A Penny for Your…

On Friday night I traveled back in time. It was the late 1970s. I was 10 or 11 years old. I was sitting at the kitchen table of our apartment in Newark, NJ, wearing my Little House on the Prairie nightgown, engrossed in the 2 page centerfold ad in the TV Guide. An advertisement for Columbia House Record and Tape Club.

I sooo wanted to be a member of that club! And for just one penny, I could!

My musical knowledge was limited to what I heard on AM radio while sitting in the back seat of my mom’s car. She was always singing along with whatever was playing. Mostly singer-songwriter stuff mixed with soft rock and pop.

At home, I would open up the lid of the giant furniture sized stereo console, and reach down into it for one of the albums from their small collection. I would sing at the top of my little lungs to artists like Little Anthony and the Imperials, Roy Orbison, the Four Seasons, The Jackson 5, Cher. Oh, Cher…’Half Bree-eed! That’s all I evah hearrd!’

There at the kitchen table, I was ready to graduate beyond the albums that they had added to their collection upon my request: the Muppets, Donny Osmond, David Soul (the guy from Starsky & Hutch, for christsakes)…

Now, I could buy 13 cool records or 8 tracks for just one cent! Cool stuff like Barry Manilow! How amazing was that?!

I spent hours and days looking over the page. I put it down and came back to it all week. The tiny print listing of artists with interesting names like Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Styx, Bay City Rollers, Moody Blues… and some photos of eye-catching albums covers, like Boston, Kansas, Electric Light Orchestra, KISS!

I agonized over the long list. How could I pick only 13? Would I pick the right ones? Would I be a good club member? After days of painstaking deliberation, I filled out the little form, affixed my penny to the circle with scotch tape and sent it off in the mail.

I waited patiently for the day when the 8 tracks would arrive. Alas, This is one of the great regrets of my life. If I could go back in time I would certainly grab that 10 year old me with a shake, and yell, ‘No! Not the 8-tracks, you silly child! Go for the vinyl!’

When they arrived I opened each one slowly and carefully. I read the track listings. Put them in the player. I skipped over songs I didn’t think I liked with a click of the button. I rewound the tape to re-listen to songs that I enjoyed. I grabbed paper and pen to transcribe the lyrics. I memorized them and sang them to choreographed movements. I transformed my living-room into a coffee house, a recording studio, a festival stage.

And I fell in love, over and over and over again with melodies, and with lyrics.

Those 8 tracks were the beginning of my own personal musical taste, and collection. After that first order my brother and I would pore over those Columbia House ads together. We would choose 6 albums each and try to agree on the 13th pick. We filled out the form with a different fake name each time. We never paid those monthly fees. An entire 8-track collection for mere pennies. Maybe that’s a why they became obsolete? Karma!

Soon after that first order I went to my first concerts, Ozzy Osborne, then AC/DC, with my Aunt Maggie as chaperone. A few years later I would take my brother to one his first concerts, Slayer and Anthrax at the Capitol in Passaic, NJ.

And on Friday night, I found myself there. In Prudential Arena in Newark, only blocks away from that apartment I grew up in, sitting with with my mother, my brother and my Aunt Maggie at a Barry Manilow concert!

A sold out crowd of people sang the lyrics to ‘I Write the Songs’. I was filled at once with every single musical emotion that I have ever felt, in the nearly 50 years, since the first time I heard those melodies flowing from my parents 8 track player.

Barry’s set list could read like a poem of a life:

The Old Songs
This one’s for you.
Even now
I can’t smile without you.
Trying to get the feeling again
I made it through the rain.
I’m ready to take a chance again.
Looks like we made it.
It’s a miracle.

The miracle of music. The power to inspire. To transform. To heal. To move us through time.

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