1995 was a big year. I was 16, a high school junior that spring. As I set out to to reflect on the last 25 years of my life, most of which revolve around rock and roll, let me first give you a little background. My early teenage years were devoted to being a Kennedy fan – I read and watched everything I could get my hands on related to that family, and I loved learning about the 1960s and its politics. At some point in the 1st half of 1995, though, I became disillusioned with what I was learning, especially as new “tell-all” pieces were published that discussed JFK’s extra-marital affairs, not to mention the rest of the family’s behavior. I felt betrayed by my heroes and didn’t know what to make of it all.
Another important moment that spring was a trip to Philadelphia that my English teacher organized. We were given a few hours to explore the city on our own, and my friends and I went to South St. I bought two used CDs – the Animals’ Greatest Hits and Black 47’s Fire of Freedom, the latter of which I’d heard in my ceramics class.
In June I started my first job, working the concession stand at an AMC movie theater on route 30 for $4.50/hr. For perspective, a small popcorn and drink cost $3.38, a figure I’ll probably remember for the rest of my life! I loved working there, and I stayed on in various roles until the theater closed in 2001.
At the end of June was perhaps the biggest turning point in my life up to that point: the day I became a Beatles fan. As my family’s story goes, my mom asked my dad to buy the “White Album” on cassette so we could listen to it on our drive down to North Carolina for vacation. He couldn’t find it (possibly because he asked the clerk for The White Album, and not The Beatles), and instead he bought Sgt. Pepper. [My mom added her side of the story, and told me recently that the reason for all of this was so that she wouldn’t have to listen to our pop music or mixed tapes!] I can’t remember if my reaction was instantaneous, but during that week in NC I spent hours listening to Sgt. Pepper over and over again on my Walkman. What strikes me now is the parallel to the 1960s – as I lost my interest in JFK, I had my own mini British Invasion. What I quickly realized that summer, though, was that rock and roll didn’t hide behind the same kind of masks as politicians. Rock stars wore their escapades proudly, and I felt like I got the truth from the first book I read about the Beatles (A Day in the Life, by Mark Hertsgaard). But 1995 was also a great year to become a Beatles fan, because of their Anthology project that came out later in the fall.
My last musical event to occur in 1995 was my first time seeing Bob Dylan. My dad had seen him the previous year, and almost took me to see him play with the Grateful Dead in June, but a school trip got in the way (the only reference I had at that point to the Dead was that my high school Geometry teacher told us a story about holding her family reunion at a Dead show!). Regardless, by December 1995 I owned two Dylan albums, Highway 61 Revisited and Greatest Hits #3, but was not yet a full-fledged fan. Patti Smith opened the show – another performer that I didn’t have experience with – I remember her making a performance out of taking off her shoes and socks, and also a man hovering just off stage left. I thought it might be Michael Stipe, who I’d heard was a fan of hers, but I later learned it was Tom Verlaine. I barely remember anything about Dylan’s performance, just what he was wearing and that he skipped some verses in Tombstone Blues.
It wasn’t intentional to write this post on September 2nd, but today is the 25th anniversary of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I didn’t know anything about the Hall in 1995 though, and I had a lot more music to discover before Cleveland was on my radar.