Stephen and Kevin were a few years ahead of me. They were misfit in the parochial middle school, wearing long jackets and hairstyles the handbook didn’t validate.
I knew they were trouble, but also knew enough to realize that kids like that had access to things I didn’t. And I was too naïve to worry about being cool.
So I asked for the copy of Hootie and the Blowfish’s Cracked Review album I saw one of them with one afternoon. They must have been making fun of it. But I didn’t care. It was 1995 and I had seen the “Hold My Hand” video on the exit of an Entertainment Tonight episode. (I was probably supposed to be watching Jeopardy!)
It lacked liner notes. It was in a naked and blank case. Just the CD. A few scratches included.
But getting it in my hands – that was exciting.
I wasn’t sure I was allowed to have it. I am the son of a preacher and the subject of rock music – music made post-1980, especially – brought with it lots of hesitation. My dad had great stories of seeing The Who in 1971, but mostly swore off the radio once he entered seminary.
Hootie hadn’t been expressly forbidden, so I thought it better not to ask. I slid it into my backpack and couriered it home to the safety of my bedside table and the boombox to which I’d rigged a Sony Discman with Radio Shack cables.
Years before, someone had shown me their copies of Dead Eye Dick and The Tractors cassettes in the lunch line, but I seemed to know even then that those bands weren’t making important music. This was different.
In the years to come, I would see Hootie and the Blowfish perform a handful of times, a couple of those instances while I was working in the radio industry with more access than the average fan.
Exiting the stage of a benefit concert after serving as an emcee on one of these shows, I passed lead singer Darius Rucker in the wings.
I tried to say something that would convey the awe with which I had first come into contact with their music all the way back on the steps outside of my junior high, but time was short and my words were mangled. I mostly just managed to bark out some sort of “hello,” to which Darius looked up, briefly made eye contact, grunted and moved on.
I tried recently to explain to someone a decade my junior how exciting Hootie and the Blowfish was as a musical act when they first emerged. The stare I received in return was hollow and uncomprehending – but understandable.
There is so much about music that has to do with the moment in which it emerged, the place in which you heard it. There are a million little details that might need to connect in the right way and at the right time for someone’s acoustic guitar and baritone to seem like more than background noise.