# # Sound - My First Pop Record: Blondie - "Parallel Lines"

Brother, I Can See Your Skull.

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Sound –
My First Pop Record: Blondie – “Parallel Lines”

In early spring of this year, I returned to my hometown for a short visit with family and friends. During the visit, I managed to collect two recordings of my youth, one of which is the first, full-length, pop-music album I ever purchased: Blondie’s “Parallel Lines.”

Blondie - Parallel LinesBlondie - Parallel Lines

I don’t know when I first fell in love with music. Probably my audio-agape was hard-wired into my DNA, so no falling was necessary but there was a distinct period of time in my life when I went from being simply able to enjoy music to being nearly obsessed with it – and not just music but sound.

my brother commenting on my mother's musicianship in the late 60'sThe reason for the delay lies in the fact that you couldn’t call the household I grew up in particularly musical. We had a stereo, a guitar, some harmonicas and, off and on, a keyboard instrument of some kind or other – but no one ever pretended (or attempted) to be any kind of a musician. Of all the gear available, the only one ever consistently played was the stereo and that as background.

Though my father was a stereo enthusiast and my mother liked to dance, they were a busy, serious couple and too much focus on music would have been seen as frivolous. Certainly we never went anywhere to experience music and that which was played in our house was usually done under the sound of a vacuum or woodworking equipment.

My father gravitated towards country almost exclusively while I was growing up, though there was a time in the early years of my conscience when he also listened to a lot of Herb Alpert type stuff – I have some very distinct memories of him bopping around the house to the strains of “Spanish Flea.”

Dad really got into the whole stereo movement. He built his receiver from a Tandy kit, owned a reel-to-reel, and rescued a turntable from a radio station he helped to refurbish back in the day. This record player fascinated me and I loved to watch the strobe on the speed bars of the platter when switching speeds from 45 to 33rpm. He enjoyed making mix tapes on his reel-to-reel and, later on, with his dual cassette deck (my uncle had an 8-track recorder but my dad, convinced the medium was doomed from the start, never paid much attention to it).

Mom, on the other hand, was just interested in the music. It didn’t seem to matter to her if it was coming out of a single, tiny speaker or a couple of huge, expensive ones. She liked simple, hummable songs. Leaning more towards show tunes than pop, she saw music as a vehicle to display talent or tell a story through performance. Many an afternoon did I spend, splashing around in the tub as a tyke, with my mother playing her records to keep us company: “My Fair Lady”, “The Music Man”, “Oliver!”, “Funny Girl”. Is it any wonder my masculinity was called into question during adolescence?

Mom was also responsible for the Christmas records played during that season; collections of famous singers and the songs that they made the standards. I came to realize that the music itself was not too important to her – as long as it kept to itself there, in the back, it was okay. It had to have a steady, discernible beat or she would turn her nose up at it: too noisy, too weird. I often thought she’d prefer the rhythmic thump of a shoe in the clothes dryer to any really interesting piece of music: “they’re not playing together – you can’t dance to it!” Ugh.

My brother, 5 and a half years my senior, was well into rock music by the time I started paying attention. We had an AM clock radio, tuned to AM, 95 KIMN, of course, and through it listened to all the common hits of the day plus Casey Kasum’s Top 40 Countdown …

My musical taste was still very much a creature of what I was exposed to, not my own sensibilities leading me to new discoveries as would become the eventual model. The first record I ever bought was the “Young Frankenstein” soundtrack, followed five years later by a 45 of The Doobie Brothers “What A Fool Believes.” So smoooooth. In between I enthused with my mother over ABBA and John Denver, with my father over The Statler Brothers, and my brother over the Star Wars soundtrack and CW McCall.

I. Had. No. Clue.

One day I and my brother took a ride with my cousin in his Mustang and he cranked his latest 8-track: the eponymous, first album from a band called Van Halen. “Running With The Devil” full blast was a startling revelation: loud, rude, raucous and naughty. You could scream that? My brother purchased his own copy of the record as soon as he could afford it and we giggled through that first listening, imagining David Lee Roth’s screams as being caused by his sweaty body shorting out with the studio electronics: “Ow-wow!” In 7th grade I made a storyboard of a spaceship encountering different, multi-colored phenomena to the backing track of “Eruption” for a music class project. I received a B because I used rock music instead of classical. Fair enough.

Finding my brother’s musical direction far more interesting than that of my parents (natch), my own, next pop music purchase was directly influenced by what he and his friends were listening to. I had the money, I wanted to buy a big boy type thing, and we were in a record store, so, unsure, I bought Blondie’s “Parallel Lines” because I’d heard “Call Me” enough times for it to get its hooks into me. Too bad it’s not one of the tracks on “Parallel Lines.” Boy, was I disappointed when I got home. The music did little for me and the guys in the band looked doofy to me. The whole experience put me off that kind of pop for a long time. The proof? My next record purchase was Molly Hatchet’s “Flirtin’ With Disaster” …

Visiting my mother’s house last year, I discovered she still had my old Blondie record among her show tunes, left by me when I moved out in the late 80’s. I was offered it but demurred – why would I want that? This last visit, I changed my mind and decided it would be fun to have it back. The beautiful shape the vinyl is in is a testament to how little I liked the album, then. Listening now, it still misfires badly for my tastes, sounding irregular, as if compiled from different Blondie albums by a deaf idiot. A few of the tracks aren’t too bad but others … pew.

The biggest shock was when Fade Away and Radiate came on. “Who’s this guy think he is?” I wondered of the guitar player. “He’s totally ripping off Robert Fripp.” A few more runs up and down the neck and I’m grabbing the record sleeve to scan the liner notes:

“Oh, shit. That *is* Robert Fripp.”

Talk about serendipity. The very first, full length, pop album I ever bought I never really liked, yet it includes the guitar playing of a musician I would eventually come to idolize some 12 or so years later -and to this day. Fade away and radiate, indeed …

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