Rah Rah Shish Koom Bah

“That’s what I learned in college…” the jaunty rhythm of lyrics sounded tinny and occasionally crackled as the needle coursed the vinyl grooves of an ancient record. We stuck our ears up to the green felt covered speaker on the record player console, laughing at the old and sometimes dumb ass songs cataloged in thin black LP’s. We were children of a far more advanced era, musically definitely but especially when talking about technology. We were rocking cassette tapes at this time, walking straight past the fading record section of music shops. Before our time were 8 tracks and who knows what other silly contraptions for listening to music. But these were the days of N.W.A., 2-Live Crew and Billy Idol – tapes were small and could conceal truly illicit material, whereas these old records were undoubtedly cast down to the basement because they were too bulky to lug around. So here we were – a couple elementary-aged kids in the 80’s playing some goofy records from the 60’s and probably older. I was particularly fond of a transparent, red record that had X-rated labeled on the jacket – Jimmy Hendrix. The Beatles’ Abby Road and The White Album. The Doors, Joni Mitchell, Simon and Garfunkel. There were dozens of these records just sitting in there, as if they were left by a group of random people rather than just one person. What happened to them after we cleared the last layer of dust off in the 80’s, who knows.

Early this morning I moved through the house singing that dumb ass song, “Rah Rah Shish Koom Bah! That’s what I learned in college!” And I kept repeating it, laughing at the thought of those memories with my brother in the basement of our old house in Platte City. My eight year old daughter didn’t say anything but I could tell she was slightly annoyed by my overly-joyful mood at 6:45am. How could she know? That record imprinted words in my brain that I’ll never forget, and of course having the power of Google at my fingertips just realized I was saying those words all wrong after all – but who cares? Neither of us could figure out where that record came from – did it belong to our dad when he was younger and had wild parties around the good old record player? Did it belong to our older brother Kent, who probably stole it during some college prank? Our family was full of colorful characters and we had just as much fun imagining the source of these great finds as we did memorizing their lyrics.

As these memories strike out I try to capture their significance and record the thought. The easiest and probably most interesting observation to make here is just how different our music and technology world is today, in 2019 – compared to the 1980’s when we were mocking the record player. Music was always in the background of my upbringing. Even when riding in our 87′ Scottsdale pickup, which only had an AM dial, we listened to music or whatever we could tune into around the farm. My parents had great music and a badass stereo system that encouraged us kids to play DJ during the evenings. There wasn’t much for television where we lived unless you were willing to look at a giant satellite dish (we were not) so the music was always on during family gathering time. John Denver, the Allman Brothers, Marshal Tucker, Michael Martin Murphy and of course Merle Haggard. These were folk songs and ballad-type music that told stories to a keen ear. Even though in private we poured Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Skidrow and Poison through our Walkman earphones, it was this music we listened to with our family that still draws warm and safe feelings from deep inside.

I have a bazaar palette for music these days – a mix of rap, old country, vintage techno and quirky new stuff that catches my ear. My favorite playlist on Spotify would cause major confusion if played to a diverse group of people, boring to some and hardly appropriate for others to hear. But I guess that’s what is great about remembering our formative years of listening to music – the diversity of what we heard then will hopefully translate to an even more eclectic sampling of what we tolerate today. I can’t imagine my dad listening to Snoop Dogg – but damn, Snoop is the shit. I remember loathing Eminem when he first hit the scene, but as I got older and more tolerant I found great motivation in his music, no matter how sick or intolerable it may be the masses. So there is the underlying relevance here – tolerance. Tolerance should lead to open acceptance of diversity.

I have no idea what happened to that record player console or any of the records that were stored inside the door on the front. We lost a lot when that house was sold, but I can’t honestly say I know where it was even in the latter years. We had moved on to CD’s by then and boom boxes roared from our private bedrooms. We had achieved volume 11 but no one told us to stop – they must have hated our music but they were always tolerant to the point we never felt oppressed.

The other night we were at our parents’ house in Minnesota and Nick struck out dad’s 1969 Gibson acoustic guitar and proceeded to serenade them with some really great songs that we all listened to back in the day. I couldn’t stand to be in the same room while he poured it out like that but I was honestly proud of him and what he’s learned on the guitar. He’s not afraid to sing, either. My parents were glowing, of course. I sat in the TV room within earshot so I wouldn’t miss anything but hoping he wouldn’t notice that I cared.

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