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!