My body swayed to the music only slightly more stiffly than the arm of a metronome. My feet and fingertips tapped so badly out-of-time that even my broken wrist watch could make no sense of it. Rhythm is not something I was born with, nor is it something that visits me any closer than two shuffles and slide step away. My lack of rhythm and even my difficulty in carrying a tune does not change the fact that I love music.
Saturday my wife and I (thanks to an invitation from our neighbors, Lenny and Deanna) spent the afternoon at Blues Under the Bridge in Colorado Spring. Overhead the thunder of cars traveling down Colorado Avenue went unheard. Behind the bandstand rumbling BNSF trains would elicit only cheers from the crowd. On the bandstand blues band after blues band plied their trade to our delight. There were slide steel guitars, acoustic guitars, drums, basses, and one talented band lead alternated among an acoustic guitar, an accordion, and a banjo. I loved it all.
The sound was like catching a familiar scent or feeling a familiar texture. It brought to mind that everyone has a journey with music in life. For some the path is straight with few variations (no pun intended), for some it winds wide afield straying to ever more new and interesting ground. For me the journey is winding and self-referential.
My first recollection of music is of my father singing songs from Gilbert and Sullivan operettas to his children. Then it was listening to him play a variety of music centered on but not limited to classical. My father gave me Simon and Garfunkel, and as I type that I can hear in my head Scarborough Fair, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Sounds of Silence, and Mrs. Robinson. He played the Carpenters frequently, and I did not realize how much I loved that music until years later when I heard that anorexia had claimed Karen Carpenter and I cried. There was even an album recorded by my father’s Central American cousin entitled With Love from Lydia. Whatever happened to that?
My brother Chris contributed greatly to broadening my musical taste by his purchases of albums by Bruce Springsteen, Thin Lizzy, Barry Manilow, and the obtuse and satirical Steely Dan. He gave me courage to buy Rush’s 2112 which paid homage to Ayn Rand’s Anthem, and to stray over to Kiss not in spite of Beth but because of it.
College further deepened and broadened the channel music which was dredging through my life. I banded together with some local runners at Clemson to form the Outta Control Track Club and when we weren’t running we listening to Springsteen it seems. If we had an anthem at all, it would have been Rosalita, which we would often celebrate after a night of beer at the Study Hall Bar by singing it loudly, off key, and playing lead guitar on outstretched legs in the street. Clemson also made me aware of Southern Rock. No one played anything other than Lynard Skynard for the first week in the dorms (double points every time you played Freebird). After that, the music was wide open but during that first week, it was church, it was sacred. My love of Southern rock found me listening to 48 Special, The Almond Brothers, Marshall Tucker, Molly Hatchet, and more (I actually don’t think I missed a live performance of Molly Hatchet in South Carolina during the four and a half years I spent working on a four year degree).
The end of my freshman year witnessed the birth of MTV. I was mesmerized, MTV’s whole first decade was much more about the music than the schtick. Visual was added to the music and words that helped extend rather than limit the imagination. The vision of the artist could be seen and not just interpreted. I can still see the images from Peter Gabriel’s Sledge Hammer in their claymation glory.
Time has a way of fast forwarding through all things and fads. Technology which began its landslide in the early twentieth century with the car, the plane, the radio, and television didn’t and hasn’t slowed down, in fact its speed has increased to the point that we not only take it for granted, we feel each new advance is late in coming. The internet has forced MTV to become a gimmicky caricature of itself. My albums and eight tracks were swallowed by cassette tape then CD’s. In turn my CD’s have been swallowed by Itunes, cell phones, Ipods, and mp3 players (but when I peak around the corner I am more than a little self-satisfied to see vinyl making a fringe comeback).
This onslaught that has claimed and given rise to new and different media, new and alternative forms of music, became a clamber so vast I could not take it all in. I collapsed upon myself musically. I stopped listening to the radio save NPR, I retreated to my father and delved into classical. I marveled at the symphonic depths of Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Bach, Litz, Bartok, Vivaldi, Verdi, and so many more. I reconnected with Gilbert and Sullivan, and I have explored my new found love of Choral music (for why simply listen to Carmina Burana, Missa Papae, or O’Regan’s Threshold of the Night).
One’s roots are often where someone goes to ground, either to feel safe, or find themselves, or simply seeking something to share, to start a conversation with. This last was the case when I started singing Gilbert and Sullivan to our youngest daughter, Louise. When I came into Jean-Marie’s life, Haley and Michael were already too old to sit still for my singing, but at nearly nine Louise was still young enough that I could tell her of my childhood. I did this through singing songs from the Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore, and the Mikado, and explaining their humor and brilliance to her. I let her know the high comedy of bellowing out the lines “NO SOUND AT ALL, WE NEVER SPEAK A WORD, A FLY’S FOOT FALL WOULD BE DISTINCTLY HEARD!” In doing so, I could tell her my father would sing this to me, my father gave this to me, now I give it to you. It is a joy to pass on the smiles of my past that are the basis for all the smiles since, and I took this opportunity when I had it with not only Louise, but with my grandson Russell as well. It is a gift to them that ends up being as much of a gift to me.
Fleeing from the wild expanse of contemporary music was not the safe haven I thought I was fleeing to, it turned out to be a broad and fertile landscape that even now I have only tasted portions of. My retreat taught me that there is no retreat in music, there is only exploration, discovery, and self-discovery. I can once again listen to the radio, and I find I like today’s pop music, some of its hip-hop/rap, for sure its new R&B. I am again adding to my catalog, which is to say I continue to add to my history and myself.
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