The history of Rock and Roll in reverse

I love music. I love discovering new music. I love discovering old music. I didn’t have any guides to the world of music, really. I struck out on my own and found what I love by buying, trading and stealing until things made sense. And it all went backwards.

I was born in 1978. My mom loved Elvis, but had kind of stopped there. My dad really only ever appreciated classical music. The most cutting edge music of my early years was Peter, Paul, and Mary records and the Boston Pops.

I think I was about 10 when I first started hearing real “pop” music. My parents gave me a pair of FM radio headphones that I would listen to when I was rollerskating in the driveway. I wasn’t supposed to listen to certain stations, but I did. The Bangles, Prince, and other stuff made my head bop. Then, in 5th grade, I made friends with some older kids who introduced me to rock and roll. It made my pulse race and my head bang. I was hooked.

I was 12 when I moved to Winona, MN (for the first time). There was a record store that I can’t even remember the name of now. They had piles and piles of casette tapes. They were cheap, and I started buying everything I could find. Motley Crüe was the first band I latched on to. Then Poison and other fluff. My parents took a lot of it away from me. I remember being told that the cover of Aerosmith’s “Pump” was indecent, and the skull on “Dr. Feelgood” was of the devil.

Then I found Kreator, a cassete that I kept well-hidden.

In a reverse archeological dig, Kreator led to Suicidal Tendencies, which led to Metallica, which led to Maiden and Priest, Exodus and Slayer. I was listening to Bonded in Blood and Ride the Lightning on the schoolbus where a bunch of kids were reciting Vanilla Ice lyrics. I should have felt isolated, but somehow I felt warm and fuzzy listening to thrash metal.

It’s surprising to me that I didn’t really get into Motörhead until I was already down the punk rock avenue a ways. Like I said, reverse chronology.

I’ve spent most of my adult life digging backwards through music history. I didn’t buy Doors or Emerson, Lake, and Palmer records until I was 18. Along the way, Zeppelin, AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses, and more bands than I can name passed by, but many of them didn’t make sense to me until I understood the context. I learned that you have to know what came before to understand what is. You have to know the political and social context for any music before you can appreciate it.

It was punk rock that really defined my teen identity, but it was thrash metal that took me there. I was born at a time that put my teenage years squarely in between musical movements. Punk was — for all intents and purposes — dead, metal was dying and grunge hadn’t begun yet. The fact that punk was easy to make in your garage made it accessible and attractive, and I ran with it. I listened to Screeching Weasel and NOFX. I eventually dug back to the Ramones, the Pistols, the Exploited, Discharge, Conflict and other music I really should have heard before I started playing in my own bands.

In all of this reverse digging, I finally began to understand my parents’ music. I got into blues and early rock and found the roots of Elvis. Then I discovered the classical roots behind Kirk Hammet’s solos and began to understand my dad’s music. I learned the context behind their choices and began to understand it in the same way I learned to understand metal and punk.

The difference, to me, is that I’ve never gotten stuck. A lot of my peers have stopped listening to and searching for new music. I think it’s a difference in personality, or maybe just that I got a late start.

I listen to today’s music with the same fascination I had when discovering the music of generations before me. There’s a lot — I do mean a lot — of crap, but there are still people making music that will define generations. It’s not the stuff they play on the radio. The best music of any generation isn’t the stuff that gets put on the “best of the XX’s” compilations. It’s the stuff that gets played in clubs that are too dangerous for most parents to let their kids go to. It’s the music that scares the majority. It’s the rock and roll.

If you know how music got to where it is, I think you have to look forward to where it’s going. Rock on.

Brett Terpstra

Brett is a writer and developer living in Minnesota, USA. You can follow him as ttscoff on Twitter, GitHub, and Mastodon. Keep up with this blog by subscribing in your favorite news reader.

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