Given that my series on The Albums That Changed My Life has stalled, it’s good that I never started the parallel series I contemplated last year: The Books About Music That Changed My Life. (Yeah, clunky title.)
I’ve mentioned some of these before. Nicholas Schaffner’s The Beatles Forever shaped my teenage Fab fandom; John Culshaw’s Putting the Record Straight served up vignettes of classical composers and conductors — quintessential concert musicians — in the “artificial” environment of the studio; Joe Jackson’s A Cure for Gravity is a sharp, sardonic memoir by an uncannily observant musician, warily treading the path to pop stardom. And there are more: Glenn Watkins’ passionately encyclopedic Soundings: Music in the 20th Century (which I read in pre-publication form for his class at the University of Michigan School of Music); Greil Marcus’ giddy, eccentric cultural study Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music; Sid Smith’s frank, definitive band biography In the Court of King Crimson.
I don’t think Cedric Hendrix would put himself in the same league as these authors. But reading his first book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music for Eclectic Ears, provided a similar experience for me. Finishing it up, I thought, “Yeah. That’s what it’s like. He caught it.”
I “met” Cedric online while posting about Progtoberfest III last October. Not only had the guy seen double the number of bands I had at the event: he set out to write about Every. Single. One. Here, I thought, was a man of ambition. But all you have to do is read his posts on Proglodytes and his own Cirdec Songs blog to discover where the ambition comes from — love.
I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This captures, directly and unashamedly, what it means to be a music fan — especially of music outside the cultural mainstream. Cedric (it feels odd for me to call him “Hendrix” — I hope he’s cool with it) recounts the song that grabbed him at the tender age of 6, David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,”; his immersion in jazz-rock fusion by Jean-Luc Ponty and Return to Forever, courtesy of his dad; how Genesis’ mainstream hits led him back to the band’s Peter Gabriel years, via the live album Seconds Out; the discovery of his all-time musical “Trinity” — 1980s King Crimson, Frank Zappa, and Miles Davis. With the exception of Miles, none of these artists fit the stereotype of what a young African-American of the time was “supposed” to like. But to Cedric — who’s served his country in the Air Force and his home city of St. Louis as a policeman — stereotypes of any type, especially musical ones, make no sense.
As his listening interests (the “intelli-pop” of XTC, Aimee Mann and Deborah Holland, college/alternative music from The Cure to Radiohead and beyond, the classic rock of Supertramp) pile up, Cedric unpacks their influence on his life with candor and delight. There are affectionate takes on (among other things): the St. Louis guitar shop J. Gravity Strings and its staff; Cedric’s endless adventures in live listening (the smaller the venue, the better); his determined yet star-crossed efforts to form a band, The Sheltering Sky; the fellow fans who become his friends via their mutual passion; and the sheer thrill of meeting and befriending his greatest hero, prog Renaissance man Adrian Belew. His experiences parallel mine on so many levels; the joy of discovery and growing appreciation is almost tangible, even — no, especially — when our pathways & conclusions veer off in different directions (unlike me, he’s no fan of the latest King Crimson incarnation), and he recounts his lifelong journey with inexhaustible wonder and exuberance.
Toward the end of I Can’t Believe I’m the Only One Hearing This, one of Cedric’s friends floors him by perfectly describing the music he loves: “genre-defying, ethnicity-obliterating, time signature-eluding … Sometimes it’s complex. Sometimes it’s simple. But it’s never simplistic. It’s authentic, never fake. Auto-tuners need not apply. The love of music, the need to make music, and the need to make this particular music transcends everything else.” This book is like that, too. If you’re a fan of progressive music, you’ll know Cedric Hendrix is a kindred spirit. Or, if you wonder how anyone could possibly like the stuff, you’ll never find a better guide than this man. Pick it up at Amazon or Barnes & Noble’s websites (in ebook or paperback) and enjoy. And get to know Cedric yourself; you won’t regret it.
— Rick Krueger