Lonely Saturday nights with Deep Purple

Lonely Saturday nights with Deep Purple

It’s Saturday night, and I’m just sitting alone. My mind wandered back to when I was in high school. I wasn’t exactly the coolest guy at Madison East during my tenure in school. Somehow I managed to annoy a couple of guys who threatened to beat me up before my freshman year was even a few weeks old. Normally I could understand why a guy wanted to pound me–I mean, other than because of the simple fact that just about anybody could. Looking back, I have to admit that I could be a bit annoying from time to time. Those guys never did beat me up. In fact, I don’t remember ever really seeing them after that for the rest of the four years. I wonder what ever happened to them. I wonder why then never beat me up. I still wonder what I did to make them hate me so much.

In some ways, that episode sort of set the tone for my high school years. Not that everyone always wanted to be beat me up, but no one was ever knocking themselves out to hang out with me. I had a few guys that became my buddies, and in the end, I must have gotten better, because a lot of guys could tolerate hanging out with me during the school day. Weekends were different though. Other than my friend Telly, who I haven’t talked to for years but think about quite often, I didn’t really hang out with anyone on anything like a regular basis. My middle school friends all moved on to different groups, and I never clicked with too many guys in high school.

What I did a lot of was hanging out at home in the basement listening to my records. This wasn’t the beginning of my relationship with music, but it was certainly a critical early piece of it. I don’t remember sitting around sad those nights. Maybe a little lonely, but not really sad, at least not as I remember it. I had my records, and I could so easily get lost in those. I suppose part of my lack of popularity was my total lack of interest in high school parties. I wasn’t a drinker, and I didn’t want to be. While the other guys were always finding some party and getting drunk on cheap bear, I was listening to my favorite sides and singing along.

My older sister’s boyfriend at the time was a really rough character. The guy was big and powerful and could have easily crushed me any time he’d seen fit to do it. This was a guy who never backed down from a fight. The kind of guy that would have scared the hell out of me if I hadn’t have had an in through my sister. Tough and mean as he was, he also had a hidden sweet side, and sometimes I feel like I’m one of the few that he ever showed it to, but he did. I guess he felt sorry for me. Or maybe protective. Whatever it was, he treated me well.

This guy was really into music, and he liked that I was too. I think it was my 16th birthday when he took me to the record store and told me to pick out a record I wanted. I was pretty heavily into the Beatles at that time, so I asked for the White album. I didn’t even realize it was a double album, which meant it was twice as expensive as what he’d planned to spend. Not only did he not bat an eye, but he grabbed it and said, “OK, but you also have to listen to a couple that I want you to have.”

The rock band Deep Purple
Saturday night listening sessions brought Deep Purple into my life

That day, in addition to The Beatles (The White Album), he bought me Aerosmith’s Rocks and Deep Purple’s Who Do We Think We Are Of course, I knew who both of these bands were–everyone knew “Smoke on the Water” naturally. But I’d never listened to anything by either of them beyond what you’d hear on the radio. But looking back, one thing I can say is that over my life there have been very few (if any) times when I wasn’t willing and interested in listening to something I didn’t already listen to. So, I spun both of those records. And in the end, I spun them a whole lot.

I haven’t listened to Who do We Think We Are for years, so tonight as I was sitting quietly alone, I was reminded of those old days, and decided to give it another listen. I’m about half way through it now. I’d remembered this as a really great record, and my memory has not failed. This is a really great record! And listening to it now really puts me back. Right back to about 1976 when I was just a skinny kid sitting in my basement rockin’ (in the Lazyboy) and rockin’ (to Deep Purple).

It evokes interesting mixed emotions. It puts me back to a strange time that I’m both grateful for and lament. I can think back on those Friday and Saturday nights with very fond memories of listening to the music I loved. It was all mine. I didn’t have to share it with anybody. I could sing along if I wanted to (and I almost always wanted to), and there was no one there to tell me to shut up or to make fun of my singing. It was total freedom. I could listen to what I wanted to hear. I could get totally lost in the music. And I could stay up late doing it. Sometimes I wish I still had that freedom.

On the other hand, I look back on those days and sometimes wonder why I didn’t live more adventurously. I don’t know what I was afraid of, but I think I really was afraid. Afraid to step out into the world. Afraid to insert myself into groups. Afraid to take a chance with a girl. Afraid to venture out of my basement.

But lamenting those lost opportunities gets you nowhere. And now “Our Lady” kicks off with that low, growling, growing, droning synth intro, so the album’s coming to an end. But it’s a long song, so thankfully I’ve got over five minutes to soak in the beautiful mastery of it. It’s an absolutely amazing song. It makes me feel the same way as I listen to it right now, tonight, as it did 40 years ago in my parents’ basement. Some records get dated after a few years. I can’t imaging this record ever becoming dated. It sounds great. I’m feeling a strange mix of the loneliness of those long-ago evening listening sessions and a glowing happiness welling up in my heart. Just to hear it again…man what a pleasure.

The power music has to put you right back to a time long ago is unexplainable. The only way you can imagine it is to experience it. I’ve had that experience tonight, and it’s a beautiful thing.

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