The radio was a forbidden object during my childhood. I distinctly remember a wooden rectangular piece of furniture which sat in our living room and held the illusive stereo system. It was all there, receiver, dual tape deck, record player, and lots of glass penguins my mother placed on the glass top covering the record player. The gathering dust on the tiny birds was a good indicator of how often a record was played in our house. On occasion the glass door would be swung open and a tape would be inserted into one of the tape decks, usually Amy Grant or Sandi Patty. The radio, however, was never turned on.
As a child, I had a record player of my own. It was inside a red and white case. It couldn’t actually be removed from the case, but could be easily closed up in order to be carried from room to room. My record collection was sparse. I had The Muppet Movie soundtrack, the Annie soundtrack, a Scooby Doo mystery, and a tiny 45 with only one song on it, made specifically for me by a guy named Zoom who lived on the moon and came down to earth just to sing me his tune, because it was my birthday. I had one rock n’ roll record: The Monkees Greatest Hits. I think the fact that one of my first crushes (Davy Jones) was also one of my mom’s, and in fact older than both she and my father, really speaks volumes about my childhood. My mother grew up on rock and it wasn’t until she was in her 20’s, after she had me and found God that she realized the makers of it were out to taint my soul. Ok, that’s not fair, they weren’t just after my soul, they were after everyone’s. Therefore the radio was banned.
I didn’t even get my first cassette tape until I was in sixth grade. That’s when my mother started her “tape ministry.” While I was off at school, she filled her days copying tapes from a myriad of Christian artists and sent them out (for a small fee) to people who requested them. It turns out that despite that whole no stealing thing, my mom was a bootlegger. I didn’t care one bit, because I could have any tape on the list. Suddenly my room was filled with Amy Grant, Petra, Mike Warnke (a Christian comedian) and Sandi Patty. I wasn’t allowed to listen to Striper though, my mom thought despite their “Jesus is good” message, that they were too “secular” sounding. Secular, that’s a word I heard often. That same year my father bought me a pink boombox for my birthday, so I could actually play all those tapes. The radio antenna mysteriously got broken in the mail, but I didn’t care. It was a whole new freedom. Plus, my aunt sent me my first ever secular tape: Debbie Gibson. Before I could even open the package, it was snatched from my hands. It took my mother two days, several listenings, and no doubt a lot of praying** before it was handed back over to me. It was like heaven…no, strike that, my sister got in huge trouble once for singing along to the song “Heaven is a Place on Earth” by Belinda Carlisle.
Two years later my first boyfriend gave me a tape he’d made for me of ZZ Top on one side and The Cure on the other, but I wasn’t allowed to keep it. Even though my mother really liked Mike, the tape had to go. I did, however, keep the list of songs he wrote out. I think it’s still in one of my diaries. It wasn’t until I moved out of my mom’s house and in with my dad that I actually got to listen to music that I wanted to. I pilfered my aunt’s budding CD collection, permanently borrowing such classics as White Snake, Madonna, Nelson and of course, “Electric Youth” by Debbie Gibson.
Unlike most of my friends, I don’t get nostalgic for the way MTV used to be, because it was blocked from our TV. I don’t know more than a handful of words to any song off the Thriller album and I can only name a handful of bands from the 80’s. I only know those from my teenage years of watching movies like The Breakfast Club, Say Anything and Some Kind of Wonderful. I have a feeling it’s also at least part of the reason that while my friends have iPods filled with thousands of songs, I haven’t bought a new CD in about two years. It’s not that I don’t like music, I really do. In fact, I love to sing.*** It’s just that for the first 14 years of my life music was nearly outlawed, and I just don’t have that same desire to collect CDs and songs. I do, however, listen to the radio.
**I was praying the entire time too, but only to get my hands on that coveted tape.
***I actually wanted to be a singer for most of my childhood because my mom and I were always singing movie soundtracks, Christmas tunes and Christian music. Despite her fear of rock, she has a great voice and used to sing in a band. I can still sing pretty much the entire score of Annie, The Sound of Music, Evita, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Cats.