Listen to the Music


We live in an amazing age. Technology has exceeded almost everyone’s expectations and everything about how we work, live and play has been impacted in one way or anther. I write these words in full understanding that one day a few years from now, some younger person will be “thinking” into their blog about how ancient technology in 2011 must have been. That person will probably think how hard it must have been for people to actually have to type something on a “keyboard” on a clunky old laptop.

Like many people, I have an IPod. I bought mine a few years ago because at that time I was travelling fairly frequently to Europe for work and that seven to nine hour plane ride was a killer. The first time I went, I had a CD player but it was limited to how many CD’s I could carry. Plus the batteries needed to be replaced and buying them in France and Sweden was a bit of a chore. That’s why I finally broke down and bought the shiny little IPod that seems to have become semi-permanently attached to my body.

Growing up, we listened mostly to my Dad’s music on the old stereo record machine.

Doris Day, Glenn Miller, Tony Bennett and so on were the accepted forms of music suitable for family listening. On rare occasions, we might hear things like “Quiet Village” or Count Basie but in most cases it was “Pennsylvania 6 5000” and “I got a Girl in Kalamazoo” that rocked our suburban house.

At nights, there was always the AM radio and finally FM made a mark on our world. I think most of my Junior and Senior High was spent on pop music that had no more impact than it was easy to dance to and had a good beat. Dad’s newest car actually had an FM option (in addition to that amazing new invention: 8 Track Tapes). Most of my senior year was spent at war with Dad over the station selection buttons on the big Chrysler which always seemed to turn to Rock and Roll after an evening with the guys out cruising. When Dad saw me off at the airport, he wept a bit. It wasn’t until later in life I realized they were probably tears of joy in not having to turn the car on and listen to the Rolling Stones at a level 9.

Boot camp was pretty limited since there were only a few radios available.

But being introduced to a mixed group of tastes for the first time gave me a chance to listen to and experience new music styles. Believe me, the guys from the south side of Chicago had a whole different idea of what music should sound like. Back in the day Jazz, Salsa, Blues, California Rock and so on were strange to my ears. I had no idea that pop music was so shallow and Glenn Miller was so very dimensional in a way. As we all bonded in our sailor ethic, we also bonded in our musical tastes. I will never forget the original version of “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers. The AM station in Great Lakes (Waukegan) played it morning noon and night and it became our theme song.

After more musical education at A school, Sub School and Package course in Charleston, I was musically ready for my first submarine. It was in the A gang Pump room that I learned the first law of submarine music.

Whatever the Chief liked and the leading First liked was more likely to be played on the 8 track in the shack

On the George-fish, that meant nothing but classic old country music. Charlie Pride, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline were all guests in that crowded little room and anyone who tried to interject something “rock and roll” would likely find themselves banned to the shaft alley cleaning detail.

Charley Pride

I did learn to appreciate country music a point much later in my life and proudly listen to it much of the time now. But at that point, I was more annoyed with being forced to listen to that then all the years of listening to Doris Day combined. Fortunately, I had been warned by some of the more experienced guys and had purchased my own portable eight track tape player. Space in my rack was somewhat challenged with my 20 cartons of cigarettes so I only had room for about 8 tapes. As a non-qual, I had no sense yet exactly how long 70 days was so the very idea of getting burned out on my tapes was far from my ability to recognize. I will cheerfully admit that not one single tape from that group made it to the next patrol.

That old 8 track had a few disadvantages

Size of course was an issue. Power became the next. It had a battery option. It seems like it needed about twenty D cell batteries but that could just be the fog of time obscuring the real amount. I only remember that after a while, getting batteries became a real hassle. You could plug it in but you had to get it tested by the IC men and tagged. Then finding a power source became a real drag since other people senior to you have the same type of equipment, Finally, this was a submarine after all and stealth (even in the dark ages) was one of our best weapons. That required you to purchase and use a set of headphones. I had a pair of Koss phones with sliding volume adjustments on the earpieces. Very nice sound.

The headphones and player helped me survive two months mess cranking

I really liked the scullery after a while since you could literally shut the door during and after meals and zone out while washing dishes. The songs helped me to forget how tired my legs were and helped me feel Renee in my arms at the last dance we went to together. Her letters to me were dripping in her perfume and I tried to keep one somewhere near me. Two things never made it past that first patrol. My innocence of what it was like to be a sailor and Renee. When I went home to see her she gave me back the ring and told me she couldn’t wait anymore. She was engaged to a banker’s son and I found out what heartbreak really felt like.

When I got back to Ford Island, I found out that music was about to change again.

New machines, new sounds, new styles and a broken heart combined to open up whole new types of musical experiences. We all combined our equipment into one giant sound machine and listened to Rick Wakeman’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” in Quadrophonic sound.  The sappy love songs of Bread and Loggins and Mesina were replaced with Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the whole counter culture wave. I consider those my “lost” years and frankly can’t stand to listen to most of the music from that age.

I advanced slightly on the second patrol as I discovered that with a cassette recorder, you could record smaller tapes with you music and carry far more of them. The cassette recorder was still a bit clunky but it didn’t need as many batteries and you could actually share a larger variety of music with other people.


The next breakthrough was the Walkman

The sound was better and it was so much more efficient. You could literally carry it on your belt during field day and as long as you were working, no one seemed to mind. Walkman and its clones lasted for many years and served the fleet well. I really don’t remember when CD’s came into play but again it was another advance that practically wiped out an entire industry (tape manufacturers and players).

Walkman     200px-Compact_disc_svg

Now IPods have opened up a whole new dimension in musical appreciation.

I have almost 900 songs that can fill 2 and a half days with music. I have movies downloaded for long airplane trips, books that help me to learn French, and pod casts about things that matter to me. The ear buds create musical sensations in my ears that I could never have imagined back in 1972. The clarity is almost unreal and sadly some of those classic old songs actually have a few flaws in them now that I can listen to them more closely. Despite all this clarity, there are still some songs from back in the day that make no more sense to me now than they did then ("Louie Louie"  – the Kingsmen’s version which to this day I am still convinced was full of obscenities).

What about today?

My nephews on the boats now tell me that they have personal DVD players, IPods, access to computers, email, and all of the X-box and Wii equipment you could ever imagine. Books which were once bulky and subject to wear and tear in a boat environment are now replaced by kindles and all kinds of readers. Even the ever present pictures of girlfriends and wives can now be stored in any number of Notebooks and their imitators. With the storage space (and additional media cards) you can relive the kids birthday parties over and over.

The future

Now that they will have women on board, the only thing left will be to open a bar in the storekeeper’s shack and plan on including a dance floor in the next generation of boats. Then the subs can stay out virtually as long as the food lasts. With modern day advances in food preparation, that might make for some fairly long patrols. In that case they may also want to include room for a nursery and playground though (just in case).

There is one thing I will be curious to see in generations to come

With all of this personal entertainment, will anybody still need to talk to anybody else once they are off watch? One of the things I used to like to do on my first boats was to listen to the old salts tell their sea stories while playing cards between the missile tubes or on the mess decks late at night. Those guys had some amazing stories about diesel boats, patrols back in the day, legendary sailors that stood seven feet tall, and liberty port tales that made you really wish you had been there. 

I can’t help but think that some of those story tellers sat on the fringes of a card game or two listening to a few old salty story tellers who had more than enough time to use the one personal entertainment device that has been passed down through the ages: their imagination. I hope there will always be a place for story tellers. My life has been made richer by the people who passed them along to me. Although I have physically been to more than 600 towns and cities in my life, the stories have taken me to many times that amount.

By the way, an old Corpsman once taught me the difference between a fairy tale and a sea story. A fairy tale nearly always starts with “Once upon a time…” and a sea story (especially the good ones) almost always starts with “This is a no shitter…”

Thanks Doc

Mister Mac

Doobie Brothers 1972

“Don’t you feel it growin’, day by day
People gettin’ ready for the news
Some are happy, some are sad
Got to let the music play
What the people need
Is a way to make ’em smile
Ain’t so hard to do if you know how
Gotta get a message
Get it on through
Got to let the music play
Let the music play (Repeat)
Oh, oh, oh listen to the music
Oh, oh, oh listen to the music
Oh, oh, oh listen to the music
All the time, Let the music play”

Thanks to all my shipmates who contributed their experiences to the blog today. Here are some of their comments about musical memories:

Little Feat, Chick Corea, Yes, Beethovan – that was back in the cassette tape days.

The Doors, Hendrix and the Stones

Classic rock stations were new in the late 80’s.. as the youngest guy in Nav/Ops, I had to listen to the old guy crap.

I rode the "exercise bike" (generous description) after every watch one underway up in SES (by the san overboard) while listening London Calling (the Clash) on a humongous "portable" CD player. Every time I hear a track from that album, I can feel the SS wires from the cable protection poking out of the mint green paint and into my left forearm.

I have thought this question over and it has to be Paul’s Boutique

I only went underway once and the rest of the time was in drydock, so I listened to the radio. 102.7, I think was the station.

Jimmy buffet – the two cassette tape concert “You had to be There". Used my Sony Walkman with the extra "d" cell pack or the UA cassette deck I wired into the speakers in radio.

All sorts of music…Journey, Pat Benetar, Reo Speedwagon, Eddy Money, Heart, Beatles, Clapton, Van Halen, Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin…and on and on…

…a little bit of country, a little bit of rock-and-roll…and a whole lot of the blues. ~ S.A "Bluespiper" Hallquist

motley crue and pink floyd

Arena rock bands – Boston, Kansas and hair bands – Whitesnake, Bon Jovi. Now I hear it on XM radio Classic Rewind.

All kinds: Buffett, Dance, Country, Rock, Hip Hop/Rap. Whatever was loaded in the carousel 5 disk CD player, on the mess decks. I also had a few cassettes (yes, pre-digital) for my Walkman. I read a lot of novels also.

Dan Fogelberg, Moody Blues, Alan Parsons Project and Queen. On 8-track tape!

Journey, Kansas, Styx, Eagles, Blue Oyster Cult……saw all of these bands while stationed in Norfolk.

Pink Floyd, I used to play "time" over the speakers in berthing to wake up the duty section in the morning. They hated when I did that.

Pink Floyd’s "The Wall" was big when I was over in the Med in 1980.

Anything that didn’t have a 400 cycle tone to it …!

Prog rock (cause I’m a nuke); Mainly Rush, Pink Floyd, and Queensryche. Added Blues (Buddy Guy) as I got older and mellower.

only had a Sony Walkman, would have killed for my IPOD of today

We had a patrol theme song on the Bancroft — "We’re Not Going To Take It" by Twisted Sistyer

After 7 FBM patrols and Headin out the door.. I loved "Save my life I’m goin down for the last time" HeadEast..!

Areosmith, Tom Petty ,Who,Boston.Humble Pie,All on 8-track that I still have playing in my shop!

Kenny Loggins, Loggins and Mesina, Bread, Doobie Brothers, Chcago, Crosby Stills Nash and Young,

Depended on what I was doing at the moment, but it wound up being a lot of power/epic metal – Manowar, Dragonforce, etc. – and industrial-ish stuff. Mostly because the bass beat drowned out the sound of the boat.

Luckily, it gave me an appreciation for music I would not have listened to, otherwise. Lots of good music, and very little not so good.

Mostly I listened to Shinedown, Pantera, Metallica and Flogging Molly…

Grand Funk, Deep Purple, Eagles, Blue Oyster Cult, Long John Baldry, Elton, mitch rider, Eric Clapton, Cream, zepplin, the list goes on and on.

I will never forget my first patrol we had one tape at the mouse house workbench and if i never again hear the Carole King Tapestry album it will be too soon…..

Sgt. Pepper, and Cream Disraeli Gears, CSNY

I had differing music, depending on the mood. Everything from classic country, classical, jazz, rock, metal, even enjoyed some rap in the 80s. Like Chris Peters said, I can only imagine how nice it would have been back then to have my iPod


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