I think it’s fairly easy to buy Christmas gifts for me. Honestly, I don’t know what the trouble is for some. You could easily go and take a look at my record collection, figure out what artists I enjoy and then find out the missing pieces of the artist’s catalog that I don’t have and help fill them in. If you don’t have access to that, just get me a gift card and I’ll figure it out myself.
Honestly, I wouldn’t take offense.
For years growing up, my Father understood that I was a big music fan and he would try to address this each year at Christmas. The problem was that he would take the holidays as an opportunity to try and “teach” me about rock music. In other words, he took it upon himself to try and educate me on some of the artists that he considered to be vital. As a result, there were many years where I would rip open the wrapping on what was obviously a record and then have to feign excitement over a brand new album by…the Yardbirds.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with the Yardbirds. I totally appreciate them and think they’re swell. It’s just that I had to learn about them on my own and I certainly didn’t want my Father who spent his life advising me on shit to start muscling in on an area that I demonstrated great passion for. I would come around to the Yardbirds on my own pace as well as Blind Faith, Cream, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, etc.
Just get me that Queen album with that “Fat Bottom Girls” single on it, tell me in passing that the dude from Led Zeppelin was once in the Yardbirds, and after a few dozen spins of Jazz I’ll think about your recommendation, okay Dad?
The other thing about my Father’s Christmas record purchases was how blatantly cheap they were. For years, I wondered why these records had a hole punched in the corner of them or why the corner was completely cut off. I later learned that these were “cut out” records, and Dad had just been scouring the sales bin at the local record stores, again looking for titles that not only served his rock and roll education agenda, but also had little impact on his wallet.
One year I was presented with a new Badfinger album, Airwaves, the one that was released after the lead singer, Pete Ham, committed suicide and after the drummer split because, well, because the lead singer committed suicide. That left only half of the original members which Elektra records deemed enough to record their “comeback” album.
It was a huge stiff.
The two surviving members of Badfinger were unceremoniously dropped by the label after the album’s dismal sales and then the other dude from Badfinger killed himself too. For those of you keeping score: half of the members of Badfinger have killed themselves and, thanks to my Dad’s tight wallet, I have an artifact of their late ’70s failed comeback attempt.
While the story of Badfinger didn’t get any brighter, the story of my musical Christmases does.
In 1980, my Dad suddenly began a dramatic shift in his record purchases. That year, I was anticipating something lame, but I was greeted with the loud orange packaging of the Police‘s Zenyatta Mondatta album instead.
It was new. It was relevant. It was exactly what I wanted. I immediately wanted to leave the proceedings and go up to my room and play it. He figured out how to buy music for me.
The next year, he followed it up with another Police album, Ghost In The Machine. It was also new at the time and I wanted it, so I had no problem with the repetition of the artist. He was getting the hang of it.
There was no new Police album in 1982, but there was a new Clash album, Combat Rock. Now I know that it’s generally considered to be a step back in their catalog, but I love it. My grandparents were at our house that Christmas, and my Father took great joy in reading off some of the song titles to them to give them an idea of what “punk rock” was all about.
“Here’s one of the song titles, Mother,” he told my Grandmother. “The song is called Straight To Hell.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that just upstairs, I had an album that featured a track called “Nazi Punks, Fuck Off!” by a band that was a lot more “punk rock” called the Dead Kennedys.
His intentions were genuine and, more importantly, his selection was coveted. In fact, over the years he has continued to add to my collection with other objects of desire. From Velvet Underground box sets to obscure titles that I know he had to special order from some retailer, Dad’s Christmas gifts became something I looked forward to.
Sadly, these gifts have tapered off, the end result of a declining music industry and the retail outlets that provide music to shoppers. My father doesn’t do much (if any) online shopping and since we no longer live in the same city, he has no means to secretly learn about what titles I’m looking for or what music I’m currently enjoying. Hell, he doesn’t even know if I still listen to cds anymore (I do) or have started to use more modern methods of music listening (I have). Those Clash cds have been replaced by Craftsman tools and other more practical gifts that scream “Welcome to middle age!”
But there’s still that kid in me that remembers those Christmas mornings of yesterday and hopes that at least one gift brings back that semblance of youth.
So Dad, if you’re reading this, could you let Santa know that Bob Dylan‘s Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs looks pretty sweet.