When I was little, one family rule was that I could read whatever I wanted, but I couldn’t listen to songs with bad words in them. It was not exactly clear what those words were. When this was a rule I followed, I was very young. Later, when I didn’t follow it, I learned a feeling torn between love like a magnet and love like vertigo. I listened to music lying flat on my back, tape player on my chest. At shows I liked pressing parts of my body into the amp so that I could feel the sound, too. These are facts. It’s important to say that every time I wanted to play a song for my family, they listened to it. Probably we are all figuring it out together. Once my mom taught my sister and I a marching dance to a Rolling Stones song: one-two. One-two. We thought the song was twenty seconds long, and in that case it was. We danced to it in my dad’s office.
In my early twenties I broke my ankle running on black ice while home for Christmas. I heard a wet wishbone pop, and I tried to walk but I couldn’t. A girl in a tutu and her dad found me on the sidewalk and drove me to my dad, who drove me to the emergency room. Once the swelling went down, they sliced me open and inserted a plate and pins. Those are all still in my body. Listening to music was hard because I was used to moving to it, only now my lower leg felt like a water snake wigglie. I would not have said or known this at the time, but when I broke my ankle I stopped being afraid that anything I put in my body would victimize me: music, metal, meat, alcohol. Because I am a writer I never worried that words would hurt anything. I have always written inside my books. I learned to write at the same time Mom taught me to dance one-two.
When I broke my ankle, my friend Michael invited me over for pizza and television. We watched cooking shows, for the food but also to sleuth out the background music. Michael let me be in my body without asking too many questions about how that felt. I was so grateful just to sit on his couch and exist, in gold standard friendship. One night we watched the T.A.M.I. Show, a 1964 Electronovision film of a concert at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Michael chose it because he knew it. Tickets were distributed for free to local high schoolers, and the bill was R&B acts from the U.S. and England—not “all over the world,” as the theme song said, but anyway.
The Stones played last. Out of Our Heads came out that same year, but they didn’t play any songs from it. In 1964 the Stones were babies doing covers. Everyone knew the real finale was James Brown and the Famous Flames, who played next to last. Brown was angry about that, and of course. Nobody plays after James Brown, but also the Civil Rights act had just passed. These are also facts. Brown performed for eighteen minutes, with a cape and barely an extra breath. It is a holy performance. I play it for everyone I love. Prince looped it in his offices. In the audience, everyone is dancing together. Youth and music is always where that starts.
After Brown’s performance, the Stones look even more like goofball kids. Bebe Buell was ten at the time, but later she would write that Mick Jagger was like a child in the way he was fascinated with his own body. Their T.A.M.I. performance is a similar fascination: wobbly, shaggy, truculent, covered. This is similar to Out of Our Heads, which I first heard in my mother’s car, after we learned to dance in my dad’s office and before I broke my ankle. For me, the album connects to dancing and broken bones and James Brown, three things I know by heart. I don’t know Out of Our Heads by heart. Herman’s Hermits knocked it off the charts. On the album, the Stones cover Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, and Bo Diddley. In this way, my parents taught me to look for the source.