Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Musical Education- Part Two

This could have been the shortest entry in the series. I could have simply written the following:

"My Junior High and High School Years were from 1972 to 1977. I listened to the music of the time. Do the math."

But that, while factual enough to give people an idea of what I had to deal with musically, is not completely entertaining. So....

When we last left our decrepit hero, he had made it through early childhood and elementary school, and was now about to plunge into the living Hell known as Junior High/High School.

I began Junior High in Cambridge Mass, and ended it in Hull Mass. What I recall in Hull was that we had the privilege of playing music in the cafeteria during lunch. I remember hearing "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves" far too many times than anyone should ever have to, even in the context of administering capital punishment.

Ah, but I was also exposed to "You're So Vain" by Carly Simon. Which made me look for her album. Which resulted in me seeing her photo on the cover of "No Secrets". Which laid down the groundwork in my thinking that brunettes are a superior life form.

I also recall hearing a song called "Somethings Wrong With Me" a lot as was done by a pop musician named Austin Roberts, who went on to do a putrid song called "Rocky", which has nothing to do with boxers and "Yo Adrienne", which is a pity, because if anyone deserved a good punching, it was the guy who sang that crapfest.

But then we move into the High School years, and oh wow. Oh good Lord. When I think of the category "Music popular in my high school," all I can think of is:

1. The disgusting music/cultural phenomenon known as Disco (Motto: Hey kids, if you already feel out of touch and unpopular, let's throw in a music form that requires that you dress and dance a certain way, and if you don't, it shows how even less "with it" you are!)

2. The mind-numbing soft-rock stylings of Chicago.

3. And Elton John.

Now fortunately, Elton John rocked, and continues to rock. A fantastic entertainer, an amazing pianist, and...well...kind of an inarticulate vocalist. Let's all sing along to one of Reg Dwight's signature hits, shall we?!

So, good-bye, Yellow Brick Road!
Where the dust of sororities bow!
Your cat just peed in your penthouse!
Blowing Jack in my prow!
Back to the havoc go round in the world!
Back to my horny black toe!
Oh I finally decide my future bride!
Beyond the yella brick raaaaaaahhhhaaaaahhaaaaahhhh!!

Wasn't that fun? Well, it sure beat the Hell out of disco, or "Color My World", with that interminable piano riff.

The Beatles were no more, but there was Paul McCartney singing silly love songs. And even though it was...pleasant, it was not the Beatles. Disappointing. I couldn't get into John Lennon's mush-headed "Imagine", George was singing about his sweet Lord Krishna, and Ringo was singing a disturbing song about a 16 year old girl being his.

Oh but that was okay, because if you were tired of someone knocking at the door, there was always the Bay City Rollers! S! A! T-U-R! D-A-Y! Night!

Feel free to commit suicide any time now. Really. I won't hold it against you.

There was also KC and the Sunshine Band, which sounded dumb at the time, but now has a sort of kitschy coolness.

Now, before there was Emo, Goth, or any other permutation of Misery Rock, there was that unholy trinity of miserable singers who created Songs To Slash Your Wrists By. I'm talking about Henry Gross, who had a hit called "Shannon", about a dead dog (I am not making this up); Terry Jacks, and his miserable "Seasons In The Sun"; and Gilbert O'Sullivan, with his smash (s)hit, "Alone Again, Naturally".

Let's sing along to a snipped of the actual lyrics!

"...I remember I cried when my father died, never wishing to hide the tears.
And at 65 years old, my mother God rest her soul, couldn't understand why the only man she had ever loved had been taken.
Leaving her to start, with a heart so badly broken
Despite encouragement from me, no words were ever spoken
When she passed away; I cried and cried all day
Alone again, naturally."

Whee! Help yourself to some sleeping pills! They're in the cabinet on the right! Wash them down with some vodka! This song was a HIT. A HIT!!! A genuine pop music HIT!

Now, it may seem that my high school years were just a big parade of crappy music. Fortunately, there were some bright spots.

My father had a restaurant, and one of the customers was this guy nicknamed Big John (he was rather heavy), who worked at a used record store nearby, Skippy Whites. When I visited the place, the wide world of 50's and 60's oldies came alive, and I eagerly bought up as many 45s as I could and cultivated an appreciation for them.

This was bolstered from, of all places, the popular tv show "Happy Days", which would feature snippets of oldies (before it devolved into all Fonzie, all the time), so I went and bought those songs as well.

I also became aware of this guy named Dickie Goodman, who made 'novelty records' that receive heavy Top 40 airplay. They were spoken records, with Dickie playing an interviewing journalist. He'd ask questions of his subjects, and the answers were snippets of rock songs, taken in such a way that they fit as answers to his questions. He made songs about relevant 70's stuff like Watergate, The Energy Crisis, and Jaws. Later, I was to find out that he had been doing this since the early 60's, but instead of culling snippets of Olivia Newton-John, the BeeGees, or Ringo Starr, he was borrowing from The Platters, Chuck Berry, and Fats Domino.

Also, through the wonders of Top 40 AM radio, I got my first exposure to Cheech and Chong, with "Earache My Eye" and "Sister Mary Elephant".

Top 40 also brought forth nifty one-hit wonders like Reunion's "Life Is A Rock, But The Radio Rolled Me", or Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting".

One of the high school church group staff guys was a big Yes fan, so I got turned on to just a little bit of "progressive rock" otherwise known as "art rock", otherwise known as "pretentious nonsense". I'm talking to YOU, Moody Blues! If the trees are drawing you near, then lay off the weed!

And one of my fondest memories of a rock song, and a reason why the movie "Waynes World" will always have a special place in my heart, is being on a date with my girlfriend in my senior year of high school (I didn't date the girls from my high school, though not from lack of trying; I dated girls from Park Street Church's high school youth group), and hearing "Bohemian Rhapsody" on the radio after we left the movie theater.

So yes, it would be a lie to say that music in my High School years was a complete wasteland. I just had to look harder to find the good stuff. Though I still maintain that the 70's produced more hideous songs, minute for minute, than any other decade that featured rock music. Hey, it's Jim Croce's "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," and "You Don't Mess Around With Jim", which are pretty much the same damned song!

And if that earlier-mentioned trinity of crappy pre-Emo artists hadn't completely sapped you of your will to live, check out some of Harry Chapin's miserable "story" songs like "Cats In The Cradle".

And, as a bizarre side note, I still had my dad's music tastes to deal with. He didn't like rock and roll. He hated it, said it was too loud and repetitious. So, what did we hear when we drove home from his restaurant? WCOP AM 1150...Country music.

This brought me into contact with singers like Tom T. Hall, George Jones, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams. I didn't like everything I was forced to hear, but I didn't hate it all either. I even ended up getting a citizens band radio for my car when "Convoy" became a hit.

Speaking of my car, I should wrap this up by pointing out that it was in High School that I put together my first song parody. My town, Hull, is a narrow peninsula that juts out into the ocean, so sometimes, when there'd be a storm, those waves could get rather scary. It inspired me to take Gordon Lightfoot's hit song, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" (another of those classic 70's vintage happy-joy-joy songs, this one about 29 sailors whose ship goes down just 15 miles from harbor, in Lake Superior), and change it to "The Wreck of the Buick LeSabre" (my car's make and model). The song was a stirring piece about my attempts at driving myself and my friends through a nasty storm.

So, that was junior high and high school. What was to become of me? Would my non-conformist soul be crushed by disco? Would my brains be turned to mush by the brass overkill and maudlin lyrics of Chicago? Would the steady stream of pre-Emo misery singers make me want to throw myself under a bus before I even graduated?

Little did I know that a new, raw, chaotic, non-conformist sound had already taken over New York, and would be introducing itself to me soon after graduating!

To be continued....

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