Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My Musical Education- Part One

Music is one of those subjects that stirs strong opinions and passions in everyday people, and I'm no exception. I find myself far more likely to offend someone because of my strongly held opinions of what music rocks and what music sucks, than, say, my political or religious viewpoints, and I'm quite firm on those, particularly the latter.

No, it's music that brings out the critic/passionate defender in us all, and I think it's because music has the capacity of really touching people and affecting moods and attitudes. This series of self-indulgent, introspective posts deals with how music came into my life.

My first album, and I remember this clear as day, was bought for me by my father. It was these four guys with what was considered long hair at the time. And I wanted to wear my hair the same way. The album was called "Meet the Beatles".

I played that album to death. What's more, my father bought me a bunch of Beatles 45s, and we're not talking Capitol records here, either...we're talking Tollie Records, the label that released their version of the Isley Brothers' "Twist and Shout". Yeah, the early stuff. Damn, I wish I still had those...

Anyways, I'd spend many happy hours as a six-year old, playing with my electric trains in the cellar, and playing my Beatles album, my Beatles 45's, and a Roy Orbison album, whose title I forget.

My father was of Portuguese-Bermudian extraction, so what music did he like to listen to? Polkas. The Pennsylvania Polka, Beer Barrel Polka, yeah...I don't know. So I ended up listening to that. He also liked Country music, particularly spiritually-oriented fare like Tennessee Ernie Ford. As a kid, I recall seeing an album called Sacred Country Music, and thinking that it said Scared Country Music! My dad's fondness for country music also sparked my interest in Johnny Horton's "story" songs like "Sink the Bismarck" and "The Battle of New Orleans".

There was another case of rock music exposure that I recall. Back in the mid to late 50's, a lot of groups were trying to break into the big time. A common tactic for some of these up and comers would be to find a song in the public domain, "rock" it up, release it, and hope for the best. One group, Johnny and the Hurricanes, took the folk song "Red River Valley" and rocked it out, turning it into "Red River Rock". If you've seen the John Hughes movie "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles", you can catch some of it.

Anyways, I recently found the song, and when I played it, well...they say that the sense of smell is one of the most powerful memory aids, and that may be so, but I'd put music as a close second. When I heard Red River Rock for the first time in over 40 years, I could remember, and I mean remember exactly, where I had heard it when I was just a little kid. I can recall the living room, the old brass thermostat on the wall, the sun pouring in through French windows. It's all clear after about, what, 45 years?

Oh yeah, and my dad also bought me the Mary Poppins soundtrack, but I rapidly got sick of chim-chim-cherees, and let's go fly a kite, up through the toilet pipe (which is how my friends and I sang it, and we thought we were geniuses in doing so).

When I was eight or nine, my parents decided that it would be good if I took piano lessons. Many years later, I can still find Middle C, and I harbor an irrational pathological hatred of the Christmas song, "Jolly Old St. Nicholas".

Next Time- Junior High/High School: The Scourge of Disco, the Wimpiness of Chicago.

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