Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Toccata and Time Travel

“Hey, why don’t I just have Chip Davis give you a call?”

Me, trying to be nonchalant: “Sure, that’d work. Thanks!” >click.<

Me, at work at my desk, suddenly deepcore boring through memory to being 16, maybe 17, sitting in my then-girlfriend’s family room. Her dad’s in the music business, so they have a ridiculously awesome stereo system – which means basically that it’s the first CD player I’ve ever seen.

“Sit here,” she says, putting me in a spot on the floor a few yards in front of and directly between the speaker towers. “Close your eyes.”

I do.

I hear her padding across the thick carpet, then the buzzWHIRRwhine of the CD tray sliding open and shut.

I don’t hear a speaker hiss – this is a CD after all – but I hear the anticipatory hum of speakers awaiting sound.

And then there’s a laserstarlightcomputerkeyboard pattern dancing in one side of my head, all the way down behind my eardrum, and I’ve got this tense chill goosebump kind of thing because I’ve never heard anything like this. Before I realize it, this music is mirrored in my other ear, the melody suddenly with depth and texture and the sound’s converging inside my skull, and then comes this big pulsing bass and I’m HOOKED.

This is my first listen to “Toccata” by Mannheim Steamroller.

You may laugh now. I’ll wait. Done? Okay, now, remember: This was a time well before Steamroller became became a cheesy Christmas music empire, and there was something inherently geeky and computeriffic about this synth-powered stuff. Seriously. And I was sucked into the whole concept-album-layers-story thing, too, so this notion of songs as chapters and pieces of a bigger picture was a new and cool thing to me.

Within days, I’d gone to the mall and bought “Fresh Aire III” and those times when I was lucky enough to get the keys to our Cheverolet Eurosport, which boasted a cassette deck, I would blast “Toccata” with the windows down. I bought more tapes, and again, lest you doubt the appeal to a writer and nerd, consider (as Bill Nye would say) the following:

  • Fresh Aires I through IV are themed seasonal cycles.
  • Fresh Aire V is based on Johannes Kepler’s “Somnium” (The Dream), a 17th-century piece of science fiction, and includes liner notes and excerpts from the astronomer’s writings about moon-creatures and their civilization.
  • Fresh Aire VI goes to Greek mythology for inspiration, so I went reading about Orpheus and Sirens and the River Styx.
  • Fresh Aire VII, not surprisingly, is about the number 7 and includes, no kidding, a piece in which Chip corresponded specific musical notes to colors based on light frequencies related to sound frequencies. If that’s not geeky, I don’t know what is. Also, there’s a song based on the seven stars of the Big Dipper.

So now, 20-plus years after hearing “Toccata,” I’m at work my waiting for Mannheim Steamroller founder and composer Chip Davis to call.

When he does, we talk for a few minutes about growing up in Ohio, and the northwest corner of the state – I think I’ll send him a copy of “Crossing Decembers” – and then we covered the territory that was the purpose of the call in the first place.

As we were wrapping up, I had to tell him: “When I was about 16, I was dating this girl, and she put on “Toccata,” and it blew me away,” and about how for a long time, Steamroller was kind of my secret joy, musically speaking.

A couple nights back, I popped Fresh Aire III into the CD-ROM drive while I was writing. A lot of stuff’s gone by since that first listen, but I still got the goosebumps.

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August 25, 2008 - Posted by | 1980s, eighties, geek, Music, Ohio

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