We like to think that our specific musical preferences are as unique as ourselves. We cultivate our favorite musical tastes from a variety of influences. While our own individual preferences are indeed unique, it is impossible to deny that much of these influences have roots from some kind of musical mentor. Whether it be a friend, parent, sibling, record store clerk or people we admire, of whom opinion we value the most, often serves as our musical mentor.
My musical mentor was my sister.
As the oldest child, my sister Joy, set the bar for the level of rebellion allowed in the household. While our father did his best to cultivate a household raised on classic rock, spanning from the early fifties to the early eighties, Joy blazed her own trail by covering her room in big-haired 80’s rock superstars. From Bon Jovi to Poison and Guns & Roses to Motley Crue, not an inch of wall space remained uncovered. The hair-gods surrounded her in preference but so did Garth Brooks and Genesis.
Of course, Joy’s room was off limits. While I had no interest in the rock gods protecting her sanctuary, I do recall Joy had the most impressive stereo system of any of my siblings. While the rest of us were stuck with our pawn shop knock-off boom boxes, Joy’s room had the only CD player in the household as well as a vintage turntable with a tape deck. I vividly remember sitting outside Joy’s room, my ear pressed to the door, in order to hear what I could only assume was the coolest new music. It was the first time I heard Weezer’s Blue album, Soundgarden’s Superunknown, and Green Day’s Dookie. If I pestered her enough, Joy would make a tape of the album for me.
While not a big collector, Joy did have a fair share of vinyl including a healthy supply of her much loved 80’s hair metal. These albums reeked of incense and that distinct musty smell of a used record store. The price tags with the store name, Ernie November, told the story of their origin where I was lucky enough to go with Joy on more than one occasion. While Joy would browse the aisles, buying incense and CD’s, I would walk around and admire everything in the entire store. From the t-shirts, vintage posters, the records and CD’s, I would always be hunting down the band names I knew from Joy’s collection. I couldn’t afford any of my own music at the time, but it didn’t matter. I was in a really cool place with my sister, who was the coolest person I knew.
After our parents divorced, Joys stereo made its way to the living room in our new apartment. I would borrow CD’s from her collection and spend the early morning weekend hours lying on the floor listening to “Black Hole Sun” at what I can only assume was the quietest volume it has ever been played on so I did not disturb my siblings as they slept.
When Joy left for college, I inherited her album collection. The true ownership of it remains debated to this day and some titles have since been reclaimed by Joy. Those that still remain in my collection, still have their Ernie November price-tags intact and their musty smell unchanged. More importantly, these albums still find their way to my turntable. Every time they do, I think back to sitting outside Joy’s bedroom door, struggling to hear the new CD she had just purchased. At the time, the mix-tapes she made for me served as a means for me to leave her alone, but she was passing on wisdom and allowing me to make up my own mind when it came to music.
In my later years, I found other means of influences for my musical tastes. Late night MTV, radio, and of course, record stores helped sculpt my musical mind. Today, my sister and I have very different musical tastes but I still always have to know what she has been listening to because if she likes it, it has to be cool!
It is vital to find a musical mentor, but more importantly, to be one. This role goes beyond just telling someone what music you like and it absolutely doesn’t mean pushing your preferences on them. Being a musical mentor means giving someone the tools, the knowledge and the foundation to help them find insight into the art of music. It means being confident in your own musical choices in order to lead someone else on their own way down their journey. If done right, the cycle repeats itself indefinitely and the adoration is endless.