Birth through age 16 or so
Growing up, my dad didn't introduce me to a lot of things. But I'll be forever grateful for what he DID introduce me to: a little game called backgammon and some damn fine music.
Since before I can remember, I was immersed in the words and sounds of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane, The Mamas and The Papas, Aretha Franklin, Chuck Berry, Elvis, James Brown and the rest of the big-time singers and groups from the 50s and 60s. On the weekends, my dad would turn on the oldies station and bop around to the songs he had held dear since his formative years. I loved dancing with my dad and watching him perform.
Growing up, we didn't have much money. By the time he was 30, my dad had married three women and had three children - all without a college degree and attempting to scrape by on low-wage jobs. My one full brother and I come from my dad's first wife - a mentally-unstable woman who left my father saddled with us two, my brother age 4 and me just 6 months old. I barely remember my half brother when he was born. He and his mother were gone when he was still just a baby. That divorce took him away and left my single father with not only two mouths to feed but child support checks to send.
Side effects: All meals were cooked at home. We rarely, if ever, ate out at a restaurant. My clothing consisted of hand-me-downs from my brother (how I cherished those courderoy pants) in addition to what was bought at K-Mart. I didn't own any books. Whatever books I read were gotten from the library. We didn't own many toys or games. Entertainment came in the form of trouble we brewed up with neighborhood kids outside. And I didn't own but a few records. The radio was my biggest source of music except for the two or so record albums I owned, including my most cherished album at the time that contained the song "Celebration" by Kool & The Gang.
Subsequently, the first musical fixations I developed without my father's influence (between ages 8 and 10) included a motley assortment of bands and singers such as Boston, Blondie, John Cougar Mellencamp, The Police and Rod Stewart. A mixed lot, I know, but I deciphered and memorized the words to all the songs of theirs that got frequent play on the radio.
I admit that my first big musical crush as I neared my delicate teen years was on Michael Jackson. I love his earlier Jackson 5 stuff, but nothing was hotter to me back then than MJ in his white suit and black shirt on the cover of the "Thriller" album, the last album I owned before I switched to cassette tapes. That was, of course, before he bought a removable nose and the world found out he likes to touch the private parts of little boys. Don't get me wrong. He was already considered weird by that point with his Neverland ranch that contained an amusement park and the bones of the Elephant Man. But the music, though, the music was gold. And Michael Jackson was going to be my husband when I grew up. I just knew it! I know this sounds like bragging, but I must've kissed the "Thriller" album cover hundreds and hundreds of times. Around this time, my brother introduced me to the "Who's Afraid Of?" album by Art of Noise, an aberration that likely laid the foundation for the music I mostly listen to now.
It all gets fuzzy here, but I know I went through some sort of Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, Paula Abdul, Whitney Houston, Go-Go's period somewhere in here but landed on the other side with, on top of all the other music I liked, a fascination with Wham! and all things George Michael (first concert: Faith tour), Boy George, Prince, Adam Ant, Duran Duran, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper and any other boys who looked like girls and girls who looked and acted like boys or girls or both. I spent most of my free time making out with my George Michael poster and creating my beloved mixed tapes and, clad in tights and Flashdancelike outfits I would construct, wildly and sexily dancing to them in my parents' garage before they got home from work.
If you haven't guessed by now, I was pretty much a freak myself, a strange breed of extremely introverted yet athletic geek who lived only in books, music and dance and who didn't have many friends or much contact with things outside my own imagination. Music helped take me out of my parents' home and away from the way others viewed me. It turned me, for a short while, into the person I knew was trapped inside me, into the person I wanted to be.
* This post contains only the names of some of the most prominent groups and singers to which I listened during this time.