A little while ago, Robert Reid Gillies posted a challenge on Facebook for friends to list 15 albums in 15 minutes which they felt would stay with them forever. I’ve thought about this a few times since, and an album that never made my list came to mind.
When I was 16, we all piled into our ’66 Ford and took a drive. (We did this fairly often; Mom liked to just take a ride, no destination, no reason.) A local rock station in Spokane had advertised that they would play the about-to-be-released ‘rock opera’ by The Who. Tommy. In its entirety. Mom agreed to tune it in, and so we listened on our lo-fi AM single-dashboard-speaker radio. I leaned forward from the middle of the back seat and craned my neck and ears. By the time Roger Daltrey sang ‘See me, feel me, touch me, heal me’ with just Pete Townshend strumming those sweet chords and the boys in the band doing their choir bit in the background, the tears were streaming down my face. Me, a 16-year-old American male, in the presence of my whole family, weeping uncontrollably.
Now, I had been listening to music all my life. My dad had a Master’s degree in music, and was partial to twentieth-century classical music and jazz. Mom was into big bands and folk songs and great singers like Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves, and had been turned on to the Beatles as soon as she heard them. So I was listening to Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Sergei Prokoffiev, the Clancy Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel, Burl Ives, The Beatles, Glenn Miller. . . well, you get the idea. Watching Hullabaloo and Sing Along With Mitch and Hee Haw and The Monkees and whatever other musical shows we could get on our TV. But I can’t remember music ever making me cry before that outing with Tommy. I think that was the moment I really decided to learn how to play guitar. Maybe write songs and sing them. There have been many times since when some piece of music has brought me to tears. The first time I actually watched an Italian opera (it was Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor). The unutterable beauty of Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt’s close harmonies in their Trio album. Eddie Vedder achingly wonderful in a quiet moment with ‘Just Breathe’ (on Pearl Jam’s Backspacer, of which I have already spoken highly). Many other times also. But it was on the back seat of the family Ford that I discovered it was possible to be transported by a piece of art in such a way that I could not control my emotions, and that it was allowed. If any artist has a higher aspiration, I surely am not aware of it.