As I go from content-at-last high school senior to scared shitless college freshman, I acquire both the entire Beatles and R.E.M. back catalogues. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Life’s Rich Pageant initially come across as strongly as Abbey Road and Automatic For the People, although those first two rarely ever make it off the shelves and into my CD player now.

I spend much of the year’s first three months practicing for and attending band competitions. In March, for a competition in Orlando, I bring along a whopping twelve discs with me to sustain a 25-hour bus trip from Milwaukee to Florida. Six of them had just arrived in the mail from Columbia House… yep, a half-dozen instant gratifications for the price of a penny, the six additional discs I have to buy AT REGULAR PRICE over the next three years a long way off. It’s quaint to think of only having 10-15 hours of music to listen to on a day-long trip when I currently have over NINE DAYS of music stored on my iPod.

During Easter break, I stumble across a marathon on WKLH, Milwaukee’s classic rock station. They’re playing format staples in chronological order (by artist) and I’m introduced to Bowie, ELO, pre-power ballad era Heart, Wings and the like; actually, re-introduced is more like it, as much of this music isn’t exactly new to me. I’ve heard most of it before, but never paid much attention to it. Given my budding interest in jazz, I’m most taken by Steely Dan. Not that they were Stan Kenton by any means, but I notice the complexities/subtleties apparent in even their most straightforward pop songs, and the subversive streak hidden beneath dollops of studio perfectionism.

Over the summer, between trudging through a hellish food service job and somewhat regretting my decision not to attend college in another city, I raid my best friend’s cassette/CD collection. At the time, her favorite artists were Guns n’ Roses and Elton John--not as ludicrous a combo as I once thought, given “November Rain”. Making my way through a handful of dubs, I end up latching on to They Might Be Giants’ Flood. I spent all of high school dismissing them as AV geek fodder... I obviously didn’t know what I was missing, as the quirky duo quickly became my favorite band--for the next year, anyway.

This was undoubtedly the first year where I felt the need to hang out with my own friends and live my own life, sans parents. That summer I attended my first ever concert, a triple bill at the Marcus Amphitheater: Screaming Trees, Soul Asylum, and a band that just painfully screams 1993, the Spin Doctors (needless to say, we all cheered when they played “Two Princes”). The concert was part of Summerfest, an annual, massive eleven day music and fried food festival on the city’s lakefront. Obviously, it was a significant rite of passage, attending it with my friends, experiencing the awesome, deafeningly loud noise of a live show (hey, I was never a fan but I can honestly say the Screaming Trees did rock), learning about the whole clap-for-an-encore ritual.

As CD longboxes (remember them?) go the way of the 8 track cassette, so does my patience and interest in top 40. Since I can't play tapes (much less CDs) in my mother's Grand Am, I’m stuck with the radio whenever I borrow it, and it’s almost always tuned to ‘KLH. As the year winds down and Alternative Nation and Beavis and Butthead are ubiquitous on MTV (and thus, youth culture), I’m increasingly switching to a canned, low-watt AM station called WARP, whose playlist more generally reflects my generation's music than yet another airing of “Reeling In the Years” or “Here Comes The Sun”.