I can’t tell you how many times people have said to me “Wow, you must really love music” and have asked if it’s been a lifelong love. So I thought it was time to tell you my story of how it all began and evolved for a kid growing up in 1970s Massachusetts.
Memorial Hall Library in Andover, Mass., my hometown, certainly gets some of the credit. I distinctly recall checking out a Monkees record and being a tiny tot cranking “Daydream Believer” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday” with unfettered glee.
The back of the Ponti family wood-paneled station wagon is where I heard many FM radio hits way back when, including “Run Joey Run” by David Geddes, “If You Leave Me Now” by Chicago, “Beth” by Kiss and “Garden Party” by Ricky Nelson. “Garden Party” still ranks among my all-time favorite songs.
I remember listening to Ike & Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” in our living room and thinking it was the greatest thing in the universe. A few years later, my parents were all about the Donna Summer double-album “Live and More,” and I will always adore “MacArthur Park,” despite not understanding why anyone would leave something as wonderful as a cake out in the rain.
When junior high rolled around, I happily jumped on the Journey and Asia bandwagons and by that point had the requisite boom box and ever-growing collection of cassettes.
But then one Sunday afternoon I went to a flea market in nearby North Reading, Mass., and made one of the most important purchases of my life: I paid $1 for a copy of The Rolling Stones album “Let It Bleed.” It remains, by far, my favorite Stones album and every song on it is spectacular. Ironically, my favorite is sung by Keith Richards. It just doesn’t get much better than “You Got the Silver.”
The Rolling Stones quickly led me to the person I consider my all-time favorite musician: David Bowie. “Let’s Dance” was my admission ticket and I worked my way backwards. At that same flea market I bought “Space Oddity” and over the next couple of years pretty much everything else by him I could get my hands on. My bedroom became a Bowie shrine and my collection of imports, picture discs and such is impressive.
During my early Bowie years is when I started down a path of musical discovery that would forever seal my fate as someone who needs music as much as air and food. Looking back, I don’t think I realized how good I had it living so close to Boston. First off, the access to record stores: I found many gems at Second Coming, Mystery Train, Nuggets Records and Rockit in Saugus.
Secondly, the concerts. It all began in the summer of 1984. My first show was The Go-Go’s on the Boston Common. I was there to see the opening act, INXS. Turns out INXS’s plane was delayed and they were a no-show, but I’d be lying if I said Belinda and company didn’t put on a fun show.
However, it was the second concert that really got things going for me. The Psychedelic Furs played at The Orpheum in downtown Boston. Talk Talk opened the show. Both bands were phenomenal. I still have the ticket stub.
Over the next several years I ventured back to Boston many times for The Smiths, The Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, New Order, Depeche Mode, INXS (finally) and many others. A friend even managed to get us front-row seats to see R.E.M. at The Wang Center. They were on the road supporting “Life’s Rich Pageant.” Suffice to say, I died at least nine times that night, such was the intensity and perfection of that show.
I also grew quite obsessed with U2, and one of the most unforgettable nights of my life was seeing them at The Worcester Centrum during “The Unforgettable Fire” tour.
During that time I also got hip to some of the Boston bands that were making noise in the ’80s, including O Positive and Face to Face. I was downright obsessed with Face to Face and saw them many times, often with my high-school friend Lauren Pickard. Lauren passed away several years ago, but I’ll always remember us as two teenagers having the times of our lives at those shows led by vocalist Laurie Sargent.
There are far too many moments to mention in this one column, but I’ll share another one because it was defining in terms of discovering an artist I would become a lifelong fan of.
My friend Daphne sent me a cassette of stuff she had heard on a New York City radio station during her freshman year of college. I remember being in my driveway listening to this tape on the car stereo. I heard the familiar guitar of U2’s The Edge, but then a voice from another world. Her name was new to me; in fact I didn’t even know how to pronounce it at the time. It was Sinead O’Connor and the song was “Heroine.”
Months later I was at a record store in Montreal with my parents and came across the 12-inch single to the song, which I still have. The following year O’Connor released her debut record, “The Lion and the Cobra,” and I’ve adored her ever since.
During my years at Keene State College, I was a DJ at radio station WKNH and experienced another moment of music bliss. We were sent a record called “Touch,” and upon listening to it in our production studio I was struck – profoundly – by how exquisite the singer’s voice was. It became a staple of my Sunday night show, and a couple of months later I interviewed Sarah McLachlan to discuss the album. We were two kids. Somewhere I still have the recording.
Indigo Girls also became hugely important to me, as did Kate Bush, Eurythmics, Tori Amos, 10,000 Maniacs and Jane Siberry.
Although the process of falling in love with music has changed with technology, it still happens. And when it does, there is nothing more pure and perfect to me.
When I moved to Portland in the mid-’90s, I soon discovered the music of local acts Kate Schrock and Darien Brahms. These were followed by Spouse, Sara Cox, Carol Noonan and many others. All of these are artists I can’t imagine not knowing about and loving.
More recently I’ve come to know and love the likes of Sara Hallie Richardson, dilly dilly, The Fogcutters, Samuel James, Anna Lombard, Emilia Dahlin, The Other Bones, Zach Jones, Lyle Divinsky, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper and so many more.
I’ll leave you with some questions: What was your first concert? What was the first record you bought? What songs could you not live without? What does music mean to you?
Ponder these questions. I’ll be sitting over yonder, headphones on.
Aimsel Ponti can be contacted at 791-6455or at: