b'final mattersMy LifeThrough MusicIt comes down to five songs.BY JIM ROBERTSONRobertson, in the mid-80s, when he was discovering songs that opened his eyes to other music.M usic is a salve, a celebration, an occasion, a compan- ally do this, too. school, I was on a bus with about two dozen classmates on ion, and an inspiration, It has been a large part of myLater in high life since I was young: from a memory of my fathera school field trip to historic Williamsburg, VA. It was ostensibly an Honors listening to a Beethoven LP while sipping a brandy;History field trip, but much more a coming-of-age lets give the kids an adven-to a teenager trying to learn guitar to impress girls;ture excursion. Someone who had a hipper older brother slapped a cassette of to an adult playing bass and making friends in thethe Violent Femmes into a boom box as we barreled down the highway. Their Maplewood/South Orange community. song Kiss Off came on.During the pandemic when I was working from home, I had the opportu- My first listening reaction was revulsion: This is horriblethis guy cant nity to reflect on many things, and here are five songs that sparked a memory ofsingthis is so sloppy.when they opened my eyes to other music. On the second listening, my reaction was: This is the greatest thing ever A common denominator is that they were all obtainable. I could never be in athat I have never heard anything like it oh my God I have to relisten to all this Genesis-like band or do harmonies like CSNY or be a polymath band like Rush.again who is this band where are they But I could actually play a Billy Bragg or R.E.M. song and have some fun, learnfrom what is happening are there only some things, and maybe meet some cool like-minded folk. three people doing thisIf they can do In elementary and middle school, my brother and I had a bicycle paper routethis, I can do this.that gave bonuses for good performance and whatnot. Among the payoffs wereA few years later, I was in my college LPs (long-playing vinyl records). Our choices were Loverboy, Styx, Triumph,dorm room listening to the college ra-Foreigner, and the like. dio station and a song came on that was And then I was with a group of friends, circlingjust a voice and electric guitarwith themallinafathersborrowedPontiac,whentremendousdynamics.AndKitchen someone slapped inElvis CostellosWatchingSink lyricsfor which I am a sucker. the Detectives from his debut album (1977) (GivemeLyndsayAnderson,Shelagh and it just blew my mind. Delaney, Richard Harris any day of theRobertson played bass in a band Youmeankeyboardsdonthavetobesyn- week.) This song was classic Billy Bragg,called FELT at Maplewoodstock about thyleadinginstruments,butcanbepianofilland shortly thereafter a friend sent me10 years ago.augmentation?Andthesonghasthegreatesta cassette of Billys songs (yes, we used to trade mixtapes on cassette via the US Hammond B3 hook ever. Or was it a Wurlitzer?Postal Service).I dunno, but I saved my paperboy money andI never heard anything like it before, and I thought again, Thats actually bought a Casio keyboard to try to figure it out. attainable.Months later, a friend slipped me a cassette ofJust a week or two later that same college radio station played a lush song R.E.M.s Reckoning in high school photographywith pseudo jazz chords married to morose lyrics (again, Kitchen Sink!) and a lab and knowingly said Listen to this tonight theatrical presentation that stabbed a dagger into a longing heart.as if passing some illicit drugs along to me. It was The Smiths There is a Light That Never Goes Out.The first songHarborcoatjust blew meNow, your mileage may vary. Perhaps the songs that originally turned you on away. Wait, what are these lyrics about? Can Iwere songs from Dylan, Iron Maiden, Steely Dan, Miles Davis, Johnny Cash, even hear them? What is this janky guitar? WhereElvis Costellos Watchingthe Beatles, Ella Fitzgerald, etc. It really doesnt matter who those artists were. are those other ghostly background voices com- the Detectives album photoWhat matters is that they lit a spark in your mind. ing from? This sounds as though it were recordedinfluenced an assignmentJim Robertson is a 25-plus year resident of South Orange, who loves music, film, for Robertsons photography in my basement. But, it is perfect! I could actu- class.friends, and football (the European kind).34/ matters magazine / summer 2023'