Rock and roll was the background music to my life from a very early age. I initiated this obsessed love with two cassette tapes.
The first was “Purple Rain” by Prince. I had that when I was about 4 years old. My Dad bought it because he thought it was a killer album. My Dad always had an ear out for what the best music on the scene was, a practice that I tried to pick up on.
The second was “1984″ by Van Halen. I had that when I was about 5 years old. I loved the song “Jump“, and also loved “Panama”. I memorized the lyrics to “Jump” and used to sing them to my classmates in Kindergarten. They looked at me like some sort of space alien.
My Dad was really into music. When I was in my Mother’s womb my Dad’s drummer, Rodney Psyka nicknamed me “BB” (pronounced “Bee, Bee”), which is why my parents named me “Benjamin Bradford White” a little bit of a reference to BB King, but a never ending reminder that my identity was carved out in the middle of a bar gig.
I had no idea when I was a little man that my Dad had been heavily into the 60′s and 70′s drug scene. Nor did I have any idea that the members of Van Halen had probably indulged in their fair share of booze and drugs (especially old Diamond David Lee Roth!). I just knew that I loved the sound of music pumping in my ear-drums. Something about it felt familiar to me.
When I was a kid, my Dad smoked Barclay 100′s cigarettes. I remember being 4 and 5 years old, and my Dad would be blowing that mellow blue smoke into the air. I would be wafting it away from my face, trying not to breathe it in. I always yelled at him saying, “Dad! Smoking is so gross! I hate it!” My Dad would just laugh and light up another, at times apologizing for smoking. My mom would give my Father the dirty look that she often gave him.
I didn’t grow up under any sort of religious instruction. The basic religion that my parents seemed to feed me was love, tolerance and compassion, coupled with Beatles, Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young records. As a child I looked to musicians as being a certain breed of sage or prophet. I felt that their chords and melodies contained some sort of mystic power. I was drawn to it. It was the most spiritual experience that I encountered in my formative years.
When I was a kid in elementary school, I did pretty well. They had me in a couple of advanced classes and I was basically a geek. I was a different kind of geek though, because I had a variety of friends. I was somewhat of a “socially adjusted geek”.
I had an appetite for trouble as well! Once in Kindergarden I pulled my pants down in front of the class when my teacher had left for a short time, trusting that we the students would behave ourselves. We found after that she had left to join a small group of people that were observing their class behind glass with a one-sided mirror. It was a behavioral experiment done by the Montessori School we were part of at the time. They wanted to see if kindergarten kids could behave themselves in a large group without adult supervision. I led the kids into a mini riot when I dropped my drawers and thwarted their experiment…
My parents later thought it would be a good idea to put me in public school, to give me more structure and rules. It ended up working well. I became a good student, and more well behaved.
In the meantime my Dad worked for John Hancock, an insurance company that was doing well in the 80′s. He was at work often but he was also a good Father. In many senses he was more of a friend to me than a disciplinary force. I could always talk him out of punishments. For example, after the pant-less fiasco my Dad tried to take away my Atari 2600 for a month… and I talked him down to 2 weeks of Atari-absence.
Then there was the first time I witnessed my Dad get drunk. He didn’t do it often, especially in front of me, and he definitely wasn’t an angry drunk, more of a slap-happy drunk. We were at a wedding once when I was 10 years old and he had a little too much whiskey. He had a lot of wild conversations with random people, basically being the life of the party in an extreme sort of way. While I, on the other hand, didn’t get it. I cried and cried on the way home telling him how wrong it was. After all, I was taught in school that these exploits were wrong. Something in my young conscience felt horrible about it.
My Dad reassured me that he wouldn’t do it again. He was generally good to his word throughout the rest of my pre-adolescent years. He wasn’t an alcoholic, just a social partier. He communicated to me that his position as a Father was more important than his party life. He did a good job of keeping those two worlds separate before my eyes for quite a time.
I had a babysitter named Laina who talked often of going outside to “get a fresh of breath air”. I had found out that she smoked Camel cigarettes, and thought that maybe she was going outside to toke. I thought that was true because she used to come back from the “breath of fresh air” in an erratic mood and feed me some wild snacks, like Tato Skin potato chips, marshmallows and Coca-Cola Classic. Then I hit the age of 13 and found that all hormones of either gender make one erratic. Nonetheless, it was safe to say I began to get a little chubby and crazy on this munchie food towards the end of my Elementary School days.
During this time I also got a guitar for Christmas. My Dad had the guitar amp wrapped up and under the tree, and I had opened up all of my presents including the amp, but no guitar was to be found. Then my Dad pulled a kamikaze move and grabbed the guitar out of his closet. I was thrilled. It was a black Fender Squier Stratocaster with white inlays.
Laina, my babysitter, was really proud of me for chasing after rock and roll. She got me into the Doors, Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin. I listened to Zeppelin II for the first time, and it blew my world apart. Jimmy Page’s riffs made me want to learn how to tear it up just like him. Laina even helped me write a song, and we called it “Death Theater”. She was really bummed when I made the lyrics a naive version of an anti-drug rant.
But Laina and I became pretty good buds. She took me downtown in Hudson, Ohio during the annual shaving cream fight that all the middle schoolers and high schoolers used to go to. It made me feel pretty cool to say the least, especially for a 4th grader! Laina helped me figure out a little bit more of who I thought I was, and turned me on to rock and roll that turned my world upside down.