The conceit of this site is that “Rock and Roll Can Change Your Life.” Note well that there is an explicit option expressed; it doesn’t say “will” or “must.” But there is potential. Changing one’s life is not a trivial thing. But it can happen.

Much of what gets essayed here cracks corporate artists or revels in shows seen or talks to/about favorite performers. There’s a lot of examination of socio/econo/politico issues. There are plenty of provocative observations related to the genre. But life-changing? Now, having written my fair share of the aforementioned, know well that if it is at all perceived that aspersions are being cast, I’m in the middle of the net.

So let me relate an experience about how rock and roll changed my life (and it is not about the time when I nearly caught a windmilled Gibson SG in my cranium during a Who concert—although the case about to be relayed was approximately as devastating). And I’d like to encourage you to use the “Comments” section to let us know about your life-changing experiences.

When I was going to high school, I was the kind of guy who would, well, grow up and write for Glorious Noise. My hair was long. I put out an alternative newspaper. Played in a band. (Which played benefit concerts to make the money to fund the newspaper.) Spent plenty of time in the principal’s office (threatening to call the ACLU, so I was suspended less than I might have otherwise been). You get the picture.

For whatever reason—fate, stars, taste, hormones—I tended to have crushes on cheerleaders. Yes, yes, a conventional young male fantasy, I know. Now, I was not what you’d call the sort of guy who’d be in the same area code as a cheerleader. But for whatever reason (see list in previous sentence), this cheerleader, let’s call her Peggy, really had a hold on me (metaphorically speaking, that is).

Let me provide a bit of back story on Peggy. She had two older brothers. Both were letter-wearing athletes. Big guys. Football players. An older sister was also a cheerleader, and a younger one was a pom-pom girl. Her father—and I am not making this up—was the superintendent of schools. Just as the brothers and sisters knew that I was not exactly the team-oriented type, the father was aware of the so-called “underground” newspaper that I was producing. One more thing about Peggy. She had a boyfriend. Who was a couple years older. And tough. I sure could pick ’em.

The heart so afflicted knows no bounds. So one day I asked Peggy to go to a concert with me. And she agreed. Neil Young. Solo in a comparatively small hall in Detroit. This was during the time of a line that was essentially an anthem for my pals and me: “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.” If Neil couldn’t help me with Peggy, nothing would. So we went. And while it remains one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, it didn’t move Peggy to recognize that there was something to be said for, well, me. Let’s face it, none of her football-playing friends would take her to see a show like that. It should have been a lock. But mainly what I got for my trouble was a threat from Peggy’s boyfriend. There was a chaste kiss, but. . . .

That is not how rock and roll changed my life. Nothing changed. I still had the crush on Peggy.

Time went on. The newspaper was published. My band played more gigs. The principal became increasingly pissed (our benefit concerts, which included numerous bands because they were friends, were outdrawing the sanctioned school dances). And I still had the crush on Peggy.

I’ve always been a fan of Todd Rundgren. He has written some of the sweetest, most ironic love songs ever produced. He was coming to town. “We’ve got to get you a woman. . . ” Hmm. The tiny demons in my head spun. Of course. I’d take Peggy to see Runt. While Neil is more or less an acquired taste, Todd would naturally be a sure thing. Surprisingly, Peggy wasn’t familiar with his music. (I never said she was particularly bright, she was just goddess-like in appearance.) But she accepted the invitation.

It was the same venue. When we arrived, the stage was set up nearly as it had been for Young. A stool. Young played solo. So would Rundgren. But there was a difference. There was a large reel-to-reel tape recorder next to Rundgren’s stool. My anticipation grew. This was going to work.

And then Todd came out on stage. I—and presumably Peggy—had been expecting something along the lines of Neil: flannel shirt; jeans. But no, here was a guy who weighed about 90 pounds and had a long frame who was dressed in a one-piece red-jump suit. He punched the start button on the tape recorder and Todd began, “I know a place where dreams are born. . . .” And mine died right then and there. Peggy became convinced that I was well around the bend. Here was a skinny long-haired guy sitting next to her who had taken her to see a far-skinnier, far longer-haired guy who was singing Peter Pan’s theme song.

And so rock and roll (OK, he played “Black Maria” that night) helped break my heart.

But it was a hell of a show. Peggy? I don’t know what’s happened to her. I still listen to Rundgren.

10 thoughts on “Neverland”

  1. Rock and roll has changed my life countless times. It did again this weekend when I went to see an old friend play in support of her new cd, at the Knitting Factory. I haven’t been writing songs and I’ve been feeling like a dropout from the music community in NY. But this night made me feel like I’ve just been lost — I thought other things mattered, but really all that’s ever mattered is music. My friend Jennifer O’Connor plays songs that speak to what is hard and lonely in life, but like Cat Power she finds good metaphors and unusual chord patterns so that you’re touched and somewhat electrified at the same time. Sometimes, if you try to write songs, you feel like there’s no new way to say these same old things. But Jennifer has a way of combining simplicity with a complex twist of an idea, sort of like Mark Eitzel does, and her lines stay with you. I was happy to hear her old songs and excited to hear her new ones and mostly dragged out of a general funk by the power of creativity. Also old friends and beer. My pals Peter Tunney and Jessica (I’m sorry I don’t know your last name, Jess, but you were amazing) played a very sharp set of country tunes. It was a good time but also life-changing in that it reminded me: This is what’s important.

  2. My life’s been changed countless times by Rock and Roll. From the first record I ever bought by myself (Gary Newman’s “Cars”) to my switch from metal to “progressive” in high school to buying Neil Young’s “Decade” and listening to it non-stop through a deep freeze Kalamazoo winter by myself. It still happens, nearly every day.

  3. from the very first moment I heard it’s dulcet and satiating tones from the car seat in back of our ’69 Impala, wafting SMOKE ON THE WATER, as it cut through all the bipolar mess n alchol-fueld confusion of my entire childhood on a well overdriven AM radio, r+r had changed my life forever: ‘when Jenny said that she was just five-years old…’ etc. etc. and so on

  4. Neil Young should take pride in knowing he, thus far, has contributed to many life changing moments.In high school, my father and I tended to be at odds with one another. Basically your typical teenager hating his dad for being his dad. (I hope this story isn’t too sappy).Once I was in college, I was glad to get that guy out of my hair. Then, partway through my first semester, he called me up and told me that he wanted to pick me up from school that Friday if I could make it away for the weekend. No explanation, just that I needed to trust that I’d have a good time. I conceded…Well, Friday rolled around and I was pissed that I was missing one of those big parties that all the freshmen get drunk at and grope one another in various corners of the house but he showed and off we went.Well, three hours later we arrived in Motown to see Neil Young. “Whoa!?!? Neil Young? Cool!”Half way through the set, I looked at my old man grinning, hooting and hollering as our ears were being crushed with a shock of feedback and I thought he was the coolest mother fucker I knew. Since that day, we’ve found common ground in music and actually have a father-son relationship that’s damn good. (Insert sniffles and sunshine here)

  5. I don’t have any cool stories like that, but I guess I would say, like Derek, that music has changed my life in countless ways. The first I can think of is in the 7th grade, my life was shit, I was an awkward pre-adolescent, my best friend for some unbenknownst reason turned against me, and everybody I knew was having sex and smoking pot (which I wasn’t ready for a few more years). But somehow, I’m not sure how, maybe just growing up in Ga, I discovered REM, right when Green came out. And I don’t if I would have survived 7th grade without shooting myself had I not discovered that album. I rememember distinctly sitting on a bus on this godawful field trip to Washington, DC and listening to Green and Document over and over again the whole 13 hours there and back.

  6. Sometime late 1978, choosing to buy the first Clash LP instead of my favourite of that time – Elton John. Nothing was ever the same again.

  7. i read somewhere that listening to music increses the number grooves and folds in your brain associated with intelligence. (not spelling) has music changed my life? Dig like dirt poor junkie living on NYCs lower east side. walking down 2nd ave. on my way to the uptown subway. im looking for another minium wage job cause i got fired from my last. i got on my olive green wool business suit, heels and nylons and im sweating like a pig when im hailed by this guy i met on my last job. He’s up on a ladder working on a movie marque and comes down asks whats up. offers me a weekend job to tide me over, easy work selling candy, see u fri. at 4. so i go wondering what the movies gonna b and i get Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. i clean up my act somewhat to keep the job, get dosed when the DEAD play and been on the bus ever since. oh yeah!

  8. My dad was a producer in the 70’s, and as a result, I can’t really quantify how rock and roll has changed my life – it has always been my life, for better or worse.Dad got me my kit at age 9. At 10 I had D’yer Mak’er memorized and at 11 I had my first band – none of this was my choice, mind you, but rather dad’s. There actually came a time (after that band broke up) when I was about 14 and just the thought of ever having to get behind the kit again literally made me cry. It took a long time for me to see performing as something that was fun – not something I was forced into and did more for my dad’s benefit than mine.Of course, now I’m over that, thanks no doubt to the countless other times that rock and roll was the only thing that made sense and the only thing that I knew I had going for me.Last weekend I played some material from my new band for my dad – he was so happy he could hardly contain himself.So was I.

  9. I think I was in about 8th grade when rock changed me and changed for me. Growing up in the ‘burbs in the 70’s, I was raised on a diet of my parents’ shlock (Neil Diamond, Seals and Croft, etc.) or the arena music I heard everywhere else.While I like all of my metal stuff (Zep, Deep Purple, Aerosmith) I was definitely starting to think “There’s gotta be more than this.”One Friday night I was watching ABC’s attempt to cash in on Saturday Night Live’s success. In a flash of inspiration that must have been blinding, the show was named “Friday.” Michael Richards of Kramer-on-Seinfeld fame was a cast member. Anyway, the show wasn’t all that great, but about halfway through, the musical guest came out. It was some band called The Jam, and they absolutely ripped through “Going Underground.” I thought, “Ah ha! There is more out there. These guys don’t sound remotely like AC/DC.”That summer I bought the import 45 of that song on a visit to a friend’s place in Orange County, where besides getting my first vinyl that couldn’t later be classified as “Classic Rock” I also got introduced to the 2-Tone movement and the So. Cal hardcore scene via TSOL and Channel 3. It just snow-balled from there, music becoming an all-consuming – well, nearly all-consuming – passion, and all because I couldn’t sleep one Friday night in eighth grade.

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