Growing up, until I got to sixth grade or so, my older brother was the primary caretaker of our record collection. Whether due to having more money or more knowledge, when we got a new record, he was likely the one to buy it.
Otherwise for me, most of my exposure to music was limited to whatever was on AM radio or available at the public library.
Early on these records were often either a soundtrack (Saturday Night Fever) or K-Tel compilation (Wings of Sound), but once in a while an actual original album would show up. Which brings us to Duke by Genesis.
Genesis, with Peter Gabriel, was an album-oriented band, prog rock, not easily found on AM radio. Genesis without Peter Gabriel evolved into something else. Once Phil Collins was in the driver’s seat, Genesis started landing on the Top Forty chart regularly. (As a side note, the chart dominance of Phil Collins in the 80s is astounding. Between Genesis and his solo work, he had eight top ten albums and sixteen top ten singles, eight of which went to number one.) Duke from 1980 helped kick this off with the band’s first top twenty hit, Misunderstanding.
I’d often play deejay at home and put a record on just to hear one song, such as Misunderstanding, and ignore the rest of the album. But one day Duke was nowhere to be found, and its absence was noted.
Granted, this was not technically my record, so I couldn’t claim any real grievance over its disappearance. It was Mark’s and he could do what he wanted with it. But still, I wanted to listen to it, so I inquired as to its whereabouts.
“I traded it.”
Traded? Like you would a baseball card? I don’t understand. Can you do that with records?
“When are you getting it back?”
“I’m not. I told you, I traded it.”
Gone? Forever? I hadn’t yet developed a sense of either the impermanence of one’s attraction to hit songs or the ease of replaceability of records, should one wish to get it back.
“I got this instead,” and he handed me the somewhat goofy yet terrifying sleeve of the first Van Halen album.
Van Halen? Who are these people? They look like they’re on fire, the drummer certainly. Are they in a cave or something? It reminded me of the drawings on the ‘70s Lord of the Rings poster in my cousins’ basement –
– except with guitars. And that black and white guitar did look pretty cool, even if the guy holding it was a vampire or something. This was pre-MTV, so the album cover would be the first image I’d have of the band.
I listened to it, eventually. With the exception of Eruption, which I couldn’t believe was actually coming from a guitar and not part of some electronic sci-fi space odyssey soundtrack, it took a while before I really got into Van Halen, the band or the record. Diver Down and 1984 would come along and make that happen, and then I’d go back and fill in the gaps with the earlier albums. A few years later I’d even find myself in a band attempting to cover Ice Cream Man for a high school talent show. (I was playing bass and didn’t have to worry about not being able to pull off the guitar solo, which ultimately didn’t matter since the band broke up before the show, and good riddance.)
But it was certainly not love at first listen for me and Van Halen. That day I wanted to listen to Duke, but it was gone and I did not have the means to get it back.
The lesson here is that with great loss can come greater gain. Or maybe, trust in the musical sensibilities of older siblings. One thing for sure is that thirty years later I still rock out to Van Halen on a semi-regular basis, but for the life of me I couldn’t name one other song on Duke. But it’s probably available on iTunes if I ever really want to get that album back.
Doug Foster is a taco-loving slacker who plays guitar, even if sometimes it’s just for the cat, yet still hopes one day to realize his dream of taking over for Ron Wood in the Rolling Stones.