Earliest Influences

I have been boring my friends lately with questions about their earliest memories. Watch out, I’m about to bore you guys, too. But I have to admit that I think some of these things are important to know. I mean, what sort of person would I be if I hadn’t listened to Peter, Paul and Mary growing up? I don’t know—I probably wouldn’t know the chords to “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

In terms of music, my earliest memories are of the aforementioned band’s Peter, Paul and Mommy album, which features shredders like Puff and “Going to the Zoo.”

I even remember seeing them live at a Smithsonian folk festival on the mall. I know their blend of folk music and literary lyrics inspired me. During my musical career, they were certainly songwriting influences. How else can you explain all of the dull “meaningful” songs I wrote but never shared? Of course, my protest songs sucked, and theirs changed the world.

This ability to play popular music and say something important stuck with me. I don’t quite believe musicians have much power in this world, but their unironic belief that they did and that their words could change things still moves me. What gems. Mary is sorely missed.

As for movies, The Nightingale on VHS is my first. Sure, I can remember sitting through a trailer for Ghostbusters when I must have been about three (part of a rental for Look Who’s Talking Now in that way back year of 1990). Both movies scared me senseless. I could not watch The Nightingale, a Hans Christian Andersen story redone for television as part of the Faerie Tale Theater without crying. The visage of death during the final act, when the emperor (played by Mick Jagger of all people) is on his final breath, sent me upstairs and into the arms of my mom—every time.

It’s a bit of a time capsule now on Hulu, but the movie’s ability to literally place the fear of death into me has stayed put. In that way, I will always find film a bit more powerful than the next person. What other medium could make me afraid to fall asleep at night?

Interesting side-note, Ivan Passer, one of my favorite directors of the Czech new wave and co-writer of Loves of a Blonde helmed this disaster. And, yes, Mick Jagger is really my earliest acting influence. Blame him.

Finally, I am having trouble remembering my earliest books. It’s not like I skipped the picture books, either. Even before I knew how to read, the simple act of holding a book in my hands was magical. Paddington Bear’s picture books come to mind. So do Richard Scarry’s complex animal-worlds in Busytown. Babar was a big influence, both in books and on VHS. I used to take off my clothes and run around the house naked each time I read In the Night Kitchen. One Dragon’s Dream by Peter Pavey feels familiar, although I remember it being more colorful than the stills I found on the net. Goodnight Moon and Corduroy probably round out the list. I still have a weird fascination with department stores ala Corduroy the bear—enough to make a visit to downtown Philadelphia last year all about the Wannamaker’s.
I didn’t have much truck with early readers. By the time I became literate I was onto young adult and beyond. The Egypt Game and The Pushcart War were some of my elementary school favorites. There are many many more influences, especially television shows (I still remember the day my parents installed cable back at the beginning of the first Gulf War) but those are perhaps too embarrassing for this post.

Tell me about your earliest memories. I can’t wait to hear!

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5 responses to “Earliest Influences

  1. “Of course, my protest songs sucked, and theirs changed the world.”

    Lol. Ain’t that just how it goes?

    Hmm, earliest influences (that I can remember) include:
    – Berenstein Bears
    – Nancy Drew
    – Mary Higgins Clark
    – Nora Roberts
    – Disney
    – Anime (particularly Sailor Moon)
    – The Judds (and country music in general)

  2. Hmm. I would say my earliest film was Die Hard (I didn’t grow up in a very restrictive family), but in terms of what’s influencing me now, I would say the cartoons by Tex Avery and Chuck Jones, as well as the animated sensibilities from the best that the Disney Afternoon has to offer.

    Book wise? I’m ecstatic you mention Corduroy, as I was a fan of that book. There’s a young adult novel I’ve been looking for for the LONGEST that I can’t remember the title of, but that was a huge influence on me.

  3. @ Kristan – I should have put the Berenstein bears too! I used to love those little books, and the TV shows, too!

    @ Kevin – Which novel? I want to know too now! It’s funny that Die Hard was your first movie, wow. How did that effect you?

  4. You don’t want to hear about my earliest memory. It involves breast milk. But as for books, I’ve got tons! A Wrinkle In Time was my first hardback. I got the boxed set of all the Laura Ingall Wilder books when I was six and I read them all in just a couple of months (and then bragged to al my friends about the chapter books I was reading). The BFG. Anything really by Roald Dahl. And as for movies. We had an old VHS tape with the original Charlie and the Charlie Factory on it. I memorized the thing. It was awesome.

  5. Love your childhood picks. The BFG, wow I loved that book!

    And I do want to hear your earliest childhood memory! I assume it involves mom?

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