Totally True Tune Tales: Years of Favorite Songs

My parents had a bit of age discrepancy between them; my mother’s teenage years were Beatles-and-hippie culminating in her high school graduation in 1969, while my father was five years her junior and actively enjoying the widespread pharmaceuticals of the post-hippie, “Dazed and Confused” era. My birth came along while disco was all the rage, yet before Elvis keeled over on his mighty throne. All of this is easily pinned because, even with the rampant changes in music during this time and the aesthetic differences in tastes from one parent to the next, the music still played long and loud in our home. While I had gotten the hippie name, when my sister came along three years later, she was christened with her name chosen from a Van Halen song.

It was my dad who liked the hard rock type of stuff. I remember as a child that he would put KISS album covers anywhere that he didn’t want me to go; as a young girl, I was deathly afraid of the horrible painted monsters on their covers. I grew up on the aforementioned Van Halen as well as Led Zeppelin, Kansas, Queen, Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, ZZ Top, Pink Floyd, Foghat, and whatever else went well with a packed bong. My mom’s tastes never flew far from her hippie legends Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jefferson Airplane, but occasionally some Sly and the Family Stone would creep in along with the typical girly Carly Simon type of stuff.

Regardless of tastes, the stereo was always on.

I was four years old when Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” hit the airwaves with a bang, and I distinctly remember it being my very first favorite song. While I’m not precisely sure how a four year old would rock out, supposedly, I did. I remember about this time also adoring Billy Idol and the Greg Kihn Band, with the respective videos for “White Wedding” and “Jeopardy” freaking me out quite a bit. I also remember that there was another song on the radio which had an intro that would fool me into thinking it was a Billy Idol song and getting extremely mad when it would trick me into getting excited.

School years hit and along came Madonna. I was being babysat by a neighbor who took me and her own daughter down to a bar for the afternoon. At this bar, apparently it was the custom of the owner/bartender to load credits into the jukebox so that anyone could play a free song or two, just to keep the place hopping. The other girl and I soon discovered that “Lucky Star” was there in all its glory; without realizing we could play it without money, we did what all kids do with arcade machines when they have no money: they pretend. We punched in the combo to “Lucky Star” no less than 20 times by the time it first started to spin, and we danced like little kids dance throughout the entire bar. Perhaps a lesson in why children don’t belong in a bar in the first place, we promptly pissed off every single patron before we were hauled back home. Not that this would change our Madonna love; we just went and visited another girl who had the tape and we practiced our best “Lucky Star” video dance emulation.

As years progressed, the hormones began churning at an early age and Jon Bon Jovi was no less than the utter pinnacle of my affections. Between “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “Livin’ On A Prayer,” I was lovesick. When I got my jambox at age nine, my dad (who was now divorced from my mom) got me the Bon Jovi tape. As one should expect, every single song on that album spoke directly to my very soul.

Still, it was during this time and for years forward that I simply could not put my finger on what exactly was my favorite song. Through elementary school, I had picked up on Def Leppard, Poison, Guns ‘n’ Roses, and other radio staples of the hard rock world. Even with my ever-growing collection of dubbed cassettes, I still could not choose one song that I believed to be better than all others. Junior high came along with Slaughter, Skid Row, Winger, and four hundred million other hairbands whose pinups graced my walls from floor to ceiling. I spent a solid two years completely in love with New Kids On the Block (oh Jordan, you were so dreamy), yet I still had no favorite song. My best friend Jen and I would spend hours upon hours passing back and forth a notebook which would become a novel of sorts: over three hundred pages of fictional silliness where our characters would bang every hot star we could work into the storyline. Still — no song.

Being old enough to have babysitting money and to stay up late enough to be watching Headbanger’s Ball, by the time I started high school, I had cemented that my love for music was the top of all other interests in my universe. I bought my first stereo, I started buying random albums based only upon their interviews in Metal Edge or Rip magazines, and began that descent from the mainstream into officially working to find new and better music. Perhaps it was the genre and my methods of choosing new bands that led the search for a favorite song to drag on so long without any hope of resolution. Maybe if I closed my eyes to fluffy long hair and leather pants, I would discover true musical bliss.

Poppycock, I said to myself, as in March of 1993 I picked up a couple of albums: Lillian Axe’s 1987-1989 Out of the Darkness, Into the Light and Dream Theater’s Images and Words. Contrary to what one would think knowing my current taste in music, it was the Lillian Axe disc that took me by storm. Yes, songs abound that disc included “My Number” (which is specifically about a number less than 70 and greater than 68), “Hard Luck” (emphasis on the word “hard”), and the much less veiled “She Likes It On Top”. It was good unclean fun cock rock. However, one little song hidden among the rampant misogyny grabbed a hold of my ears and didn’t let go — “Ghost of Winter.” And for the first time in many years, I had a favorite song.

Investigating the lyrics years later, I suppose my only reason for loving this song like I did was because of the distance I started feeling during my teenage years toward the rest of the populace. There was no “goth” back then, at least not in Iowa; had it existed, that’s surely the road I would have traveled. Instead, I bottled up my angst behind a wall of purple can Aqua Net and sang to myself,

I can’t distinguish reality from dream
Ghost of Winter, won’t you hear my silent scream?

This song reigned at the top of my favorite song list through my high school graduation. It was horribly dated at that point and beyond cheesy, but one cannot overestimate the power of some good poetic lyrics that speak directly to a dysfunctional girl’s heart.

While Dream Theater had become my favorite band in the meantime, post-graduate life also included a deep love for Liz Phair, and my tastes continued branching farther than should ever be legal. Before I began college in the fall, I discovered my high school boyfriend (who was a year younger than I) had started romping around with one of my close friends; needless to say, the breakup was ugly and I suddenly found myself short another good friend. While Miss Phair did her best to explain away a lot of my confusion and hurt via every gem found in her first two albums, I still felt a lot like that damned ancient Lillian Axe song that wouldn’t shake.

However, one day, my car broke down; I was without a vehicle for a few days until the issue was discovered, so I had to travel via city bus. In a town my size, there simply aren’t many busses, so while the time it would take to get from point A to point B by car might be 15 minutes, it would be nearly an hour and a half of transfers and roundabout routes by bus. This meant plenty of AA batteries and my trusty Magnavox walkman freshly filled with a dubbed cassette and many more in my pockets. It was while getting off that bus and walking the remaining block and a half to my house while pounding Dream Theater’s Awake in my headphones that suddenly the song “Space-Dye Vest” usurped Lillian Axe to become my new favorite song.

After what I had just been through, really, it’s pretty self-explanatory:

There’s no one to take my blame
if they wanted to
There’s nothing to keep me sane
and it’s all the same to you
There’s nowhere to set my aim
so I’m everywhere
Never come near me again
do you really think I need you

I’ll never be open again, I could never be open again.
I’ll never be open again, I could never be open again.

And I’ll smile and I’ll learn to pretend
And I’ll never be open again
And I’ll have no more dreams to defend
And I’ll never be open again

So with the help of my dearest lyricist pal Kevin Moore, I learned how to cope with the loss of my first love. I became a stronger person with my wall of invulnerability and never allowed myself to get hurt like that ever again. Oh, sure, it certainly made it difficult for others to break through, but I was always safe.

It’s been almost nine years since that moment and “Space-Dye Vest” remains at the top of the heap (joined at some point by Chroma Key’s “Blanket,” another Moore venture). Many great songs have come and gone over the years, often challenging the king but never coming close to knocking it from its throne. Considering the circumstances which precipitated its reign, I imagine it will take one hell of an event to replace it. A third song, Dream Theater’s “Misunderstood” looks to be joining to make a triumverate of great tunes that I worship above all others, but that might just be a fleeting fascination. I find it amusing that nowadays all of my favorite songs center around my favorite band when that was never the case in my past, but also because the range of music I enjoy now is so wide that one would think that I could look through my collection of 6700 albums and find at least one song better than “Space-Dye.” While I’m quite sure I could find a hundred songs that are better in a hundred different ways, I’m much less convinced that I could find one which has helped me heal and shape me as a person as that one has. It’s more than just a favorite song; it’s my life.

After all, a great song is only truly as great as what it means to the listener; the memories it recalls, the lives it changes, and the emotions it evokes. To call anything else a “favorite” would be disgraceful.

Learning to swallow the rage,