It’s four in the morning and raining. I’m 27 today, feeling old, listening to my records, and remembering that things were different a decade ago. In 1964, I was a freshman at Brandeis University, playing guitar and banjo five hours a day, listening to records most of the rest of the time, jamming with friends during the late-night hours, working out the harmonies to Beach Boys’ and Beatles’ songs.
Real Paper soul writer Russel Gersten was my best friend and we would run through the 45s everyday: Dionne Warwick’s “Walk On By” and “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” the Drifters’ “Up On the Roof,” Jackie Ross’ “Selfish One,” the Marvelettes’ “Too Many Fish In the Sea,” and the one that no one ever forgets, Martha and the Vandellas’ “Heat Wave.” Later that year a special woman named Tamar turned me onto Wilson Pickett’s “Midnight Hour” and Otis Redding’s “Respect,” and then came the soul. Meanwhile, I still went to bed to the sounds of the Byrds’ Mr. Tambourine Man and later Younger than Yesterday, still one of my favorite good-night albums. I woke up to Having a Rave-Up with the Yardbirds instead of coffee. And for a change of pace there was always bluegrass: The Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe, and Jimmy Martin.
Through college I consumed sound as if it were the staff of life. Others enjoyed drugs, school, travel, adventure. I just liked music: listening to it, playing it, talking about it. If some followed the inspiration of acid, or Zen, or dropping out, I followed the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll.
Individual songs often achieved the status of sacraments. One September I was driving through Waltham looking for a new apartment when the sound of the car radio stunned me. I pulled over to the side of the road, turned it up, demanded silence of my friends and two minutes and fifty-six seconds later knew that God had spoken to me through the Four Tops’ “Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” a record that I will cherish for as long as live [sic].
During those often lonely years, music was my constant companion and the search for the new record was like a search for a new friend and new revelation. “Mystic Eyes” opened mine to whole new vistas in white rock and roll and there were days when I couldn’t go to sleep without hearing it a dozen times.
Whether it was a neurotic and manic approach to music, or just a religious one, or both, I don’t really care. I only know that, then as now, I’m grateful to the artists who gave the experience to me and hope that I can always respond to them.
The records were, of course, only part of it. In ’65 and ’66 I played in a band, the Jellyroll, that never made it. At the time I concluded that I was too much of a perfectionist to work with the other band members; in the end I realized I was too much of an autocrat, unable to relate to other people enough to share music with them.
Realizing that I wasn’t destined to play in a band, I gravitated to rock criticism. Starting with a few wretched pieces in Broadside and then some amateurish but convincing reviews in the earliest Crawdaddy, I at least found a substitute outlet for my desire to express myself about rock: If I couldn’t cope playing, I may have done better writing about it.