Written by Mike Tomano. © 2017 Fossil Entertainment Group
September 19, 2017
1977. 40 years ago. The year of my 10th Birthday. A small set of Slingerland drums and second hand cymbals sat in the basement of my childhood home. When not at school or outside playing with neighborhood friends, I was either listening to my budding record collection or bangin' on the drums in pure Bobby Brady / Animal The Muppet fashion. My musical tastes were shaped by my Mom's Elvis records, box of 45s, rock, blues and country albums, my sister Michelle's Motown & Monkees, Dad's Big Band records, suggestions from the older kids in the neighborhood and the music being pumped over the airwaves on the legendary Chicago radio stations: The Rockers: WDAI, WEFM, The Mighty Met (WMET), The Loop - Where Chicago Rocks (WLUP), WXRT - Chicago's Finest Rock:. Top 40 Giants: WLS-AM, WFYR,WCFL, R&B and Dusties on WJPC-AM & WBMX...and others up and down the Windy City dial.
I devoured every genre and craved new discoveries to satisfy my passion for music. My weekly chore stipend was dedicated to Tape Town near Archer & Harlem (which would soon become Kroozin' Music) or a bus ride with friends (this was back when kids left the house in the morning and returned when the streetlights came on) to Ford City Mall in the West Lawn area to check out the record store in Peacock Alley. I spent almost every day across the street at The Kennedy household. My best friend Moira and I would pour over her older siblings' massive record collections and listen to The Beatles, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Leon Russell, Jefferson Airplane, The Band, Grateful Dead and countless other giants. Her brother Terrence was a mentor to me, lending me records to check out...from Frank Zappa to Humble Pie to Hawkwind. I couldn't get enough.
One August day, I was shooting my bow and arrows in the backyard when I heard strange sounds coming from my next door neighbor's house. Joey was listening to the new Pink Floyd album, Animals. I stood there on the patio, then moved closer to the fence to get a better listen to the opening bass notes of "Pigs (Three Different Kinds)" floating in the air. The echoing crunch of David Gilmour's guitar led into the tune that held my attention for its entire eleven minutes and twenty-eight seconds. When it ended, I hopped the fence and entered the Palermo's back door. (Neighbors did such things back then.) I said hello to Barbara, petted their lovable mutt Rocky a bit, then invited myself into Joey's room, as the middle section of "Sheep" was playing. "Hi, Joe! What is this?" Joe looked up from the sports magazine he was reading and said, "Pink Floyd's Animals." I thanked him and was on my way. I went home and scribbled it on my ever-growing list of must-haves. I had recently discovered the band RUSH and was pretty sure they were the greatest thing to ever occur in the history of sound.
It happened earlier that summer while playing Kick The Can with the kids from the block. I was hiding between the Manganiello and Spiewak homes and, again, heard music from a window. This time, the music came from Suzanne's older brother Eddie who was spinnin' All The World's A Stage for his friends in their basement. Not worrying about being discovered by the Can Kicker, I spoke into the window, loud enough to be heard over the live version of "By-Tor and The Snow Dog." "Eddie, this is amazing! What are you listening to? I asked. Eddie told me, , "Rush. Their new album is coming out soon." Had to get me some Rush. My next allowance was spent on their Fly By Night album. I wore the grooves out. Larry, the proprietor of Tape Town let me know their new album would be out in September. It was going to be "totally excellent." It was added to The List.
A few weeks later, as my 10th birthday grew near, Moira and I took a ride to Tape Town on our Schwinns. I was raving to her about Rush. She knew it was my birthday week, 'cause girls remembered those kinds of things. We browsed the selection in the dimly-lit haven, the stench of strawberry incense filling the air. Larry came out from the Employees Only back-room door. He greeted us, smelling faintly of a skunk and peering through bloodshot, squinting eyes. "So, Lar, do you have Pink Floyd Animals?" I asked. "Sold out. Back ordered," he replied. Dismayed, but not beaten, I inquired about the release date of the new Rush. "Matter of fact," Larry said, brandishing a box cutter and opening a box behind the counter, "I...believe...this..." He pulled out a copy, slapped a $4.50 price sticker on it and handed it to me.This was it. Rush - A Farewell To Kings. The cover's photo of a the marionette king among urban ruins sparked my imagination. What amazing sounds must be contained within? This was no KISS record. This was serious shit. I was sure I was about to embark on a life changing journey and couldn't wait to get home and slap this magic on my turntable. Moira asked to see it and I handed it to her like Arthur handing over Excalibur. She handed Larry a fiver and handed it back to me. "Happy Birthday," she said. I was very touched. What a loving gesture. Larry gave a stoned grin-and-nod. We continued to browse, with Larry offering suggestions of Judas Priest, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith and Robin Trower albums, but my mind was elsewhere. I had to get home and listen to A Farewell To Kings!
Once home, I rushed to my bedroom. I carefully placed the stylus to vinyl and adjusted my headphones. Volume up. The opening title track began with a classical guitar passage, replete with authentic birdsong, that sounded like the Yes album Fragile that Terrence lent me earlier that summer. Then the blaring electric guitar, thundering bass and bombastic percussion kicked in. I traveled through "Xanadu", "breaking my fast on honeydew", found my way "Closer To The Heart", reveled in the bittersweet "Cinderella Man" and melancholy "Madrigal" and hopped aboard the Rocinante into the constellation of Cygnus, facing the mysterious invisible force...The Black Hole of "Cygnus X-1"! As Geddy Lee's shriek of "every nerve is torn apart!" brought the epic to a close. I caught my breath, flipped the disc over and started it again. I spent the week listening to that album over and over. I taped it to cassette and painstakingly tried to recreate the drum patterns of Professor Peart on my Slingerlands.
On the weekend of my 10th birthday, my family and friends gathered at my house for celebration. We ate my mother's peerless lasagna, laughed, sang, ate cake and I graciously opened the presents given to me. None equaled Moira's,of course, but I was indeed happy for the t-shirts, sweaters, and board games that I received. Later in the day, my cousin Tommy, who was a fellow music lover, arrived. He didn't have time to wrap his gift to me. Walking in to the backyard to join us, he handed me Pink Floyd Animals. "Here I though you'd like this," he said. Helluva Birthday.