Influences are a lot like travelers one picks up along the way and a broad range have inspired my music. I was born in Bethesda, Maryland in a suburb of Washington D.C. called Chevy Chase. I remember moving around quite a bit as a child. Some of my earliest memories as a kid involve lone flights across the Atlantic. Don’t ask me why but for most of these trips I had no traveling companions — despite the fact that I had five siblings. I remember being the new kid in school eleven times. Half of those times it was mid-school year. In the 7th grade my father put me in military school where I was basically beaten up every day until a relative, hearing my anguish on the phone, came and yanked me out of that school while my father was out of town. I really believe that act saved my life. I wouldn’t have survived that school much longer.
Singer • Songwriter KOAH
My first refuge from all of that was music. I credit it not with giving me social skills, which it didn’t. Nor do I credit it with saving me. Rather, I credit it with providing me a needed distraction from the surroundings and in the process giving me something rare and valuable: An introduction to my soul.
When I was five an older sibling had two memorable albums on vinyl, Jackson Browne’s Hold Out and Supertramp’s Breakfast In America. I heard those records just about every day through the walls. It had an impact.
Jackson Browne’s “Hold Out” album cover.
Later, as a songwriter living in Los Angeles, Jackson Browne’s music would speak to me again even further as his songs became geared directly towards young aspiring songwriters. Particularly the ones living in L.A. Just as a side note, two of his later songs, Barricades of Heaven and Black and White affect me on a whole other level, but maybe I’ll put that in another article.
The Real Mix Tape
As a kid I remember being alone in an airport and in my possession, fatefully, was an unlabeled mix tape. This was common for the 80’s. Mix tapes were everywhere. One would turn up in your Jansport backpack and you’d listen to it and suddenly magic would happen. The tape in question, although I didn’t know it at the time, was Led Zeppelin.
I could almost refer to this particular song as under-appreciated, but not true. Led Zeppelin produced so much astounding music that a listener could coast for twenty years on their 8 studio albums alone and not get tired of any of it. Every Zeppelin fan has their favorites. They’ve got something for everyone and range that goes for miles. The song I’m referring to on the mixtape at the airport was “Your Time Is Gonna Come.” I’ll never forget the moment Jimmy Page’s acoustic guitar came through my headphones. It was amazing.
For children of the current era it will be apps, but for us kids of the 80’s a handful of physical objects punctuated our upbringing. The Rubik’s Cube. Nintendo’s handheld ‘Game & Watch’. The Swatch. But for me, none made more of an impact than the Sony Walkman. As I mentioned, mix tapes were all over the place and for some reason the best tapes were always unlabelled. I listened to the White Album repeatedly for several years without knowing it was the White Album. There was no internet and no one to ask. I was on my own.
A Sony Walkman. I loved everything about it.
A Swatch. I had this exact one.
A Rubik’s Cube.
A Game & Watch by Nintendo.
I said at the beginning of this article that music for me was a diversion from a childhood which was scary, but it wasn’t able to shelter me completely from my surroundings. I don’t know that music can do that. There were, however, other profound people and events that did just that for me later in life.
Just as a parenthetical: We do need people or animals to help us get out of certain levels of darkness. We can’t do it alone. But it is fair to say that music was a respite for me until those others came along. And it did buy me a lot of time. Music was a welcome deflection from surroundings that no one can prepare for. So it doesn’t save, but it does touch. In my case it touched my soul. The fact that I rarely knew who or what I was listening to made it all the more magical . Later on I would connect the dots and realize what all this amazing music was. I realized Breakfast In America was actually a studio album. I realized George Martin, the Beatles producer, was a genius. I learned that great music has an influence on all the other great music which comes after it.
When I learned how to play music, I realized it only takes about 5 notes to affect people. Sometimes less.
The unlabeled mix tapes of my childhood meant that I was raised on masterpieces — I just didn’t know what they were called. Because of this, as an adult, I realize that labels and titles don’t really matter. In life as in music, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” said Shakespeare, for “a rose is a rose is a rose” said Gertrud Stein.
I also listened to a lot of Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Pink Floyd, Neil Young, The Black Crowes, Billy Joel, Bruce Hornsby, Peter Gabriel, Al Green, Paul Simon, Buddy Guy, Cream, Genesis, Steve Winwood, The Police, Prince, The Cure — the list goes on and on. There were singles on the radio that just blew my mind. I think of Maxi Priest. I think of The Beastie Boys. I think of Yes.
All of the music that I grew up listening to has made it’s own unique contribution to my spirit. For that is what music does. It shapes the spirit. It was Bob Marley who said one good thing about music is “when it hits, you feel no pain.”
Great music is like a light. It’s either off or it’s on. There is no in between. Could I rate Muddy Waters and Roger Waters — or even Mr. Rogers, in terms of value?
I could not.
Music provides light. It all moves in the same way. It all lights in the same way. It all affects us. It’s either there or it isn’t. Light is light.
The Muddy Waters album ‘Fathers and Sons.’