Neil Young & Crazy Horse in Philadelphia / Colleen Hofmann 

How I learned to love rock and roll

Every head bob and foot tap accompanied a small creak in my dad and uncle’s porch chairs. They sat on the porch, cranking “Statesboro Blues” just loud enough to not wake my younger brothers, and swigging beers late into the humid summer night.

I compelled my eight-year-old eyes to stay open with them, perceiving late as somewhere around nine o’clock, the time my mom returned from work. Hunched over, I scrutinized the computer screen taking occasional sips from my glass of cranberry juice. Cycling through Microsoft Encarta, an encyclopedia software housed on a series of CDs before the days of Wikipedia or Google, I called up musical greats like Cream, Santana, Joe Walsh, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles. For each artist’s encyclopedia entry, I played a short musical clip.

Between the humming cicadas and classic rock tunes emanating from the porch, my dad and Uncle Mike hollered musician names through the window screen.

“Yeah, yeah. Turn up Eric Clapton. That’s when he was at his peak. Back when he was in Cream. Now what was the name of that other guy in the band?” said my dad searching his mind for the name.

I furiously typed, clicked and paused as the pointer transformed into an hourglass. “Was it Jack Bruce?” I questioned back moments later.

I was right. Jack Bruce was in fact the bassist and vocalist for Cream. But, it turned out, my dad was referring to Ginger Baker, the psychedelic trio’s incendiary drummer who drew attention for his animated use of two bass drums. I scrambled to read as much as I possible could about Ginger Baker, his fellow-bandmate Eric Clapton and Clapton’s inspiration for the song “Tears in Heaven,” getting lost down the rabbit hole of rock. Surfacing later armed with fascinating new discoveries, I tested them back.

“What was the other band Eric Clapton played in? Not Derek and the Dominos. The other big one. What was it called?” I asked.

My uncle and dad bantered with each other trying to pinpoint the band I meant, because, you see, Eric Clapton waffled from band to band for a time until he later went solo. Reaching a decision, my dad finally reported, “Well, if it’s not Blind Faith, it must be The Yardbirds. Yeah, that’s it. Yeah. The Yardbirds.”

“Of course it’s the Yardbirds. Damn, Bill. How could you not know it’s the Yardbirds?” Uncle Mike mercilessly ribbed his younger brother.

The more I quizzed them, the more beers and laughter were consumed by the night. We played this game back and forth until my mom came home and shuttled me off bed.

And that was how I learned to love rock and roll. My dad’s passion for music ignited a dynamism inside me. While I admit being overwhelmed by the girl power phenomenon of Spice Girls and later the boy band ‘N Sync, those summer nights remain with me, bringing about a now unassailable love for rock and roll.

Using an encyclopedia software to learn about rock and roll designates me as a supreme nerd, I know. But now, I am a proud music master trumping many of my friend’s band recognitions. A living, breathing Shazam — at least when it comes to rock and roll. I’ve even been known to beat my dad at this game, much to his chagrin. Together we’ve seen Al Stewart, Dave Mason, Styx, Steven Stills, Neil Young, The Who and a litany of other bands. Rock and roll fetters our father-daughter bond — that and our biting sarcasm and jovial disposition.

Now, the sinister echo of a helicopter mixed with the repetitive guitar picking instantly reveals Pink Floyd’s “The Happiest Days of Our Lives.” An imperfectly placed false start and the masterful, shimmering acoustic melody signals “Tangerine,” a short but delicious Led Zeppelin gem appearing in the last scene of my favorite movie, Almost Famous. And the remarkably distinctive yet simplistic guitar riff of “Sunshine of Your Love” never fails to elicit a smile, forever reminding me of those intrepid summer nights I spent learning and loving rock and roll.

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