Some people turn to chocolate. Or PBJ sandwiches. Or Oreos. Whatever food returns them swiftest to their favorite childhood memories when the need arises to displace whatever gloom dominates the present. I, on the other hand, turn to music, especially the music of my childhood, a time when record albums still ruled. The first album I bought[1], for the ungodly amount of two months’ worth of allowance, was Supertramp’s ‘Even in the Quietest Moments.’ At the time I bought it, I had no idea what Supertramp’s music sounded like. The fact that I had seen the album among the collections of my more sophisticated (musically speaking) classmates, the mysterious snow-covered grand piano on the cover, and the strange name of the band — everything indicated that this was the one, THE album that would mark my budding record collection as that of a connoisseur, even if it only consisted of one album. To my surprise and delight, I really liked the music. Not after numerous playings, as I had to do with so many subsequent albums that were acquired tastes, but from the very first time I put the record on my dad’s record player and lowered the stylus towards the black grooves. I had chosen a day when my parents were not home to eliminate the possibility that I might be embarrassed by my selection of music or reprimanded for having spent a fortune on a trifle. Only when I was completely satisfied with my purchase and thus strengthened in my belief that my choice had been a good one did I have the pubescent fortitude to face my parents and show them my new treasure, glowing with pride while steeling myself for a reproach that never came. The fact that the album did not feature a discernible hit that we could dance to at one of the many 7th grade dance parties held in my friends’ garages filled me with even greater pride. This was not bubble gum pop like the ABBA albums being passed around school by the girls in my class, or the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack that had everyone enthralled and the boys practicing hip-swiveling dance moves. No, this was ‘prog rock,’[2] music listened to by those old enough to smoke, to buy their own clothes, and to loaf unabashedly in the back row of the classroom (none of which I dared to do).

I soon started to buy other albums (as much as my allowance allowed), my choice usually influenced more by other people’s comments and the cover art than by my own fledgling musical tastes. My next purchase was ELO’s ‘Out of the Blue’, a double album whose cover featured a rainbow-colored round spaceship that spanned the unfolded front/back cover.

This purchase was equally fortuitous as the first one. It featured a few genuine toe-tappers that I immediately loved (‘Turn to Stone,’ ‘Mr. Blue Sky’) and the sweeping orchestral sounds, mixed with electric guitars and drums, seemed to embrace classical music, which added to my perception of ELO as being a band for grown-ups, or at least for those a few years older than me.

My third album purchase was again influenced by others, this time by the two older boys living next door. They owned a record collection that lined a shelf spanning an entire wall of their basement lair, which also featured a set of enormous reel-to-reel tape decks[3] and refrigerator-sized speakers whose fabric covers had been removed to expose the raw black speakers, so sinister looking with their shiny orbs at the center, visibly pulsating with each drumbeat. I didn’t know any of the bands whose albums were on their shelf: Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, Yes, Jethro Tull. Most of the album covers were downright scary and the music was tough to digest. Several albums on their shelf were by Genesis,[4] so when the double album ‘Seconds Out’ came out in 1977, I bought it without knowing what Genesis sounded like. I simply hoped to impress my neighbors who, while only three years older than me, seemed to be part of an entirely different generation.

This time I struggled to find pleasure in my purchase. The music, except for a few portions of a few songs, was as unapproachable as the song titles were mysterious: ‘Squonk,’ ‘Fifth of Firth,’ ‘The Carpet Crawlers.’ I consoled myself with the knowledge that I now owned a record album that none of my friends had heard of before and my growing connoisseur status among them (in my eyes, at least). Another redeeming factor was that the album featured a 24-minute song[5] that took up an entire album side. In an age when pop songs followed a three-minute-long ‘two refrain, one solo, one refrain’ format, that song represented to me the ultimate in musical sophistication, akin to the hour-long symphonies my dad enjoyed. I never hesitated to offer up this fact when my friends and I would compare record collections, allowing my three-album collection to trump their 20+ album collections simply because I owned the album with the longest song, easily eclipsing their ‘Stairway to Heaven’ or ‘Hey Jude.’

Nevertheless, ‘Seconds Out’ was rarely played in my room and always neglected at the dance parties where everyone brought their albums to be played. Thirty years later I bought the album again, this time as a CD, partly out of nostalgia, partly out of curiosity: would I like it any better now? Indeed, my musical tastes had finally caught up with 70’s prog rock, and ‘Seconds Out’ enjoyed a renaissance on my ipod and is now firmly embedded in my canon of comfort music.

Today, in moments when I feel melancholy or stressed, when others might reach for alcohol or Xanax, nothing lifts my mood more than cueing up one of these albums from the 70s and, unlike practically all teenagers today, listen to it from start to finish.

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[1] This was in 1977. I was living in Brussels and was a 7th-grader at the ‘Deutsche Schule’ (German School), which was filled with diplomats’ spoiled kids. I was the opposite of spoiled — my mom always sent me along with a sandwich rather than give me money to buy one of those chocolate-covered Belgian waffles that the school’s snack bar sold during recess. I still mildly resent her for having deprived me not only of the delicious taste of those waffles but also of the social acceptance that came with standing in line together with other kids and eating the same foods that everyone else was eating.

[2] I had heard the term once and fell in love with its mature connotations, even though I had no idea what it meant. But then, at that age (13) I felt that way about a lot of words and concepts, so I wasn’t troubled by my ignorance. Ignorance was the order of the day for much of my childhood.

[3] Back then the mark of true music connoisseurs, as everyone else (i.e. me and my fellow 7th graders) just had dinky little cassette tape players with tinny speakers

[4] This was when Phil Collins had started to replace Peter Gabriel as lead singer on most of the songs

[5] ‘Supper’s Ready’

Regular and orderly in life, chaotic and sort of original in my art