It was a small, second-story room facing out onto the street that I grew up on.
There were two windows, side-by-side, but the view seemed to be of absolutely
no interest to its occupant. The blinds were always down, and sometime in the
summer of 1974, just as I was about to become a teenager, I found out why.
The room was part of a house that was two doors down from my own. Everybody
on the block knew who lived there: Max and his wife Lily and Max’s elderly
mother, along with their two sons, Steve and Lenny. It was Max that almost
everyone on the block interacted with daily. He was the token clerk at the nearby
subway station, and one of the friendliest and most engaging people you could
ever hope to know. Lenny was a chip off the old block, and the room in question
Lenny, who was about twenty at the time, was tall and razor-thin and loved Italian
food. My mother loved to feed him. He devoured everything she put before him,
and he never gained an ounce. He was also extremely polite and very intelligent,
and they would have many conversations about the issues of the day. He won the
trust of my overprotective mother – no small accomplishment – and so it was that
he was granted permission to take me to visit his room.
Most of it was standard issue. The usual run-of-the-mill furnishings. But one wall
was utterly remarkable. It was completely covered, from floor to ceiling, with
shelves filled with vinyl albums. The only break was in the center, where the most
awesome looking stereo equipment my young eyes had ever seen, was
positioned. “I keep the blinds closed because it gets pretty hot in here with the
sun”, he said, as if he had read my mind. “Do you want to hear some cool music?”
Thus began my informal education in rock n roll.
There would be the majesty of “In The Court of The Crimson King” exploding from
the speakers for the first time, the maniacal declaration of “I am the god of
hellfire!” from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, and the beautiful lilt of The
Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset”. This was a world that didn’t exist on AM radio. There
was the hypnotizing sonic landscape of The Doors “Riders On The Storm”, my
what-the-hell-is-this reaction to the cover photo of The New York Dolls before the
first notes of “Personality Crisis” punched me in the ear and changed my
perspective forever. I wondered what my mom would think and Lenny again read
my mind. “Better if you don’t tell your mother about them.”
I had my first exposure to bands and records that would become staples of my
teen years. Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Pink Floyd and Yes. The Phil Spector
Christmas Album. “Tommy”, which drew my mother’s attention when she
overheard me singing “See me, Feel Me, Touch Me…” around the house. Her
fears were laid to rest when I told her the story behind the words.
Lenny got the o.k. from mom and took me on my first record-buying trip into
Manhattan. It was to J&R Music World, which was then only one small storefront
on Park Row. New releases were $3.69 each or 3 for $10. From there it was a trip
to the original famous Ray’s on 6th Avenue in the West Village for my first taste of
“city” pizza. Then back to the room to play that new vinyl.
When I find myself in the old neighborhood, I’ll take a walk down that street, and
see how little of the block I remember remains. The few faces I encounter are
unfamiliar. The houses are still there, but many have been altered or renovated,
and some have seen better days. Aside from the addition some garish awnings
and chrome railings, my house looks like we left it almost forty years ago. But
Max’s house hasn’t changed a bit. Like its owner, who’s now in his late nineties,
it’s weathered the years very well. Most importantly, at least to me, is the fact
that the blinds are still pulled all the way down in Lenny’s room. It’s comforting to
think that he’s still protecting all that glorious vinyl from the rays of the sun.
Lorenzo hosts THE ROCKER, which offers up a diverse hodgepodge of generation spanning music centered around rock and its countless affiliated genres. He’s also a freelance writer and an all around pretty swell guy (or so he thinks.) He welcomes your opinion at therockerwithlorenzomameli@