Over the years, many people have asked me who my musical influences are. I never have a good answer at the ready. Of course there are musicians I admire greatly, but as a singer, I can’t say I try to sound like any one particular person. Recently, I was thinking about this question again and I finally thought of a good answer. I would have to say that my first and most important musical influence in my life was my brother Paul.
Back when we were kids we shared a Fisher-Price plastic record player. It played the big records and the little records. It was a portable player that we could listen to upstairs in our own rooms. Most of the time the player resided in Paul’s room because he was older and could punch harder. (Of course my brother wasn’t punching a little kid; he waited until I got older.) We had a few records of our own like The Muppet Show, Pac-Man Fever and Strawberry Shortcake. Big surprise, Strawberry was my favorite. I used to practice my tap dancing to her rousing version of “New York, New York.” C’mon! I was a little kid!
The real treasures were my Mom’s albums. The first time I heard The Beatles was on that record player. My Mom also had the Broadway cast recording of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” By the time I was 10, I could sing that whole musical. We usually skipped over the death scenes though, as they are a bit much for a little kid. They still freak me out. (Happy Easter, Everybody!)
And then there was the red and white striped box. One of the best, most magical boxes in existence. This plastic coated box had a handle on the top and a hinged closure on the front and was full of 45’s. We played every record in that box from The Beatles to Elvis to The Doors to The Singing Nuns. There was even a version of “The Percolator” which always cracked me up. On a rainy Saturday afternoon, we would carefully carry the box into Paul’s room and look at them all. “Ooh, Paul! Play this one next!” And he would. On very special occasions, probably when Paul was bored out of his mind, he would tell me to gather my favorite stuffed animals and he would make my “friends” dance and sing to the records. Boy, was that cool. He could always make me laugh. Is it dusty in here? I think there’s something in my eye. Hold on.
Well, times, tastes and technology moved on as we grew. Pretty soon cassettes were all the rage. Paul got a cassette/radio boombox. I was not allowed to touch it. My brother, being the music lover that he is, amassed a large quantity of cassettes from Motley Crue to Prince and the Revolution to Missing Persons. He even had a Joe Piscopo comedy album that we thought was hilarious as young kids. (It’s not funny anymore, Joe. Write some new material!) By this time, Paul was a little too cool, or so he thought, to be hanging out with his little kid sister. Silver lining: I got the record player in my room. I would spend hours singing and dancing with Strawberry or The Muppets.
Even as an older kid, Paul would get bored and agree to hang out with me for the afternoon. We didn’t play Monopoly or Scrabble like the other kids, we played Star Search. For those of you not familiar with the 80’s TV show, Ed McMahon hosted a talent competition every week. Singers, dancers, comedians and “spokesmodels” would compete for the highest score of 4-stars. The winner would return week after week to defend their “champion” status. It was a pretty popular show. Here’s how you play the Paul and Jeanne home version: First, pick a song you’d like to perform. Weird Al was always a popular choice, but any song we owned would do. Next, take some time to cultivate your performance. As a dancer, I had a lot of dance costume remnants lying around, so it was easy to put together a unique, silly costume. The performer will also be judged on lip-sync and dance capabilities, so you’d better be good! I don’t remember anyone actually winning the competition, but we put on a good show.
As we got older, Paul and I spent less time together. We had busy lives with band, choir, theater shows, work, school and friends. Luckily, there was always time to watch TV. Maybe we couldn’t agree on a show or movie to watch, but MTV was an option everyone could agree on. We could watch videos for hours. It was so cool to see what our favorite bands looked like. Sometimes when I hear an 80’s song, I’ll ask Paul if he remembers watching the “World Premiere” of that video on MTV. Of course he remembers.
As we became adults we started to attend concerts together. We’ve seen some pretty great and weird shows. Here are a few: Prince, Billy Joel, Korn, Q101’s Twisted 8, Nine Inch Nails, Art of Noise, 311, The Stooges, Henry Rollins, Van Halen, David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails again, Bauhaus, Moby…I’m sure there’s more. Ask Paul the next time you see him. Our next show together this June is Weird Al at the Chicago Theater. Anyway, even when we can’t attend a show together, we still share one song over the phone. When I went to see Duran Duran I asked Paul what song he’d like to hear. I can’t remember which song he picked, but he heard “Hungry Like the Wolf.” He didn’t really hear Duran Duran singing it, he heard me screaming the song with thousands of other people, through my phone. Whatever the show, Paul gets a call. We get a good laugh about it later.
Paul and I are still passionate about music. He is a very talented trumpet player and DJ and I am the singer of my band, Puddin’ Head. Music is a major part of both of our lives. If my car is running, there is music on at all times. I’m sure it’s the same in Paul’s car. Thank God for music devices that hold thousands of songs and albums. I’ve helped Paul move a few times and all those CDs are heavy! I’ve got a lot, too, but I’ll never have as much as Paul. He is a true celebrator of music. I would believe that he’s heard almost every song at least once. Okay, maybe not every song, but pretty close. I doubt I would be so passionate about music today if it weren’t for Paul. He and my Mom gave me an invaluable gift in the form of music and creativity all those years ago. I can’t imagine my life without that record player, that striped box of records…or my brother.
So, Paul….how ‘bout another game of Star Search?