The first time I heard a song that changed my life was in 1983. I was 7, and arriving at Valley Mill summer camp, a day camp outside of Washington, D.C. It was one of those places where kids canoe and shoot bows and arrows and dabble in survival skills from a different era.
A school bus would pick me up every morning and ferry me out to the semi-wilderness just past the suburbs. On one particular morning, I was coming down the stairs at the front of the bus when a sound hit me like a lightning bolt. It was more than a sound, actually. It was a tangy, lemony, electrical emotional wave. Have you ever dealt with skunk spray at very close range? It goes past being a smell — it’s like a wave of high voltage meat that engulfs you so fully that you can’t tell which of your senses you are experiencing. That was the intensity of this sound, but far from being putrid, it was pure exhilaration.
I looked up and there was a man — well, he may have been a man; anyone older than nine or 10 seemed like a full fledged adult to me, so chances are he was, like, 14 — and had shaggy hair parted in the center of his forehead which struck me as dirty blonde curtains. (It was a look I spent a long time trying to master, thereafter). On his shoulder there was a silver boombox, and coming from it was this unbelievable electric… thing.
There were no vocals, just stabs of a kind of synthetic, zapping voltage. It was the coolest thing I’d ever heard.
When I got back home that afternoon, I said, “Dad, something has happened to me.” I sang him the song. The melody had been in my head all day. To his great credit, my father took me very seriously and we drove straight away to Tower Records.
He marched me up to the counter. “Damian, sing the song for the man.”
“Duh DAH! duh DAH! du DAH DAH DAH, dah dunNAT! DAT DAT, duh dunNAT!”►
“Oh, that’s ‘Rockit’ by Herbie Hancock.” He took me over to the 7-inch singles and grabbed a copy. I still have it. I nearly wore that thing out.