I went through a huge Tom Petty phase two years ago and I haven't completely recovered from it. While obsessing over all of those great songs and records, I discovered that he did a book of sorts. It wasn't an autobiography, per se. Instead, he agreed to a series of interviews with Paul Zollo in which the two of them discussed pretty much every song and every record he'd done to that point. It was a great read for Petty fans as it took you inside the records and the songs and to an extent inside the mind of Tom Petty.
One thing that stuck out for me in that book was when he talked about being approached by fans. He said people would come up to him and tell him he'd written the soundtrack to their lives. I like that phrase. I understand it. Music is merely entertainment for some people. For others it's even less than that, to them it's a commodity, or just an accessory for whatever image they're trying to create. For me, it's all of the above and more. Sure, I've used music as an identity trinket and there's nothing wrong with music that entertains but for me it goes further than that and when it gets inside you, songs, albums, and artists become a part of your life because they're a part of your memories.
I can't say that there is one single artist who has written the soundtrack of my life, but there are a handful of artists who have contributed sizable chunks to it. I didn't realize how many memories I have attached to songs and albums by Toad the Wet Sprocket and Glen Phillips until I was able to book Glen to appear on my BlogTalkRadio program. As I prepared for that interview, I listened to the records and started cataloging memories. Here are just a few of them:
- 1992: "Walk On the Ocean." Toad the Wet Sprocket. Even though I was still firmly ensconced in my high school hair metal foolishness, I was already a sucker for great harmonies having been permanently altered by listening to the Beatles on oldies AM radio. They had my attention.
For the next 16 years, these songs would stick to me like peanut butter to the roof of your mouth. When I'd talk about music with friends, I'd often get asked who my favorite band was. I never answered with Toad the Wet Sprocket, yet I often traveled with their CDs. They probably never climbed to the rank of "favorite" band, but were always in the category of favorites.
October 1994: Driving through the Rocky Mountains, moving back to Seattle to strike out on my own for the first time, slaughtering the harmonies to "Something's Always Wrong" from Dulcinea for miles, miles, and miles. I did strike out. I lost the girl, went broke, and moved back home. There were a lot of somethings that were wrong. I still love that song.
While I was out there, I spent a lot of time by myself listening to "Crowing."
- Summer of 1997: Listening to "Dam Would Break" from Coil on repeat for a two hour round trip on a humid, rainy afternoon. I was fresh off another disastrous attempt to chase down a girl and move out on my own. This disaster was actually considerably worse than the 1994 incident. I was on my way to register for college at UNA in Florence. I literally listened to no other song that entire trip. For years, that song would have been my "most listened to" song. I can still listen to it obsessively like that.
- June 1998: I met her at a party hosted by a mutual friend. A few days later we gather once again at said friend’s house, which was a little more than hour from the dorms. I traveled with an arm load of CDs to go to the ATM machine back then, so you can imagine how many I’d have been armed with for a drive of that distance. I clearly remember two of the CDs that made that journey: Garbage’s Version 2.0 and Toad the Wet Sprocket’s Coil.
We sat around the living room, talking, and ordered some pizzas. While we waited for the food, I did my MusicNazi thing and commandeered the stereo. I put Coil in the stereo and within 45 seconds, they had a new fan. “Whatever I Fear” is still one of her favorite songs. For years, I teased her that Glen was singing “You eat my cat for breakfast” (he’s not). She was almost gullible enough to believe me but not quite. I did the same thing with Everclear’s “Santa Monica” (”I am still living with your… GOAT!”).
We listened to other CDs and other songs that night, but she kept asking to hear “Whatever I Fear” again. She bought the CD the next day. We’ve both influenced each other a lot over the past — wow, we’re a few days short of 10 years – and this is just one of the first examples. I gladly take credit for improving her taste in music. She takes great pride in turning me into something almost resembling a human. To most of you, you’d have to say advantage:her. For me, humanity is highly overrated. Music is far more important.
- Spring/Summer 2001: The newlyweds. We were in our first apartment together in Athens. I was noodling around on the internet, she was across the hall scooping the cats' litter box. I stumbled on to Glen's web site where he had a song from his debut solo record available for sale. That song was "Train Wreck." I sat staring at my computer's monitor, my mouth hung open. My body was buzzing. I didn't even get up from my chair. I called across the hall and asked if we had enough money for me to order a CD. I ordered Abulum that night. As a sidenote, I ordered Lapdog's Near Tonight that same night. Lapdog was formed by Todd Nichols, also of Toad the Wet Sprocket.
- 6 ill-fated hours attending a Toad reunion show in Atlanta. We spent three hours trying to find the Cotton Club once we got to Atlanta and another six trying to find our way home. Along the way we got wrong directions from the locals at least three times and were verbally accosted by some unfriendly looking people outside a nightclub. There was fear, frustration, cursing and crying on that trip. I wasn't real happy about it either. The show, however, was wonderful. I'm still afraid of Atlanta and have never driven there without getting lost.
- Spring 2006: I received an advance copy of Glen's upcoming album Mr. Lemons, an album he recorded just up the road from us in Nashville. I was working my way through the record, scribbling notes to myself, and trying to find a way to express my thoughts and feelings about the record. In the middle of that process, my wife's grandfather was moved to a nursing home. A few days later he passed away. During those days I continued to listen to Mr. Lemons, trying to keep my mind focused on something other than the helpless feeling of watching someone you love lose someone she loves. Just about everything I'd written and thought about that album went out the window because now I was hearing the record through new ears. Words that registered with me before now provided comfort and perspective. The music didn't answer all of my questions, but it helped. I like that record a lot but it's not always easy to listen to anymore, haunted by memories and emotions I neither wish to hide from nor dwell on.
What's remarkable about that list is how many "major" events one band has tied itself to in my mind. What's more remarkable is that it doesn't even factor in the anonymous times I popped one of their albums into the CD player or queued them up on my iPod just because I love the songs. Toad the Wet Sprocket is part of the soundtrack of my life, and I get the chance to tell Glen Phillips about it. I guess I should add one more:
- May 8, 2008: I get to interview Glen Phillips for the B-Sides Concept Album program on BlogTalkRadio.
Tune in tonight. If you have questions you'd like to suggest, leave them in the comments. All serious questions will at least be considered.