(This is the first post in a new autobiographical series titled The Roadtripper's Guide to Life, Love, and the Pursuit of Live Music. Indulge me. It releases weekly on Tuesdays. You can read the Prologue here.)
My relationship with unique quality tunes began the day I received a cassette tape in the mail from Release magazine. I had just gotten my first set of wheels -- a deluxe 1988 Pontiac Grand Prix, burgundy, previously a prize for a Mary Kay rep, complete with a futuristic dashboard resembling something from Flight of the Navigator. It might have been better if the car actually WAS pink. CD players did not exist when the folks made it in Detroit, mp3 players were a distant glimmer in some programmer's future, and the radio brought slim options, so tapes were still a delight to receive. As soon as I heard the songs on side A of this particular little cassette, I played them for anyone I thought might want to listen.
I distinctly remember sitting in my car in the FUMC church parking lot one afternoon after some youth event, asking Mrs. S, the mom of two kids I used to babysit, to hear this amazing new band I'd discovered. They came from somewhere out in Texas. A couple of guys and some girl with a pretty voice. They rocked. They used weird percussion instruments. They had a literary name. And I swooned.
As the first strains of Danielle's voice singing "This world has nothing for me..." resounded from my vintage stereo, I couldn't tell if Mrs. S was pleased at what she was hearing or just amusing a sweet little teenager. But as I preached the gospel of this new brand of smart folk-rock, I knew I would be forever changed.
Up until this point, my musical tastes consisted of my parents' do-wop classics, Kasey Kasem's Top 40 hits on Sunday afternoons, a casette tape of The Monkees, whatever was on the million country stations available (including lots of Garth), and a large dose of CCM, the pop hits that only came to us via radio on Sunday mornings, when local radio station KMX played music for puttin' on church clothes. I was stuck in a small south Alabama town where Dave Matthews hadn't quite yet made his presence known, the boys all listened to gangsta rap like it was Jack Daniels, and concerts were like a foreign country. Even the Christian music I thought I liked had to come by mail order or a trip to a shopping mall almost an hour away. At least we had Jars of Clay. That year you couldn't turn on the radio without hearing "Flood" pour out of the speakers. I remember posting lyrics to "Like a Child" on my dorm door when I went to a science camp back in the summer of '95. I thought I was so cool.
Don't tell anyone that my first actual concert of any kind, in middle school, was Ray Boltz. You'll shatter any illusions they might have had about my social stature. I followed those up with regular attendance at performances of Point of Grace, Rebecca St. James, Clay Crosse and somebody named Greg Long (who?), complete with all the paraphenalia they could sell me. One notable exception might have been a visit to my hometown from the guy who would later write all those songs for Casting Crowns, but even then I can't seriously count that a brush with stardom. Anyone remember Skillet? Yeah, there's a reason I consider the moment I first heard Derek and Cliff as a conversion experience.
My junior and senior years of high school I spent too much time on messageboards for want of like-minded music lovers. Not only was I already a pariah in local cliques for intently following something called CCM Magazine, but I was about to jump ship and enter the world of slightly-independent music of which no one outside of a select few had even a remote interest. Mind you, the internet had only recently been introduced, but all us crazies tended to find each other there, so I forged ahead. My few real-life close friends at the time either could care less about music or were away at college, making their own discoveries. The one guy I dated in high school liked Nine-Inch Nails, for crying out loud. Not a paragon of musical taste. I'm still thankful to the youth leader from the Bible school formerly known as FBTC for giving me a poster of the album cover from this particular band's first label release. He was the first person I'd met in real life who actually knew who they were. It was a lead of love. (And if you just got that, then you do, too.)
And so I entered my senior year of high school armed with a new homemade binder for my AP English Lit class (where we began by studying early British texts), appropriately emblazoned with album covers and the band's name across the top: Caedmon's Call.
Little did I know that there was a fellow Caedmon's Call fan from Alabama who was attending college just one state over and that in a few short years, our worlds would collide.
If you are still in the dark about this band (or any other I mention in this series) please go check them out at their official website. You don't even have to wait for someone to send you a tape or CD to listen to their music. We have iTunes now. And NoiseTrade, where you can download songs from their latest album for free!