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The Soundtrack of my Life

Rockit by Herbie Hancock

Born in the 70s, I was truly a child in the 80s: the music, the style, the culture. A period I simultaneously lament having left and one I warn my children of. Sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll pervaded nearly every part of what the 80s was in the early part, overturned by the pendulum of morality as the Right overtook in the face of “think of the children”.

I was one of those kids, and by and large, people overthought. But that’s another story.

As I entered my middle grades, 7 and 8, it was clear that elementary school and it’s relative innocence was being pried out of my hands. “Late bloomer”, perhaps. I definitely did not grow up as quickly as my scholastic compatriots (an element that led to cluelessness, a complete lack of understanding of the fairer sex, and some bullying to boot), but I tried.

I absolutely never understood the appeal with Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, much to my terror of being left out, and left behind.

But music? That I got. I couldn’t tolerate some of it (thank you, Top 40 stations that continue to murder hit tunes to the point I loathe the opening notes), but I got it. And some went that little extra, to twig something in me that I would t appreciate for many years to come.

When Herbie Hancock burst into my scene, it was through a Pee-Wee-esque video featuring robotic mannequins that danced to the heavily-synth melody. The visuals were beyond me, but the music wasn’t. I didn’t know why and I wouldn’t grasp the importance until a decade later when I first heard Maiden Voyage.

Jazz. Pre-rock, if you will, music in a form that steadfastly refuses to stick to the notes written on paper. Improvisational, evolutionary, jazz gave me a wildly different view of what music was, or could be. Jazz taught me why live music shouldn’t sound like what was committed to an album, why musicians are true artists and not machines who play the same notes, never varying, always reinventing, rediscovering Jazz told me the lifeblood of sound and the breadth of human achievement.

That’s not to say I am a musician. I’ve tried, can’t play a damned thing. I blame an organ teacher from when I was a kid. As bad as she was, it never killed my love for music, at least. Nor does it take away my love for it.

Rockit came out at the type of breakdancers, of baggy pants, hyper-colours, keytars, and sunglasses beyond reason. None of those things would ever enter my life directly, but because of my age and the culture that bore me, they’re ingrained in me. I remember a classmate, Trevor, who was by far the most popular kid and could detonate a piece of cardboard on the floor.

Me? Class clown. Class joke. The geek.

But both of us — all of us — met on that strange music that gave us one of the definitive tunes of the 1980s, one that would open me to Herbie’s later and earlier works, the works of other artists beyond the Top 40 core, and more likely, to the friends I would one day have. And still have.