Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Beatles Come To America - "A Really Big Show".

The second of my pieces for my CCU Music course.  Other geezers will get it.

            I was 11 years old in February of 1964 when the Beatles were introduced  to me and the rest of America on the Ed Sullivan Show.  I knew they were something special because the girls were screaming so loudly that I could hardly hear their music and my Southern Baptist mother thought they were the devil incarnate.  I had to throw a mini-tantrum for her to allow me to watch.  I had never seen anything like them.  To a blue-jeaned boy with a flat-top haircut these four guys in Edwardian suits and bowl haircuts were as alien as if they had arrived  in a spaceship.  If not for the assassination of President Kennedy a few months earlier, this would have been the most memorable event of my youth.  It turned out to be one of the most significant in my life.
            The arrival  of the Beatles gave the nation a much needed diversion  from  the grim  realities of the previous year:  the Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassination.  It could not have come at a better time and timing is everything.  They made four appearances that month, but none had the impact on the world, or me, that the first one did.  It is estimated that 40% of the population of the United States watched that program.   They performed five songs:  "All My Loving", 'Till There Was You", "She Loves You", "I Saw Her Standing There", and "I Want To Hold Your Hand."  Using my paper route money I purchased Meet The Beatles the very next day from a local drug store.  I was disappointed that only four of the songs I had heard were included, but still excited.  "She Loves You" came in the second of many Beatles albums that I subsequently purchased.           
            My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Wakefield, was young and beautiful (to a boy entering puberty) and had already become a Beatles' fan.  She used to post the Billboard Top 10 on our bulletin board and each week at least half of those songs belonged to  the Beatles.  She brought in fan magazines and was my source of all things Beatles for the remainder of that school year.  I remember being amazed that though I could sing along with all the song lyrics I could not understand a word they said during interviews.  It was as if Liverpudlian English was a foreign language.
            The Beatles stayed together throughout my Junior and Senior High years until my graduation in 1970.  In just six years they produced more memorable music than any of the flood of British bands that followed in their wake.  Like great composers throughout history, much of Lennon/McCartney music was timeless.  The songs I heard in that first televised performance were nowhere near their best compositions.  They continued to evolve.  Unprecedented success allowed them to continuously experiment and creative genius insured those endeavors were nearly always fresh and interesting.  It seemed to me that every new release ventured into unexplored musical territory, borrowing from many genres of music.  Early in their careers, they covered songs from a variety of artists from R&B to Country.  They were inspired by such artists as Elvis, the Everly Brothers, Beach Boys, Buddy Holly, Carole King, and Little Richard.  Their initial  influences  of American Folk, Rockabilly, Skiffle, Ragtime, and Motown, eventually expanded to include both   Western  and Indian Classical, innovations  previously unheard of in rock/pop music.
            Though I became a fan of many other performers, no others had the life-long influence on me, or the world, that the Fab Four did.  All four had successful post Beatle  careers, though none captured the magic in a bottle that the synergy of their collaborative efforts produced.          

Saturday, August 2, 2014

My Indoctrination To Classical Music or "What's Up Doc?"

In my Music class I was assigned to write two pieces about how music relates to me.  This is the first of the two:

            I was exposed to classical music at a very young age  and  did not realize it until many years later.  The soundtracks of nearly all of my childhood cartoons were orchestrations of classic compositions by many of the greatest composers of all time.  This is probably a combination of the ease with which cartoon action can be coupled with classical movements and the fact that much of this music is public domain and no royalties needed to be paid. 
            Cartoons of that period tend to have a fluidity that lends  itself to the various crescendos and diminuendos that are present in  classical symphonies.   I did not realize it at the time but the background music revealed to me when Bugs Bunny was outsmarting the hunter, Elmer Fudd, was often Beethoven.  Pastoral serenity before the encounter might be" Moonlight Sonata" followed by the inevitable chase  and resulting violence fueled by his "Fifth Symphony".  And when Buggs eventually knocked Elmer unconscious  we would hear the soothing refrain of Brahms' "Lullaby vocalized by Elmer's rhythmic snoring.   I have long since forgotten individual episodes of these programs but the music stayed in my head and eventually I identified it and learned to appreciate and enjoy it for what it is. 
                Even one of my favorite childhood  westerns, The Lone Ranger, opened and closed  with Rossini's "William Tell Overture".  Once again, the title and composer realized many years later.  Even though it has been well over 50 years since that program aired, I cannot hear that particular piece without thinking of a hearty "Hi Ho Silver".  Rossini shows up again in a number of cartoons and it was not uncommon for eight year  old boys to be singing "Figaro,  Figaro," though we had no idea that it was from  a famous opera, "Barber of Seville" .     
                Of course in the feature animated film, "Fantasia", the music was more important than the animation and I never really appreciated it until I was an adult.  It is probably the all-time classic marriage of cartoon and  classical music artistry.  I still enjoy seeing it today.  Probably even more than I did as a child.
                A cereal commercial from my youth featured Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" complete with canon  fire.  I  had no idea  until much later that this piece  was  written to commemorate Russia's defeat of Napoleon.   It has  become a popular companion  to Independence Day fireworks displays.  I do not remember the name of the cereal but I will never forget the vibrant music.   I was in my twenties when  I first heard Dan Fogelberg's "Same Auld Lang  Syne"  and there it was again, slowed down and subdued, but unmistakably Tchaikovsky.  
                Who could have imagined that my introduction to what my mother would call "high brow music" would come from such sources?  I think subsequent generations were robbed of that  enriching experience.  Though classical music still appears in today's culture through commercials, movies, and use in modern music, it is not nearly as prevalent as in my childhood.  The subliminal exposure to it had a lasting effect on my future appreciation of music that I may not have had access to in my rural childhood upbringing by bluegrass, blue collar, parents.
                Though I am not a musician, music is a very essential part of who I am.  I have a very eclectic taste in  music and enjoy many genres.   Classical music strike a chord in me in a way that no other music does.  At its  softest,  it is as emotional, often  without words, as any heartfelt ballad carved from the heart of James Taylor  or The Beatles.    On the other hand, when it is rousing and dynamic, it can make the hair stand up on the back of my neck and energize  me  every bit as much as the  frenetic guitar riffs of Jimmy Page or Eddie Van Halen.     
                So it seems my Saturday mornings sitting too close to the television were not wasted.  When the Roadrunner was torturing the hapless Coyote, I was a sponge soaking up culture.