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September 25, 2013

What’s the Deal with Me and Richard Marx?

Richard-marx-ron-mattocks-dadcentricInevitably, if a conversation turns toward musical tastes, I always end up the laughing stock of the group. Why? No one has ever deemed my choice of bands and singers as being cool. I’ll bring up names like Matchbox 20 or The Fray—and of course there’s that whole thing with Coldplay—and everyone starts doubling over.  It’s fine. I’m used to it by now. Sometimes I’ll even join in. Admittedly I deserve ridicule for my brief flirtation with Nickelback.

My wife, Ashley, is undoubtedly my harshest critic. A song from Snow Patrol will come on the radio, and she’ll roll her eyes so hard I can hear it over the music. “How did I ever marry you,” she will sigh.

It doesn’t help matters that Ashley’s father, Sparky Fisher, was a genius, yet troubled, guitar player of some note who played with the likes of Eric Clapton, Asleep at the Wheel, and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band before getting drunk and wrapping his Cadillac around a tree. Music acumen is literally in her genes which means being regularly schooled on the brilliance of Morrissey, The Pixies, Sleigh Bells, and a whole litany of others that fuel the pretentious tone in her voice as she lectures me.

Of all the musicians found on my Spotify playlists one will likely jump out from my “lame” repertoire of adult contemporary selections: Richard Marx. If your sides are hurting from uncontrolled laughter at the moment, don’t worry; I can take it. My wife and her equally snobbish friend once discovered my Richard Marx’s Greatest Hits album in the van’s CD player, and they had to pull over because they couldn’t see straight through the tears in their eyes.

So what’s the deal with me and Richard Marx?

To understand, I’ll have to take you back—way, way back to 1987. I was a gangly looking 8th grader with an identity complex and large, protruding ears. Until then I didn’t much care about music. (Yes, shocking by today’s standards when my 11 year-old stepdaughter knows the words to every Ke$ha song out there.) A large part of my ambivalence had to do with the strict evangelical environment I grew up in which continually harped on the evils of movies, dancing, and the biggest sin of all—rock music!

Just to give you an idea, our science teacher taught a regular three-week course to freshmen and sophomores on not only the moral evils of rock and roll, but also the hidden psychological dangers as well. This included examples of subliminal messages by the Beetles and KISS who promoted drug use and Satan worship through back-masking. (Our teacher was well qualified for imparting such knowledge since he attended the original Woodstock in his youth.)

I even remember our school bringing in an anti-rock authority who conducted a two day seminar on everything wrong with secular music. I swear, he spent a solid 45 minutes railing against Whitney Houston alone. Even so, this did little in keeping the students from disassembling cassette tapes of Amy Grant (who left her husband for Vince Gill), and Sandi Patty (who cheated on her husband) and switching the spools out with Def Leppard and Whitesnake in order to fool parents and teachers into believing they, at least musically, were on the straight and narrow.

In my case I couldn’t say what possessed me to pick Richard Marx’s self-titled debut album from the rows and rows of other cassettes encased in those oblong plastic security cases, but whatever the reason it was my first rock album. Maybe it was his hair. As a kid with a perpetual Christ-sanctioned high-and-tight, I recall being quite envious of it.

Initially I kept Richard quiet, listening to him at low volume or with headphones, but eventually I grew bolder, and to my parents’ credit, even though they didn’t approve, they did grant me some leeway. I couldn’t say the same for other members of the family. One evening as I washed the dinner dishes, humming along to “Hold On to the Nights” on my boom box, my sister, freshly minted from Bible camp, informed me that I was bound for hell unless I repented from listening to the devil’s music. I couldn’t keep from laughing. Now a reformed pastor’s wife, she has since recanted her position.

Marx released two more albums (Repeat Offender and Rush Street) before I finished school, and I bought both, playing them until the tape warped in my cassette player. I know I could’ve latched onto other hipper, more prolific bands in the 80’s and early 90’s, but I was a loyal fan. A former skinhead friend of mine sent to our school to get religion once tried to get me into the Dead Kennedys, but that wasn’t quite my scene. Through most of high school I did my own thing anyway like some kind of unwitting hipster with a flavor for Marx’s romantic ballads and classic rock sound.

Richard Marx wasn’t the only rock musician I liked through my teen years, but he is the one I most associate with that period in my life. It was a time full of a carefree innocence that I didn’t appreciate until now, and songs like “Right Here Waiting” and “Don’t Mean Nothing” allow me to escape back to those days. Others such as “Angelia” and “Endless Summer Nights” evokes for me that young unfettered love as I held my steady girlfriend while we watched the August sun set on Lake Erie.

Those were good years for me, ones I never want to forget. Looking at it from the perspective of a father I want for my children to have their own happy memories like these to hold onto, and regardless of whether it’s bands that are cool or uncool, I hope they have their own music to take them back to those places as they grow older. 

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