Last night after dinner and a competitive game of Qwirkle, I looked at the rows and rows of vinyl lining the living room walls and asked James, “So what album should we listen to?” Somewhat taken aback (I so rarely express interest in his collection of 8,000 vinyl) he suggested something from his iPod. “No,” I insisted. “What good are all these albums if we never listen to them?”
I’ve been listening to my own playlist of Resistance songs on a virtually endless loop lately. From Bob Dylan’s Hurricane to Pete Seeger’s We Shall Overcome, listening to that playlist of 26 songs has pulled me out of a few dark places in recent months. It reminds me that good eventually trumps evil.
As Linda Ronstadt’s voice filled the room — there really is nothing like the sound of an actual record playing through the stereo system — I closed my eyes and let the music carry me home. Heart Like a Wheel was released in 1974, but I so clearly remember it as a part of the playlist that just a few years later defined my time in high school. There was a great little record store — The Turning Point — close enough to walk to, and we used to spend hours thumbing through the bins. I’m pretty sure it was also a head shop because we’d go there to buy rolling papers and gawk at the enormous bongs in the glass case under the cash register.
In the mid-70s, I became obsessed with the Vietnam War. I collected newspaper clippings on POWs and MIAs, and I made my parents buy me a silver POW bracelet. I had nowhere to put the overwhelming sadness or grief, so I tucked those clippings into a drawer, and spent hours sitting on the floor of my room listening to records. But I was a few years too late for that Resistance. Back then pop radio in LA was a mix of Rod Stewart, ABBA, The Eagles, and Frampton Live. There was no Dylan, no Seeger, no Barry McGuire. It wasn’t until years later when those anthems from the late 60s added another layer of truth to my memories.
I remember sitting on the front lawn and talking with friends about a band we knew. They were playing at Gazzarri’s on the Sunset Strip. Some of the older kids were going with their fake IDs and I so desperately wanted to be a part of it. At home, my dad was listening to Led Zeppelin and the Concert for Bangladesh. He served in the Korean War, but was called back in the early 60s to Vietnam. It was a strange time, a time of straddling two worlds. When I graduated high school in 1979, disco was already nearly a thing of the past.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about those years. My dad was a republican and my mother was a democrat. They used to joke that their votes cancelled each other out. Everything about my formative years, the life we lived, the neighborhood I grew up in, the advantages we had, should have led me straight down the path to the Republican party. But what’s supposed to happen so often doesn’t, and when I look back and note that the first vote I cast was for Ronald Reagan, I think maybe somehow that was my turning point. Pulling that lever was one of the last times I blindly followed my dad’s advice.
It’s all so fragile, this beautiful democracy. How did it become nothing more than a plaything for the greedy and the privileged among us? Hate your neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace. Yet when it starts to feel like the world is slipping away from me, when it feels like the very heart of everything I believe in is about to explode, I turn to my soundtrack and I let the music play. I close my eyes, and I’m home.