Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Moment Zero

Some people listen to music and some love it. It is the difference
between hearing something and feeling it, between doing something and
experiencing it. For those of us who love music, It happened at one
time or another. Moment Zero. The Big Bang inside your head when you
realized that It was deep down inside of you, a part of your very
being, as essential as breathing. The time came for me at the ripe old
age of 8. I was in the basement of the First Methodist Church
in Perry, Georgia in the musty old cinder block room where the youth
group congregated. There was a pool table and a stage. It's not what
you think.

I had flirted with It before. My dear grandmother (Gam) had
Jim Croce's Greatest Hits on vinyl. How or why she got it I have no
idea; old big band swing and gospel were more her style. I don't
remember much about that record except for "Bad. Bad. Leroy Brown.
Baddest man in the whole damn town." It is a boogie number, the kind that 
is easy for a young mind to grasp. Gam would play that song on the record 
player in her den and I'd try to replicate Fozzie's "wokka wokka" dance 
move from the Muppets and jump around. My moves caused quite a stir 
in the retired grandparent's set down in Dawson, Georgia. Gam's friends 
would come over and laugh while I did my dance to "Bad Lewoy." They 
would sometimes tempt me with dollar bills when I got shy. I couldn't 
have been more than 5 years old. It was the first and only time that 
anyone ever paid money to watch me do anything.

It wasn't just the blues of Bad Leroy, even at a young age. I grew up
in the church and the hymns were powerful elixir to my childish mind.
One, in particular, stole my heart, "Oh, For a Thousand Tounges to
Sing." If I hummed it to myself once I did it a thousand times:
O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer's praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!
Yes, yes indeed! Sing it Brother Tom! On Sunday nights we had a
segment in church where the choir director (Brother Tom) would let the
assembled faithful call out hymns from the pew. You'd raise your hand
and he'd call on you if he got to you. If chosen, you called the number of the
hymn you wanted played and the baby grand piano would crank up within
seconds. I liked to sit near the front with my parents. I raised my
hand early and often. There was no reason for Tom to ask me what I
wanted to request. (I'm sure he knew my hand was up without looking.)
Before I got my hand up good he'd call out "NUMBER TWO! Ladies 
and gentlemen, Oh for a Thousand Tongues to Sing!" I was far too young
to understand the religion behind it all but, man, the music really
moved me. It was the way the chords drove the melody. I heard it at 
least once a week and it seemed like a new song every time. (Music is 
just that way). It seems like yesterday.

Anyway, back to the basement. We'd finished a Wednesday night supper
back in 1983. As was our usual practice, us kids headed down to the
basement to play while our parents did whatever parents did after a
church supper. The time was mostly spent running up and down the 
halls or on non-organized games of "pool," but this night would be different. 
I was handed what must have been a Sony Walkman. I don't remember 
who handed it to me, was but she (or he) was obviously wiser than I. I was 
exhilarated and intimidated at the same time. What a marvelous invention 
the thing was! But what was inside?

I opened the player to find a cassette tape. I took the tape out and
looked at it. I hadn't seen many of them. Cassettes were a new
invention at the time, and the only ones I was familiar with were the
ones that my Mom had Christmas music recorded on back at the house
(Perry Como Christmas, black tape with a red and white label, holiday
bliss). The tape I got that Wednesday night looked different. Felt
different. I put the headphones on my head. Felt the foam on my ears. 
I put it in the player and hit rewind until it stopped. I hit the button 
with the triangle on it. "hissssssssssssssssss Bum pa, Bum pa, Bum pa, 
BumPA, Bum pa, Bum pa, Bum pa, BumPA, the whistling sound of a 
bomb falling out of the sky. GUITAR. Loud, Electric guitar" 
What. Was. Happening?
They told him don't you ever come around here.
Don't wanna see your face you'd better disappear.
There's fire in their eyes and their words are really clear,
So beat it, just beat it!
Old Hymn Number Two became irrelevant in a fraction of a single
drumbeat. No more ping pong, no more manhunt (not on that night
anyway). It's not time to go home. Nobody touch this Walkman. I'm
nodding my head because I cannot hear you. There was nothing else --
just me, that tape, and those foam headphones. That stage. Dead corners of
the room where nobody would distract me. "Just beat it beat it beat it
DA DUH DUH beat it beat it ….." The confusion and exhilaration grabbed
me simultaneously. I pressed the earphones against my head. What was
going on? The Big Bang. Moment Zero. By the second time through I
was sweating. My joy was palpable and others wanted to pry my tape
away. Noooooo! Not just yet. One. More. Time. By the time it was
over, as my mind slowed down from hyperdrive, I was exhausted.
But one thing I knew for sure. I wanted More.

That night was the beginning of what has been a lifelong journey. It's
taken me from the Florida Everglades to the shores of the San Francisco
Bay, over mountaintops and down winding rivers. Through darkness
and light, love and pain. Into the farthest reaches of my own psyche and
back. What I did not understand as a child, I know now as surely as my
name. Then, now and always, I love music.


  1. Bravo. That's some good reading there my friend. Keep it up!

  2. Nice spence. I concur...keep it up!