My Musical Past!
My coming of age musically, the time it took me over, was 1976: “Anarchy In The UK” followed by “God Save The Queen” changed my life. I was nineteen years old and nothing mattered more to me than punk rock. Three years later it was over. But those three years made me what I am, no doubt to my mind.
But I was listening to music nonstop through the first nineteen years of my life, the youngest of five children I listened all day long, everyday. What I most keep with me from my childhood is my parents musical tastes, as well as my brothers and sisters. In the peripheral of my vision, was my brother Fayez Lababedi arriving home at 4am after catching Cream at the nightclub “The Twisted Wheel,” or, even more so, an act that still feels prescient, swapping Are You Experience for five Chuck Berry albums. When I was six years old, my father refused to allow my to cover “Hound Dog” for a children’s show in Damascus. My sister Nadia took me and my brothers and sisters to see “Jailhouse Rock” and we had to ask an adult to buy us tickets. My sister Feriel introduced me to The Monkees, my sister Rema, in the early 1970s, to Elton John, Gilbert O’Sullivan, and, more importantly, Sam Cooke.
Of all these bands and sounds, of all those years with Radio One on the car radio, guess who was most important? When I returned to the UK, after a sojourn to my Grandparents with my mother (a trial separation that didn’t stick) in 1963, the first question my siblings asked me was who was my favorite Beatle. So I missed the release of Please Please Me, and from there on I heard every album, incessantly, till they disbanded. In 1965, driving around Stockport with Rubber Soul on one of the first portable cassette players in my Mom’s green Corsair. At the hotel in Majorca one summer during an endless two month vacation, Revolver was piped night and day through the hotel’s soundsystem. The White Album on my brothers stereo as we merrily learnt to skip “Revolution # 9” (though that “number nine, number nine” still stuck in our head).
Here are some names and people who shaped my taste. All names are current or at the time of death
Charif Lababedi – My father was born at the turn of the 20th century in the very late 1800s or very, very early 1900s. His dad was canon fodder in some useless Syrian war, his mother ended up in an asylum, his family was dirt poor, and his big sister raised him. At the age of fifteen, he left to Lagos in Nigeria to make his fortune. I have no idea about his musical tastes in those years, but by the time he immigrated to the North of England (first Blackpool and then the center of the textile industry, Manchester), his pursuit of women dovetailed with his taste in big bands and crooners. Charif spent the second world war making money and partying at dance halls where his friend and he would buy one ticket and spot each other where he danced to the golden age of jazz, and his musical taste was mostly 30s and 40s American swing. By the time he reached the 1950s, Charif added showtunes and Broadway musicals to the mix. In 1967, he was known to wander the house singing Jimi Hendrix songs! He also had a taste for Arabic music, but not the taste my mother had.
Hyam Hammour – The heart of my family lies is the abuse of my mother. At the age of sixteen, living with her doting father, she was married off to my father, who was forty, she didn’t speak English and she had no training in any wifely duties. She was thrown in the deep end, with inevitable results. I was the baby of the family and my mother was only 26 when I was born. Musically, she introduced me to Arabic pop and Arabic classical: Umm Kulthum and Farid El-Atrache (from Egypt) and Sabah and Fairuz (from Lebanon) were her favorites. She had “South Pacific” and “The Sound Of Music” always on, but as she reached the mid-1960s grew a taste for American country pop like Jim Reeves.
Nadia Diab – A huge Elvis Presley fan, as well as Cliff Richards. The first concert I saw was Cliff, which my father hated so much he hid in the car till it was over.
Rema Attaschian – I stayed with Rema, my middle sister, during my college year (I dropped out), and she introduced me to a great deal of music. Yes, obvious, 1974, Elton John and Gilbert O’Sullivan. But less obvious, she was a big Sam Cooke fan and also had a taste for r&b like Booker T, and the Temptations. As well as disco.
Fayez Lababedi – Fayez actually played guitar (my father claimed, Fayez would end up a guitarist and I would end up an usher at a movie house). His taste was mid-1950s to late 1960s rock, and we heard all the 60s superstars early and often. When he grew older, he began listening to mainstream country crossover like Dolly Parton (the 1979 pop move Great Balls Of Fire was in heavy rotation) and Kenny Rogers.
Feriel Lababedi – The closest in age to me, she was a Monkees fanatic, who became born again and is now listening to a great deal of Presley and George Jones, when they were performing Gospel.
Ramsey Hammour – my cousin danced the night away at Manchester’s clubland, he had great taste in music. He introduced me to everyone from Bill Withers to Hot Chocolate to Thin Lizzy to Van Morrison. The man was killer with the girls, a long lost skill destroyed by AIDs with #metoo adding a flourish. Me? When I was sixteen he once asked me how many girls I’d slept with. My response: two a week for three years so that would make around 150…
Henri Chahinian: One of my best friends at boarding school, he died of AIDs at the age of thirty four, but I hadn’t spoken to him in twenty years. Henri had a great taste for Motown, especially the Supremes.
Barty Knight: The Principal of our school,hugeky knowledgable about light opera, like Gilbert And Sullivan.
Tarif Aboushi: Gave me an early into to Elton John, and played folk on his acoustic guitar.