By Joe Cotela (DED)
I’ve been told that I used to run around singing “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen when I was three years old, but I don’t remember it. I guess that would be the first hint that I would someday become a musician.
As early as I can remember, my parents used to quiz me on classic rock songs when they’d come on the radio. My dad got me into Black Sabbath, Zeppelin, Bill Joel, and Joan Jett; my mom got me into The Beatles, The Police, Elton John, etc. That was my introduction to music. It wasn’t really MY music though. Even though I absolutely loved the artists that they introduced me to, it was THEIR identity from the soundtrack of THEIR lives.
I would sit for hours with those albums, kind of unconsciously listening and wandering around in my mind to the dark, ominous tones of Sabbath, and the strange, theatrical sound of Sgt. Peppers. I’d imagine what they would look like performing based on the album artwork. I would try to imagine what people looked like back then, and the way the world was when these albums came out. I wondered what situations in peoples’ lives this music existed in.
Since most of it was from the ‘70s and ‘80s, I would envision the world through the movies of those eras, as if the world had a retro filter over it when you were alive back then. I imagined the beautiful rich people driving nice cars down the coast of California, and hardworking people in their daily grind across the world cranking up these artists in the bar after work. It is still fascinating to me where music lives, how it is formless across so many territories, and how it is such an important part of everyone’s life (whether they take the time to notice and appreciate it or not). I certainly appreciated it.
I recall my uncle having a big, shiny, silver drum kit at his house when we would go over for swim days on the weekend in Phoenix, AZ. It always looked so fun and inviting, but when I would try to sit down at the kit (around the age of five), I would make the worst racket imaginable. But then he would sit down on that throne, blast some AC/DC or Judas Priest and crank away. I thought it was the coolest thing! That was technically the first live music playing I would ever see.
At the same house, my older cousin had his walls lined with Guns N’ Roses posters from top to bottom. When he cranked up “Hells Bells” (by AC/DC) on his nice, big speakers, the house would start shaking to the ring of the bells in the intro. I remember it feeling overwhelmingly loud, but captivating. I remember him calling me over to watch over his shoulder as he adjusted the equalizer during the song, and excitedly asked…“Isn’t this awesome?!” My cousin was like my older brother growing up. He exposed me to other awesome music like Pearl Jam, Outkast and more.
I felt such a passion for music, such a thirst to listen and start finding more of this amazing stuff that existed only in my speakers. I’d sit by the radio for hours writing down songs that I loved, and made my own compilations based off of what I was hearing. I’d write out the lyrics to all of my favorite songs, stopping and rewinding to make sure I had all of the words correct.
Eventually, I was old enough to be allowed to watch MTV. Holy shit! It was amazing to see the visuals accompanying the songs, so that I wouldn’t have to simply imagine what the song was about, or what the artist looked like performing it.
Like most young boys, I would fight imaginary characters. That turned into me doing imaginary performances to the music of Pantera and White Zombie to pass the time. These bands would shape my tastes going forward, as well as groovy heavy metal bands like Alice In Chains, Rage Against The Machine and Korn. Like my cousin, I started to cover MY walls with these bands, and told MY friends about this music.
The music was becoming something that was mine. I felt more connected to it than ever. I loved music, and wanted to be surrounded by it as much as possible, not just the performances though, the culture too. The freedom and honesty was the most non-hypocritical thing I can remember being exposed to.
The older I got, the more the music was becoming mine. I was getting closer to being old enough to go to shows, and eventually start making my own music and contributing in my own way. I had no intention to become a rock star, but I wanted to start getting involved.
We’ll get into my first concerts and my first bands in the coming chapters, as well as my first real brush with the music industry, and the music scenes that I grew up in. Stay tuned for Chapter 2 of My Rock and Roll Journey!