Music

Wil Burton
I was born and raised in the Republican stronghold of Geauga County. As a result of being reared in this locale (also the birthplace of my father and grandfather), I learned some basic truths about life that I thought were common to every person’s upbringing. One of these was that NPR was a radio station for liberals, and I was definitely not a member of a family of liberals.

However, many years later, after graduating college (and meeting my better half), my tone had changed toward the broadcasts that I was once taught to loathe. Perhaps it started with Geo Quiz or Marketplace? I’m not really sure to be honest. Regardless, NPR had slowly begun to creep into my life on a daily basis. I could feel myself aging by the week as Cartalk and Fresh Air infiltrated my life.

While my politics began drifting to the left and my want to discuss international human rights became stronger, I knew that one thing would remain unaffected: my taste in music. Or would it?

It was about five years ago when I was clocked in the head by the remote chance that I was quite possibly smack dab in the middle of the NPR music scene. John Prine was the headlining act, and the opener was the duo of Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez. Prine was a staple of my childhood, and I was flanked by my brother and dad during that show. It was at some point during the opening act that I asked myself the question of whether or not NPR had sent enemy spies into my music collection in an attempt to add me to their arsenal of peace-minded idealists. It couldn’t be true. It just couldn’t.

Not long after that concert, my girlfriend and I attended a headlining show by the above-mentioned Taylor and Rodriguez. It was at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland, a beacon of independent music in Ohio. As we entered the concert hall, we both did a double take. Had we somehow entered a wormhole that had transported us to the early bird at Old Country Buffett? We were the youngest people in the crowd by at least twenty years. Surely this was some kind of joke. It certainly couldn’t be old NPR rearing its ugly head again. After deciding to chalk it up to coincidence, I sat down to enjoy the show with my boomer counterparts. (Note that I was sitting. Yes, at the Beachland Ballroom chairs and tables were set up for this show. Another telltale sign?)

Then came Leon Redbone. Was I really the only crowd member not singing along to his rendition of “My Blue Heaven?” Had I honestly just rushed out to see an artist that sported a Mississippi string tie? Did I truly leave the venue humming “Polly Wolly Doodle All The Day?”

What about John Gorka? OK, he’s a folkie for sure. But there would at least be a handful of people my age at his concert at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (again, another sign). I guess it depended on how big of a hand that I was hoping for. There was one person younger than me. However, I had brought that person. She was my 13-year-old sister. Was I leading her down the very same path of doom that I was fighting so hard to avoid?

Then came the knockout blow. Instead of a right uppercut, it came in the form of Livingston Taylor. The venue was Cain Park Amphitheater. I thought I was prepared for the events of that warm summer evening. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The only time I have seen more gray-hairs was when I visited my best friend in Naples, FL. I knew I was done. Finished. I had been knocked down and there was no way I could get back up. Further troubling, I didn’t want to get up. I wanted to lay there and listen to Taylor sing “The Surrey With The Fringe On Top.” Yes, you read that correctly. I had finally succumbed and who better to be there waiting for me than good old Rodgers and Hammerstein. This fight was officially over.

I often reminisce about that summer night in Cleveland Heights when I finally realized what I had been running from for so long. Do I regret the fight? No. Do I miss the battle? No. Have I become soft? Complacent? The peace-minded idealist that I always feared? Perhaps yes to all three. Does my iPod contain podcasts of NPR featured concerts? Yes. Do I call my father to brag about the new info that I just learned from the re-airing of an Isaac Hayes interview? Yes. Is 90.3 the default station on my FM car radio? Yes.

While I would like to think that I put up a valiant effort (one that my dad would be proud of), I have the sneaking suspicion that this conflict was far more one-sided than I would like to believe. Perhaps it was my destiny to begin with, my musical fate. Regardless, I’m glad that it happened. I’m glad that I opened my arms along with my heart and grew to love the very thing I had feared. For all of this and more, I thank you NPR.