As the second season of Lost Notes was getting ready to launch, I was in Puerto Rico for my little brother's wedding. It just so happened to be the same weekend as our decade-long tradition of heading out to the desert for “Cottochella.”
Music has always been an emotional pull for me, but this time, running around the island preparing for a wedding and visiting family in neighborhoods still without light, got me real deep in my feelings. Whether it was church, at an old timey luncheonette or under the wedding reception gazebo, there was always music. Music playing everywhere, at all times.
The night after my brother's wedding I burst into tears at 1am while walking through shadowy cobblestone alleys to my second favorite bar in the world, El Batey. I had "Firesuite" by doves on repeat for what felt like hours because it was the sound of my feeling. But Bad Bunny's "MIA" (which I couldn't stand until hearing it at a bar with toilet seats for seats) was the song that became my life saver in Puerto Rico. Bunny's album had just dropped, he was playing Coachella and there was a strong feeling of pride about him as a native son.
On an island still struggling and rebuilding after one of the gnarliest natural disasters in its history, that song was elevated from a bubbly pop trap anthem to a hymn. A worshipful expression of desire. It is the sound of pushing through the darkness of this post-Maria moment on the island.
The day after my brother's wedding, I listened to the newest Lost Notes episode. It's a truly lovely, heartfelt piece about regrets, nostalgia, making peace with the past and making sense of the present. In it, Rob Rosenthal of Cape Cod punk band, The Freeze, comes to terms with some of his work and revisits his old bandmate Clif Hanger.
I reached out to Rob and asked him, you ever had a song or album save your life?
This was his response.
The album I’m thinking of didn’t save my life, but it saved me from being a close-minded asshole – or at least I hope it did.
On Cape Cod in the late 1970s, if you listened to punk rock you were opening yourself up to ridicule and physical attack. I clearly remember walking down the hall of my high school wearing a Clash pin and someone stating loudly for everyone to hear: Hey Rosie! What are you? Some kind of punk rock f*****?!”
Or the time my friends and I were chased out of a party just for looking different. People threw bottles at us. They punched us. They tackled one of us in the street and he went to the hospital for the cuts on his face. (My band, The Freeze, wrote a song about the incident.)
This sort of aggression didn’t happen all the time or with everyone we knew. Not even close. But me and my punk buddies stood out at a time you were supposed to fit in.
In response, punk became a badge. I wore it proudly. I am who I am and screw you. In fact, I embraced punk so much, I became intolerant of others. If you didn’t listen to punk, you were lame, unhip, backwards, and worst of all, boring.
The irony is, of course, that punk was about breaking boundaries. Yet, here I was, erecting them – with barbed-wire fencing.
Eventually, I left Cape Cod and attended The University of Hartford in Connecticut. I volunteered at the radio station, WWUH, and walked in the door thinking “I’m too cool. I know everything there is to know about cutting edge music. And I bet you don’t.” Remembering back on it now, I wouldn’t want to spend any time with my former self when I was in that mode.
But an album saved me from myself.
I walked into the air studio at ‘UH one day. Reynolds Onderdonk was on the air. (Hi Reynolds!) And, blaring from the speakers was Interface, an album from Heldon, the French electro-jazz-rock-noise band. I’d never heard of them. But, more importantly, the music was incomprehensible. I had no idea sound could be organized that way. (Incidentally, Interface has one of my favorite album covers.)
Pulsing synths. Blaring guitars. Grooving drums… a wall of swirled and mangled notes. I think Reynolds described it as “twisted and resentful.”
In that moment, I didn’t have an epiphany. But “Interface” put a chink in my punker-than-thou attitude. Punk might as well be pop music in comparison to Heldon and what “Interface” lead me to musically - Henry Cowell… Indonesian folk music… township jive…. Eric Dolphy….
That mind explosion spread to other parts of my life. I figured out I didn’t know what I didn’t know and that was a lot. I can’t say that I listen to that album much these days (though I put it on to write this) but the notes have stayed with me.
Share your story: Which album saved your life?