The River's Badge

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Aftermath of Music


I wonder if even adults outgrow things.

I was born loving music.  When I was small, we lived in the country, and I had to find ways to amuse myself.  A lot of my time was spent outdoors, exploring and pretending.  I'd walk through the shelter belt of trees back behind the house, where a large tree had fallen many years before, and I'd balance on that hollow log, as if I was walking the tightrope at the circus.  Or I'd wander along down the gravel road, and meander off onto different dirt paths, just to see what I would find.  All the while I was doing those things, I had my own melodies streaming through my head.  Sometimes I would make up words and sing my songs aloud.  I was alone, after all.

My older sisters and brother listened to the early sixties music on the car radio, or on that big Philco radio that was perched astride a side table in the kitchen.  Early sixties music was its own unusual genre.  It was straddled somewhere in the middle between Chuck Berry and Motown.  It was a lot of doo-wop and girl groups, like the Chiffons and the Shirelles.  It was Eddie Cochran, with his Summertime Blues.

My own personal radio time began in 1964.  I was in the third grade, and I distinctly remember having a conversation with a girl named Debbie from my class, on the walk from my elementary school to Wednesday catechism.

We solemnly discussed a new group we'd heard on the radio, and which of their songs we adored the most, and which of the four guys was our favorite.  It was all a very mature discussion.  We both agreed that we liked I Wanna Hold Your Hand better than She Loves You.

I had pondered the import of this new group for a good couple of months, and had determined that the cute one was my favorite singer, although it turns out I was completely misinformed, because the songs I liked the best weren't actually sung by him, but by that other one; the one who was married.  Things began to clear up for me once I actually had the opportunity to see the group perform on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Then, of course, along came other groups, like the Dave Clark Five.  And then came Motown and the Supremes, in their lovely chiffon gowns.  They were so elegant.

The song I loved the best, though, was performed by a guy wearing dark sunglasses.  He stood stock still on the stage, and he seemed sort of like a stone, since you couldn't see any expression behind those glasses.  But his voice was anything but a stone.  It soared; it growled.  It started way down here and then it glided way up there.  And he had those female backup singers, adding their "la la la's".  It was heavenly music.  The song was called, as my Monument 45 record told me, "Oh, Pretty Woman".  People think it's just "Pretty Woman", but they obviously never owned the 45, because if they had, they would know.

This is how I first saw it, back then:



Music was so exciting!  It was something new and somebody new every day.  I had little to no money, but every time I saved up a dollar, I walked across the bridge to Poppler's Music and bought a 45.  And since I so seldom had any money, I really had to ponder my purchase in advance; weigh my options.

My older brother, though, had tons of LP's.  He had everything that was worth having.  I was exposed to "Help" and "Rubber Soul" and "Revolver" through my brother.  When he was away, I would sneak his record albums out of his room and spin them on my little portable record player.  Those were heavenly times.

As times and locales changed, I met the girl who would become my best friend.  She was a country singer.  I had known country music from my parents' records and from their radio listening habits, so it wasn't foreign to me.  I did like Buck Owens and I liked Ray Price.

Alice introduced me to a whole bunch of country artists I had heretofore had little, if any, acquaintance with.  Porter Wagoner, Jim Ed Brown, Bobby Bare.  I don't know if I liked country music because Alice was my friend, or because I liked it.  Either way, I turned away from rock and roll, and became immersed in country music.

I didn't have to wonder if I really liked a new singer who came upon the scene around that time.  I knew I really liked him.  He was young and good-looking, and he had a sound that wasn't like the stuff coming out of Nashville.  They called it the Bakersfield Sound (or at least they do now).  The electric guitars were upfront.  He didn't have any silly strings, like Chet liked to throw on every record by every Music City artist her produced.  Listening to Merle was like watching a bar band in concert (a really good bar band).  And his songs were so profound in their simplicity.  I still don't get how he does that, but he does.



There were others, too.  Another new guy named Waylon Jennings.  I liked him a lot.  This Tammy Wynette gal.  Wow, she could sing!  Porter, around this time, found himself a new girl singer and duet partner.  She was really different, but Porter and Dolly made beautiful music together.

Popular music went through some long stretches of bad times, but I still always managed to find the gems.  There was always good music; it's just that sometimes there wasn't a whole lot of it.

Sometime in the 1980's, I just said the hell with it, and turned my radio dial over to the rock station, because country music had lost its way, and I felt embarrassed for it.

1980's rock was great.  Hall & Oates, Prince.  Huey Lewis & The News, Springsteen.  Journey, Tom Petty.

I'm not sorry I changed that dial. 

When I finally decided to give country music another go, I found out that I had missed out on the cutting edge of country music.  In my absence, it had once again changed.  It had found its way back to its roots, and I had been completely oblivious.

I heard artists who would forever be my favorites:  George Strait, Dwight Yoakam.

I heard awesome folks like Highway 101 and Restless Heart.  Earl Thomas Conley, Clint Black.  Randy Travis.

Country music was once again alive for me, and I was exhilarated!



Around the year 2000, music changed, and I changed.

There was no longer any joy in the music.  It became contrived, and I was tired of being a patsy.

For solace, I would turn to my older recordings, but how many times can one listen to the same songs over and over?

And slowly, music lost its glow for me.

I have tons of music on my computer.  Tons.  I never listen to it now.  The closest I come to music nowadays is finding videos on YouTube to paste here.

I listen to talk radio; not "music" radio.

I'm thinking of selling my CD's to the local record shop.

Today, when someone says that I need to listen to some new artist that they found, I will listen out of politeness, but I already know I will be bored.  I'm jaded.  I rarely listen to the whole song.

I thought I would love music forever.  Strolling along those country roads, music was as natural to me as breathing.

As a child, I used to make up melodies.  A few years ago, I used to write songs.  My guitar looks sad, there in the corner, neglected.  Don't tell it this, but I walk past it every day, and I don't even notice it.

Maybe in my old(er) age, I will lean back in my easy chair and play some of those songs again that I love.  I hope so.

I can't place the blame entirely on the music.  Sure, it's all been said and it's all been done, and all the same chord progressions have been played over and over.  We've seen and heard it all, and nobody is going to surprise us anymore.  And even if they could, their record producer would ensure that they come out sounding like strained baby food.

I think maybe I just have outgrown music.

I'm mourning the loss, though.










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