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May 22, 2013

Me Vs. Music

How I got this way, pt. 7 … condensed

I’ve been writing these columns for almost two years now. Writing about music started as a desire to surround myself with famous people. It ultimately became “Me vs. Music.”

I’ve struggled at times to draw a connection between music and life, but I insist that is the best way to examine music. I’m unsure what I do every month, or who I am going to be when I’m writing. I try to be honest and tell you my story with musical adornment.

I’ve hinted at how I got this way but never clearly drew the picture. It wouldn’t be important if, as a black woman, I wrote only about “black” music. But that isn’t all of who I am, and that isn’t the story for many black music fans. I like all sorts of music, but my formative years were spent with metal and punk.

Recently, I read the book “What Are You Doing Here?” by Laina Dawes, about her musical journey. Like Dawes, I find it is important to examine my musical journey, because I chose to be “different.” However, in many ways, being different means loving and reclaiming things that ultimately came from the same place I did.

I came to music like most people do, via my family. A few moments stand out as major turning points. The first was seeing Kiss on TV. At 4 years old, seeing Gene Simmons’ dragon boots (I thought they were dinosaurs) was the catalyst for my introduction to and adoration of rock music, especially the Halloween dress-up kind.

Another was the moment Uncle Alvin offered to trade me Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet for two Black Sabbath cassettes. He then followed that with a question about one of the songs. “Do you know what ‘Sweet Leaf’ is?”

I was 12. I was the child of ’70s parents who were somewhat rebellious and free-spirited. Of course I knew what “Sweet Leaf” was.

I agreed to the trade and gave him my homemade copy of Slippery When Wet for legit copies of Black Sabbath and Master of Reality. I’m convinced it was one of the better decisions I’ve made in my life. My Jheri curl wasn’t, but taking those tapes was.

I wish I could claim that after getting Sabbath in my repertoire, I had consistently good taste. I didn’t. I also didn’t get any more “normal.” There was a period in the middle-school years, and soon after Sabbath — A.S. — when I first attached myself to punk music.

I went to middle school at Jefferson County Traditional Middle School in the center of the Highlands. Behind my school, in one of the old houses, lived a group of punks. They had a bus with “Brain Dead” painted on the side. Around the corner, in what is now Jack Fry’s kitchen, was Charlie’s Pizzeria. Charlie’s seemed to be punk home base. I wanted to go. However, my parents felt 12 was simply too young.

Soon, hair bands happened. It took a lot of years to recover from this unfortunate addiction. Tewligan’s and The Machine provided me with the opportunity to finally get back to music I loved and added the bonus of local flair. There were no weirdos in the scene because we were all weirdos. It wasn’t important that my sister and I were black because we were never the only black kids at the shows. There were few of us, but we were there.

Louisville’s punk scene carried with it friendships that have turned into family and a perspective on life that is only formed in a town like Louisville. There is hominess in our rebellion.

Living in Louisville and growing up in a family of black weirdos, I think, is how I got this way. Of course, this isn’t the whole story. My journey now includes a son, and his birth provides me with the opportunity to influence someone else’s musical education. My early experience with music allowed me the space to be things that I am not and to feel things that I had yet to experience. It still gives me those things.

Erica Rucker is a freelance weirdo, writer and professional wedding/portrait photographer at eElaine Photography.