The year is 1974. I am laying on my sister’s living room floor listening to a record and being completely blown away by the words and music that I am hearing. I’m 12-years old. I haven’t even begun to notice boys much yet. I don’t even really understand that I’m being completely blown away.
I listen to every word, every note, pulling them deep into myself and storing them in a place where they will be safe. A place where I can go back and draw on them any time I want to. I am eager to get home so I can go and buy my own copy of the album. I have to have it. I want my world to be filled with this music.
In the years that followed the discovery and subsequent purchase of that single album, I added others by the same artists, treasuring them, listening to them over and over again. My friends did not understand the attraction. While they played the Bay City Rollers to death, I stubbornly stuck to that which made me feel the way these songs made me feel: like the flower child I fantasized being.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have fifth place in the birth order of my siblings. Some of my very earliest memories involve the music that my older sisters and brother listened to. (Snoopy vs. the Red Baron by the Royal Guardsmen still ranks among my favourite songs ever!) Without them, I would likely have no appreciation for the sounds that the 60’s and early 70’s injected into society. Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Procol Harem, Deep Purple, Led Zepplin, Joni Mitchell, Rita Coolidge, Arlo Guthrie... may never have touched me with their lyrics and rhythms.
But this album, this incredibly funny, touching, bawdy, emotionally charged, collection of songs… Well, it was pure magic. It never ceased to overwhelm me with its raw, edgy, passion, like something slightly dangerous from some forbidden place seeping into my mind and casting a spell that has lasted nearly forty years.
The band members all looked like the sort of guys that my parents would have locked me up to keep me away from, not at all the clean-cut, boy-next-door types. They were battle-scarred and triumphant heroes of the musical anti-establishment movement unafraid to speak their minds through poetry that could not fail – if the listener paid a modicum of attention – to open the minds of others. They cracked my adolescent mind wide open, introducing me to imagery of a world that I would never personally know. A world, however, where people felt the same pleasure, the same pain that I did and would in mine. By the time I was 18, there wasn't a single feeling or emotional experience that I could not relate to one of their songs. They got me through break-ups and make-ups and hang-ups and hang-overs. They were the best musical friends – and emotional support group - I have ever known.
The album I listened to on my sister’s living room floor was the second album by the band. And there was nothing sloppy about it. Following the huge success of the single Sylvia’s Mother from their first album Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, Sloppy Seconds introduced the world to such cult classics as Freaker’s Ball and Cover of the Rolling Stone, which led to…. What’s their name, again?... Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show being featured on the March 29, 1973 cover of the magazine. Written by Shel Silverstein, whose imagination put delicious twists to common concepts, these two songs seemed to characterize the band, whereas, as love songs go, Sylvia’s Mother epitomized the painful side of love like none other before or after it.
Today I received a fresh new copy of Sloppy Seconds in the mail. I have owned this record in all of its incarnations from vinyl to 8-track to cassette tape to CD, never being without it for any longer than I absolutely had to. I have listened to it literally thousands of times and it never gets old. I still own most of their albums and continue to listen to them, too. If I could have all their music, it would be one dream-come-true.
I never did get to see Dr. Hook in concert, but I did get to see Ray Sawyer play at the Smithers Hotel Bar, before it burned down in the early 1990’s. Packed into the tiny venue with at least a hundred more people than the bar was licensed to hold, I sat not 10 feet away from one of the seven men, who unbeknownst to them, opened my eyes, my heart and my mind and taught me that, in spite of life’s hurdles, I can touch the sun.