There was a point in my life when I thought nothing could have more meaning than music. This point, of course, was during my teenage years in high school and college.
At 16, even a Motley Crue song can carry some impressive emotional weight -- I, for one, thought Nikki Sixx to be an exceptionally talented songwriter, even if Mick Mars was a fairly pedestrian guitarist. Those emotions carry forward. To this day, every time I hear The Cars I'm transported back to my best friend Roger's basement bedroom where I watched the still-new MTV, listened to Rush albums, silently tried to figure out why I couldn't like girls the same as he did, and plotted more than a few drunken weekend excursions.
My young life had a soundtrack, one that reflected and amplified all the feelings I had, whether suppressed or not. In high school it was Motley Crue, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen and Kiss. In college I started out with Rush and Metallica, and ended up with with Depeche Mode and The Cure.
But nothing really compares to the reaction I had when I first heard Love and Rockets. During my sophomore year of college, my work study consisted primarily of manning the radio station on Sundays for a re-broadcast of operas from the Met. Not being the opera sort, I would turn down the feed volume and blast albums from the newly arrived stacks over the studio monitors. That's where I first heard Express, my first true love of college alt-rock. I played the tape into static in my powder-blue 1978 Oldsmobile 98 and on the cheap stereo I was able to afford for my frat house bedroom.
The follow-up album, Earth Sun Moon, came out during my junior year, three weeks before I came out -- or, more accurately, was forced out by an indiscreet confession and a pack of fraternity brothers. During what remains the darkest period of my life, I latched on to the album as my only life jacket, the only support that remained when everyone I had ever trusted had turned against me -- and most of that support came from the song No New Tale to Tell:
You cannot go against nature,
Because when you do,
Go against nature,
It's part of nature, too.
That's a lot of pressure to put on a piece of magnetic tape and three men I never had -- and never have -- met. But as cheesy as it sounds and feels from the perspective of middle-aged adulthood, the album helped save my life. Love and Rockets didn't write a song for me, but they ended up writing a song to me. While they don't and can't really know it, they're part of a frighteningly small and fragile group of people who held me together long enough for me to realize I was strong enough to be the person I was meant to be.
Shortly after college when I had moved to Northeast D.C. -- in a group house of straight women and gay guys we dubbed the Playhouse -- we for some forgotten reason had a jean jacket painting party. I chose to paint mine with a Love and Rockets motif, complete with the Bubblemen, the L&R logo and the lyrics above. I still have the jacket, one of the few pieces of flotsam from my younger years that I hold onto fiercely, far more so than my high school letter jacket or small academic awards.
I brought the jacket out this week because a Love and Rockets tribute album, New Tales to Tell, was just released. Naturally, I immediately bought it and have been listening to it incessantly on my iPod and computer -- one thing about the future is that I don't wear out my music with repeated listening. The other thing about the future is that there's very little music that grabs me by the heart and shakes me. Books and movies have never lost their power for me, but music has faded. On some level, re-hearing the songs that made me believe I was someone is a re-energizing moment, a reprieve from surface-only enjoyment I get from music as an adult.
On another, probably more important level, it makes me want to hear a song that makes me believe. And, at least for the moment, I do.