As I grew up, I began collecting records at about the age of nine years old. My first record was Schubert’s Symphonies No. 5 and 8 (The Unfinished Symphony). I still have it in my collection and Schubert has remained a favorite composer of mine.
The first album I ever bought with my own money was Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. It was the 17-minute title track on Side Two of the album that had everybody enthralled. The drum solo was probably 12 minutes long and everybody was wondering what in the world the song was referencing. As it turns out, Doug Ingle—lead singer and keyboard player—slurred the words “In the Garden of Eden.” The band was kind of vamping the song as they waited for the producer to arrive in the studio. But the recording engineer decided to roll the tape and they wound up with this extended, slurred pronunciation, beat-your-brains-out drum solo version that they all loved when they played it back.
In 1971, I heard an interview with Doug Ingle. He described a concert in Copenhagen, Denmark, where Iron Butterfly had a band called Yes as their opening act. They were so taken with the band that they came back onstage and jammed with Yes. Straightaway, I was intrigued and I approached my friend, Jimmy Lester, and he loaned me the latest album (at that time) from Yes called, The Yes Album. I was immediately and irretrievably hooked on Yes. To this day, they remain my favorite band.
I discovered that Yes had released two previous albums and I went out and bought those and have bought every album ever since. Even the unofficial releases.
Doug Ingle’s father was a church organist and that influence always played heavily in Iron Butterfly’s sound. Chris Squire of Yes had been a member of the St. Paul’s Cathedral Boys Choir and the vocal arrangements of Yes always had that layered, sometimes contrapuntal, aspect to the vocals. Plus, Rick Wakeman (Yes’ now and again keyboardist) was trained in church music and has written numerous hymns.
But the Yes album that has remained my favorite was the album Close to the Edge. I have probably listened to that album and the title song more than any other album and song.
One time, my oldest son and I were driving someplace and the song Close to the Edge was playing on the car stereo. My son said, “How long have you been listening to this album or song?” The album was released in 1972 and I got it the day it was released. My son asked me the question in 1996 so, doing the math, I answered, “24 years.”
He said, “Okay, I’m going to turn the volume to zero but let the song keep playing. When I’m ready to turn the volume back up, tell me where the song is.” I agreed. He turned the volume down and waited a minute or two. When he reached for the volume knob I started singing, “On the hill we viewed the silence of the valley…” And that, of course, is exactly where the song was.
My son just shook his head and said, “You’re a freak.”
So, through all my years of getting new car stereos or home audio equipment, the first thing I always listened to on the new sound equipment was Close to the Edge. I’ll come back to that.
I eventually accumulated a collection of 3,500 record albums and countless 45 RPMs and cassettes and CDs. I wound up selling off most of the albums and singles, keeping only the precious core albums—no more than 200 albums. I sold off my stereo system around 2001 but kept the records, even though I had nothing to play them on.
Nicole is the only one (besides my sister and children) who understood what those albums meant to me. Months ago, she began introducing the idea of me getting a new stereo system. The new systems were hideously expensive (at least, for the brands I wanted), so I began to look at vintage systems. Those older systems sound better, anyway.
I finally got the system I wanted. Recovering from the shoulder surgery kept me from installing it right away but I finally was able to move around the heavy components. I was setting it all up late one night and Nicole came into the room. I heard her laugh behind me and I turned around. “Wow,” she laughed. “You sure are concentrating. I have been calling your name and you never even heard me.” I apologized, kissed her goodnight, and went back to it.
The next morning, Nicole asked if I listened to the stereo. I told that I did. “What was the first thing you listened to?” she asked.
“Close to the Edge,” I answered. Then came John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, and more.
Music that we love is a funny thing. As I sat listening to the album, a lifetime of memories washed over me. I remembered the first time I heard it, late at night, when everyone in my parents’ house had gone to sleep, then to driving in my first car and listening on my Pioneer Super Tuner™ KP-500. Then graduation night from high school, when I skipped out on the parties and drove to the beach to sit on the hood of my car and listen to Close to the Edge alone. College, grad school, my cousin Linda, my boys, all came back to me. And it helped me remember who I am.
That rediscovery of me has been a long and slow process. Experiences and pains had buried a lot of me. Then Nicole, like Jesus calling Lazarus to come forth, reawakened me and removed my grave clothes. They joy of simply listening to a record I love had been withheld from me for a long time but Nicole gave it back.
To touch a vinyl record, remove it from the sleeve, smell that distinctive smell of the record, read the liner notes on the interior sleeve or back of the album, is a sensory delight.
And for those who say that CDs are superior…well, I don’t even want to know you.
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