Ambidextrous 326- More Than Music

Okay, so one of the few things I love almost as much as comic books is music…

Getting technical, one of the little reasons that I decided to leave Newsarama was to give myself the option of incorporating my love of music into my columns a little more overtly, without feeling entirely self-indulgent about doing it. And I’ve really done nothing with that, partially because music (with few exceptions) sucks ass right now, but also because I’ve just been lazy about building the right framework for the discussions. For the aforementioned few exceptions, I’ve got the Just Listen series, so this is my attempt at creating something for everything else—the albums and music I hold strong emotional attachments to for any number of reasons. Something that will allow me to talk about CDs that I’ll never get rid of, despite having long ago added them to my iTunes library, the soundtracks from my favorite movies and TV shows, etc.—music that has a personal story behind it, and helped get me from one point to another.

So with all that in mind, let me tell you a story…

I was heading into my junior year of college, and my long running relationship with a girlfriend had just gone down in unfaithful flames. And the lesson that I took from this most unpleasant situation was that no one is to ever be trusted. Not even the people you trust and value most can be replied upon, and you’re only one moment away from a betrayal that you would’ve seen coming all along, if only you’d been a little smarter and lot more realistic. I was fairly confident that I’d be entirely miserable on all fronts until perhaps the end of time, and even more than that, I swore to never again expose myself to a betrayal like that again. Yeah, I know, I know…I was excessively harsh back in those days, but that’s where my head (and heart) was at back then.

Fortunately, I was never so wrong about anything ever, and what followed all this was one of the best years of my entire life. The brutal campus job I’d worked the year before, that had me pulling 30 hour weeks on top of a full course load, was replaced with a cushy desk job right down the hallway from my dorm. Because of this insane level of convenience, anytime anyone anywhere wanted to get rid of a shift, or had to go outta town for a weekend, or just basically couldn’t be bothered showing up to the easiest job imaginable, I took that shift without hesitation. Therefore, I was also swimming in extra cash and feeling great about that. I was reading and writing at what I personally consider a legendary pace, aided in part by the cushy desk job, and most importantly, I was living with three other guys that I’d soon discover were some of the best people I’d ever meet, and who’d become lifelong friends.

To be accurate, I’d been rooming with Keir since we got to college, and we’d known each other since grade school, so were already brothers. People warned us that living together would destroy our friendship, which we always thought was a stupid, unlikely prediction. Mike McPherson also lived with us in our suite the year before, but the group really became a group when Mike Clark showed up as the missing piece of the puzzle. Clark had (and still has) a dynamic and infectious personality, and it was his presence that turned us all into something better than we all were separately, or even as a trio.

We’d lucked out and got back into the newest, flyest dorm on the whole campus, that was made up of a collection of “suites” that featured two separate rooms, and a large shared common area. The ones on the first floor even had small kitchens and ovens in them, and we were assigned Room 112. R&B fans will likely know the most obvious joke here, but that wasn’t really the case with us…honest. But we were four guys with similar backgrounds, tastes, and interests, and that was never more evident in the music we all loved and listened to constantly.

If you could’ve created a soundtrack for this year all music would’ve been produced by Timbaland, the late great Jay Dilla, and DJ Hi-Tek. We’ll talk about Tim later on down the road, but Dilla and Hi-Tek were responsible for much of the material on the three albums I want to highlight today—Like Water For Chocolate (by Common), Fantastic, Vol. 2 (by Slum Village), and Train of Thought (by Reflection Eternal). All three are permanently entrenched in my mind as all-time classics, and were played on repeat in our suite and in our cars and on our radio show for the entire year. So they became yet another thing that brought us together—like midnight trips to the all-night Wendy’s, or Papa John’s breadsticks with an extra cup of garlic sauce, or the desk drawer filled with peppermints stolen from the cafeteria, that was booby-trapped with push pins by someone who shall remain nameless, etc. etc.

We had a weekly radio show too, and these three albums supplied a ton of material for it, especially after I got my hands on the SoundForge program, which allowed me to remove (or alter) all manner of profanity, wildly expanding our musical library in the process. Figuring out how to properly use the “reverse” effect is a point of personal pride for me, and once I got the right tools, I literally couldn’t stop editing songs, and creating this huge file called Room 112- Radio Edits that still lives on— because of Keir’s insistence on saving it on his hard drive, which at the time I thought was a bit silly honestly. Fortunately, he paid me no attention, and after I got my iPod a couple years ago, I was able to transfer the whole thing over for nostalgia’s sake. So glad he ignored me, because it functions as yet another little time capsule of that fantastic year, and the music we were all passionate about. Wish I’d actually recorded a few of the actual shows, mostly so I could play them for my wife as conclusive proof I did indeed have a radio show, because it probably seems so unlike me.

But this whole thing was pretty unlike me—I allowed people into my space and became a better person as a result. We used to joke that whenever we needed to come together and figure some shit out, whether it was something that was bothering somebody in the group, or even some larger external conflict, we’d order up some breadsticks and figure out how to move past it. Our suite became this emotional fort, somewhere we all felt safe, comfortable, and incredibly protected. Nothing destroyed the bond developing between us (and some folks did their best), and this was a huge turning point for me, as I came into this year with a completely different outlook than the one I left with. I learned so much about myself and about the kind of people I wanted to surround myself with for the rest of my life.

And all it takes to bring the whole thing back for me is the just the right track on any of these albums…songs that we’re to this day sending lyrics back and forth in text messages, which I think is an appropriate end point for this column. Keir, and the Mikes will know what it is instantly, but a few of the more hardcore hip-hop fans will probably pick it up immediately too. But these are the kinds of albums and experiences that will make up More Than Music on this blog, and over the summer I’ll be steadily building it up into something I hope is memorable. Thanks for dropping by, and as always, stay tuned.

“….I said, ‘what shit?’”

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