There was a time when I had set my alarm for the worst radio station I could possibly find. Smooth adult contemporary garbage like Wallflowers and Sarah McLachlan. Music so edgeless, it might as well have been a circle. My thinking was that if the music was so terrible, I'd better get up and shut the damn alarm off lest I was going to have to listen to Hootie and the Blowfish or something. Well, it worked, for the most part. Got me right up immediately. Save for a few select mornings when Steely Dan came blaring on.
First, you have to realize I was raised in an anti-Steely Dan house. I remember the time when the classic rockstation was debuting in Boston, my father was ecstatic. All his favorite music from his childhood (Cream! Beatles! Spirit!) all the time! Huzzah! Well, I noticed that at some point he just stopped listening and I asked him why. "If you Listened to WZLX," Dad said, "you'd think Steely Dan and The Doors were the greatest bands of all time. Let me tell you they were nobodies!"
So that was it. I was locked-in. Steely Dan and The Doors = nobodies. Therefore, mustn't like them. Got it.
So back to the alarm-set-to-the-adult-contemporary-station experiment: twice in the span of a week, I was roused to "Reelin' in the Years" and "My Old School." And it clicked: you know what, I liked Steely Dan. My God! What was I to do? After all these years of suppressing Steely Dan love, why now? Well, I came out of the Steely Dan closet is what I did. And pretty much devoured their catalog.
And since they were always labeled as jazz-rock, I guess it made sense to take the plunge into jazz. My roommate at the time, Jeremiah, had just got Ornette Coleman's "Change of the Century," and I was stunned by the beauty of "Una Muy Bonita." I also remember my buddy Terry playing Coleman's "This is Our Music" once or twice while playing Bridge over at his apartment. I have always thought that the quartet looked unfuckwithably cool on the cover.
So that was it. Ornette Coleman. Check. Benny Goodman. Check. Steely Dan. Check. Time for jazz. I called my buddy Rich up, the de facto jazz historian in the group. Come to think of it, the guy's the de facto music historian in the group. Rich was always calling me up to see some weird free jazz shows (free as in compositionally, not free as in price -- those shows were damned expensive) knowing I'd usually be up to seeing saxes being played backwards and drummers throwing chains at their kits. He was to be my Sherpa, and he was happy to oblige.
Well, he did a fantastic job compiling the stuff. Complete jazz history-spanning anthologies touching on every important figure. Rich went the extra mile and even threw up some liner notes detailing who influenced who and where music went after the milestones were dropped. Thanks to his work, he turned me onto stone-cold classics like Eric Dolphy's "Out To Lunch" and John Coltrane's '"A Love Supreme." But what I noticed most was that the really really freaky jazz was the ones I listened to the most: the John Zorn nightmare-inducing WTFF jazz, like Naked City. Probably, because it was practically rock and roll.
So after a short while, I put the "I'm going to listen exclusively to jazz" experiment back on the shelf (right next to the I have to read "Moby Dick" before I die promise). Sure, I still go bananas when I hear Ornette. But really, the only jazz I listen to today is the jazz-rock of Steely Dan. Can't deny the Dan.