The year was 1988, and Debbie Gibson was topping the charts. To this day, I’m not entirely sure if I liked Debbie Gibson because my parents approved of her wholesome image and therefore introduced me to her music, or if I heard one of her songs on the radio and felt some magnetic pull. I don’t remember a conscious decision to invest in her music, though I remember a bright red Walkman beneath the Christmas tree and her “Out of the Blue” cassette tape accompanying it. My first memory of hearing music and needing to own it was during my dance class. Our dance instructor used songs that were popular at the time, but she also played music I’d never heard before. My parents listened to classic rock, mostly, and were very careful about what I heard on the radio, lest my young mind be corrupted by Madonna or some other less-than-savory musician. Though I’d loved music from a very young age, I never associated it with something I could purchase until I turned nine. When I heard Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” at my dance studio, I wanted it. And that was my very first record.
My parents had purchased me a Tele-Tone record player in the early 80s, one of those little turntables with plastic parts and a multi-colored cardboard carrying case, and I had occasionally used it for the records that came in some children’s books back then. But it didn’t get much use until I acquired my first real record — the first one I’d actually wanted. I never amassed a very large collection of 45s, but I listened to the ones I had incessantly. I remember the Beach Boys’ “Kokomo” playing (probably ad nauseum to my parents). I remember practicing my dance moves to “Man in the Mirror.” The flame had always been there, somewhere. That love of music is one of my earliest memories — back to when I was just three or four years old and knew all the words to every song from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music.” But those first records awakened something more in me. They fed that fire and made it more tangible. Selecting and listening to music was something personal, curated, controlled. It was my own.
My very first record player, which sits on a shelf next to my record collection today: