Sonia Pina, Zach Ryan, and Phil Lang read essays from their earliest musical memories in our last installment of “Musical Yearbook.” Pina examines her early life as the daughter of one of the lead members the biggest band in Cuba. Ryan digs into his bowl cut and the moment his father shared a record from a little known band called The Beatles. Lang tells of Little League and his first Rock & Roll moment while listening to The Chronic.
Intro and outro music by Ana Tijoux. Check her out here.
We are looking for Musical Yearbook submissions! If interested, please submit essays to email@example.com to be included in the blog. To hear the other three chapters of Musical Yearbook, check out the “The Bob Podcast” set.
“My Dad’s in the Cuban Rolling Stones”
My first musical memory has no date, place, album or song. The memory or memories are a collective blur that seem like a dream. I’m the daughter of a musician. My home was always awaken with the sound of trombone exercises. I’m trying to remember when I realized that music was the sustenance of my family.
My father isn’t just a musician; he is part of one of the biggest bands to date in Cuba. He has been in the band for 28 years and I honestly think he can’t imagine himself outside of that. To him, music is the way to survive in this world, and the only thing he can conceive of doing.
Los Van Van, the name of my father’s band, is my family. There is a connection that I, and everyone else that has some link to the band, feels that is not only inexplicable, but never fading.
But now, back to this memory thing.
I remember standing on stage holding my dad’s leg and not letting go, even though he needed to start playing. I don’t know why I felt that I needed to stay with him, I mean, I’m sure my mom and sister were around. But I held on tight until he could no longer stand it. “Sonia I have to play,” he’d say. Who knows if I actually answered him back, but knowing myself I probably had one of two reactions, cry and throw a tantrum or give him a face and hold him tighter.
I’d hear the bands’ intro and, automatically, have this full body experience. By the way, this still happens. Every time. They start playing and all of the sudden… Oh yeah… That feeling. The bass line hits my heart, the trombones blow a message into my brain, the violins sooth me, the percussion gives me goose bumps, the keys make me move and the singers remind me that it’s all happening, right there, in front of me.
Another part about my memories is not only what my reaction was but the people around me. The fans, the groupies and roadies. See, this is all part of being Van Van. It’s not just the band, it’s all the people that around them. The roadies that talk too much, the desperate girls wishing to become someone by being with one of them, the fans that sing every word, from every album, like there is nothing else happening in the world but that song in that moment.
That was my surrounding, being one of my dad’s and the band’s biggest fans. I love their music and have a deep emotional tie to it. As I think of the past, I can identify their albums and songs to times in my life, experiences, and places.
As you can tell, I have a deep love for the music and always did, but that wasn’t enough. My dad needed to know I could at any given time, with any given style of Cuban music find the clave. Clave is rhythmic pattern that unites, organizes and propels all of Cuban music. The clave is to Cuban music, what Van Van is to my life. It’s the past and present, with variations and different speeds.
I think I knew that what I wasn’t living the typical life. There were those moments where I’d go somewhere and be treated a certain way, until my dad showed up or someone said, she’s the daughter of… and they’d all change. Music did this, music made me be part of a different group, an exclusive group. Strange.
I now search my brain for the best description of memories, of past melodies, rhythms and lyrics that compose my life. There are too many, there are so many that it’s not a memory, it’s my life’s story. Infinite moments and experiences, some that repeat and some that could not be more different than the last.
So, as I go back to that little girl, I think of how fortunate I am to have had such a rich musical childhood. To know that music is not a memory, but that I was born into it, and will forever be part of it.
As the Van Van lyrics says: “Qué tiene Van Van que sigue ahí? Ahí, así.” What does Van Van have that it’s still there. It continues.
Sonia Pina is one of BAMM.tv’s Audio Engineers and also oversee all BAMM Latino productions.
“Dad Digs a Pigmy”
I’m certain that by the time I was six years old, I had heard my fair share of tunes. Back then, my parents constantly played music. The top choices from my mom being Linda Ronstadt, Paul Simon and the Beach Boys, while my dad was more of an Eagles, Rolling Stones kinda guy. I can remember singing along in the car to some of these albums, and I can even remember requesting some songs by name long before I knew how to read. But I don’t count any of these as my earliest of musical memories.
If you’ve ever had a conversation about music with me for more than five minutes, then The Beatles are certain to have come up. Saying that I love The Beatles is almost an understatement. I worship them. I’ve spent days on end pouring over their records, reading books about them, and studying their history like it was some kind of assignment. In the instances where I’ve been in the company of people (anyone, loved ones, best friends, complete strangers) who have said “I don’t get what the big deal is about The Beatles,” I’ve launched into diatribes about their legacy and forced their music on said people until I feel that they might have just a fraction of the love that I do for this band. It’s weird, but I can’t deny it, to me (as to many) they are the greatest band of all time, and no one has even come close in the 41 years since they broke up. And it can all be traced back to one single afternoon when I was six.
Allow me to set the scene. It was a Sunday in early December of 1991. My sweet bowl cut was in full effect at the time and my LA Gears with the light up heels were hot out of the box. This particular morning my dad had tasked me with helping him clean out the hall closet. I’m not sure if it runs concurrent with other families, but for us, the hall closet was essentially a black hole in the middle of our house. A sort of double-door abyss that my parents opened once in a great while to throw in a musty old jacket, clothes that didn’t fit anymore, boxes of paperwork that would someday be filed. You know, junk. Needless to say, it was chore I wasn’t looking forward to.
We started early; haphazardly removing items one at a time and cross checking their usefulness with my mom. “Toss this,” she’d say. “Save that, put that over there, I never want to see that again.” The usual. It was mid afternoon and I had managed to sneak away for a couple of hours, hiding in my room and hoping that my dad wouldn’t notice I wasn’t helping out, when he called out to me. “Zach” he shouted from the down the hall. “Come here quick.” I was six, so I ran the way that kids do to the end of the hall where he stood holding a giant box and staring into it with a huge grin on his face.
He set the box on the floor in front of him and lifted out a big plastic square.
“Do you know what this is?” he asked.
“It’s a record player!” he said. “And these are my old records”
“What’s a record player?”
“You play music on it!”
That was enough for me. Even at that tender age I considered myself an aficionado. I quickly pulled out the stack of records and started slowly going through them. Staring at the covers, asking about each particular band. It didn’t mean much to me then, but looking back my pops had a pretty bitchin’ record collection. I can remember seeing The Eagles (Hotel California), The Rolling Stones (Sticky Fingers AND Tattoo You), Hendrix, Creem, Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Animals, dozens more. But when I came to Let It Be by The Beatles he stopped me.
“Do you know who The Beatles are?” He asked me.
Shit yeah, I knew who The Beatles were, they covered that Raffi song, “Octopus’ Garden” right?
“I think so,” I said.
He picked up the record player and snatched the album from my hands. He got to the end of the hall, turned around and looked at me impatiently.
“Well, come on,” he said. I watched intently as he hooked the record player up to the speakers, took a step back, darted off down the hall and came back with a pair of the biggest headphones I’d ever seen. “These’ll be better,” and he popped them on my ears and dropped the needle onto the record.
There was a moment somewhere between the analog hiss of the record starting and Lennon shouting out those infamous opening lines “I dig a pigmy…” when I though I might protest. It was a perfectly good gloomy Sunday afternoon. I could watch a movie, or play ninja turtles, anything but listen to some dusty old record. But from the moment the song started I was entranced.
The house across the street was being remodeled and even though it was Sunday, there were construction workers doing their thing all day. I sat cross-legged in the front room and stared out the window, watching them work and listening to the album from top to bottom. When it concluded, I ran to my dad in the living room and asked him if he had any more Beatles records. Oddly, he didn’t, but he did have a copy of “The White Album” on cassette somewhere…
I’m not exaggerating when I say that from that afternoon until I was probably 13 years old, I listened almost exclusively to The Beatles. And when I listen to “Let it Be” I still get goose bumps at the opening chords of “Two of Us,” I still get choked up during “Across the Universe” (every time), my mind is still blown when Lennon and McCartney trade off vocals during the third verse of “I Got a Feeling,” but most importantly I still go back to that moment, sitting in the front room with my dad’s headphones on.
Zach Ryan edits, directs, and shoots for BAMM.tv. Check out his band, Genius and the Thieves at http://on.fb.me/pyTUL3
“Dan George, Steven Seagal, and Dr. Dre”
My earliest experiences with popular music are split between two camps: Dr. Dre and Garth Brooks. It would make for a more comedic story if I had a foot in G-funk and Pop Country ever since then, but a man must choose, folks, even a 10 year-old man. The day comes when he must choose his colors, his team, his philosophy, and his music is no damn different. I spare you the suspense—I went with Garth. I’ll pause while you laugh. Go on, now. I deserve it.
But there was a day—a June day in 1992—when I came dangerously close to repping Death Row hard. It’s all because of The Indians.
Year ten was a big deal in Roseville to a kid who loved baseball as much I did. At ten you could try out for the Little League, a six-team league (the Dodgers, Cubs, Yankees, Giants, White Sox, Indians) comprised of the best 10,11, and 12 year-old players in town. It was a seminal moment for a kid in Roseville. Do not mistake this for hyperbole.
Not only did I make the league, but the best team—the Indians, drafted me. We were the Yankees of the league. We won. Year after year, we won, and everyone hated us for it. They accused our retired insurance agent coach, John Treager, of cheating every which way. They hated his white and gold Lincoln Town Car, his snowbird tan, and his team kicking their asses every damn game. We had Tom Fischer and Chris Dubay on the team that year, which is like saying we had Randy Johnson and Albert Pujos in a league full of minor leaguers. Dan George was also on the team. He was a wild haired, sharp tongue Lebanese kid and a wall behind home plate. He also had a new CD from Dr. Dre called The Chronic. No, I didn’t know what “chronic” meant.
This team and these kids—Dubay, Fischer, Fischers younger brother Tim, Dan Kamrath, Chris and Dan George, Eric Boyd, Joe Clifford, Jay Kurtis, Dan Schleickert—marked the first time I interacted with kids either off of my block or at school. You see, I was the catholic school kid.
I was in the lower level of Dan George’s mom’s house when I first heard The Chronic. I was an Indian, so I was good enough to hang with, even if I was a year younger. It was split level on the North side of County Road C, the other side of County Road C.
I experienced what I can only assume someone my father’s age experienced when he first heard Elvis, James Brown, or Zeppelin. (You see, my father has since admitted—and matter-of-factly so—that he “really didn’t listen to music” when he was a kid. He insists it’s true, as impossible as it is for me to believe.) The only way I can describe the feeling of hearing “Nuthin but a ‘G’ Thang” for the first time is that I’m sure I said “What the hell is this,” while knowing that I had used that phrase correctly for the first time in my life. It was foul, dangerous, misogynistic, sexual. It was Black. Yet my head was bobbing. It was smooth. So smooth, and clever, and the lyrical phrasing was something I couldn’t have imagined until hearing it. It was genius, and even that 10 year-old white kid from the suburbs knew it. It was my Rock & Roll moment.
Dan watched as I listened. I was a mile away from home in distance, but I was in another land. The land of divorced parents, kids’ bedrooms with locks on the doors, public pools, garages with Harleys, and rated-R VHS collections. The land of kids who didn’t have older sisters as assistant moms. I was on the north side of County Road C, and I was listening to The Chronic, nodding when Dan asked me if I knew what that word meant. The view expanded, as skewed as my perspective of the view was.
We listened for awhile longer, had a regular Coke—not water or a warm Diet Pepsi from the closet like at home, but a cold, red can of Coke—then watched Under Siege to see Erika Eleniak pop out of that birthday cake topless. I was loving life on the north side of County Road C.
How the hell does a kid who has a day like that choose Garth Brooks? Blood is thicker than water. I was the youngest of six, and bunch of my brother and sisters got into Garth. It was the music that played out of the speakers propped up in the window by the pool, and they were his tapes and CDs always around. I went to a concert. I memorized every lyric from The Chase the following winter on the family ski trip in Colorado. All that, and I should add that I’m a momma’s boy.
Besides, my mom and dad would have flipped if they found The Chronic, even though they wouldn’t have known what “chronic” means.
Phil Lang is the Music Operations Director at BAMM.tv.