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There was a point in my life when I thought nothing could have more meaning than music. Specifically, during my teenage years in high school and college.
At 16, even a Mötley Crüe song can carry some impressive emotional weight – I, for one, thought Nikki Sixx to be an exceptionally talented songwriter, even if Mick Mars was a pedestrian guitarist. To this day, every time I hear The Cars I’m transported back to my best friend Roger’s basement bedroom where I watched the still-new MTV, listened to Rush albums, silently tried to figure out why I couldn’t like girls the same as he did, and plotted more than a few drunken weekend excursions.
My young life had a soundtrack, one that reflected and amplified all the feelings I had, whether suppressed or not. In high school it was Mötley Crüe, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen and Kiss. In college I started out with Rush and Metallica, and ended up with Depeche Mode and The Cure.
But nothing really compares to the reaction I had when I first heard Love and Rockets. During my sophomore year of college, my work-study consisted primarily of manning the radio station on Sundays for a re-broadcast of operas from the Met. Not being the opera sort, I would turn down the feed volume and blast albums from the newly arrived stacks over the studio monitors. That’s where I first heard Express, my first true love of college alt-rock. I played the tape into static in my powder-blue 1978 Oldsmobile 98, and on the cheap stereo I was able to afford for my frat-house bedroom.
The follow-up album, Earth Sun Moon, came out during my junior year, three weeks before I came out – or, more accurately, was outed by a pack of fraternity brothers. During what remains the darkest period of my life, I latched on to the album as a life jacket, the only support that remained when everyone I had ever trusted had turned against me. Most of that support came from the lyrics of “No New Tale to Tell“: ”You cannot go against nature/Because when you do/Go against nature/It’s part of nature, too.”
That’s a lot of pressure to put on a piece of magnetic tape and three men I never had – and never have – met. But as cheesy as it sounds and feels from the perspective of middle-aged adulthood, the album helped save my life. Love and Rockets didn’t write a song for me, but they ended up writing a song to me. While they don’t and can’t really know it, they’re part of a frighteningly small and fragile group of people who held me together long enough for me to realize I was strong enough to be the person I was meant to be.
When a Love and Rockets tribute album, New Tales to Tell, was released a couple years ago, I immediately bought it. One great thing about the future is that I don’t wear out my music with repeated listening. The other thing about the future is that there has been very little music that grabs me by the heart and shakes me. Books and movies have never lost their power for me, but music had faded in comparison. Re-hearing the songs that made me believe I was someone is a re-energizing moment. It was a moment of replenished power that re-ignited my love for music.
It made me want to hear a song that makes me believe. And these days, I do.
Sean Bugg is the co-publisher of Metro Weekly. He can be reached at sbugg@MetroWeekly.com. Follow him on Twitter @seanbugg.