Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Growing up in the country

When my family moved from Boise to Meridian in June 1974, I thought we were moving to The Sticks, even though it was just 10 miles directly west, out into the country. Meridian wasn't the sprawling mess then that it is now -- back then it was just a small rural agricultural town of maybe 3,000 people, though it was soon to be home of the largest school district in the state.
Moved away from my favorite used bookstore ever, I had to find new places to supply my addictions. One tiny hole-in-the-wall bookstore in "downtown" Meridian briefly supplied me with old science fiction magazines from the late '60s, but they didn't have much else and they weren't around long.
So I fell back on Meridian Drug -- an old-style drug store from back in the day when drug stores had a whole lot more than just medical stuff. Meridian Drug not only had a great book and magazine rack, they had a music section, too -- all the latest vinyl, plus occasional surprises. Once they had on display a dozen new, sealed copies of INTRODUCING THE BEATLES, on Vee-Jay Records, selling for $1.99. Why I didn't grab one of those I don't know, unless I thought I had enough Beatles at home already.
Actually, I didn't have that much music at home. Lots of 45's and tons of cassette tapes filled up by recording songs off the radio, but not that much on album. The Moody Blues' SEVENTH SOJOURN, THE BEST OF BREAD, Neil Diamond's first GREATEST HITS, INTRODUCING LOBO, Three Dog Night's HARMONY, the first Osmonds album, TUBULAR BELLS, The Carpenters' SINGLES -- the usual child's starter-kit of pop music. Grabbing stuff a cousin was bored with, I added copies of Simon and Garfunkel's BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER (and finally heard the gorgeous "Only Living Boy in New York" and the great melodrama of "The Boxer"), The Beach Boys' SUMMER DAYS (AND SUMMER NIGHTS!) (worth it just for "Let Him Run Wild," "Help Me Rhonda" and "California Girls"), and Peter, Paul and Mary's TEN YEARS TOGETHER best-of. But that still wasn't much.
In the first few months of high school I'd add The Beatles '62-'66 and '67-'70, ABBEY ROAD and the White Album, plus YESSONGS, and the rest of The Moody Blues' "Classic 7." But there was still so much I hadn't heard yet, and I knew it.
Meanwhile, I'd been getting my science-fiction magazines second-hand for a quarter each. Meridian Drug carried GALAXY, a mag I'd never previously liked much, which was reborn from mid-1974 through 1977 thanks to editor Jim Baen -- it became the most interesting magazine in the field, publishing wonderful fun stories by John Varley, Larry Niven, Roger Zelazny, Frederik Pohl and a bunch more. The grocery store a couple doors down from the drugstore carried ANALOG, AMAZING and FANTASTIC, so one 10-minute bike ride from the trailer park we lived in could set me up with enough reading for a month. It never occurred to me to wonder how a small rural town in Idaho could be so well-supplied with SF magazines.
The book rack at Meridian Drug kept me well-supplied too. It was the first place I saw a copy of Samuel R. Delany's huge and notorious "science fiction" novel DHALGREN, which I never bought new and could never get more than 200 pages into, despite repeated attempts. Delany had been brilliant once, wonder what happened....
MD also put me in touch with a collection of writings about The Who from the pages of ROLLING STONE -- "THE WHO: TEN GREAT YEARS." I'd been a Who fan since hearing "Won't Get Fooled Again," "Behind Blue Eyes," "Love, Reign O'er Me" and "Bell Boy" on the radio a few years earlier. I'd soon add a copy of WHO'S NEXT to my cheap collection of tapes.
Next I tripped over a Beach Boys biography and a huge collection of record reviews from ROLLING STONE, and started longing for a bunch of music I'd never heard. So I started pursuing that. There was life-changing music out there that the radio never played, and I couldn't figure out why. It was easy to get interested in off-the-wall music then -- 1974-75 was a pretty dull musical period in a lot of ways.
That first couple years in the trailer park, I was still trying to figure out what interested me, where I fit in. Then I got on my high-school newspaper, and most of my uncertainties ended. I finally realized I was where I should be, where my talents fit in best.
My best friend ever lived in that same trailer park -- but I didn't meet him until three years later, I was so withdrawn and anti-social and scared of embarrassing myself by talking with people. Most of the friends I had ended up living in that trailer park at one time or another. It really was a small world, back then.

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