Since the last one felt mildly cathartic, just me yelling and rambling into the void about music but not really, let’s move on, shall we?
We took trips when I was a kid to visit my mom’s family in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, ever since I was a kid. When I was a teenager after I came back to the US & got guilted into going with them because I had nothing else to do, I hated it. Well, I disliked it as a young kid too, though I’d just put myself into a trance of reading a comic or playing my Gameboy. As a teenager I just listened to music the whole time on my Walkman, rationing my batteries and playing my tapes. My parents would chat with each other or listen to the radio, and occasionally, listen to music. The soundtrack to the Forrest Gump movie was in constant circulation with them, as was Billy Joel (ugh), Bruce Springsteen, (my mother’s favorite musician) and Billy Idol. Of course now I can enjoy Motown, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “the Boss,” and Billy Idol…and I can tune out the whitebread yacht-rock tameness of Long Island’s perpetually-loved Billy Joel.
Fun fact, my brother apparently went to a bar once he frequented and told me everyone there hated him because he’s a cheap asshole who barely tips, but I can’t remember most of that story because I’ve been hit in the head a lot throughout the years. Anyway…
The one thing that they played though that I did like was Bat Out Of Hell by Meat Loaf. A lot of it had to do with “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” a song I was somehow delighted to discover was about a couple listening to the baseball game on the car radio as he tries to get her to have sex with him, making it such a bizarre and loony back-and-forth that somehow made it OK for it to be an eight-and-a-half minute-long song, something my teen punk sensibilities railed against. Now of course I’ll stand up for Meat Loaf/Michael Aday any day of the week (no pun intended), but then, I think it was part of the beginnings of ironic/guilty pleasures in cheesy rock music. I kept it in that “guilty” corner of my brain all through my teen years. Meat Loaf was the band I’d take my headphones off in the car to listen along to, putting them back on when Billy Joel’s greatest hits or news radio came on, diving back into Zeke or Bad Religion or whatever I had a tape of on me with my Walkman.
Everything your parents like, you’re supposed to dislike, especially since I didn’t really have an actively-musical household, and wasn’t exposed to stuff in a way to make me appreciate it (other than reading…books were the currency and legacy of my household as a kid).
I don’t really remember what made me latch onto it in the first place though when they’d play Meat Loaf in the car, but I think it was because when I was nine I saw the weird pseudo-Beauty & The Beast-themed music video for “I Would Do Anything For Love” (this isn’t the video but it’s close) on the little TV in my aunt’s kitchen, in the apartment down the hall from the one we’d just moved into when we moved to Athens, in Greece. It might have also been my first real exposure to a music video as well because, like I said, we weren’t a musically-oriented family, so Meat Loaf has a weird place in my mind and heart, and is somehow interwoven with my memories of my aunt Angela.
She was my maternal grandmother’s sister who loved big designer sunglasses and had a little weird kitchen off the rest of her amazing faux-baroque, dark-velvet living room, a giant space made from the combining of two living separate apartments into one larger space. She had the little turtle on the balcony outside, she had the plants, she had a tiny room full of old magazines I’d browse through when we visited, a room I’ve later realized was the maid’s quarters back when people in apartments had live-in maids. But her kitchen stood out, bright amongst the low and ambient light of most of the rest of her apartment, where despite having all this space, she spent most of her time. There was the bench-slash-couch against the one wall behind the table that filled the middle of the room, her little TV, the doorway out into the other faux-balcony, an “outside” in that it was a balcony built in the middle of the large open space that ran down the middle of the building, where she had more plants and a washer/dryer. I don’t know why but I still think about that weird little kitchen with the uncomfortable bench and the bright halogen lights as she’d cook and watch TV.
My aunt loved a soap called Lampsi, which means “The Shine” or “The Glamor”. I just learned it stopped running in 2005 after going since 1991, thought it exists in syndication until 2010 in other parts of Europe like Bulgaria. She’d “babysit” us when my folks were out or working late, basically periodically coming down the hallway of our apartment building to knock and see if my brother and I were alive. Sometimes she’d get us giant sugar-raised donuts the size of my face. I really miss those donuts. I miss my aunt too, and I feel bad that I didn’t really appreciate her as much as I should have.
Her husband, Themistocles, was a doctor who ran his own ear/nose/throat clinic. He had a couple of strokes that basically crippled him, so when she got sick and passed away we hired a series of nurses to take care of him. He knew I wanted to be a teacher and do something with literature though, and even though the strokes took a lot from him, he remembered that and always asked me if I was going to become a professor in a big college, something I always said yes to. I started teaching after he passed away, and I think a lot about him every time someone asks me about teaching. He was named after the famous Greek politician and general (who was a populist and a hero of the Battle of Marathon, considered the first true battle of the Persian War) My uncle was an old communist and officer in the local office of the KKE (Kommunistiko Komma Ellas, the Communist Body of Greece), the major Greek communist political party (one of two or three that held parliamentary seats). A lot of my relatives are communists back in Greece, come to think of it.
We still listen to Meat Loaf if I travel with my parents anywhere.