A Hunger for Howlin' WolfIn high school, I had a ridiculously cheap record player/stereo. I'm sure it was only a step above a child's portable player, but it was what I had. The spindle did hold multiple albums, three perhaps, and it did autoplay and drop the next one so I had an hour or so to lie back and listen before I had to get up and turn the records over or change them. Sometimes I could get five 45s out of a session if I took a chance on the needle catching on the edge of the stack.
I burned incense and smoked pot and played my music, the same songs over and over until the grooves in the records were deep and full of pops and crackles. An avalanche of Elton John, a flood of Foghat, ELP (“Still, You Turn Me On”), the Carpenters, Jethro Tull, The Who. BTO, Average White Band, Marvin Gaye, I hungered for different sounds. All we had at home was AM radio. Somewhere out there, I knew/sensed there was more.
An older teen from down the road gave me her collection of 45s when she went away to college and I embraced them hungrily. Clarence Carter, Bill Withers, as soon as I discovered Jim Croce he was dead but I had heard him. And, oh-mi-god-Howlin-Wolf's “Spoonful.” The sound had been revealed, the curtain pulled aside. I knew there was more out there than they let me hear on the radio.
Seals and Crofts, Edgar Winter, Uriah Heep. Ronnie Montrose. I met Jeff Beck and listened to him play at a friend's house once. I heard and tried to like but didn't, Joe Cocker.
The Eagles, and funk. Oh good lord, funk. I couldn't get enough of it. Rufus and Chaka Khan, Parliament. Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Barry White, Grand Funk, Bad Company, Jackson Browne. Rhyme or reason, there seemed to be none.
I think if I'd had access to blues records I may have never left my room. I would have sunk into the cheap mattress and disappeared. As it was, I listened to the same angsty songs repeatedly. I sang along, wailing with deeply felt sorrow for love I'd yet to be given, borrowing future trouble, mourning lovers yet to leave. I had such a longing to experience Life, but I was stuck in a gloomy, claustrophobic, institutional yellow-walled box of a room.
I'd throw back my head and let my unruly hair shake free. Sometimes I'd slide my glasses up on top of my head like the models in television commercials did. I couldn't see a thing but if I touched my nose against the mirror on my dresser, I could see how cool I looked. I longed to do this outside my bedroom and years later, the first thing I did once I got contact lenses was buy a pair of sunglasses just to prop on top of my head with no intention to protect my eyes whatsoever.
Other times, I danced. I sang into my hair brush as loudly as I could, the volume control set as high as I dared get away with – eight, because nine would bring a parent banging on my door and result in revocation of stereo privileges. Even then, I had to move the speakers away from the walls so the sound didn't carry downstairs as well. But eight, well, eight I could get away with.