A Rock N Roll Virgin
As I’ve often mentioned, I was never a rocker. I was schooled in a girls college run by German nuns (our Mother Directress was a Sister Luitgard). We wore uniforms that couldn’t expose our knees. Boys were only allowed inside our campus to discuss logistics for a junior-senior prom. In other words, my high school life in the late 60s safely sheltered me from the vagaries of sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
At the university, I may have been more worldly and aware of the British Invasion and the parking lot concerts hosted by the DZRJ rockjocks, but I stayed within my comfort zone: pop music and easy listening. I dwelled on Bread, The Carpenters, Carole King, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, and the occasional Beatles. Oh, and Motown too. Of course, I’d sometimes catch The Rolling Stones, The Who, and The Doors, but I always felt they were too loud and incomprehensible; I’d instinctively sneak back to America, Eagles or Crosby Stills and Nash.
I never dared to explore the obscure bands and performers the RJ rockjocks took pride in introducing to Manila listeners. Brewer and Shipley, Mountain, Quarterflash, If, and Blues Image? Who the heck were they? In fact, when I first heard Mike mention Moody Blues, I thought he was referring to a blues genre that caters to music fans afflicted with bipolar disorder.
At The Crossroads
My education into the world of classic rock started in 2001 when Mike signed up with Live365.com and broadcasted an online reincarnation of his signature program over DZRJ entitled Crossroads. He ripped his old CDs and uploaded tunes he received from his friend and fellow rockjock in California, Double A.
Because the Live365 broadcast looped every two to three hours (the site’s space allotment per broadcaster), I heard Mike’s chosen songs over and over again for about a week or until Mike decided to change his playlist. That limitation force-fed me with the rock tunes I had stayed away from all my life. Resigned to the fact that Mike’s love for rock is by inference now also a part of my existence, I thought I might as well get with the program, literally.
Whenever I heard a song I wasn’t familiar with, I asked Mike to give me the name of the performer and the title of the song. Fortunately, the Crossroads show was not all heavy hard rock, so there were cuts that I already knew and appreciated, like Sentimental Lady, which, Mike quickly injected, was written by Bob Welsh before he left Fleetwood Mac. Bob who?
Slowly, over the years (Mike’s Live365 stint went on for seven years), my ears grew accustomed to the hard-hitting riffs of groups like ZZ Top, Thin Lizzy, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. My taste in music ripened into a genuine enjoyment of the talents of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Van Morrison, Chrissie Hynde, and Warren Zevon. After a while, I could proudly differentiate Jackson Browne from Joe Jackson and Savoy Brown.
Mike has immersed in rock and roll since he took to radio in 1970, which means he has had the knowledge for thirty years when I started my “classic rock” education. He has long known artists, albums, and songs like the back of his hand. And there I was asking him for Derek’s last name in Derek and the Dominoes. (Derek has no last name because it’s actually Eric Clapton and… long story… which everyone else has probably known all along.)
A major part of my classic rock music education took place in the car. While listening to the radio or a CD, I made an effort to identify the artist and, if I felt lucky, name the tune. More often than not, though, I drew a blank. Sometimes Mike gave me hints. There was a point when I could finally tell it was Blood Sweat and Tears because of the distinct voice of the lead vocals; but I could not, for the life of me, retain his name, despite the hundredth time Mike spelled it out to me. But yes, I remember it now. David Clayton Thomas.
There was also a period when I couldn’t tell some of the bands apart because they all sounded similar. Journey, Styx, Boston, Yes, and Guess Who ran over each other in my head, so when I needed to identify one of their sound-alike songs, I just blurted, “Journey-Styx-Boston-Yes-GuessWho” and hoped the song is by one of them. Mostly, that would be the time a Kansas song was on.
Retaining the massive classic rock information of bands, artists, albums, and songs is a challenge for me. But because all artists have distinct sounds and styles, it made sense that I imprint their elements and use that familiarity to associate names and histories. It’s like recognizing a Van Gogh or a Gaugain through the distinct and unique brush strokes.
I have a context-driven memory, so my brain systematically hoards visual, olfactory, gustatory, auditory, and tactile information. I can retain music styles because they leave a contextual feeling. My problem is my short memory in saving pieces of data. I will be able to recognize the raspy voice or orchestral harmony but I won’t be able to recall all the related information.
“Ah, this is a Johnny Winter style. What’s the name of the group again?” And Mike patiently answers, “Johnny Winter Group.” Then a familiar Journey-Styx-Boston-Yes-GuessWho style comes on and I’m back to square one. Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m forced to store incoherent data like Lindsey is a guy, Stevie is a girl, Mark Almond is a couple of last names, and Steely Dan is a dildo. And, oh yeah, the Doobie Brothers don’t belong to the Doobie family.
How does Mike retain the wealth of information in his head? Lucky for him, he’s wired differently; he is blessed with a good and long memory. Add to that the 14 years spinning repeat requests from his radio listeners — even a goldfish in his situation will instantly identify “Fresh Air” by Quicksilver Messenger Service, “Brandy” by Looking Glass, and, speaking of memory, “This Wheel’s On Fire” by Driscoll, Auger, and Trinity. Remember “Concrete and Clay” by Unit Four Plus Two? I don’t.
It might also help me retain information better if I could understand the lyrics. Half the time I’m guessing what the singer is ranting about. A lot of award-winning songwriters have heartfelt and insightful words I’m sure –Dylan, Hendrix, Jagger, and Springsteen, for example. We’re taught in school to enunciate our vowels and consonants; these guys obviously didn’t get the memo. Or at the very least, it never occurred to them that their music would somehow cross the oceans and land on the ears of foreigners like me who comprehend the English language by interpreting proper syllabication rather that grunts and screams.
Some songwriters also exhibit their compulsion to wax their lyrics poetic, soul-wrenching and encrypted. To this day, everyone’s speculating on what Toto were talking about in their song “Africa” (no, it’s not just about the Dark Continent). Then there’s Van Morrison who seems to occasionally run out of lyrics and fills in with indiscriminate and capricious words like “jelly roll” and “radio.” And don’t get me started on Donald Fagen’s work. Pretzel Logic? Seriously.
R U Listening to Stoney Burke?
New royalty policies resulting in jacked-up fees over at Live365 forced Mike to retire his Crossroads program in 2007. That year, we also moved to a new home where Mike could finally organize his growing collection of classic rock CDs, if only to listen to them at his convenience. Little did he know that barely two years later, he would fervently tap into his collection for a couple of two-hour shows that would air over RJUR 109.5FM in Manila.
“Center Stage” and “Rockin’ Classics” (later renamed “The Stoney Burke Show“) are weekly shows that Mike records at home. Before he agreed to do the shows, he asked me if we could pull them off together. He would need my help setting up the equipment, now all digital, a huge leap from the analog environment he retired from back in the 80s. He would also need me to research on the artists for the feature show, Center Stage. Plus, I might need to do some post-production editing on the shows he records. I took a deep breath and opened my heart and mind to this tremendous opportunity to immerse deeper into classic rock music.
Each week I research on the origin, history, and discography of the band or artist that Mike features on his Center Stage show. It’s like getting a new writing assignment every 7 days — it forces me to read up on the artists’ lives and achievements. I only wish I could remember everything I write.
I’m not complaining about this weekly task. In fact, I appreciate it because I get to know all these performers who used to be just names attached to some catchy tunes. The research compels me to put faces to the voices, performances to the band names, and sometimes meanings to the lyrics. In fact, with the help of Youtube, I happily discovered that Jim Morrison was HOT!
Because of my required research, I now watch bands that never appealed to me. Yes, I never liked The Doors. Now I can even forgive them for messing with the lyrics of “Touch Me” (they wrote “I’m gonna love you till the stars fall from the sky… for you and I” when they could’ve written a grammatically correct “I’m gonna love you till the stars fall to the sea… for you and me“, which would’ve still rhymed).
I also have aha moments when exploring performances on YouTube. Before we drove to Jackson Browne’s live concert here in Orlando, I surfed YouTube to see what he looked like when he was younger. I gained a better appreciation of him and his music after seeing him then and now. One time I was checking out Pink Floyd’s performances and I admit, if I had the chance to see them perform during their heydays, I might have become a Pink Floyd fan. I’d be in good company because I came across a clip of “Wish You Were Here,” posted back in April 2006, and it already had 37,322,655 views before I watched it for the first time.
My involvement in Mike’s Center Stage led me into the artists’ lives and the songs’ back stories, but running across trivia was most entertaining. For instance, I found out that Ann Wilson of Heart wrote “Barracuda” to relieve her frustration over a reporter who insinuated that the sisters were lesbian sex partners. I also discovered that Ian Anderson wrote “Aqualung” after his wife, an amateur photographer, showed him a series of photos of homeless men. Then I read that Billy Joel wrote “Just The Way You Are” as a gift to his mistress-turned-first wife, Elizabeth, and wrote “Uptown Girl” for his soon-to-be-ex-second wife, supermodel Christie Brinkley. How else would I have dug up these tidbits if not for Mike’s Center Stage?
Not All Timothy Leary
As willing as I am to embrace my partner’s passion for classic rock music, there are times when “turn on, tune in, drop out” just doesn’t work. On the whole, I can say I have a broad appreciation of rock music — I even like Metallica and Guns N Roses. I’ll sit through Hendrix and SRV, even the heavy hitters of Bachman Turner Overdrive, Grand Funk, and Ten Years After. But there are just some songs that grate down the back of my neck like a comb of sharp nails.
Sometime ago, Mike chose to feature the band IF on Center Stage. Apparently, back in the day, he used to play IF songs regularly over RJ-FM. Unfortunately, IF albums are not all available on CD, so we had to drive to the downtown music store, Rock and Roll Heaven, for the vinyls. And because Mike had an easier time working with CDs on his UR shows, we decided to convert the vinyls to CD format. In order to do that, I had to play all the vinyls while the conversion was going on. Right then and there, I knew that IF would be one of the few bands I would never learn to like.
Cream’s “I’m So Glad” is a tune that Mike knows I’d rather spare myself from. I call it “the 3-word insistent song” because at some point you’ll feel compelled to say, “Okay, okay, I know. You’re so glad! Get over it!”
Then there’s the Allman Brothers Band. Their songs are pretty good, I have to admit. But I’d prefer to spend 16 precious minutes of my life doing something more productive than listening to “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”. That song goes into a mind-numbing endless loop.
I Was There
To round out my rock music education, Mike threw in some field trips – we went to rock concerts! I was super thrilled because the only rock concert I had attended in my entire life was the one my college org sponsored back in the early 70s — the local Circus Band at the UP Theater.
After more than three decades, there I was, in Florida no less, catching live performances of the Turtles, the Doobie Brothers, Little River Band, Fleetwood Mac, Stephen Stills, and Steely Dan. We also caught Eric Clapton with Roger Daltry, Santana with Steve Winwood, Yes and Peter Frampton, Bad Company, and Eagles. Plus Chicago in Manila. And we bought t-shirts!
The artists are obviously much older now, but their classic rock hits remain strong in the hearts and minds of their fans. I research a bit before we go to see the live performances, just so I could attach faces (then and now) to names and music. Considering how I started with very little knowledge about these rock stars, I am always awe-inspired by their beginnings and back stories, and their successes over the years. Sitting beside die-hard fans who had followed them through their careers, I feel humbled, and deeply proud to now belong to the family of classic rock enthusiasts, thanks to Mike.
Stoney Burke continues to spin his two-hour classic rock shows on RJUR and will continue to do so for as long as he can, I’m sure — classic rock is his life. I, Ruby Toosday, will be there to do the research, edit his shows, and update his website; it’s my continuing education, my acquired passion, and my chosen path with a rock jock. And, quoting Loverboy, I’m “lovin’ every minute of it.”