I think I know where it started.
It was the summer of 1979, and I was 13 years old. As I was beginning to approach adulthood (something I’m still doing even as I write this), my musical tastes were beginning to move from “Snoopy and the Red Baron” and “Convoy” into more of a rock direction. I was spending my allowance on 45s from the “music” section of Sears, which was my only music-buying option in small-town Mississippi in that era.
My latest acquisition, Supertramp’s “Goodbye Stranger,” a song that is blatantly about the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle and one-night stands, was No. 1 with a bullet in my personal charts. As such, I had it blasting on my grandparent’s hi-fi for most of the day.
The chorus of the song is sung in falsetto using a short set of around four-syllable-ish segments:
“Goodbye stranger/ It’s been nice/ Hope you find your/ Pa-ra-diiiice.”
This proved to be too much for my grandparents, who, let’s face it, were being very kind to let me play this rock ’n’ roll crap in their house to begin with.
“I am sick of this nonsense!” Papa was the first to crack.
“Oh, I am, too!” Nannie was saying this before he was even finished with his declaration.
Papa was then inspired to mock the song, though in less of a “Weird Al” way and more of a “misheard lyrics” way.
“That’s my baby/ That’s my baby/ That’s my baby, he announced in his own grandfatherly falsetto.
I was simultaneously offended and delighted. True, the song would have to be turned off, but on the other hand, rock ’n’ roll!
I suppose it’s good that they put a stop to my DJ set early on, as I had (by request) Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” cued up next. They wouldn’t have made it through the first few “bam-a-lams.”
And that was that. I had discovered one of my purest delights: annoying people with my musical choices.
So it was only natural that I’d turn to punk rock when I hit college. This is music that not only is perfect for annoying others but has a bit of self-righteousness built into it. See, if people don’t like this music, it’s because they are closed-minded and judgmental. Now, sure, you (me) feel a similar distain for their non-punk music, but in your case it’s just a matter of being able to differentiate quality from drek. Their music, as it happens, quantifiably sucks. Gabba Gabba Hey.
And so it came to pass that my dad found himself in need of a ride to pick up his car from the shop. This meant that he would be my passenger for at least 20 minutes. I immediately got to work on my mix tape.
There was a lot of pressure, as 20 minutes can go by quickly if you’re failing to annoy someone. What if, God forbid, he actually enjoys my set list? No, that sort of thinking doesn’t do anybody any good. Got to focus. Maybe start with Butthole Surfers’ “Lady Sniff,” then right into Black Flag’s “American Waste.” Too obvious? Perhaps. Maybe build up to it a bit more. Start off with some Violent Femmes, maybe segue to a poppier Descendents cut and then a Dead Kennedy’s ditty? Hmmm …
In the end, I decided to just start at 11 and stay there. So before my father had even buckled his seat belt, he was listening to the soothing tones of Minor Threat’s “Seeing Red.” If you don’t know this song, you may want to take a moment and YouTube it. No, really. It’s only about 57 seconds long. This may give you some better context with which to understand what happened next.
My dad stared at my stereo, as it was clearly the origin point of this cacophony, pondered what was happening for a moment and then announced:
“It sounds like the guy has s--- in his mouth and is trying to get it out.”
Hey, I never said my dad was Lester Bangs.
I was simultaneously delighted and disappointed. Delighted because, well, mission accomplished. I’d seriously annoyed someone with my music. But disappointed because it was over in less than 30 seconds. Now I’d have to turn the music off and ride in non-annoying silence. And I had a particularly grating Circle Jerks song coming up next. What a waste.
Barry Smith’s column appears Mondays in The Aspen Times.