[Editor’s note: Liner Notes chronicles how Chelsea Schlievert Yates discovered music through the ’80s and ’90s while growing up in Norfolk, Neb. We hope to post a new installment every other week. Read more here.]
by Chelsea Schlievert Yates
Why do I care so much about music?
For me, it has a lot to do with memory. Music and memory are often intertwined, if not inseparable. I can trace the roots of any musician, band or genre that has ever had an impact on me — really meant something — to a particular place and point in time: where I was, what it looked like, how I felt, what I was doing there and who else was there.
In this column, I will be pinpointing and revisiting some of these moments. It’s an attempt to write the liner notes that accompany my memory soundtrack. Since writing about memories means writing about people and places that actually existed, I’ve consulted individuals who appear in these posts for their permission to mention them, whenever possible.
A few things to keep in mind as you read: 1) I was born in 1978: as such, most of these experiences took place before the internet was available. And 2) I grew up in Norfolk, Nebraska. Norfolk was a place where — at least in the early 1990s when I was a teenager — buying anything but Top 40 or country music could prove a challenge, where “going to a show” usually meant getting permission from my parents to drive two or more hours to Omaha, Lincoln or Kansas City, the closest stops for touring musicians and bands. I often felt far removed from the rest of the world and the music that spoke to me. When I was younger, I hated Nebraska for it.
But at the time, I didn’t realize that when it came to experiencing music, growing up Nebraskan was much more of a catalyst than a deterrent. Because new and interesting music wasn’t always easily accessible, I had to do my own exploring, seek my own adventures, give more artists a chance. I was fortunate to encounter other kids who were curious, too. Instead of listening to or finding out about new music from Spotify, iTunes, Facebook, MySpace or Napster, my friends and I learned through and with each other. Sure, there were sources such as MTV and VH1, and local radio stations played mainstream hits, but the fabulous, odd assortment of my friends and their eclectic musical tastes proved much more important to building my library.
They were musical tastes that grew out of a variety of gardens: records discovered while digging through a parent’s old album collection; staying up late to watch 120 Minutes on MTV; issues of Grand Royal Magazine; a membership to the Columbia House mail-order music club; special trips to Drastic Plastic and the Antiquarium in Omaha’s Old Market; skateboarding videos; out-of-town friends visiting for the summer; older brothers and sisters who were in-the-know.
I have a vivid memory of sitting around my friend Chase’s kitchen in high school, waiting in anticipation for a page on U2’s official website to load on the family computer. Zooropa had just come out, and rumor had it that the video for “Numb” could be watched online. This was huge. The internet had emerged. Modems — first dial-up then broadband — were finding their ways into homes. Along with everything else, they were bringing music. The way we all would learn to love music was on the verge of dramatic change.
But that was all to come. The internet had no involvement in my formative years. Instead I learned from an incredible web of people — friends, babysitters, boyfriends, classmates and co-workers. All someone had to do was throw a cassette in the tape deck or a disc into the CD player and say, “Check this out.” I was usually always ready to listen.
Chelsea Schlievert Yates is a Hear Nebraska contributor. She grew up in northeast Nebraska and now lives in Seattle, Washington. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.