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Out by the silhouette of the skyline I came alive

Joel Lakadosch


Out by the silhouette of the skyline I came alive


Buildings were lighting up inside


Like fireworks exploding inside of me


In the dark I saw my life


Come alive and light burned there


I was young I was happy


Back then when life was… poetry


I walked streets and valleys


Climbed buildings through every story


And from the rooftop pinnacles


I saw my life below me


It floored me it was magic


Back before I knew tragic


If hurt came I didn’t know it


I rebounded from it though I still carried it


Because a child don’t have time for sadness


Too much play to put into a day


Too much wonder to put into play


But now as an adult I got too much worry to cram in a day


Too much money not to make


So I have to take whatever I can take


Now that life has ceased to be… poetry


But I still see the skyline


Deep inside the lights still shine


On long forgotten trails lost to time


A boy still rides


And maybe if he rides hard enough


And if the lights burn long enough


The rider can ride home


Going both backward and forward in time


The boy and the man can merge


What was lost can be found


I still remember the lights, the colors


The sounds and books and atmospheres


Of those lost hemispheres


And I’m here while they are there


But nothing’s ever really lost


Hope can be reborn anywhere


So I’m going back there


I’m going back to wonder


To the old skylines


To the old bike highways and bayous


And forts and cities


Because life can still be… poetry


What was once lived can be again


An imprint was made that never went away


Something of us was left behind


And now we wake to find


Those impressions that were left in our hearts


Are really marks imprinted on a map… 


…And that map’s showing us the way back





Those were the days when I found friends in music, friends in books, friends in square-jawed, dark-haired movie heroes, and even friends in my own neighborhood.



Some of those neighborhood friends remained friends.



Some turned against me.



At school… on the bus… I’d take a beating. Mostly verbal, with an occasional fist or shove thrown in for bad measure.


But at home, in my room, tapes spread out, the music was my salvation. More than anything, it was always the music. It was my liberation from the fear and the pain of not fitting in, of being different.


But I would not say my youthful days were bad. Looking back, there was definitely fear and stress inhabiting my life, but time colors everything like a sepia-toned Instagram from long ago, and I mostly see the good, the transcendent. The simple memories become the most profound.


Memories of evenings spent going out to eat with my family somewhere in the sprawling monster of Houston, Texas. Rain clouds would be clearing, painting the evening bright with clouds and sun and rain-wet streets, all their colors and shades mingling. I’d be sitting in the back seat, observing the play of colors and buildings and roads, hanging on every beat of the music, riding the melody like a wave, crashing and resurfacing. I was in A Place. A Place where the worry could not touch me. A Place of pure feeling. This was the power of music combined with place. Music and place seep into your soul, shape you. Houston may have been urban concrete sprawl, but I only saw beauty and character. The neon signs of the restaurants reflecting off the wet roads after an evening thunderstorm, the buildings lit up against the night, passing by my window. And weaving in and out of it all, the songs and the music of my youth.



Back in the 80s, my city was growing, and I grew with it. Over the years, I’d watch a patch of land become a mall and a theater, restaurants popping up around it. Eventually the mall got bigger, the theater following suit. Willowbrook 8 became Willowbrook 15. Restaurants became more elaborate, with a huge variety of items on their menus. I loved it, this feeling of growth; it seemed to mirror my own inner growth. I felt like I was growing alongside my city. As I learned and became more self-aware, it seemed like the city around me did, too. I was a city boy, and I came alive in the city lights.



I know that seems a bit anti-environmentally minded, and I’m in no way trying to endorse further sprawl. I haven’t lived in Houston since 1999, and when I went back a few years ago, it had grown so much it was unrecognizable to me. It was shocking for me to see, honestly. What was huge and shiny and new back in 1988 was now tiny and decimated and grimy, if it was even there anymore. The sprawl was too much. But back in the 80s, it was just beginning. It wasn’t as bad.



The 1980s were a time of massive growth for the country, and not just in the cities, but in popular entertainment, too. You saw the birth of the summer blockbuster, bigger movies every summer, Ghostbusters in 84, Die Hard in 88… movies got bigger and better. It was like America went from 0 to 60, and as it did, so did I. This was the experience for those of us who came of age in the 80s.



We came of age under the neon glow of the big, bold, colorful musical personalities of the era: Billy Idol, Madonna, Duran Duran, Michael Jackson, Prince. It was a time when we all were sucked into the zeitgeist of a nation waking up from the downbeat 70s. These artists took the musical dregs that remained from the 70s and brought them into the 80s. They molded the dying punk, disco, and rock scenes into something new and vibrant and exciting. Everything was full of extreme color, and the music was as big and distinctive as the looks of the pop stars. Billy Idol with the white blonde spikey, Jon Bon Jovi with The Hair, Richard Marx with his bushel head… Ok, pretty much all of them had big hair back then.



Color was exploding everywhere; it was rioting out from our TV sets that were constantly set to MTV. We sat enraptured while the huge new videos flashed across our screens, like the colors that flashed across the flag in the MTV commercial with the astronaut. It was a time of waking up, of experimenting, of growing. The music was big. It was like aural color, and the videos had to be big enough and wild enough to embody the color and essence of these captivating new sounds and artists.


It was a time of icon-making, of images in videos seeping into the national and collective consciousness. Even the black-and-white videos were bigger than life, iconic and trendsetting. They were images that would help define a decade.




You had U2, who may not have been “colorful” at the time (that happened in the 90s with Zoo Station and all that) with their grainy black-and-white videos and black leather jackets over white t-shirts, but they still managed to punch a massive hole into the pop culture landscape, setting up shop and defining much of the 80s. They became icons in their own right. And even the grayness of U2, such as the video for Pride (In the Name of Love), was a striking, living thing unto itself. The opening shots taken from a helicopter flying over a port, massive bridges and smokestacks flying by, then The Edge walking, trench coat flapping, roughneck kids looking back at him, all set to his driving guitar, are extremely captivating. And best of all, at the end, the ominous shots of the smokestacks, way up high, are just dizzying and powerful and disorienting. Haunting, really. The helicopter slowly circles them; the river and the docks spread out for miles… it all makes for an unforgettable and exhilarating experience. And then there’s Bono, dancing and gyrating in that Michael Stipe way of his, throwing the mic up in the air and almost losing his balance, the roughneck kids watching him and then starting their own dance. The image of the kids dancing is immediately followed by a shot of one of the kids looking up at an imposing drawbridge, lifted up above the water, a black tower of fear and dread set against the joy of the dancing. Which, I imagine, must have mirrored U2’s own journey, finding a way to make music and dance as a way to face – and overcome – the imposing obstacles facing teens growing up in rough and tumble Dublin of the 1970s, with the bombings and the grime and the death.



I remember watching that video back in the Christmas of 1984, being captivated by those images.


But, man, all those iconic black-and-white videos from back then! Groundbreaking videos featuring striking images: the punk kid drummer in Don Henley’s Boys of Summer video (I remember that kid scared me – he looked tough, like he could kick my butt. I’m not surprised I reacted this way, given the way I was made fun of at school). Most striking about that video was the executive sitting at a desk, a screen behind him showing images of a couple kissing on a beach. Gripping his pencil, looking both pensive and upset, his gaze reached out and grabbed you with its pain and regret etched in black and white. And Henley himself was the epitome of cool in the video, riding on the back of a truck, singing as he moved through town, mid-sized Don Henley afro waving in the breeze.



And then, come the Christmas of 1987, Guns N Roses burst onto the scene in all their post Rolling Stones glory. You couldn’t ignore this band. Their music was so vibrant and animalistic and visceral, it grabbed you by the throat and put you through the wall. For us, it was something entirely new but seemingly timeless, a combination of the comical and the mysterious. Who was Slash and what did he look like behind the hat and hair and ever-present cigarette? Did the hair ever part to reveal if there was indeed a face underneath it all? And did we really want to see it?


And what about Axl?  Why did he always sound so set upon and angry? We didn’t know the answers, but the questions provided hours’ worth of jokes and speculation. All we knew is that Axl was insane, possibly genius, but always captivating, bleeding charisma with attitude to burn.



These guys looked like they crawled out of the gutter and through Aerosmith’s wardrobe closet before strapping on guitars and taking the stage, driving the New Wave synthesizer band off and scaring everybody into silence. You HAD to watch this band. They were the real deal. You go back and watch those old videos, especially Welcome to the Jungle, and they still hit you. Axl was insane, screeching and shaking his way through the video, strapped to that chair and freaking out to images of riots and destruction. Slash was laid out on the curb with a bottle of alcohol, which, according to his biography, he really was hitting during the filming of the video.  



Guns were a band that, when they functioned, they got the world to pay attention. They pulled off massive, multiyear world tours. They composed mini epics like Don’t Cry or November Rain, with equally epic videos to match. Nobody could touch them. Nobody could operate at their level, even though operating at that level eventually undid the band. They made music that has never been duplicated. Nobody wants to mess with that sound. You can’t duplicate it any more than you can replicate the personalities involved. Guns were a product of a time and place: the early/mid 80s LA Sunset Strip scene. Copious amounts of hair spray, sex, and drugs combined with alcohol-fueled rages through the California nights forged their music and lyrics. It was all about visceral experience translating into equally visceral music.



Coming out of that scene, Guns wrote about that lifestyle. Much like gangsta rap would do a couple years later, GNR held up a mirror of their experiences for us to gaze into. It was a harrowing but exhilarating ride. If you listen to the lyrics for Welcome to the Jungle, they are gritty and forbidding. It’s a song about survival. At the same time, there was a certain defiant uplift there, a form of “yeah! I did it! I survived!” It was celebration of survival. Of course, the celebration is tied up with the very things holding them down, like the drugs and the sex, but taken together, it formed an experience, and that experience became the melodies and the music driving the songs. Welcome to the Jungle might have been a forbidding, cautious song lyrically, but caution never sounded so good! It was an absolute blast to listen to. To a certain extent, the lyrics became secondary to the music. The music was where the real experience was found and lived. It was all grit and burning trash fires. Guns poured all their experiences into those songs, and you could experience their same heady rush of hard, dangerous living when you heard those songs, but you could do it without taking part in it.  



And that was the genius of Guns and bands like them; they weren’t trying to change the world, they just wanted to give people a rush when they heard the songs. It was a celebration of youth and being alive, and as such, there was a rough innocence to it.


All those songs made up the soundtrack of my days. And when you look back, you can see that certain songs go with certain places; how they remind you of specific places and people in your life. For example, GNR and Midnight Oil songs remind me of chilling on my friend Chad’s couch and watching MTV all day. There’s an Alabama song I associate with some of my earliest memories of moving to Texas back in 1981. Steve Winwood’s Back in the High Life reminds me of going to the mall with my Mom in junior high school, and Crowded House’s Don’t Dream It’s Over reminds me of riding the bus ride home from school that same year. These are not extraordinary memories; they are just random recollections from normal days. In a way, that makes them even more powerful than the big memories of graduation or first jobs or first kisses. They are slices of the life we lived in the “in between” times. But again, it was the music combining with place to powerful effect. I was making my own videos as I heard the music, fusing sounds with places and people.



What was happening is that I was discovering who I was, but it was a slow-motion discovery, one that I feel I’ve only recently begun to realize. I’m just now realizing exactly how deep the music has touched me; formed me. As I’ve been reading biographies of musicians – everyone from Questlove to Billy Idol to Neil Young – one similarity between them all is just how much music has impacted them. As kids they’d sit and listen to records for hours, write album reviews, put ads out in magazines to meet other fans with similar tastes, spend all their money on the latest single or record, learn instruments… and as


I read these books, it’s like my own life is being explained to me. Aside from playing an instrument, all the above was me. But with this realization has come loneliness. And the regretful feeling that when I did find what I wanted, I didn’t know it.


I love music. I love talking music, finding out what inspired someone to write a certain song, the social/economic factors involved. Such as the economic Depression in 1970s Britain being the genesis of punk music, disenchanted kids facing a future of drudgery at factory jobs (if they were lucky enough) taking matters into their own hands, channeling aggression into art, and eventually changing the face of a country in the process, inspiring other kids in other situations to do the same. Always it was a love of music, a deep, abiding, soul-deep love. Not as a hobby, not as a pleasant diversion, but something more akin to a religious experience, a conversion that changes your life, making you its disciple. You want to spread this gospel of music and culture and emotion, but so many just don’t care. It seems that, these days, nobody wants to talk about that anymore. Maybe they all got old and are “past that” now. Families and work have replaced youthful dreams and joys. Indeed, sometimes it feels like my enthusiasm for music is looked down upon. Like something is wrong with me because I never moved on, stuck in the past, running out to buy So and So’s new album. I’ll be excited about something I heard about a band, and bring it up to people, and the indifference I get is alarming. I honestly wonder what gets them off if music no longer moves them.



When I was in my late teens/early twenties, I had a few friends who were passionate about their music. My friend Knick loved The Smiths and Morrissey’s subsequent solo career. My friend Corey was into Fugazi and their previous iteration: Minor Threat. Another friend, Jason, idolized Eric Clapton. Even though I did not share my friends’ enthusiasm for these artists, I appreciated how my friends were not just casual fans, but that they truly connected to their favorite artists. They faithfully went to the shows, hunted down every obscure single, hung posters on their walls, read all they could about these artists. But mostly I loved to listen to my friends talk about their favorite artists. I was learning about music, and that was awesome. I honestly cannot say how much of an effect this had on me.



At the time, I did not realize how much I loved talking about music and bands; I did not realize how much it meant to me, how integral it was in the shaping of my character. No, I didn’t realize it until fifteen years later, when I found myself surrounded by Catholics who only wanted to talk about the Church and family values. By that time in my life, I had converted to Catholicism and had moved from Texas to South Carolina. I enjoyed my newfound faith and I liked the new friends I was making at church, but something about the whole scene seemed incomplete to me. There was something I needed that I wasn’t getting. Eventually, it dawned on me that these folks were not as deep into music as I was. They were your typical casual radio listeners, and many times that radio was talk radio. I was disturbed by the fact that music was not important to them. It wasn’t important at all. It was then that I began to miss my friends from Houston. It was at that point that I began to realize just how important music was to me, how deep it went into my very being. I missed those in-depth conversations with Knick and Corey about music and the surrounding culture that spawned it. Those guys did not know it at the time – and neither did I – but they were revealing to me who I was. In the years since this realization, it has only become clearer and clearer to me exactly who and what I am.


I guess I could not understand why my newer friends had lost their love of music. It seemed like music was just something they liked when they were younger, and now that they were mature adults, they’d put away their childhood passions.


By juxtaposing my talks with Knick and Corey against my conversations with my newer Catholic friends, I realized just how important music and books and culture were to me.


Especially music. I’d talk with Catholic friends who were members of my generation, who grew up with the same bands I did, and it seemed like music was just some quaint novelty to them. I’d ask them about what bands they were into and they couldn’t really answer. Sometimes the answer would be along the lines of “Oh, I don’t listen to music much anymore, I just listen to talk radio.” And I absolutely could not believe that. Not listen to music much? How do you get by? Are you alive? Because music gives me life!



That hurt me. Still does. It feels as if there is a stigma these days against those of us who never lost our youthful enthusiasm for music. You talk music and all the sudden, you’re an immature teen in their eyes. I know. It’s happened to me. I see the looks I get when I start talking about music. I hear what they tell me; I pick up on the tone in their voices “I haven’t bought a cd in years. I grew up. I’m an adult now. I do adult stuff!” Which is what? Conformity? Losing touch with the passion of your youth? Brother, don’t let that happen! Sister, get it back!



I don’t know, maybe as we get older and conform to what the world tells us we are supposed to be, we slowly fall asleep. We are handed checklists from the world to check off, and life becomes a mission to check the items off your list. Go to school, get a job, buy a home, get married, have kids, move up the corporate ladder, buy a larger home, put your kids in college and thus pass the list onto your kids so they can repeat the process. But maybe in that process we lose ourselves. We fall asleep.



That’s the way it seems to me, at least. Everyone sleeping. Everyone becoming a zombie, herding around like zombies, and, in true zombie fashion, trying to get you to join their crowd.



Maybe music represents their youth, a time when they had not yet made it in the world, when they were not yet “mature”, and as such, music is a childish thing that they put away when they became adults. Again, they are “past that” now. To them, music is a step backward. Going backward is unacceptable in a world obsessed with forward momentum. Life is all about moving forward, right? Leaving the past behind. We can’t move forward if we keep looking and stepping back. So yes, in a certain sense, music can be seen as a step back… just not in the sense they are thinking of. You see, music is the way back to innocence, the way back to back to joy, the way back to goodness and happiness. But, even more importantly, those songs and sounds are a way to rediscover who we once were before we grew up and conformed. Maybe, if we can rediscover who we once were, rediscover the pure joy we had as kids, we can move forward. And if that is indeed what music is, then means music is the way forward! It is the mark on the map guiding you home and propelling you onward.


When it came down to it, my Catholic friends just were not my “people.” I’m still looking for my people, the ones who love music and art and culture and how it all intersects. I miss those talks with Knick and Corey, and wish I had someone to talk like that with these days.


It’s funny. Maybe I have an adult to blame for this. When I was a kid, back in the early 80s, my dad would go buy record singles at Sound Warehouse, a chain of stores popular in Houston at the time. Those stores are long gone now, but, man, they were awesome. I could wander for hours looking at albums. My dad even bought me my first album there – a cassette – back in 1982. It was the soundtrack to my favorite movie at the time, Clash of the Titans. Perseus, the hero in the movie, is the dark-haired hero I mentioned at the beginning of this ramble.


Well, Dad would buy his little record singles, bring them home and make mixtapes to play in the car. He’d load those things up with tons of great music: Slade, Duran Duran, Glenn Frey, Journey… He was serious about his music, and I learned a lot from him. As a matter of fact, when I was in high school, his tastes were – at times – even more hip than mine. He’d be buying Cure cds and whatnot, while I was more hair-metal Bon Jovi. But, yeah, I remember those little singles, him telling me about the bands. As far back as I can remember, Dad was deep into his music. I practically commandeered his Eagles greatest hits tape when I was five, listening to Take it Easy over and over.  


One memory in particular stands out from when I was in the fourth grade. We were at Target, and Dad bought Don Henley’s debut album I Can’t Stand Still. He told me that Don Henley was one of the Eagles, and that this was his first solo album. My sister and I loved that album, especially the song Dirty Laundry. I have very specific memories of driving around Houston and asking Dad to play that album. Even when he wasn’t out with us, I’d make my mom put that tape in. The songs from that album are buried deep in my consciousness. To this day, when I hear that album, it takes me right back to those days. It has become part of who I am.


And that’s what I’m talking about here. Finding out who you are. Or rediscovering who you were so you can make sense with who you have become. If you are unhappy or if your life is has become drudgery and responsibility, then just put on your songs and let them reveal to you who you really are. Let them resurrect what has died from deep within your soul. Music has that power. At least, it does for me.


For me, I need the music. Music is what keeps me sane, what makes the dullness and drudgery of life and work worth it. I could never place a career over that, or let family or religion or whatever take that away from me. Those things are important, and the music should serve to enhance your experience of those things. It should all work together. I need the music to be incorporated with everything else. It keeps me young, keeps me ALIVE… keeps me AWAKE! I need to constantly make the videos in my mind, merging the sounds with the places, the music with the colors. That is a huge, huge part of life for me. It is essential, needed. That is part of the poetry of life. And life should be poetry, not an instruction manual.


The music is always there, connecting me to my childhood, to my sense of wonder and newness and youth. I put The Smiths in, and I’m 19 years old again, riding with Knick, and he’s holding forth on Johnny Marr and Morrissey, and I’m all ears. Or Take It Easy plays, and I’m five years old again, a happy little kid sitting in my house in West Virginia, rewinding the song over and over on our small cassette player. Dust in the Wind is heard, and I’m coming home from school on a fall evening and looking at the fall colors exploding around me. Or a Howard Jones song comes on, and I’m twelve years old, riding down Westheimer with my dad, going out to eat at Atchafalaya, a Cajun restaurant. The lights are reflecting off the rain-slick street, I’m zoned in on Howard singing “Things can only get better” and in that moment, things are better… and also in that moment, my life is spread out before me, a giant unanswered question, but one I’m full of hope about discovering anyway, because the music’s elevating me, lifting me above it all. I know the music will keep coming. It will not stop. As the future unfolds, there will be more songs to accompany the unfolding. There will be more videos to make. But, perhaps most importantly, the music is giving even more light and color to the landscape around me, enhancing it, enhancing my experience of it, enhancing my life. Music is entangling itself with space, overlaying light with sound, color with melody; it’s an electrical charge that is changing the face of my reality until I’m full of hope and joy, bursting with happiness.


Music is the awakening.



Contrary to what the picture may indicate, Joel Lakadosch is not a trucker from West Virginia. He lives in Greenville, South Carolina, and works at both a library and a bookstore, which tolerate his refusal to use a razor. He has two kids, two cats (who are not internet celebrities, though they should be), and many books and cds.

You can friend him on fb: Joel Lakadosch

He's also on twitter @JoelLakadosch

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