“Got nobody waiting at home”

In spring of 1982 I was almost 8 years old. That would have made my cousin 16, and, because I didn’t have any older brothers, he made it his mission to educate me about music.

My grandmother took care of me after school, and my cousin would stop by a lot of afternoons before going to his job at my grandfather’s grocery store. I could usually hear his car from about half a mile away. It was a gold Camaro that was about the same age as I was, but it wasn’t the engine you could hear before you saw the car. He had restored that car to top form. And he had installed a gloriously impressive– or at least gloriously loud– stereo system, so the car sounded like a concert on wheels. All the time.

On the day in spring of 1982, though, he arrived at the house with a bag from Music Eye– his local record store of choice back when such things still existed– and took me into our grandparents’ formal living room. I’d say that the living room was off limits to us kids, which was true, because we might spill on the furniture or break one of my grandmother’s glass knicknacks, but really, nobody went in there very much. It was a big deal to climb over the little childproof gate and step on the plush green carpet.

My cousin sat me in front of the big hi-fi stereo, which was a giant wooden casket-looking thing with a lid that opened up to the turntable and speakers tastefully hidden by wooden carvings in the front. My grandmother used it to play wild stuff like Elvis’ gospel album and Boots Randolph’s “Yakety Sax.”

“Just listen,” he told me.

He pulled a record out of the bag. It was a red cover with a white diagonal stripe across the front. He put the record on and dropped the needle. The guitar sounded forth from the speaker I was sitting in front of, and I bounced up and down on my knees. It was a long instrumental, which I would later learn was called “Intruder” leading into a song I did recognize, “Pretty Woman.”

I know it wasn’t the first time I’d heard Van Halen, but it’s the first time I remember hearing Van Halen. I loved it. I loved that their lead singer had three names and the guitar player and his brother were from Holland, where the windmills were. By the time my grandmother turned up to tell us to turn that racket off and shoo us out of the living room before we broke something, I was hooked.

I was also still 8. And even when “1984” came out, I was only 10, so I was still way too young to see them in concert. By the time I was old enough to go to concerts, they’d gotten rid to the lead singer with three names and taken on Sammy Hagar, at which time I thought, “What’s the point?”

When I heard the original lineup would be touring this year, I recruited my concert buddy, Special K, and we pounced the moment tickets went on sale. The good thing about seeing a concert now is that we can afford loge seating instead of a seat somewhere in the rafters of the arena. So tonight we will be at the Banknorth Garden in Boston, and I finally get to see Van Halen. I’ve waited 30 years for this, so it better be good.

More to come…

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