I’m hypnotized by the wall of used cassettes when the in-store sound system yanks me out of my reverie. The song is dark and aggressive and exciting. It makes me feel an urgency unlike anything I’ve felt before.
I’m a shy kid. I’m chubby and have a lot of pimples and I don’t understand what to do with the mop of curly hair on top of my head. The guys who work here are older and cooler than I can ever hope to be. I search for every piece of courage I possess and walk to the counter.
“What is this?”
“This is the new Van Halen. It kicks ass, right?”
“Yeah, this is cool.”
I’m elated that he didn’t laugh at me or ridicule me the way so many people at school do. He treats me like I’m just another guy who gets it.
Which, of course, I am. Even if I’ve never heard Van Halen.
There aren’t many people in sixth grade who have discovered rock and metal, and even fewer who are as crazy about it as I am. I’ve heard about Van Halen but none of my friends have any of their records and I’ve never heard them on my local rock station. Van Halen is a mystery.
“Mean Street” solves that mystery. I stand and listen as a movie of a tougher version of myself plays, a movie in which I have independence and strength and agency, a movie in which I don’t worry about tomorrow even though I worry about tomorrow all the time.
I walk over and look at the album. With only a grubby five-dollar bill stuffed into my pocket, I can’t afford it today. I buy something else and slip it into my off-brand Walkman for the long bike ride home. Music plays over my headphones but all I hear is the sneer in that singer’s voice as he growls, “Lord strike that poor boy down.”
“Personal Stories” is a series of posts about artists, albums, concerts, and other experiences that permanently changed our relationships with music.