Welcome to a new A.V. Club Friday feature, AVQ&A;, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and among our readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. And feel free to suggest questions for future weeks.
This week's question: What was the first album you bought with your own money?
Simon And Garfunkel's Greatest Hits. I was 13 years old, and I'd grown up on a steady diet of my parents' twangy country music. Then I watched Mike Nichols' The Graduate. Most of the film went over my head—why was that whiny kid such an asshole? What was he up to with that old lady? Why did he run in and yell at the wedding when he wasn't interested in the bride earlier when she liked him?—but the repetition of the sweet, harmony-heavy songs and the hushed intensity of "Sound Of Silence" stuck with me. I bought the album (on cassette tape, yet) not knowing anything else about folk, Simon And Garfunkel, or the '60s in general, just knowing that I wanted to hear those harmonies again. I wound up listening to it obsessively for the next year or so. I still had that tape in a closet as of a couple of years ago, when I gave in to nostalgia, tracked the album down on CD, and got rid of the cassette. Even with the nostalgia factor, though, I have a hard time listening to that album—it brings back, far too sharply, the sensation of being a profoundly ignorant 13-year-old with a music library consisting of one mournful cassette.
I was also 13. I had just gotten my first Walkman, or a knock-off equivalent, complete with auto-reverse so you didn't even have to flip the tape! So as a young man burning with rock 'n' roll intensity, I bought the rockingest, rollingest album around: Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits. Why? I'm honestly not sure. I liked the hits from that album ("Money For Nothing," "Walk Of Life," and "So Far Away") but I don't honestly know that I loved the hits. It may have been a question of frugality: At three songs I knew I liked, it offered a better-insured return on my investment than other albums. Because it was the first album—well, tape—it probably did offer a pretty good return. I'm listening to it now for the first time in years after downloading it from iTunes, and I'm surprised by how much I remember, even songs between the hits and the still-moving title track that closes out the album. That's not to say that it holds up brilliantly. Part of its claim to fame came from being the first album release that was digitally recorded, edited, and mastered, earning it the DDD tag on CD. And boy, does it sound digital, wrapped in the airless studio polish that would define the sound of the back half of the '80s. (Robert Plant's 1988 album Now And Zen probably counts as the apex of this sound, if apex is the right word.) I never bought another Dire Straits album, but I have downloaded some songs since then. "Romeo And Juliet" still sounds like a classic. And have you ever heard "Skateaway"? You can bet Paul Thomas Anderson has.
Fine Young Cannibals, The Raw & The Cooked. Other than being the first album I ever bought with my own money, The Raw & The Cooked has absolutely no lasting significance for me. And I don't have a good story to go with it, either. It is to my record-buying history what sleeping with a 26-year-old stereo salesman was to Jennifer Jason Leigh in Fast Times At Ridgemont High.
Genesis, Invisible Touch. My memory is a little fuzzy about the first album I bought with my own money (Quiet Riot's Metal Health precedes it, but I think that was a gift), but the first CD I purchased was definitely Invisible Touch. I was compelled by "Land Of Confusion," whose video with the Spitting Image puppets kind of terrified, yet intrigued me. Although the album had latter Genesis hits (the title track, "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight," "In Too Deep"), I think I mostly rocked out to "Land Of Confusion," whose nuclear-war paranoia spoke to me as an anxious 10-year-old. I remember little else of the album, but I still have it–my attempts to trade it in at used record stores as a high-school punk-rocker proved, shockingly, unsuccessful.
Styx, Kilroy Was Here. Even though I have a pretty terrible memory, I have a vivid recollection of taking my very own money to Kohl's Department Store in Glendale, WI to buy it. "Mr. Roboto" was all over MTV (this'd be somewhere in the first half of 1983, the year I turned 9), and the videos were pretty mesmerizing. I even got to know the backstory, such as it was, and got to hear all about the concert from my much-older brother, who's a huge Styx fan to this day. (He tells a story about getting their autographs at Ribfest in Naperville.) I really dug the deep cuts, especially "Heavy Metal Poisoning," sung by guitarist James "JY" Young—he played the subtly named Dr. Righteous in the concept album's ridiculous story. But hey, "Mr. Roboto" and "Don't Let It End" still reign at rock radio, don't they? (Other records I recall buying around this time: seven-inch singles for Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'N Roll" and The Rolling Stones' "Hang Fire," which I mistakenly called "Hang Five" to the record-store clerk.)
Duran Duran, Arena. Yeah, I know—not just a Duran Duran album, but a live Duran Duran album. On cassette, of course. I was 13, and I'd been lucky enough to grow up in a pretty rock 'n' roll household; everything from Queen to Lynyrd Skynyrd was blasted in my face on a regular basis during my formative years. But new wave hit the radio in a major way when I was about 10, and soon I was identifying more with The Go-Go's, The Police, and David Bowie. (Sorry if that makes me sound like some little proto-hipster. As proof of my preadolescent lameness, I also loved the heck out of Huey Lewis. And I had no idea back then that David Bowie was a classic-rock guy who'd been around forever—I thought he was some crazy new weirdo like, say, Adam Ant.)
Accordingly, Duran Duran became my favorite band. For some reason, their songs sounded so mysterious and alien to me—and the video for "The Wild Boys," the one studio song on Arena, really clinched it for me. It looked and sounded so tough, so Thunderdome. (Then again, Van Halen was the toughest band I listened to, so what did I know?) I went to the Westminster Mall—my family had just moved to Denver from Florida—and threw down 8 bucks of my hard-earned babysitting cash for Arena on cassette (complete with super awesome, forearm-long foldout insert). Later, my first concert would be Duran Duran opening for Bowie, but that's another story. And for the record: I have never stopped thinking Duran Duran is fucking awesome. Let's just pretend Notorious was their last album, though, okay?
Guns N' Roses, Appetite For Destruction. Most of the music I'd listened to throughout elementary school was fairly sanitized new wave and '80s pop—a lot of Genesis, Tears For Fears, INXS (i.e., the sort of stuff my overprotective mom had no problem buying for me)—but in the summer after sixth grade, I began cultivating this idea that I wanted to start being more of a rebel. I began dressing in Vision Street Wear and Vans, cultivating friendships with the "skater" kids, and trying desperately to get into metal—or what passed for it on MTV, anyway. I'd already taken my dad's castoff cassettes (the "White" Trinity of White Lion, Whitesnake, and Great White), but all my new friends ever talked about was Guns N' Roses, who were seen as the "real shit" in a scene of poofy-haired fakers. By that point, Appetite had been out for almost an entire year, but the video for "Welcome To The Jungle" had just started to pick up steam. I liked it okay, I guess, but the important thing was that my mom didn't like it. (She'd already ruined Bon Jovi for me.) Fully embracing my new identity as a hellraiser, I bought my copy secondhand from a flea market with some birthday money and set about listening to it every day. Unfortunately, one afternoon I left the cassette case lying around, and my mom caught a glimpse of the infamous "robot rape" painting. The next thing I knew, my dad had confiscated it, declaring, "If this is too hardcore for me, it's way too hardcore for you!" (A hilarious statement, if you know my dad.) I spent the rest of the summer sneaking the album out of his closet, listening to it, and returning it to its hiding place before he got home from work, until I finally wised up and just made a dub of it. I labeled it "Robert Palmer's Greatest Hits"; nobody ever touched it again. That fall, incidentally, I went right back to being a nerd.