950s then would be analogous to today’s 1990s nostalgia. That simply blows my mind.  

My folks were Christian peace and civil rights activists in the 1960s.  Not only did I learn about Martin Luther King and my uncle who refused service in Vietnam, I also confronted a sense of humor on vinyl records with Tom Lehrer’s biting “National Brotherhood Week” and Pete Seeger’s rendition of the Phil Ochs ditty “Draft Dodger Rag.” Tom Lehrer’s quip remains a cutting quandary to social progressives today: “I know there are people in the world who do not love their fellow human beings, and I hate people like that.”

The early 1960s folk revival so strangely chronicled in 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis actually lived in my parents’ record collection as far as I was concerned. Surely there were some more obscure Greenwich Village names of note, but ten years after the seminal folksy outbreak in an Ohio suburb, I was reared on Bob Dylan, Odetta, Harry Belafonte, and of course, Peter, Paul, and Mary. Today’s acoustic resurgence—celebrated when Bob Dylan jammed with the Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons on the Grammys—acts as just another wave in a recurring cycle of the great American folk tradition.

Coming to consciousness in a leftish household in the early 1970s meant having both a tragic and hopeful sensibility. I knew about the deaths just down the road at Kent State, and I love to tell how my parents pumped me full of iced tea to stay up past my bedtime on the night that Nixon resigned. We attended rallies for failed presidential candidate George McGovern and for crusading activist Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. The same artists that spun at 33.3 revolutions per minute were active in the social revolutions that shaped me then and shape me now.


As influential as the folksy folk were, they couldn’t hold a coffeehouse candle to the importance of the 1970s musicals, first plays and then films. These important works—Godspell, Hair, and Jesus Christ Superstar—formed a kind of trilogy that forever fostered my particular flavor of hippy Jesus spirituality and activism. Decades later, I am still unpacking the strange and liberating intersection of two subcultures, psychedelic hippies and evangelical Jesus Freaks, for this fusion still follows me as I listen to music daily and try to follow the long-haired, peaceful, crucified, and resurrected One. 

Without the 1970s folk-pop explosion—with many of the great Laurel Canyon artists I would only learn about later—we would never have known its most accessible ambassador to the kids, who put a Colorado tint on the best of California and Nashville. John Denver’s influence on my tween years cannot be understated. He was one of my first concerts thanks to Mom and Dad, and his Greatest Hits record became a bedtime turntable lullaby in my room, as even through an emotionally lonely February, I could long for the spring, for God, for a girlfriend, and for “Sunshine On My Shoulders.”

Don McLean’s dynamic epic poem of a song called “American Pie” introduced me to the profound mythopoetics of American pop culture and became the topic of lyrical analysis for an 8th grade English class project. The Christian allusions in songs like this and “Leader of the Band” by Dan Fogelberg didn’t seem distinct or separate from the larger ocean of the air we breathe. God couldn’t help but show up everywhere, even and especially on the radio. 

Although my parents had Beatles records, I had to wait for my brother to turn me on to the Rolling Stones. Being a younger brother does wonders for your introduction to new bands. Like the William Miller character in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous whose sister seeded his future hardcore fandom, I benefited from an older sibling as Arthur turned me on to all the great classic rock. Like so many other kids, he joined the multi-million dollar mailorder Columbia House record club that sent albums to our house.  

I have such mixed feelings about the late 70s and early 80s classic rock that connected me with the times and culture. That I experienced the complete hard rock carnival of KISS at an arena show in the 1970s feels like it was a rite of passage. My dad chaperoned, and I am grateful, since I was really too young to see, if even from a distance, the darker effects of the drug scene in full effect. “Rock And Roll All Nite” was an anthem for the eve of a snow day. Each record gets tied to memories, and there are many more songs than fit neatly into a particular playlist. 

Because Art and I were part of a voluntary bussing program that brought us to the predominately black elementary school in our community, black culture greatly influenced my musical tastes then and now. I could never endorse the Disco Sucks movement, and even though I didn’t have the vocabulary to understand my critique at eleven-years-old, I somehow knew deep inside it was just a smokescreen for cultural racism and homophobia. In fact, it was funk, disco, R&B, and the earliest signs of hip-hop and electronica that moved me the most out of the mainstream of my more likely cultural trajectory. 

Even though I most enjoyed the superficial incarnations like the Commodores and the Village People, I was forever changed in favor of social equality and stylistic tastes that tilted towards the extremely eclectic. The great trauma of the early 1980s for me was moving from Cleveland to Detroit, from a suburb called Shaker Heights to a suburb called Southfield, from junior high to high school. Around that time, radio and MTV were still relevant, as were my first loves and first experiments with alcohol and drugs.

Although the north coast of Ohio and the southeast edge of Michigan were many metaphorical miles apart in my mind, we remained Midwest to the core, and the music I heard in the coach’s van during cross country practice or on the bus with ski club reflected this in the likes of (then) John Cougar or Detroit’s own Bob Seger. 

My brother had left for college, and my parents weren’t really buying records anymore. By now, I was ready to forge out on my own. By my 10th and 11th grade years, I made musical discoveries that would take things to the next level and change everything forever.