This week’s question comes from reader Matt Mehltretter:
Growing up and having an older sibling (especially one who is pop culture savvy) is one of the most rewarding and all-time great things when it comes to “discovering” music, TV, movies, etc. My brother is roughly six years older than me and has good taste in those things. I completely owe him for the way my pop culture spectrum was shaped at a young age. I liked a lot (if not all) of the things he introduced me to. (When the rest of my classmates were listening to Sugar Ray in the mid-’90s, I was rocking out to Sonic Youth and The Velvet Underground). Every once in a while you are introduced to something by an older sibling that completely blows your mind and becomes an obsession that you still carry today. Ween's 2000 White Pepper was that record. Not many people will argue that it's the band’s best record (because it isn't), but when I first heard that at age 12 I had never heard anything like that before and completely became obsessed. Shortly after, I went out and bought all Ween’s old records and everything that's come out since. Fourteen years later I have seen countless shows, own the band’s entire catalog and rarities, own entirely too many t-shirts, and even contemplated getting a Boognish tattoo (and I have zero tattoos!). Ween has easily become one of my favorite bands, and I owe that to my older brother. Odds are I wouldn't have heard of the band if it weren't for him and I am forever grateful for that.
So the question is: What pop culture item—that became a staple in your life for the better—was introduced to you by an older sibling?
I have a couple of much older siblings who had wildly different tastes in music, and one clearly influenced me more than the other. My oldest sister was an early adopter of punk—I used to get asked “Is your sister the one with two different colors of hair?!” a lot—and she had some great records I would play on our big ol’ console. I had no idea that Devo’s Freedom Of Choice or The Ramones’ Rocket To Russia would come to be revered as classics, nor did I realize that the Echo And The Bunnymen EP (a.k.a. The Sound Of Echo) was an awesome thing for a 10-year-old boy to be jamming on his cassette Walkman. All of those bands remain important to me, and I think each one set the table for the kinds of music I would end up liking. This was in rather stark contrast to my oldest brother’s collection of classic-rock vinyl. I’m sure there were some gems in there, but he spent a lot of time listening to Scorpions, REO Speedwagon, The Dixie Dregs, none of which resonates with me today. (I’ll give him credit for encouraging me to listen to The Wall on gigantic headphones, though.)
I have two much older sisters, 11 and 13 years my senior, whose tastes influenced me in that I grew up mostly going the other way. The younger of the two, Nancy, loves Barry Manilow, Taylor Dayne, and a bunch of pop country that turned my stomach as a budding counter-culturalist. She’d get pissed off when I mocked Manilow, which I did to hear her defensively shout, “Barry Manilow has sold millions of albums!” To her unending credit, she took me to my first club show, Jesus Jones with Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, and even shared some of my enthusiasm for the latter's “Happy.” My oldest sister, Melissa, didn’t have very defined tastes, but I remember listening to The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” in her Chicago apartment, which helped kick-start my love of that band as an adolescent. She gave me a copy of Supertramp’s Breakfast In America when I was a kid, and I’ll still go to bat for some of those songs. I made a ringtone of “Goodbye Stranger” and assigned it to her on my phone. Nancy gets Dayne’s “Tell It To My Heart.” To this day, they find my tastes perplexing.
I too have a set of much older sisters at 8 and 11 years my senior. My oldest sister, Sara, was more of an athletic inspiration to me and the reason I ran hurdles for six years, although I do have fond memories of listening to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Snoop Dogg from the backseat of her car when I was young enough that our mother would disapprove. Kate, however, holds the pop culture-influencing crown, with her envious DVD collection, which introduced me to my-all time favorite film, Heathers. I was born a year after the film came out, but no matter, as after numerous viewings, I can recite every line and even have some of them cross stitched and framed in my apartment—like my favorite, the cross stitched “Grow up, Heather. Bulimia is so ’87.” placed on my toilet tank.
As the continually mocked younger sibling in my family, I’ve tried throughout my entire life to be cooler than my sister, with mixed results at best. As an adult, I feel like I’m getting the edge, but I’ll always be in debt to her for taking me to the most important rock concert of my life. Out of sheer luck, she managed to get tickets to an Arcade Fire concert while the band was touring in support of Funeral, and brought my awkward teenage self along. The band was starting to hit it big, but this was long before it sold-out stadiums, and one of my other favorite bands, Wolf Parade (RIP), opened the show. I had heard of Arcade Fire before that night, but afterward, Funeral would become one of the definitive albums of my life. While I was relatively savvy when it came to music, my sister was always one step ahead of me. Luckily, she was willing to pull me along when something too cool to miss happened.