Photo by Tenaya HillsSometimes we change music, and sometimes music changes us. With the promise of a free guitar from Sam Ash, we lured scores of readers to tell us how music gave them purpose, a career, a second chance with Dad. We selected three winners (who each received a sweet electric guitar) and an honorable mention (who received some free stuff with OC Weekly emblazoned on it).
Dereck Blackman Quiet Riot's "Bang Your Head (Mental Health)"
I grew up in Trinidad, where my father was the most successful entertainer on the island and the author of the new musical sensation he called "soca music." But after a series of successes and failures, my father had an intense epiphany. When I was about 12 years old, he decided that he had enough of this world and took me and my 11 siblings out of school and moved us into the jungle. The entire public concluded he had gone berserk. Suddenly, I was drastically yanked from the comfort of the suburbs to a life of squalor, religious purging and perpetual, punishing mosquitoes. Because of my father's lack of steady employment, I solicited odd jobs in the village a couple of miles from where we were camped. One evening after a day of hard labor, I heard the song "Bang Your Head" by Quiet Riot blasting through a window from a radio. I stopped and listened to the song in its entirety. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to play rock music, and that desire inspired me to eventually leave Trinidad and relocate to Orange County, where I am to this day.
Tony Khamvongsa Sarah McLachlan's Surfacing
In the summer of 1997, the long, twisting road of life took a turn for the worst. My father revealed his extramarital affairs to the family, completely and utterly destroying what little was left of it. My grandmother, the one who basically raised me—as my parents were too involved with their careers—passed away. My first serious girlfriend shipped off to Canada with her family, leaving my demolished heart with no one to turn to. Sarah McLachlan's Surfacing was on such heavy household rotation my mother insisted I get a personal CD player because she was tired of hearing it. There's something about headphones that makes the music jump out at you. At the time, I was plucking away at the acoustic guitar, trying to be the next big thing. It was Surfacing that made me want to stop butchering other peoples' music and take up songwriting. It didn't matter if the songs I penned were any good. It didn't even matter if they were horrible. What mattered was getting all these mixed feelings off my chest. It took some time to realize that life happens when you least expect it. I was doing my own surfacing, trying to figure out what it meant to be me. And Surfacing felt like a record written just for me: listening to it let me know I wasn't alone.
George Russell Marty Robbins, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs
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In the mid-1980s, my dad used to drive the family to our grandparents' house in a 1972 Buick Electra with leather seats. My father played only two albums on those drives: John Gielgud doing Sherlock Holmes and Marty Robbins' 1959 album Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs. "El Paso." "Big Iron." These songs became engrained in my subconscious as the landscape rushed by, usually somewhere around 90 mph. A year or so ago, I found the album had been reissued on CD, so I bought it, completely unprepared for the impact it would have. I knew every word of every song on the album, and Marty Robbins' clear, lonesome voice with the signature echo laid on it by classic Nashville producer Don Law took me straight back to those long car trips, the sticky leather seats and the wind that would blow through the slightly cracked back windows. But what the music brings back most each time I put the album on—usually on the long drive I regularly make from Orange to San Francisco—is a clearer understanding of my father, who for so long was simply a one-dimensional figure I couldn't relate to. I bought the album for him for Christmas last year, and a smile crept across his face as he opened it. Marty Robbins' Gunfighter Ballads is not only one of the best country albums of all time, but it had also become another line of communication strung over the dark chasm between my father and me.
Paula Sachs The Beatles, "I'll Get You"
The song that changed my life is "I'll Get You" by the Beatles. I was just eight when my mother bought me that record. With no musical preferences or prejudices as encumbrances, I bravely changed the RPM indicator on my portable record player from 78 to 45 to listen to both sides of the single. Although I enjoyed the perky "She Loves You" on the A side, I found myself drawn to the more in-your-face lyric and melody on the B side. I particularly liked the "it will all work out for me in the end" message I gleaned from that song and the catchy "oh, yeah" that gave it (and then me) a "bite me" attitude. It was my first foray into rock music and, perhaps most important, helped me develop my first real positive idea about life. Problems at home? Difficulties in school? Troubles with friends and, later on, entanglements with boyfriends? Don't worry: it will all work out in the end. Of course it didn't—and to this day doesn't—always work out. But the idea that "things might work out, and so what if they don't" has helped me approach potentially tough situations with a "try it and see" attitude rather than to not try at all. The message, the music, the Beatles all became part of my life through this song. So, yes, it did; it got me in the end. Oh, yeah.