For me, it started with U2's "War" album. I was in middle school. A friend gave me a copy for Christmas. A cassette tape.
Later that day, The Edge blew up my bagel-sized stereo speakers and Bono sang: "Sunday Bloody Sunday!" That album - that sound - was like a passport to this whole new world.
Rock. And. Roll.
After Bono and The Edge came R.E.M. Then some Bob Dylan, a dose of early AC/DC and a good friend who taught me about The Clash and why everybody needs a little punk in them.
So when I walked into the Hunter Museum of American Art to see the "Sound and Vision: Monumental Rock and Roll Photography" exhibit, I stopped still. In the center of the room hung the image once voted the most famous rock 'n' roll photo ever: The Clash's Paul Simonon, a bit out of focus, slamming his bass down on that New York stage like he was trying to knock it down.
Seeing that reminded me of everything.
"Anybody can walk in here and have a memory, a relationship with one of these images," said Adera Causey, curator of education at the Hunter.
The exhibit is a collection of 40 photographs. Marvin Gaye is there. Sweating on stage, face near tears, his right hand over his chest, like he's lovesick. You can almost hear him: "Brother, brother, brother, there's far too many of you dying."
B.B. King, Bob Marley, David Bowie, a very young Jay-Z. Dylan is there, too, staring with those Maggie's Farm eyes. Tupac looks away, hands behind his back, like a prisoner in some unknown jail. Madonna, with all those "Desperately Seeking Susan" bracelets, looks up to the sky.
And you should see Lauryn Hill.
A black-and-white Elvis steals a kiss from a blonde in a bar. The Beatles are pillow fighting in a Paris hotel room, and Bruce Springsteen stands near the hood of a Mustang on a snowy New Jersey street. Jim Morrison, arms outstretched, like he's trying to walk some tightrope.
"Completely wasted," Causey said. "He was trying to stand up."
Usually at museums, I have to check my 15-year-old self at the door. Not at the Hunter. I smiled the whole time, memories jumping like stage divers off forgotten shelves in my mind. Causey would bet her old "Eddie and the Cruisers" VHS tape that you could take 100 Chattanoogans - black, white, brown, blue collar, white collar, pink collar, young, old, teenage, rich, broke, liberal or conservative - this exhibit would unite them.
"Somehow, in these ... photographs, we are representing so many everyones," said Causey.
Rock 'n' roll has been present as a backdrop for the past 60 years: for our nation, social movements, own personal histories. Somewhere, always, a soundtrack.
So here are two contest ideas:
First, go see the exhibit, then email me or post a comment on my Facebook page that answers this question: Which photo was most meaningful to you and why?
Contest two, email or Facebook an answer (in words or photo): Why does rock 'n' roll matter so much?
Six winners of the first contest win one free ticket to any of the All American Summer concert series at the Hunter, running Thursday nights this summer.
One winner of the second contest gets a free ticket to either Ted Nugent (not sold out yet) or Social Distortion, both upcoming concerts at Track 29.
The contest deadline is Monday. This is not English class, so don't worry. Just write, and as Duane Allman once reportedly said: "Just rock on, and have you a good time."
Contact David Cook at email@example.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.