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That Time You Weren’t a Groupie--What Penny Lane got right


The first time I stood in line like cattle outside a music store in anticipation of an album’s release was for U2’s Achtung Baby.

Sure, I’d followed teeny bopper magazines before and saved my allowance and babysitting money for New Kids On The Block and Tiffany cassettes, but this day was different. It wasn’t about boy-crazy crushes and bubble gum songs. It was more about a connection—that magnetic pull to a message and melody that makes one feel complete. Admittedly, that sentiment drips with melodramatic angst. However, if you can’t relate even the slightest to feeling as if a certain musician or song just gets you on a level that others don’t, I’m sorry to break the following news to you: You need new friends.

Allow me to explain the friends to which I refer.

Once upon a time, my college roommate and I trailed a small town up and coming band. They were like Dave Matthews Band but with more cowbell. In my starry eyes they were bigger than the frat houses and dives in which they played. They were on their way to something dynamite, and we would be there to witness their rise. Sadly, they didn’t make it, but the concert crawls and offstage toasts we shared in that carefree spring are catalogued in the soundtrack of my life.

Cut to a year later when Cameron Crowe released his semi-autobiographical film "Almost Famous," in which innocence collides head on with an indie rock band’s road to so-so stardom. His story captured the passion and angst music lovers, like myself, feel each time we hear our bands—the ones who seem to sing to us. Among the mix of colorful characters and poignant one-liners is Penny Lane, leader of the Band Aids whose only role in life is to pledge their hearts and allegiance to the band.  There were myriad reasons why I could never be a real Band Aid, but I understood why they dropped everything just for music.

Unlike Penny Lane, I didn’t sleep with a band, nor did I overdose on Quaaludes or escape my troubles to Morocco. I was more like William, the uncool and unlived adolescent dreamer, infatuated by the swirl of unbridled energy and smooth chemistry that bloomed from the music he vibed with. But like Penny Lane, I wasn’t just a groupie. Since that day I stood in line at the music store for a piece of U2, I understood why Penny Lane would later advise us in the film: “If you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends.” Music is the great connector, bridging a divided world. The right reception playlist brings feuding bride and groom’s families together. A slide show set to heart-tugging tunes leaves no dry eye in a tough crowd. And a piña colada condensing alongside a relaxing summer set list somehow tastes even better. Whether euphoric or scraping the floor of sorrow, music is the ultimate mood enhancer and above all that, devoted friend for every need—inspiration, motivation, confidence, and therapy. Groupies are into music for something superficial. The rest of us feel its worth.

I’m doing my part as a parent to ensure my kids understand that these are friends you don’t just blow off. So I insert music where necessary to establish a certain appreciation. I can’t yet tell whether my kids are charmed by or just tolerate my penchant for creating a score for all scenarios. This weekend at Disney World, appropriate hype music had to be played as we made the drive into each destination. “Jungle Love” by Steve Miller Band for Animal Kingdom, “Welcome to Hollywood” by Beyoncé and Jay-Z for Hollywood Studios, “Starman” by David Bowie for Epcot, and “24K Magic” by Bruno Mars for Magic Kingdom. Why pull up to parking in silence when you can arrive with a boost? These are the building blocks in creating future music lovers, or so I can only hope.

Because I know enough to know there’s a Penny Lane in all of us who get carried away in a melody. I can’t follow a band on the road with reckless abandonment like that time gone by when deadlines were blown off for a spot in the front row. But I’m never too old for the release and recharge from quality time with my friends.

Nowadays my motto is closer to the following: “Have Bluetooth speaker, will travel.” My friends are mobile and the record store can be anywhere. I have the cure for all seasons and every occasion. Some friends pop in and out, briefly replaced by an oldie but goodie, and on occasion a totally new friend is gained. Others have stood the test of time, still with that magnetic pull and hitting that sentimental sweet spot each time. Multiplatinum famous or barely famous, I won’t ever groupie a band. I’ll just visit my friends instead.

Here’s who I’m hanging with this week:

For Dancing in the Kitchen: “Oogem Boogem” by Brenton Wood

For Daydreaming: “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” by Elton John

For Road Trips: “Take the Money and Run” by Steve Miller Band

For Adventure: “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” by Paul Simon

For Girls Night: “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers

For Date Night: “The Scientist” by Coldplay

To Liven up the Carpool Line: “Ants Go Marching” by Dave Matthews Band

To Feel Like a Kid Again: “Black or White” by Michael Jackson

For a Good Cry: “Wake Me Up When September Ends” by Green Day

For Motivation: “All My Life” by Foo Fighters

To Cure Most Writer’s Block: “Vienna” by Billy Joel

After a Good Haircut: “Mysterious Ways” by U2

For Anger Management: “Self Esteem” by The Offspring

For Angsting Well Into Adulthood: “No One is To Blame” by Howard Jones

For Nostalgia: “If You Leave Me Now” by Chicago

For All Time: “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden

Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.

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