I was filled with anticipation as I ran my fingernail across the edge and ripped the cellophane. The smell of vinyl wafted through the air and intoxicated me as I held the needle over the spinning edge of the disc. As I dropped the needle on my latest album, my euphoria increased as the music started blaring through my bedroom speakers.
I was caught up in this moment of blissful reminiscence the other day as I was downloading the latest batch of songs for my IPod. Music has changed over the years and so has the technology that has delivered music to our homes. I miss vinyl albums, I miss cassette tapes and I am even starting to miss compact discs. But I don’t believe it is the technology that I miss most about music. What I truly miss are the great albums that I used to buy that would grip my imagination from the first song until the very last note of the final cut.
I love these trips down memory lane because it allows me to share stories of my youth with my children. Like when I was a child and music was guitar-centric. And as the 70s turned into the 80s, The Eagles, Queen, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Heart, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Boston, the Police, Billy Joel and John Mellencamp encapsulated the center of the music world. You could listen to every song they wrote and because of the work they put into the recording process, these bands turned out a multitude of hits on every album. Their music had a melody to them and their lyrics would cover any and every topic imaginable. Bono once stated emphatically that all he ever needed was, “a red guitar, three chords and the truth.”
I am not opposed to progress in the technology by which we listen to our music these days. I have to admit that it has enhanced my selection. I choose only the songs I want to have because, if I am being completely honest, I have become less enthralled with the overall musical product that bands produce these days. My IPod works because I can buy one song at a time instead of an entire album. Except for Darius Rucker, Hootie and the Blowfish, Daughtry and U2, it has been almost eight years since I bought a CD at the store. I am tired of dropping ten to fifteen dollars on an album that will ultimately end up collecting dust on a shelf because I only wanted one song in the first place.
Two weeks ago was Stephanie’s Birthday. I gave her tickets to the Darius Rucker and Rascal Flatts concert at the Comcast Center. Now, the word “gave” may be an improper description of what truly inspired the gift. Stephanie went on-line, bought the tickets, told me that I was giving them to her for her birthday, kissed me and said, “Thank you!” Am I opposed to her methods? Nope. She got exactly what she wanted which makes us both happy.
But whether I gave her the tickets or the tickets were given to me to give to her wasn’t the issue, the problem was that I am not a fan of country music. I am a Hootie and The Blowfish fan. Even though I am not sold on Darius Rucker being a country artist, I liked his debut country album. It sounded a lot like his work with Hootie and The Blowfish. But other than Rascal Flatts remake of “Life is a Highway” for the Cars movie, I had never listened to Rascal Flatts and was unaware of their brand of music.
In order to prepare for the concert, Stephanie had me to download their music. I, on the other hand, didn’t bother. This was country music. When I was a child, my parents listened to Kenny Rogers, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and John Denver. It was nice for my parents and the countless hours of sleep I got while listening to those bands on those long car trips but really, country wasn’t my cup of tea. I had my mind set on what country music was all about and nothing was going to change that perception. But it was Stephanie’s birthday and she wanted to go to the concert, so we went.
As we made our way through the parking lot, everything I imagined about country music and their fans was starting to come true; cowboy hats, boots and miles and miles of denim. But as I walked through the turnstiles and into the venue, something began to change. It wasn’t like the rock concerts I had attended. The people were courteous, fun, inviting, engaging and friendly. I had to pinch myself because although the concert was in Massachusetts, we definitely were not in Boston anymore! We had stepped through a portal into a new dimension.
I have always called myself a “student in the continuing education department at the University of Life.” My major in this realm is Observational Studies. I observe things and reflect on how those objects or situations have an impact on my intellectual and emotional being. Simply stated; it’s a ripple theory. Throw a rock into a pond and study the ripples created.
Well walking through the turnstiles of the Darius Rucker and Rascal Flatts concert on my wife’s birthday has created so many ripples, I have barely had the time to thoroughly think about the impact of each one. Darius Rucker was exactly what I expected, it was Darius being Darius. And it was worth the price of admission. But the social network that was the undertone for the entire evening caught me by surprise. It was as though I had stepped into a secret society where everything in the outside world was stripped away and while inside those gates, we were part of a larger community that still believed in politeness, acceptance and tolerance. The calm and peaceful feeling I had as I entered the venue was inexplicable.
Then the lights went out, a roar went from one side of the amphitheatre to the other like a large tidal wave and before I knew it, a large explosion burned up the curtain draped over the front of the stage. Electric guitars screamed through the speakers as bright lights lit up the night. Rascal Flatts rose through the floor at the back of the stage and as they burst into their first song, I felt like a kid again as I opened the cellophane on a new album and became inebriated with excitement as the smell of new vinyl wafted through the air.
This wasn’t my parent’s country music anymore. As rock music vacated the guitar-centric industry of the early-80s and went bizarrely into hair bands, grunge, and fusion; country music filled the void that rock’ n roll bands left behind. They became guitar driven, they electrified their sound but they never modified the messages of their music. They never left their American roots behind. Country music is the personification of “red, white and blue, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet!” Ideals in their songs are okay, God is too! As well as singing about our fears, hopes dreams, love and aspirations.
Country music was built on their lyrics and the belief in American principles. New country has taken their foundation and fused it with a guitar-centric presence that has captivated me as a new fan. But it is not about the music for country fans, it is about a way of life for them. The music mesmerizes them because they believe in and try to live by the principles that they share through the one universal commonality that they all have; country music!
I was on my feet the entire time at the Rascal Flatts concert. I watched whole families attend together and I watched in awe as generations from grandfather to grandson all attended the concert as a celebration of the music, their family, their love for one another and the lives they all lead. It became more than a concert as the evening went on and became more of a statement about the belief people still have in the American Dream.
As I drove home that night, I was inspired by the Rascal Flatts concert. The music was a walk down memory lane for me as I was reintroduced to the guitar-centric music I loved as a child. But more importantly, it was a social experiment that taught me that there was so much more than meets the eye in our society and that if we don’t take the time to look past our own preconceived notions about things, we just might miss out on an extraordinary new discovery.
Author’s Note: As a point of reference, I have included a Rascal Flatts Video that shows concert footage: