Rock of Ages

By Gloria Harrison


I’m three years old. My parents call me outside one day and point at the sky, from which water is falling onto the hard, dirt-packed floor of the Mojave. I can’t imagine where this water is coming from, but it’s everywhere, making the air smell like wet earth. I’m amazed. Later, I’m playing outside, digging earthworms out of the dirt with a spoon, when I spot the biggest earthworm I’ve ever seen. I’m thunderstruck with joy, but as I try to approach, my dog and my best friend, a cockapoo named Gnome, jumps in front of the worm, barking like he’s crazy. I keep approaching when, suddenly, the giant worm lashes out and bites Gnome, who yelps and falls to the ground. The worm rattles off. I run inside to get my mom, to tell her that a worm just bit the dog. She gets to him just in time to take him to the vet and save his life, as he has just done mine. My mom holds me on her lap and we sing my favorite song. “Say, say little playmate – come out and play with me. We’ll climb up my apple tree.” I think about how I wish I had an apple tree with rainbow slides and branches brimming with playmates.



I’m four years old. I’m with my mom in a living room. We’re in front of a black and white television – brown faux wood casing with a knob that you have to turn to clear up the snow on the screen. The news is on. I’m playing, distracted. All of a sudden, I hear my mom scream, “No!” I look. She’s trembling, her eyes are wide, she’s reaching out for the screen with one hand while the other hand covers her mouth. She begins to sob and shudder. I run over and touch her arm. “Mama, what’s wrong?” I ask over and over until, finally, she answers. “That man,” she says through tears, “his name is John Lennon. He was a musician. Somebody just killed him.”



I’m five. I’m lying on my belly on top of pillows, toys, furniture – everything we own – speeding down the highway in a green Dodge Charger. We’re getting farther and farther away from Barstow and closer and closer to some place called Roswell, which I can’t wait to see. My sister, Kim, is next to me, also on her belly, the roof of the car inches from our tiny heads. Gnome is somewhere on the floor. Up front, my mom and my Aunt Sunny are talking grown up talk and smoking cigarettes. Occasionally, they pass a joint back and forth. We drive all through the night, stopping only once to get a few hours’ sleep at a rest stop. Mom and Sunny and Gnome sleep outside, on the roof and hood of the car. Kim and I get to sleep in the front. Otherwise, we drive. A constant stream of music pours out of the speakers as mom and Sunny change out the eight tracks. REO Speedwagon, Eddie Rabbit, Juice Newton, The Moody Blues, and my favorite song in the whole world, “Dog and Butterfly,” fill the hours and miles.



I’m seven. I sit and watch the premier of MTV, fully aware that something has just changed. Then it’s Christmas. I’ve asked Santa for Thriller, which will be my first grown up album of my very own. I want this album so badly that it’s all I can think about for weeks leading up to The Big Day. My grandparents exchange knowing glances with my mom and step-dad every time I bring it up, which I don’t understand, but I just hope that it doesn’t mean that I can’t have it. Finally, it’s time to open gifts. I’m given a small, rectangular, cassette tape-sized package and I’m beside myself with glee. I open up the package and there it is – Michael Jackson wearing a white suit, lying on his side, the words “Michael Jackson Thriller” written above and to the left of his body. I will play this tape so many times that I memorize every word to every song and can out sing that awful Gwen Meyers, who always beats me when we have competitions out past the kickball field.



I’m nine. My mom and stepdad go to a Pat Benatar concert, leaving my sister and me with a known child rapist, who will, nine months later, kidnap, rape, and murder a classmate of mine. Her body, partially buried and burned, will be found by my grandpa on my grandparents’ ranch. Before they leave for the concert, my stepdad pulls me aside and says, shaking his finger in my face and looking stern, “Now, don’t you dare go off anywhere alone with him, do you hear me?” I say I do. Then he and my mom get on his Harley and ride out of town to see their show. Love is a Battlefield will forever have its own meaning for me.



I’m ten years old when my mom introduces me to Appetite for Destruction. I spend all summer listening to it nonstop, especially “Sweet Child of Mine,” mixed in with my New Kids on the Block, Poison, Paula Abdul, and Def Leppard albums. I’m pretty sure that I’m going to marry Jon Bon Jovi one day.



I’m eleven, thirteen, fifteen. I move from New Mexico to Las Vegas, then from Las Vegas to Oklahoma. I grow out of my hair-band phase, though I still love GnR, which is okay, because Axl has tamed his hair. I fall in love with The Black Crowes and Dee Lite. One day, I come home from school and my mom is on the couch, watching MTV, crying. “Look at this,” she says. “Look!” Metallica’s “One” video is playing and my mom, she’s captivated. I learn to head bang. I start hanging out with the skate crowd and discover The Red Hot Chili Peppers. I discover Jane’s Addiction thanks to Brady Dollarhide, who I love more than words can possibly say. He, with his skateboard and aloof art-kid coolness. He, who rushes to defend my honor more than once, then retreats before we can build a relationship. My mom picks Brady up one night when she spies him walking after dark. “Hey, isn’t that your friend that skateboards by our house?” “He’s not my friend, mom, he’s not my friend! Don’t stop! Jesus, mom! What are you doing?”  My mom is playing Cat Stevens on the radio. Cat Stevens – another one of those old-timey musicians that my mom insists on playing on cleaning day. Cat Stevens, Janis Joplin, and (“Oh, God, mom! Not country!”) Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. Brady hears Cat Stevens on the radio and says, “Oh! Cool! I just heard this guy singing on this really great movie I saw recently. It’s called Harold and Maude. You should check it out.” Harold and Maude becomes my favorite movie of all time.



I’m fifteen and pregnant. I’m in New Mexico. A friend introduces me to Tori Amos and I feel like I’ve found my tribe for the first time in my life. No woman has ever said these words. She is speaking directly to me. I want to take her music out to the world. The whole world needs to hear “Me and a Gun,” and I’m crestfallen and furious when my sister and my cousin laugh midway through the song. They make fun of me, and I decide they just don’t get it – an auspicious leap into a world where I’m going to love It whether people approve or not. At night, when I’m alone, I play Beethoven, Bach, and Appetite For Destruction on my Walkman with the earphones wrapped around my belly.



I’m sixteen, then seventeen, then twenty. I discover grunge and my life changes. Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, Mother Love Bone, Nirvana – I want all of it. I want more. I want it streaming ceaselessly, even when I’m sleeping. I want to wear it as my skin. I discover They Might Be Giants, Faith No More, Mr. Bungle. I drive around in the half-dead Ford Grenada that my drug addicted, alcoholic mother has sold to me for my life’s savings, and I sing the lyrics to “Head Like a Hole” as loud as I possibly can. “I’d rather die, than give you control,” I scream to no one in particular. I go to my very first concert – Queensryche, with Type O Negative opening. Alanis Morissette releases Jagged Little Pill. I enter my girl rocker phase and play Bjork, Annie Lennox, Cheryl Crow, Hole, Poe, 4 Non-Blondes, Ani DiFranco – on a constant, endless, estrogen-infused loop.



I’m twenty-one. Then, suddenly, I’m thirty. I begin to experience musical ennui. One day, I take my friend Pat to pick up his car from a friend’s house. Pat and I enter through the back door, walk down the hall, turn the corner into the television room and BOOM! I see the man that will one day become my husband and I suddenly feel like I’ve been kicked in the chest. I lose my breath and am lightheaded. From that moment forward, I’m madly, incurably in love with the man that will teach me more about music than any other person I’ll ever know.  We make love to music and we fight about it. He puts on The Grateful Dead and I feel violently, irrationally angry for reasons that it will take me years to explain. (False promises, pretentiousness, fifteen minute drum solos…) I defend Natalie Merchant to the point of argument. I rediscover Cat Stevens and Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Tom Petty, and Dire Straits. I hear The White Stripes’ “Elephant,” The Shins, Death Cab For Cutie, Radiohead, Concrete Blonde’s “Still in Hollywood” and my mind is blown. I learn to differentiate between muzak and proper jazz – and realize that Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue is the most perfect album ever made. I learn who Leo Kottke is. We take our kids to a Widespread Panic concert. My husband spends an entire week shifting his brand new speakers a quarter of an inch forward, backward, right, and left – with some mysterious electronic device in his hand. He finds me one day, drags me into his stereo room, and tells me to sit on what is literally a hand-drawn X on the ground. He asks me to pick an album that I know intimately and I choose “Dark Side of the Moon.” He puts it on, tells me to close my eyes, and he hits play. Suddenly, I hear music in three dimensions in a way that I’ve never experienced – not even during a concert.



I’m nearly thirty-five and I still love “Jane Says.” I still scream “Welcome to the Jungle” as loud as I can and I still love to skank to “Birdhouse in Your Soul” with my boys. I no longer want to marry Jon Bon Jovi. I rarely listen to the radio. I’ve finally contracted Beatle-mania, but have never come around to Punk. (However, I do harbor a crazy crush on Henry Rollins, and I love to read Jello Biafra.) I can no longer listen to “Harvest Moon” or “Side of the Road” without breaking down into a wistful, bawling puddle. Lately, I play David Byrne’s “Live in Austin, Texas” album over and over again, as nothing else will satisfy. I stream Pandora all day long at work and sometimes at home, but just can’t find the proper mixture of stations, though I’m close. I go such long periods between having my mind blown by new music that, by the time it happens, I feel like a dehydrated sponge. I haven’t experienced the wonder I felt when I held Thriller in my hand or when I first heard “Hunger Strike” very often, though I have discovered new music that I love (Colin Hay, Sun Kil Moon, M. Ward, The Waifs, Massive Attack, The Flaming Lips, The Be Good Tanyas.)



I’m waiting to find that signature song or band that will become the soundtrack of today and tomorrow. I’m not sure, but it may be that I won’t know what it is until later, when I reflect back to now. Maybe it won’t be any of the music that I love. Maybe, like Juice Newton or Pat Benatar, it’ll be the music that’s playing when the next big thing happens. In the meantime, I’ll just keep listening.



Note: I get most of my new music from Pandora. The stations I play (in different combinations) are:

Peter Gabriel
Dar Williams
Jolie Holland
They Might Be Giants
The Walkmen
The Velvet Underground
David Byrne
Regina Spektor
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Cat Stevens
Death Cab For Cutie
Modest Mouse
Fleet Foxes
Talking Heads
Iron & Wine
Beth Orton
Garden State
Nina Simone
Miles Davis
Tori Amos
The Shins

Any recommendations?

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GLORIA HARRISON is a writer whose work has been featured on The Nervous Breakdown, Fictionaut, and This American Life. Gloria was the lead editor for The Portland Red Guide: Sites & Stories of Our Radical Past by Michael Munk, which was published through Ooligan Press in 2007. She was also a contributing editor to Pete Anthony's book, Immaculate, for which she received a high five and a ten dollar gift card to Stumptown Coffee. Gloria graduated from Portland State University with her B.A. in English in 2006 and now focuses on her own writing. She had a work of flash fiction published in The Bear Deluxe Magazine (No. 26). You can follow her on Twitter here.

Gloria lives in Portland, Oregon with her school-age twin boys. She is currently working on both a memoir and her first novel. You can contact Gloria via her Facebook page.

98 responses to “Rock of Ages”

  1. Irene Zion says:


    Every child should have a dog.
    John Lennon was killed on my birthday.
    If I had a gun, and I were where you were, I would hold it to your father’s head and make him and your mom stay home and not take that horrible chance with the known rapist/babysitter. If he didn’t listen, I would have to have shot him, and your mother, just in the foot, but still. Then I would shoot the rapist/murderer/babysitter, in the head.
    I read the rest, but aside from falling in love at first sight, I can’t get past that last part.

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      Irene – Gnome was my love. He was the best dog ever.

      I’m so sorry to hear that John Lennon died on your birthday. That must have cast a pall. Howard Hughes died the day I was born. I don’t think that has as much weight, though.

      The fact that you would shoot another living thing for my well-being is overwhelming, knowing the gentle, wonderful person that you are. The man was executed in 2001, so justice was served, I guess. Whatever that means. Anyway, he never hurt me. Not directly.

      And yes! I fell in love at first sight. That has happened exactly three times in my life, but not since I met my ex-husband.

  2. Simon Smithson says:

    Yeah… not to be making light of it, but wow. Parenting fail.

    Here are some things you might like:

    (LOVE this cover. More than the original)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWxJ0cLcXWQ (a few minutes in)
    (fun for any Alanis lover)

    (big fan of Sage when it comes to lyrics. Eat it, Bukowski)

    (Oh, Buck 65!)

    (apparently Americans aren’t familiar with them before the most recent album)

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      Simon – you rock. Thank you SO much for these links. I’m dying for new music. I’ll check them out when I get home. 🙂

    • Gloria says:

      Hey! How did you get multiple links in your comment?! I don’t understand this WordPress business sometimes.

    • Gloria says:

      Oh, man! I love Tricky. Morcheeba, too. Good call.

      Slug/Alanis cover – it’s like if Dolph Lundgren were a hip hop artist who sang chick rock. That was oddly awesomely intriguingly fun.

      The Sage video was blocked in my country on copyright grounds. They’re obviously commies.

      I LOVE that Bike For Thee! song. Damn. That’s the good stuff.

      Yeah, I’m familiar with Muse. Yes, because of their last album. I’d already written them off as a alterna-pop band with nothing interesting going for them. But since you sent it and you’ve clearly got impeccable taste, I will give them another close listen. On a side note, you appear to share a hairstyle with the lead singer.

      Thanks for the recommendations, Simon. I appreciate it.

  3. Sarah says:

    “Me and a Gun” just came through the shuffle on my iPod. What a beautifully sad song. I love it.

    You and I being the same age, the same genres and same bands hit us at the same points of our lives. Except most of mine aren’t associated with such hardships and tragedies as yours are.

    May all your future musical milestones be linked to happy celebratory memories my dear.

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      Oh, Sarah – there are SO many music memories that aren’t associated with hardships. I hope that came through, too.

      And yes – we’re the same age. So you may wonder how I missed The Beastie Boys and REM. I don’t have any frickin’ idea, but it’s too late to tuck them in. Pink Floyd is missing, too. And Led Zepplin. The Doors. My entire classic rock years are nowhere to be seen. It’s a travesty.

      How did I miss REM??!! I feel like I should write a personal apology letter to Michael Stipe.

      • J. Ryan Stradal says:


        Wow — your musical trajectory is a LOT like mine (probably because we’re the same age — I was also four when Lennon was murdered, and it’s the first thing on the news that I remember my parents having a significant emotional reaction to [the other being Reagan’s near miss a few months later]).

        I comment here b/c I could not have left REM out either. While I didn’t have a Tori Amos/Ani DiFranco phase, REM, The Smiths, and eventually Radiohead filled that gap for me in the early to mid 1990s. Political, emotional, alienated … and damn good.

        And great to see that you’re keeping current … it’s harder as we get older, but it’s such a pleasure to find new bands and new music, and sites like Pandora and Grooveshark do a great service in orienting us through things we already love.

        I hope you write another one of these in twenty years, and forty, and sixty.

        • Gloria says:

          That’s right – Lennon and Reagan within months of each other. I was too young to think about that then, but now that you mention it – dude. WEIRD. I’ll bet that was a weird time to be a grown up. As opposed to now, when it’s so clearly not weird at all.

          In this post, I linked every band I could link to the song that I felt defined that very moment in time for me. Obviously, I missed REM. So, what do you think? What would the song be? I’m trying to decide between two.

        • Gloria says:

          Ryan!! Look!!!


          You can preview R.E.M.’s new album for free on NPR. The reviews have been outstanding.

          Just wanted to share. 🙂

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      And Beck! How in God’s name did I omit BECK?!

      • Matt says:

        ….because he’s a Scientologist?

        • Gloria Harrison says:

          Well, Cat Stevens is a Muslim who once called for the head of Salman Rushdie, but I still love, love, love his pre-1984 music.

        • Matt says:

          Ah, but Cat Stevens has in the last few years come around and admitted he went way over the line with that stuff (the rhetoric, not his becoming a Muslim). Not that his religion is any reason to dislike Beck, but his lyrics do suddenly make a certain amount of sense when you consider them from a Scientology perspective.

        • Gloria says:

          Yeah, the noun in my remark about Cat Stevens was the whole phrase “Muslim who once called for the head of Salman Rushdie,” not just “Muslim.” Because, yes, it’s the rhetoric that unsettles me.

          As for Beck, I appreciate what he brought to music at a time when not a whole lot of new and interesting was hitting the airwaves, which is where I was forced to get 90% of my music from. “Loser” is an important song for that time in my life. And Odelay just felt important and different, and I listened to it quite a lot. It hasn’t really changed meaning for me (though I’ve grown past that time in my life) anymore than “Peace Train” has.

  4. I am so amazed, Gloria, that over time you and I have made the same musical progression! All the way from Thriller to Alice in Chains and then some (love Colin Hay). But your stories of course are all yours — your reflections are so poignant. And, my god, age nine. Horrible. I’m so frightened for little you when I read that.

    • Victoria Patterson says:

      I’m also stunned by child rapist/murdered section of this–makes me incredibly sad.

      Love this: “…an auspicious leap into a world where I’m going to love It whether people approve or not.” Harold and Maud remains one of my favorite movies of all time! And Harvest Moon–I’ve got a similar relationship to it.

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      Hi Cynthia. Yes, you’re one of the ones that I want to gather with in a room and just talk about music until we run out of spit and pass out from exhaustion. (See also: Joe Daly, Richard Cox, Sean Bedwin [<—- going for phoenetic], LRC, Tawni…) As mentioned to Sarah, above, I can’t believe I missed REM, The Beasties, and my Classic Rock Years. I must atone somehow.

      See my comment to Irene if you want the rest of the story about the pedophile.

      Rock on, Cynthia Hawkins! \m/

  5. Art Edwards says:


    My favorite band in the world is called Dead Hot Workshop. There is lots of nostalgia mixed up with this for me, so take it for what it’s worth, but imagine a Bob Dylan of our generation who watched too much Who’s the Boss and listen to too much Judas Priest and wound up fronting an AZ band that perfectly blends the Gin Blossoms and Cheap Trick. Can’t imagine that? You don’t have to!


    • Gloria Harrison says:

      …Bob Dylan of our generation who watched too much Who’s the Boss and listen to too much Judas Priest and wound up fronting an AZ band that perfectly blends the Gin Blossoms and Cheap Trick…

      I MUST listen to this when I get home. Thank you so, so much for the recommendation Art.


  6. Quenby Moone says:

    This is great. We all have soundtracks, but you’ve drawn yours really well.

    Although I think I died a little when you were nine. I don’t know if I’ll recover from that particularly harrowing but subtle vignette.

    I’m very, very sorry.

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      Thanks, Q.

      Being that you’re buried in musicians, do you care to share what you’re listening to these days?

  7. pixy says:

    oh my guinness, heart!
    i come from a musically deficient family who, when i would talk about the shows i go to or the people i’ve met or the whole reason i moved to that “evil hell of a hole” called texas, couldn’t comprehend what it was like to feel something because of these notes and words coming out of the speakers.
    they MORE than didn’t get it. they kind of despised it. if the radio was on in the car, bruce springsteen was banned making me love him even more since i had to keep it secret.
    i had to teach myself a vast majority of what i know and love and have learned. my musical turning point was when i was 14 and i found a used copy of paul westerberg’s “eventually”. i about died. 2 weeks later i had the entire replacements catalog and it was all downhill from there.

    but heart… heart and queen were the only constant in that house – most especially when my lesbian aunt was living with us. she had a small box of albums that i would rifle through all the time. i distinctly remember the album cover of queen’s “news of the world”. it was so teal! and it had robots! i’m pretty sure that is my first lucid memory.

    my suggestion for one-stop musical variety is http://www.kexp.org. they are a listener supported station (i give them money and have done for about 6 years or so) and they have incredible variety on their station, no commercials and the djs will play any song you request unless it’s curse-word laden or they don’t have it (highly unlikely). i can’t count how many bands i’ve found out about and fallen in love with because of that station.

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      Oh, Paul Westerberg – – the gateway drug for the uninitiated. Heart is still one of my favorite acts of all times. NOBODY can sing like those Wilson sisters. Nobody. They’re divine royalty. And Queen! I love me some Queen. I have two great (a subjective modifier) stories about Queen, which didn’t make the cut for this brief autobiography.

      Thanks, Pixie, for the KEXP recommendation. I feel like someone has told me about that before, though I can’t say why I’ve never followed up. I will remedy that immediately!


  8. Meg Worden says:

    From Harold and Maude to fifteen and pregnant. This story is raw and sad and beautiful, Gloria and you really know how to bring us through the narrative. I felt like I just found the wonder of new music in your writing, the way it moves, transports.

    Reading your stories makes me want to gather little Gloria all up in my arms and wrap her in a warm blanket.

    They make me grateful to be on the planet with strong and brilliant adult Gloria, who has come away from these things wearing ass kicking boots and wielding such clear and radiant voice.

    Rock on, Mama.

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      Thanks Meg.

      I appreciate everything you’ve said.

      I can’t wait to lace up my ass-kickers and take our kiddlings on a long walk. Soon?

  9. Matt says:

    What, no PJ Harvey channel? Tsk. I’m disappointed in you.

    Seriously, though, this is a nice series of vignettes, still emotionally effecting even though we’ve discussed most of these events elsewhere. I want to take your parents by the lapels and shake them for even thinking about leaving you to be babysat by that man. And kudos to your dog for jumping in to save you from that snake.

    I know you’re a Twitter noob still, but I actually get a lot of new music from there. People tweet or retweet links to indie bands on Bandcamp or similar sites, a lot of times with free songs or albums on the pay-what-you-want scale. Found some good, good stuff there.

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      Matt, in the last fifteen minutes, I’ve realized that I left out Beck, The Beastie Boys, REM(!!!), all of my favorite classic rockers, and now PJ Harvey. I’m beside myself. Really.

      One time, at bandcamp…

      Joking aside, thanks for the recommendation, Matt. 🙂

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      Jeez – and how did I miss my whole electronica/house phase (which I’m still in, actually. So maybe it’s not a phase.) The stories I could tell about Lords of Acid, The Chemical Brothers, The Crystal Method, Paul Van Dyke.

      I’m sure as the days wear on I’ll realize my other omissions.

  10. Sarah says:

    Um, yeah, so now “Harvest Moon” just popped up on my iPod. I’m just having a Gloria kind of day I suppose.

  11. Dana says:

    I love picturing you and your sister, sprawled out atop all the family possessions barreling down the highway!

    I can’t believe your mom was so torn up about John Lennon and yet left you uninitiated on The Beatles. Actually, there’s a lot about your mom I can’t believe… I’m so glad you made it out of your childhood alive.

    We hit many of the same obsessions along the way even though I’m seriously older… And I’m suddenly in need of an Ani fix.

    As for suggestions – I have a serious crush on Lisa Hannigan



    Jenn Grinells

    Her voice just FILLS a room. I’d never heard of her until last April when Steve Poltz was playing his annual house concert at our place. He brings this beautiful redhead in tow and tells me she’s going to play a couple of songs. Woah. She blew all of us away. And then she helped me take out the trash and stuff, so yanno I think she’s a doll.

    • Gloria says:

      Hey, look! Here’s your comment.

      You know, I do like Lisa Hannigan quite a bit. I’ve never heard of Jenn Grinells, but I’ll hie myself home and listen to it as soon as possible.

      As for my obsessions – many of them are of another generation, probably because of my mom, who, despite her other obvious shortcomings, musicked my life very nicely. We were a very musical, albeit highly fucked up family.

  12. Dana says:

    I hate when I leave a comment with a link…

    • Gloria says:

      You didn’t leave a comment with a link.

      I think I’m confused.

      • Dana says:

        Yes I did! I left a comment with two links and apparently it’s lounging out in cyberspace somewhere waiting for someone to approve it or just to make sure I’m not a spambot or something.

  13. Becky Palapala says:

    Oh God. The grunge.

    I idolized/lusted after Eddie Vedder and Trent Reznor so hard. I couldn’t get over them.

    Billy Corgan and Curt Cobain, conversely, were not external objects for me, they were me. My Pisces guys. I was convinced we were psychically connected.

    And thinking about it, that’s how profound that period was, I think, most of us who really found music in the early 90s and were just the right age at the time. We perceived those musicians to be literally everything there was. A way to dress, a thing to do on Saturday night, everything. I didn’t understand a single thing about that period of my life except through the filter of music. I sometimes wonder if that’s why I remain so attached to those bands. Like, I don’t have memories to refer to without the music. Album as scrapbook or something.

    • Gloria says:

      No, that’s exactly right. There’s not a single important moment of my whole life from pre-adolescence to early adulthood that isn’t associated with music – much of it grunge. And skate punk. Well, I mean, then there was the Jim Morrison phase. And the “Another Brick in the Wall” phase (because what thinking artist-type from 1980 forward hasn’t had her own defining “Another Brick in the Wall” epiphany?)

      I was so in love with Chris Cornell for so many years that it was damn near hysteria. That is one beautiful man – still!

      And aren’t you still in love with Trent Reznor?

      • Becky Palapala says:

        Well. That’s tough to answer.

        I am still in love with Trent Reznor, but it’s the Trent Reznor from, like, 1994.

        So I’m still in love with Trent, but not the Trent that still exists.

        A subtle nuance, but an important one.

        Ain’t no one want naught to do with him and his giant neck now.

  14. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    Excellent piece, you mix together the small and the larger, harrowing events without breaking the overall momentum, which is no minor feat. It’s always a curious surprise to learn of others experience with the same music that, at the time, I applied so personally to my own life turning points. You mean another person was having skateboard dreams and listening to Jane’s Addiction on the other side of the country along with me? And then I’d connect with her through a story over it twenty years later? Mind-blowing all over again.

    Music that changes your life does come less frequently, though every so often a sound can still come out of nowhere. My biggest musical revelation of recent years was with Animal Collective. The song Purple Bottle, is one place to start: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyJjihseiio

    Also their recent, more electroish stuff on the album Merriweather Post Pavilion and the solo work of Panda Bear both offer some amazing moments, even if it takes a few listens to get over the weirdness factor.

    • Gloria says:

      Nathan – THANK YOU! You know, I feel like someone else recently sent me in the direction of Animal Collective, but I just never followed up. I need to. And I will.

      Yes, you’re right – life changing music is for the young. But then again, that’s when everything is blowing your mind, you know? Then you hit your late thirties and your frontal lobe develops and your shit calms down and then you have kids or a full time job or some sort of responsibility and that’s the stuff that changes you, but not in the same holy way music used to.

      These are the mind-blowing albums of the last 10 years for me:

      David Byrne Live in Austin, Texas
      The Shins Oh, Inverted World
      The Shins Chutes Too Narrow
      Death Cab For Cutie Plans
      Radiohead – everything
      Modest Mouse Good News For People Who Love Bad News
      Poe Haunted (that’s right, I said it)
      Mocean Worker Enter the Mowo
      White Stripes Elephant
      Regina Spektor Fidelity

      All perfect albums. But none of them life changing – except maybe the DB album, but because of two sons specifically. (“Nothing But Flowers” and “This Must Be the Place.”)

      It is pretty awesome that we were having similar experiences in different corners of the world. Fun observation, Nathaniel.

      Thanks, as always, for reading.

    • Gloria says:

      That. Link. Is. AWESOME.

      That was a fucking blast.

  15. D.R. Haney says:

    When you say you still haven’t come around to punk, you mean punk proper (so to speak), yes? Because Nirvana, for instance, can easily be categorized as a punk band (grunge was always a spurious term), and at the beginning, Talking Heads was considered a punk band (they emerged from the same scene that produced Television and the Ramones and so on), and the Velvet Underground is unquestionably a proto-punk band. Not that it matters, but attitude counts as much as musical style when I think of punk, which can be, and is, defined in many ways.

    • Gloria says:

      Yeah, you know, I think I have a Punk prejudice or a block or something. When I think of punk, I think of the documentary The Decline of Western Civilization and one specific aesthetic, which I never understood or experienced myself. Not in that way.

      The punks that I knew were mean and exclusionary and, frankly, fairly frightening – often bigoted, often willing to go fisticuffs for any reason. I had enough people in my life like that – I called them rednecks. Rednecks in leather jackets and spikes. Again, I own that this is my own prejudice, and one that I’m probably long overdue to rectify. I think that’s why I hold onto this idea that “I don’t like punk.” I want to get what so many people who I’ve known and loved have gotten.

      All that said, I find that I like a lot of what came out of the 80s and early 90s punk scene when I read it in words or see it displayed in a different sort of art. Like Henry Rollins’s spoken word. Or Jello Biafra’s writing. One of my favorite movies of all time is Roadside Prophet, which is where I was introduced to John Doe, which led me to The Decline of Western Civilization. (Incidentally, John Doe has recently released a country album and I’m curious to check it out.)

      How do you define punk, Duke?

      • D.R. Haney says:

        If I could define it easily, I would never haver written a 400-page book about it. But the short answer is given by one of the characters (who happens to be very short) in that book: dissent; giving the finger to the status quo. He points out as well that punks (or anyway proto-punks) existed before “punk” became codified, citing Brando and Dylan as examples, not to mention (and he doesn’t by name) Rimbaud and Catullus.

        John Doe’s first solo record leans very heavily toward country. Also, he (and Exene and DJ of X) all had a country side-project, the Knitters.


        Man, what a great voice he has.

        I can completely understand what you say about the punks you’ve known. There’s a lot of narrow-mindedness, and a lot of people using “punk” as an excuse for boorish behavior. But to make another attempt at definition, part of the original idea of punk was a return to rock & roll’s down-and-dirty essence, in an era of circuslike performance, overproduced records, bloated celebrity, and so on. In that way, I see punk as, simply, all that was good about rock & roll at the start, without it being a revival per se. The blues component of rock & roll, for instance, was stripped away, though it later returned and was taken mainstream by Jack White. Yeah, I see the White Stripes as a punk band. There’s so much crossover between this niche and that one that strict categorization strikes me as specious.

  16. There are some songs by bands I don’t even know that mark periods in my life. In fact, I’ve never been into music in the sense of knowing anything about it. I’ve always had music-obsessed friends who’ve commandeered the CD player (later iTunes) and so my favourite songs are ones I don’t know who sang… But a lot of them I can no longer listen to because they remind me too much of lost friends and days gone by. Ah, such is the power of music.

    • Gloria says:

      So, basically, the soundtrack to your life is kind of background music?

      I get what you mean about songs that you can’t listen to anymore. It kind of sucks, too, ’cause those tend to be the favorites.

      • I suppose you could say that. Or I suppose you could also say that it’s a list of bands I got into to impress girls, but later found that I liked even after the girls were gone.

        Yeah, it’s a killer when a song is off limits.

  17. Gloria, I read this yesterday and couldn’t comment. It brought up so much for me… the power of music, the ability it gives a person to disappear and reappear and reinvent and fall in love and out of love. When I was younger I used it to disappear and went through a time in my life where I barely spoke — just lived in the music because it was easier than dealing with the world around me. The music was salve and balm and cushion and parent and healer.

    But you know this. You lived this. Your words are so eloquent in describing events horrific and beautiful. You struck me hard with this sentence: I want all of it. I want more. I want it streaming ceaselessly, even when I’m sleeping. I want to wear it as my skin.


    • Gloria Harrison says:

      The music was salve and balm and cushion and parent and healer. That is so right, Robin. Also, sometimes it felt like the only thing that understood me. Or, maybe, the only thing I understood.

      Maybe that’s partly why we don’t get a lot of life-altering music in our adult years – our ability to cope and master reality evolves. Music, though, is still a companion, but not one we hang onto like a life raft.

  18. Wow, Gloria. This is awesome. And terrifying.

    I am going to give you some random names to plug into Pandora and see if they take you somewhere you like. I’ve chosen them because I think the music is beautiful. Not cool or rockin’ or headbanging or fun to dance to, each being fine in its own way. But, for right now, beauty:

    Johnny Hodges
    Eric Dolphy
    Arvo Part
    Larry Young
    Nino Rota
    Little Jimmy Scott
    Joaquin Turina
    Gillian Welch
    Joseph Spence
    Coleman Hawkins
    Glenn Gould

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      Thanks a million for the recommendations, Sean.

      I actually know (and really like) Gillian Welch. I think I even had a Pandora station for her at one time, but it played a whole lotta blue grass, which I can only take in small doses, and only when I’m in a certain mood.

      The rest, though – wooo! Thanks. 🙂

  19. Joe Daly says:

    This piece so perfectly captures the organic way musical tastes evolve. I love that as you moved through life, you found yourself relating not just to current/up-and-coming music, but you acquainted yourself with old classics too, like grooving to the Dead as you got older. More and more I find myself enjoying those trips backward, when you discover some artist who’s been around for years.

    GnR and Backstreet. Wow. That borders on punk!

    What an intense memory for Pat Benetar. Aye caramba.

    Watch out for Sean’s recommendations. They’re subversively catchy.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Yeah, Joe. I was trying to think of something to say, because I enjoyed this piece — Gloria, I’m really talking to you — but a lot of the music is just names to me. Even so I liked seeing you go through your changes.

      I’ve been playing some of the CA sixties stuff lately and for me, at least, it can still bring back what I was thinking and feeling and hurting about. I’m sure this is true for everybody, so I’ll only warn you-all that it even works when that music lies half a century in the past.

    • Gloria says:

      If by “grooving to the Dead” you mean “feeling unbridled, inexplicable rage when the Dead played” then, yes. Although, like I said, I can explain it now. Also, I find that I actually enjoy some of their catchier tunes – like “Casey Jones” and “Friend of the Devil.” But still turn into The Incredible Sulk when I hear “Terrapin Station.” There is NO reason for a drum solo that long!

      I think GnR and New Kids on the Block (not Backstreet Boys. Heh.) can only be enjoyed simultaneously by an adolescent in a state of emotional and developmental flux.

      My next post is going to be called Sean Beaudoin: Subversively Catchy.

      Did you see that I have a Pandora station for The Walkmen? Thank you again for that jewel.

      • Joe Daly says:

        Doh! I don’t know why I assume you softened on the Dead. I’m with you on long drum solos- one minute is fine, thankyouverymuch.

        I will say though, echoing a recent Facebook thread, that giving up a chance to see the Dead back in the 80s will always be a big regret for me. Even though I have never been a Deadhead, I dig some of their stuff and looking back, I should have made it a priority to see such a cultural icon.

        You have a Pandora station for the Walkmen?? Sweet! I may have to check that out!

        Rock on, sister…

  20. Greg Olear says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one skankin’ to TMBG…

  21. zoe zolbrod says:

    One of my favorite musical finds in the last few years has been Sean Hayes. I think he’s fairly off the radar, but he’s loosely in the orbit of Jolie Holland and The Be Good Tanyas, with less old timeyness and more grooviness. You might check him out.

    • Gloria says:

      Awesome, Zoe. Thanks, I’ll definitely check him out. Cheers!

    • Gloria says:

      Zoe! Sean Hayes is playing on Pandora right now. Yeah, I’ve heard him before. He’s really great. Thanks again for the recommendation – I’ll look into his catalog.

      • zoe zolbrod says:

        Cool! I just found out–thanks to Pandora–that he has a new album out. Well, new to me. It’s one year old. That tells you a lot about how in touch I am. (I liked him on FB, though, so hopefully I won’t miss the next one.)

  22. David says:

    You know, I have never actually tracked my own musical evolution. I should do that.

    And I agree about Cat Stevens, and Beck. Having met a fair amount of musicians when I was working in the industry, I can attest to the importance of making the distinction between the artist and the art. Otherwise, a lot of great music is left on the table.

  23. jmblaine says:

    In 7th grade I heard a rumor
    that Tori Amos
    was just just Axl Rose
    with makeup….

    “the hair,” they said
    “look at the hair & the eyes.”

  24. The “Playmate” song always freaked me out as a kid. I really wanted it to make sense, but could never figure out how one might slide down a rainbow into a cellar door. And why do we want to play in the cellar? That sounds kind of creepy, ever with a rainbow leading the way.

    I still have so much love for Appetite for Destruction. I wore it out and had to buy a new copy. What a record.

    I haven’t been on the computer much lately, my dear friend, but I just wanted you to know that I read and really loved this piece. I could relate to so many of your musical memories. xoxo.

    • Gloria says:

      The playmate song kind of freaked me out, too. The part about sliding into the cellar door always made me really anxious – I would’ve felt better if they’d added the word “open” right before the word “cellar.” I was always afraid of crashing.

      Thanks for reading, Tawni. It was exceedingly thoughtful, considering screen time makes you ill. I’ve read your piece over on myshinyhell, but I was at work and never commented. I will do so. I love you, darlin’. Hope you’re well.

  25. rob roberge says:

    Nice work, Gloria. Really interesting piece.

    But please don’t judge Punk (the most inclusive, wide-ranging, diverse and important, I’d argue, artistic movement of my lifetime) by DECLINE OF WESTERN CIV…which showed mostly just the aggressive, macho, stupid side of LA punk (with the exception of X)…and it wasn’t even CLOSE to a sampling of what was going on in LA at the time (let alone the rest of the country/world)…Punk too often gets reduced to the testosterone nonsense that was only one small aspect of a revolutionary form.

    Thanks for the work!

    • Gloria says:

      Hi Rob. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Yes, I guess we were on a similar wavelength, though your piece was so exceptional, I’m flattered you’d even lump this with it.

      I haven’t given up on Punk yet. Do you have any recommendations?

  26. Richard Cox says:

    This is really great, Gloria. I’m sorry I only now read it, but my Internet usage was out of whack while I was away.

    I love the present tense, episodic nature of this, like little beats of time drawn in an almost film-like manner. In fact as I read it I thought of a movie trailer, the way one might show different scenes, quick fades with a bass drum punctuating each cut.

    So much of your music tastes mirrored my own at the time. Not just the obvious one (kudos for your title) but the entire evolution.

    Sounds like Gnome was sometimes better at parenting than your actual parents. At least in that particular case. Good for him.

    This is an excellent piece, Gloria. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    • Gloria says:

      While I would never expect you to read, Richard, I’m especially glad you did with this one, as the title was very much a nod in your direction.

      Gnome was a great dog. I’ve had lots of pets in my life, but one dog, one cat, and one ferret stand out as the three most important I’ll ever have. Gnome, of course, was that dog.

      Thanks for reading, Richard. 🙂

  27. Ducky Wilson says:

    Gloria, loved this. I speak in music, so I can relate to the marking of the life in that manner. And WTF! I hope you write a longer story about year nine. That sounds really heavy.

    • Gloria says:

      Hi Ducky. Thank you so much for your comment.

      The “longer story” is actually “that goddammed manuscript I’m supposed to be working on, but I never do because I’d rather play Scrabble online and bemoan how it’s too hard.” Wish me luck! 🙂

  28. Gregory Messina says:

    Hi Gloria,
    It must be wonderful to see how your tastes in music have shifted according to different periods in your (remarkable) life. I could not say the same.

    Nicely done.


    • Gloria says:

      Hi Gregory! Nice to see your wine-offering, smiling gravatar again.

      It’s an interesting thing to be able to track my life’s trajectory by the music that influenced me. For me, it’s music. For other people, it’s action figure. We all have our thing, I guess. What’s yours?

  29. Erika Rae says:

    I think I’m developing a girl crush.

  30. Oh my god, I love this…although parts (like the time you were 9) were utterly terrifying.
    Ok ok, so Dire Straits – My eighth grade English teacher (SO. HOT.) lends me Dire Straits’ Making Movies and the Best of Steely Dan. I play “Romeo and Juliet” on repeat for like 5 weeks.
    Moody Blues – My dad LOVES them – I fall in love with “Nights in White Satin” at like age 10…mostly because I think they’re singing about KNIGHTS in white satin, which was an image I loved to think about..and still do…
    Such a beautiful piece, Gloria – And I’m convinced, more than ever, that we are totally soul sisters!!!

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