Moments of Big Discovery, you know the kind, where life is a little different from then on, are rare and potent. Maybe as you get older, there's less to discover, or it's just that the Sweet Bird of Youth's ears and eyes were/are wide open. Whatever the reason, and I have dug way back to my SBoY days, here's one of my life's great moments of discovery...
By early 1966, it turned out we had a god living in Brooklyn Heights. I was 12. The British Invasion was now simply gushing. And America was starting to answer back with dozens of bands, all made up of guys playing electric guitars, the single most exotic and wonderful object ever conceived by man. I had been a listen-to-the-radio-every-day rock 'n' roll fan before February 9th, 1964. I was in love with Elvis and the Four Seasons and Beach Boys, and Motown (although I didn't know all those songs were from one source, same with Phil Spector's masterpieces). But from February 10th, 1964 on, I'd become as obsessed as a straight boy could be with these young men, their long hair, Cuban heels, and... electric guitars!
Paul, a very nice kid I knew one grade younger, had a much older brother named Gavin. Their family lived five blocks south, a real distance back then, so, although Paul and I were friendly at school, I didn't see either brother much.
One day, I, along with a few live-on-the-same-block pals, were hanging out on my stoop on a dull nothing-to-do overcast day. I became aware of an approaching presence across our sleepy street. I turned to see who was walking north and it was... A Rolling Stone!
There is no other way to put it. This tall thin translucently pale guy was wearing a radical rust colored suede sports coat, bright red wide-wale corduroy pants, a green and orange paisley shirt, actual black leather Beatle boots, not Flagg Brothers' facsimiles in brown suede. But, it was his hair that just blew us all away. It was wavy strawberry blonde, pulled behind his ears, and down past his collar by at least 8 inches. Simply the longest hair we'd ever seen on a guy, longer than any of the current Brit rock stars even. Almost like a man with Rita Hayworth hair. Best of all, this guy actually looked like a cross between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (and The Move's fabulous Ace Kefford!), the same cartoon pout and craggy cheekbones. We couldn't believe our eyes, floored! Did a guy this radically world-class cool actually exist in Brooklyn Heights?!
Suddenly, my mind clicked! I yelled, "Hi, Gavin!"
Gavin waved back in a laconic adult way without breaking stride. We looked at each other agog. How unbelievably Boss-A cool Paul's older brother had become in the last six months!
His walk (to the subway, btw) past us, with us waving at him, the deity, became a semi-regular occurrence. He always deigned to wave back, and even then, I could see his little smirk of mocking enjoyment at our absurd adulation, which naturally made him even cooler.
One day, near the end of the school year, I was visiting a girl named Erica with some other friends. She lived almost directly across the street from Paul and Gavin. It was well known that poor Erica had a hopeless keening crush on big brother from the south side of the street.
There were about six of us crammed into her bedroom, listening to records, when I came across the first copy I'd ever seen of "The Who Sings My Generation" album. I knew that they were Paul McCartney's favorite new band (according to Gee Gee's Gossip in 16 Magazine ... a publication I was sneaking into the house every month as if it were porn). I'd heard at least two songs by them on WMCA, both of which I'd liked, but, never heard again. I was already impressed and just crazy about their name. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, Yardbirds ... all had great names, but, for me, only Them, the Irish band with Van Morrison, came within shouting distance of The Who in the Cool Band Name category.
I stared at the album cover and saw four guys, standing in front of Big Ben (Yes, these guys are BRITISH, too, kids!), looking like they were getting ready to actually beat the crap out of someone just over the photographer's right shoulder. I was utterly smitten with The Rolling Stones' individuality and pumped up insouciance. But, The Who, on this "TWSMG" album cover, made the Stones seem almost fey. Take a look for yourself. The impression is inescapable. They are ready to, and capable of, hurting someone. And, weirdly, their hair was the shortest I'd seen in ages. That against-the-grain oddity, taken with their name, their interesting and unusual faces (as opposed to pretty ... especially that guitarist and his nose!), and that genuinely hard attitude they were absolutely exuding, made them look exotically dangerous, and specifically, dangerously uncaring of what you or anyone else thought of them or their music. I can still feel it. I was awestruck before I heard a note.
"Wow, Erica, how come you have this album?! Can we hear it?"
"Oh, yeah, that's Gavin's [swoon] favorite band. He told me I should buy it."
Some mild silent behind-her-back snickering...
She put the album on her junior hi-fi with the one speaker in the cover. I asked her to turn it up.
I was immediately taken with the energy-level of the opener, "Out In The Street." It actually made complete sense with the portrait on the cover. It was fast and every element was tough-as-nails (the lead vocals were downright threatening!) and seemed kinda just tossed off with almost something akin to disdain. The sputtering Musique Concrete of the six second toggle-switch-and-wallop guitar solo was actually shocking. The rest of the side went by in a blur as everyone else in the room soon started talking over the music. I went and sat by the player but was continually distracted by the nascent flirting going on around me.
Then we hit the last song on side one, title track, "My Generation." Things changed. The first 10 seconds grabbed my the scruff of my mind's neck. I was riveted, transfixed. Incredulity! The singer was stuttering! The bassist took the solo (what the...)! The drumming was thundering and wildly ornate! The guitar willfully lemon-sour. There seemed to be little musical fuck-ups (deliberate even?!) all over the place! And then came the last 35 seconds or so...
To this day, after literally 1000+ listens, the bedlam that breaks out in that original version of the coda of "My Generation" remains breathtaking to me. I'd never heard any music that abandoned "the one" like that, meaning there was suddenly no tempo, no groove, nothing but an eruption of musical chaos that simply had no precedent.
As a budding guitarist with a 20 watt amp and a hollow Japanese copy of a Les Paul (yes, that shape was always my favorite), I was fully aware of the ugly sound called feedback. And here it was... On this record!
Then the background vocals came back in out of sync with the lead singer. I was utterly astounded. My God, I'd never heard anything remotely like it.
The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Kinks, The Animals, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Byrds, et al, they all suddenly sounded a bit quaint and almost fuddyduddy. That afternoon, one song had totally and permanently ruined and remade my standards. Almost to the point of BE/AE ... Before Erica's/After Erica's, for me and my musical taste.
"My Generation" remains my single all time favorite song, as long as we're talking about that original version. I play it in my head note-for-note several times a week.
Anyway, I proceeded to sort of break up the little party by insisting that Erica play it another four more times in a row. Enough, Binky! As we were leaving, I tried to talk her into lending me the album overnight ... even if it was Gavin's favorite band. No dice.