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You Have Not Yet Heard Your Favourite Song began in a Google doc I had provisionally titled Every Noise at Once: New Fears and New Joys From the Streaming Liberation of All the World's Music. The first chapter-list I made there was mostly just a chronological free-association of stories I tell. That structure was useful in suggesting that there was probably a book's quantity of words involved, but when we started sending this outline and a few sample chapters to publishers, the fairly unanimous response was that I was not famous enough for strangers to want to read about my adventures in music just because I had them.  

I couldn't really argue with that, nor did I actually want to write a memoir. I wanted to try to formulate an argument. Not an entirely straightforward or linear argument, exactly, but still, something more like an essay than a memoir: not every noise, and not at once, but particular noises, in an order with progressions and resolutions.  

Restructuring the list of stories into the outline of an essay was easy and encouraging, and a couple of the chapters I had written already nearly fit the new structure, but the first version's first chapter was quite clearly the first chapter of a memoir, and I just deleted it and started over.  

And by "deleted", I mean that I copied it into a different doc in case I thought of some other use for it later. I just came across that doc again, and blogs solve the not-famous-enough problem by not asking anybody but you to care whether you care. So here, for no other reason than that I wrote it once, is that original first chapter of the memoir I didn't write:  

Chapter 1: Precious Jukeboxes  

Without music, I would not even exist.  

This is probably true in some existential or logistic way for a lot of people, but music is literally how my parents met. They were folk-singing in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1963. My mother had a duo with a friend. My father was in a Peter, Paul & Mary-esque trio. My father was my mother's guitar-teacher before either of them realized they were my parents.  

After they got married they moved to Texas, where my father came from, and there I grew up, with their records and their acoustic guitars. We begin with our parents' music. In my case this was a stereo in a cabinet in our living room and a small collection of LPs, mostly folk standards like The Weavers and The Kingston Trio, and some of their 70s successors from the gentle margins of pop, like Joan Baez and Judy Collins and John Denver. My mother had some Ray Charles and Dave Brubeck records from when she wrote jazz reviews for her school paper, and Eddie Fisher records from her days in his Fan Club. They did buy new records, occasionally, but rarely by new artists. They loved and valued music, but without any sense of frantic urgency or gnawing incompleteness. And thus, if you'd tried to categorize recorded music as an economic activity based on their music spending, you would probably have put it in the same tier with handmade ceramics or gardening trowels.  

For popular music, or really anything except my parents' records, there was the car radio. My parents were exactly the right demographic for NPR, but mercifully the wrong personality types for talk-radio, so from the back seat I got to hear Casey Kasem or whatever shuffled loop of the top 40 was playing during the week in between canonical countdowns.  

Looking over the charts from my childhood years, I find that by the 1976 chart I recognize almost everything. That was the year I was given my first record-player of my own, and the store where my father bought it foisted two 7" singles on him as part of the deal, which he dutifully passed along to me, probably without having listened to them first: the Starland Vocal Band's frankly inappropriate "Afternoon Delight" and Walter Murphy's ridiculously discofied "A Fifth of Beethoven". I would happily listen to either of these songs again if for some reason I was once again imprisoned in a musical void where no other songs existed.  

But my emergent taste wasn't much more adventurous than those. The first record I bought with my own money, which of course is a milestone that dates me by the fact that it's a milestone, was the Eagles' Hotel California. My record-budget was such that even a single LP was a serious investment subject to a ruthless risk-assessment that realistically required me to already have heard and loved at least four of its songs, and the only place I would have heard them was on the car radio. The viable size of the music industry, at least judged by its access to the record budget of an average American 10-year-old, was probably measured in dozens of artists.  

One day, on that radio, I heard "Hold the Line", by Toto. Heard with any kind of perspective, Toto is the softest of soft-rock bands, and the maudlin, patronizing "Africa" has more fittingly become their limp sigil. But about 10 seconds into "Hold the Line" there's a power chord. It is not the first mainstream pop hit with a power chord, but somehow it was the first one I heard. It sounded like a difference engine, to me, or a dragon made out of moonlight, or some kind of god tearing the universe open along a revealed seam. The album cover has a sword. That sword sliced through my world.  

I am fully aware that writing an origin-myth for a life-long obsession with heavy metal that begins with "Hold the Line" is like saying your love of Thai food began with a wide noodle dipped in Pop Rocks. But that's how it began, for me, and in my world in 1978, that's kind of the only way anything ever began. One sound can change your life. Toto led me towards Foreigner and Bad Company and Boston. Not via fast clicks, because there was no Fans Also Like to navigate through, but over the excruciating course of radio months and tentative spending. In 1979 I got my first radio, a flip-number clock radio with a single tiny speaker and no headphone jack, so I would turn the volume knob all the way down and then press my ear to it in order to listen to The Great American Radio Show after my supposed bedtime. I found the two Album Rock stations my parents never played in the car. Toto led me to Boston, which got me to Kansas and Supertramp, and then to Rush. Give 12-year-olds a radio of their own, and maybe you can have hundreds of artists instead of dozens.  

Meanwhile, reading Michael Moorcock books got me to his lyric-writing for Hawkwind, and then Blue Öyster Cult, who were the first band I ever saw in concert. The Moorcock-co-written Blue Öyster Cult song "Veteran of the Psychic Wars" also appeared on the soundtrack for the 1981 movie Heavy Metal, and that soundtrack also had "The Mob Rules", by Black Sabbath.  

I definitely hadn't heard that on the radio. "The Mob Rules" starts with that guitar noise from the very first moment, churning, relentless. Ronnie James Dio howls demonically, not like a halloween-costume devil but like an exiled lord of a forsaken realm. Cymbals start crashing like the night sky is the sun coming apart into shards. If pop was about melody, disco was about movement and rock was about energy, then metal was about power. Not about the ends of power or its victims, but about the visceral feeling of wielding it, of how it runs through you, of how it makes you want more.  

Thus began my record-collecting life, in earnest, as a quest to find out what else the radio wasn't telling me about, and how else it could make me feel. But it was so hard to begin, when every step required all of your budget, and knowledge you mostly didn't have. Jukeboxes say 25¢ on them, which sounds cheap, but knowing what songs to play cost more than coins, and knowing what songs weren't in them didn't even have a coin slot. Music discovery, thus, was still barely a thing. Or it was, but as if Ferdinand Magellan had travelled from Portugal to Spain to receive a royal commission to go back and discover Portugal again.  

And even if I had somehow discovered the shores of a new world, what would I have done? I'd heard "Dancing Queen", I knew ABBA were from Sweden, I knew roughly where that was. I didn't know it would later become a specifically important part of my life, but I'm sure I would have assumed there were more people making music there than just ABBA, if it had occurred to me to entertain the question.  

But so what? There were no other Swedish pop songs on the radio. There were no other Swedish records in the record stores. There were no magazines about Swedish music at the drugstore, or books about it in the library. None of my friends knew anything else about Swedish music than ABBA, either. To learn about Gräs och Stenar, or Nationalteatern, or Gyllene Tider, all I would have been able to do was wait, patiently, to become old enough to get a job to save up for a plane ticket to Stockholm, where I would have had to find a telephone directory and figure out how to look up where the record stores were, and then go hope somebody in one of them spoke English and was willing to explain Swedish pop history to a random kid from Texas.  

The world was full of music. But I was standing in the same record stores, flipping through the same few mute sealed packages over and over, wondering what was inside them and what was missing, wanting to know.

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