In the Back of the Astro Van

I spent much of my youth sitting in the far-back row of our black, 1985 Chevrolet Astro van. This is where I discovered AC/DC, Metallica, and Aerosmith. My older half-brother — who visited us during the summers — occasionally passed me his discman for minutes at a time, saying to me, “You gotta hear this song. This one’s gonna change your life.” And then I’d listen to something like “Thunderstruck” or “The Memory Remains” or “Dude (Looks Like a Lady).”

Jeff was my guide into rock. 

My dad’s genre of choice is popular country, and my mom likes pop alternative — with some Motown and reggae thrown in. I’ve grown to appreciate these styles, but they’ve never felt like my own. It wasn’t until I heard Steven Tyler’s squeal or James Hetfield’s growl that I took a step closer to myself. Before, I didn’t realize music could act as a reflection for who I felt like as a person. Like Jeff promised, these songs were life changing, but I only got to experience it three minutes at a time while we drove to different lakes and rivers in the overbearing heat of Spokane.

At the end of summer, Jeff packed up his discman and CDs, taking them — and my newfound personality — back home. 

That Christmas, my parents gave me my very own boombox. It was a glimpse into preserving the autonomy I experienced over the summer. But the accompanying CD they got me was a collection of Christmas songs. Which, while not what I was wanted, was dutifully played at volumes reserved for rock or punk. If I’m being completely honest, this was my first CD. I’ve spent decades trying to spin the truth into the first CD I intentionally picked out: Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits.

Aerosmith was the band I decided was my own. My first favorite, and I wore that CD out, playing it again and again and again.

Within the next year I was lucky enough to get a discman, so I could take my personality on the road, blasting Joe Perry’s licks and Steven Tyler’s lyricism during those free moments at school. This was the same time an older kid who sat in front of me on the bus — recognizing a fellow discman carrier — told me I needed to listen to the band he just discovered. He swore it was going to blow Aerosmith away. Fitting his headphones around my ears, he pressed play. I was jealous and irritated when I loved what I was hearing for the first time. 

Nirvana’s “Aneurysm” crackled through the speakers. The kid wasn’t wrong, but Aerosmith was my favorite band, so I couldn’t admit defeat. “They’re alright,” I said. The kid — who must’ve been in fifth grade — smiled a little, wrapping his headphones around his neck. 

“You’ll get there,” he said, sliding back into his seat. 

And goddamn if he wasn’t right. But credit is where credit’s due: it all started with Aerosmith in the back of that Astro van.

Joseph Edwin Haeger is the author of the experimental memoir Learn to Swim (University of Hell Press) and the forthcoming crime novella Bardo (Thirty West Publishing). His work has appeared at HAD, X-R-A-YVol. 1 BrooklynDrunk Monkeys, and others. As a litmus test, he tells people his favorite movie is Face/Off, but there’s a part of him that’s afraid it’s true. He lives in Spokane, WA with his family. 

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