A Music Education on the Job

Standard

Good Evening:

My workplace is a bad place for a diet. I bear some of the responsibility; my co-workers treat my homemade cookies the same way dolphins treat a bait ball of herring. However, on Monday it was the managers’ turn, as they treated their loyal minions and underlings to a catered lunch as a thank-you for our efforts on recent projects. I contributed my iPhone to the festivities, picking my playlist “Masterpieces of Rock and Soul” and using the (frankly, unsatisfactory) speakers of the cell phone.

I admit that “Masterpieces of Rock and Soul” is a pretentious title, but I believe that the songs on the list either are or deserve to be remembered as examples of rock or soul at their finest. But others might consider my choices as controversial (“Hound Dog” by Big Mama Thornton, not Elvis Presley) or obscure (“Nothing but a Heartache” by The Flirtations) or too-soon-to-tell (“American Idiot” by Green Day) or much-too-cliched (“Roll Over Beethoven” by Chuck Berry) or not present (no Eagles?! No Fleetwood Mac?! No Michael Jackson???). But it seems that most of my Masterpieces fall under the category of Forgotten or Never Heard by Everyone I Know.

Starting with the co-worker who sits next to me.

“Hey, who was that?”

Louis Jordan and His Timpani Five, ‘Let the Good Times Roll.'”

“Now what’s this next song?”

“Norman Greenbaum, ‘Spirit in the Sky.'”

“Man this is good stuff, but how old is this music, anyway?!”

“Well, ‘Let the Good Times Roll’ is more than twice as old as you are.”

I couldn’t help but wonder how much of my collection was familiar to him. He is not too much of a music fan, so this was a bit of a challenge. He didn’t recognize “You Got the Love” by Florence + The Machine, one of my Too-Soon-To-Tells. I can’t blame him for not recognizing Sister Rosetta Tharpe (“Strange Things Happening Every Day,” a classic proto-rock song), but he didn’t even recognize “Back in the USSR” by The Beatles. Yes, indeed; The Beatles! However, he did recognize the Reverend Richard Wayne Penniman: “Are you kidding?! Of course I know Little Richard! He was on Full House!

The Internet has been a good thing for musical explorers. I can’t remember how/when I first blundered in the music of Mali, an African nation which is a powerhouse in the music world right now, but any day with a kora is a good day. However, I know almost nothing of rap and hip-hop. Back in the Sixties, which saw an explosion of musical styles in the United States, you could still count on people to have common ground; i.e., everyone who listened to music seriously would have The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, Miles Davis and a lot of Motown in their collections. Today, I have the impression that people specialize in only one or two genres and use the Net to explore only the music that they want to like, and ignore everything else. I think we’re missing out on something here, some kind of shared experience. Can we really communicate on common ground when we haven’t listened to a common sound?

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–If nothing else, someone please tell me I’m not the only person in the ether of the Internet who remembers Wynonie Harris!

Advertisements

7 responses »

  1. Exploring music, and other entertainment, you have never heard of can be a great pleasure. I recently stumbled on the Japanese blues singer Atsuki Kimura on iTunes. It turned out I had heard his music before, he did the rendition of the St James Infirmary Blues in the animated feature Metropolis.

    You may not understand his lyrics but god what a great sound.

    • Gilles: Good to hear from you again. I’ve had my best luck discovering new music via The Hype Machine, even though iTunes is also good. I couldn’t resist the temptation to sample Kimura on iTunes, and yes, that guy is not only really good, he is very different from the usual. Vonn Scott Bair

  2. “obscure (“Nothing but a Heartache” by The Flirtations)”
    ^ Played it on KALX. Great song. I thought it had its week or so back in the day on Boss 30/Top 40.

    “no Eagles?! No Fleetwood Mac?!”
    Thank you.

    “No Michael Jackson???”
    Bless you.

    “but he didn’t even recognize “Back in the USSR” by The Beatles. Yes, indeed; The Beatles!”
    Overrated and overplayed. I’m as burned out on The Beatles as i am The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. Each got played only once or twice in my 15 years on KALX.

    “However, I know almost nothing of rap and hip-hop.”
    Woe is you. I played a lot of that in my years at KALX and still listen to some now and then. Peak period seems to have been 1980 through about 1994 (coincidentally almost exactly mirroring my years at KALX), though every now and then something innovative and new still comes out. There’s a whole lot of junk in the genré, but the good stuff is *really* good.

    “Back in the Sixties, which saw an explosion of musical styles in the United States, you could still count on people to have common ground; i.e., everyone who listened to music seriously would have The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones,”
    ^ Yes on all those.

    “The Grateful Dead, Miles Davis”
    ^ Nope. Didn’t have those.

    “and a lot of Motown in their collections.”
    Oh yeah. It would be quite rare for someone of that period to not have at least one Motown recording, and typically quite a few.

    Disclosure: i was a bit young (reached age 11 in 1969) and non-$-equipped in the 1960s to be buying recordings. Things didn’t really ramp up until the 1970s when i picked stuff up from garage sales (25¢ to 50¢ for LPs and 5 to 10¢ for singles).

    “Today, I have the impression that people specialize in only one or two genres and use the Net to explore only the music that they want to like, and ignore everything else.”
    Some people do that. Some people were starting to do that in the 1970s. This was a straightforward option by 1980 and dang easy by 1990… other than the technology of exploration.

    A lot of people still hunger for and seek out new-to-them sounds. There remain a number of pockets of musical diversity.

    “I think we’re missing out on something here, some kind of shared experience. Can we really communicate on common ground when we haven’t listened to a common sound?”
    Better hope so, because i don’t foresee things changing back to the way they were! I assume you are talking about a shared experience/common sound within a human generation. Because even in the 1960s, there was the gap or chasm between “middle-of-the-road” music and rock ’n’ roll. My grandparents didn’t know a thing about the music i listened to, and i knew little about their musical world (at least at first). Heck, my *parents* barely got out of their classical world into any pop (just The Beatles for my father and The Tijuana Brass for my mother).

    I remember going into the Berkeley Amoeba store in 1993 and feeling physically nauseous looking at that huge room of CDs—too much to sort through! Too much to know!

    All the way to the end of the 1970s, i had a naive, grossly uninformed idea in my head: i would someday own EVERY recording ever made. So, i tended to collect a lot of swill at garage sales, along with some good things. It was not until i started at KALX (1980) and saw their massive recording library and started having my mind pried open to dozens of genrés of which i had previously never even heard of, **and understood that even the KALX library, big as it was [and is] is only a fraction of the world’s recorded music** that i began to synchronize with reality. It is not a coincidence that it was at that moment that i pretty much stopped buying recorded music (totally, for a few years), esp. at garage sales.

    Shared cultural touchstones seem to me to be more problematic to the degree there are more media and genré options. I suppose in a small town, everyone would remember The Big Hurricane of ’09 or whatever, and relate to it. The U.S. period of nationalized shared cultural touchstones seems to have been historically brief: maybe starting sometime around the rise of the movie industry and national radio networks, and lasting until the choices exploded sometime in the late 1970s (cable TV-only networks, more music genrés, DIY home recording equipment becoming affordable, independent films becoming easier to make). That’s only a few decades, and i’m being generous (one might argue it would only run post-WWII to the late 1970s).

    There are too many human beings making too many kinds of art for anyone to stay on top of it and have any depth whatsoever. This probably isn’t all that different from decades ago—or is it? Is this part of the effect of exponential human population growth?

    “If nothing else, someone please tell me I’m not the only person in the ether of the Internet who remembers Wynonie Harris!”
    Played Wynonie on KALX (i think it was Please Mr. Jailer). Know of him, but i don’t have much depth in his ovure.

    (all spelling and grammar errors courtesy Sonic Purity)

    • Good Evening: I love receiving an extended response from people who are experts in their chosen fields. I don’t know if the US period of “shared cultural touchstones was all that brief; Uncle Tom’s Cabin (both the book and the countless plagiarized stage versions from which Harriet Beecher Stowe received $0) might constitute proof that it extended further back in our history. The most I know about hip-hop is Mr. Lif, because I co-starred in one of his music videos (he’s very funny, a great guy in person).
      Some of your thoughts put me in mind of something I overlooked in my own piece; what constitutes an adequate music education? I realize that almost no one receives one in the US nowadays, but if such existed, what would it include? In American curricula alone, one might find a conflict between advocates of Mozart et alia versus advocates of a greater emphasis on American music of all kinds, from Aaron Copland to ZZ Top.
      Counting myself lucky to have such appropriate AA and ZZ names readily at hand, I Remain,
      Yours Truly,
      Vonn Scott Bair

  3. Pingback: The Social Experiment in the Office Cubicle | The San Francisco Scene--Seen!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s