I was young, maybe eight or nine, maybe even younger, and I climbed the steps, without permission, to the attic. It was off limits to me, but I knew that my oldest brother and his best friend were up there, behind closed doors. So I climbed, slowly, expertly avoiding the weaker spots. (As the youngest, I was used to quietly moving about the house, trying to uncover the secrets that defined our family.) I sat on the top step, straining to hear the mysteries that were just beyond. I could smell the sweet smoke, different from the pungent cigarette smoke that enveloped my father just after dinner, and I could hear muffled laughter, plucking guitar strings and, occasionally, the cacophonous sounds of Led Zeppelin, The Who or some other band of the time. Inevitably, my brother would open the door, or my other brother would expose me (loudly), and I would retreat to my own room, spinning the dial on the radio to find sounds similar to what I had heard.
Twice a year, we would travel to Ohio to visit our closest family friends. There, I was the youngest of six, our family temporarily doubling in size, giving me another set of parents, along with the extra siblings. And again, there were closed doors, sounds of muffled music, and conversations and laughter I seemed to always be too young to fully comprehend. But the attic steps in that house led to an open door and to a room that enveloped me completely. Here, the eldest of the combined households, allowed me to join her and her friends, listening to music and openly eavesdropping on the chatter that never seemed to end. Here, the music played and I was given album covers to explore and liner notes to read. The double albums were treasured books that would open, revealing collages of images of rockstars and their dedicated fans.
While I spent far more times perched on the top step outside my brother’s door, it was really the few weeks each year under Becky’s accidental tutelage that ignited my passion for music. James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, CSN, Bob Dylan…the smooth woody sounds of the guitars mixing with the harmonizing poetry transported me to a place that I have never been able to fully describe. For the four decades since, I have continued on this musical journey, gathering up the old and the new and finding time and space to allow myself to travel deep into their encompassing sounds and stories. Whether it is the never-ending roll of a Grateful Dead bootleg or John Hall’s “Warm Power of The Sun” recorded in 1979 at Madison Square Garden or a live Adam Ezra concert, music has never failed to be able to take me safely away. Or, rather, music has never failed to bring me back to that nebulous space that seems to exist somewhere deep inside of me.