This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Listening to My Father's Music

            One of the things I got when I leased a new Ford Fusion a little over a year ago was Sirius Radio. It wasn’t something I asked for specifically, but it was part of the package that came with the car and I said why not. It’s turned out to be a welcome addition.
            For the last 30 years or so, I’ve barely used the radio in any of my cars. About the only occasion, really, has been to listen to a baseball or football game during a long drive, and situationally to see if I could get news about a traffic snarl from KCBS in San Francisco.
            The rest of the time I’ve pretty much listened to tapes, or, increasingly, nothing at all, preferring to use my drive time for thinking. It’s a measure of my estrangement from vehicular sound systems that the car before this one was a 2001 model that was the last of its kind to have a tape deck rather than a CD player. And it mattered so little that I didn’t feel cheated.

The Rat Pack Will Never Die

            Sirius has brought me back to radio and the joy of accidental discovery. There are so many channels and so many pleasant surprises that it’s hard to decide what to listen to. Backstage at the Met with Metropolitan Opera radio, or getting the latest Broadway dish from Seth Rudetsky and Christine Pedi on the Broadway channel? Wade Jessen’s look at the week in country music history on Classic Country or the World News on BBC?
            Not surprisingly for an older guy, I find myself gravitating to the music of my youth. The Sixties and Seventies music channels are the first two pre-programmed on the radio, and I listen to them a lot — great road music and I know most of the songs.
            But lately I’ve found myself spending a lot of time with another blast from the past. That would be Channel 71, the Sinatra/American Songbook station. It is, in one sense, the music I grew up on, but it wasn’t my music at the time. It was my parents’ music, and I mostly tuned it out back then. But now I’m surprised at how it speaks to me, and how hearing some of those performers I grew up with gives me a fresh appreciation for their talent.

Getting Over Past Prejudices

            Coming of age in the Sixties, I soaked up the conventional wisdom of my peers, which included such arrant nonsense as, “Dean Martin was just a bum doing a bad drunk act,” and “Nat King Cole was just an Uncle Tom who wasn’t true to where he came from.”
            Listening to them sing, decades after they’re gone and on a good sound system, their virtues become obvious. Martin was a great singer, whose words came from his mouth like a great whiskey, slowly poured. He took Bing Crosby’s crooning to the next level. And how could I not have noticed at the time how wonderful and distinctive Cole’s voice was — clear and pure like a mountain stream. Jim Morrison had a similar clarity and purity, but in an altogether different style.
            Then there were the women. Rosemary Clooney and Peggy Lee were dames, in the best sense of the word. Billie Holliday had a voice whose cracks mirrored the cracks in her heart. And Julie London almost seemed to be exhaling cigarette smoke with every word. I’d forgotten all that, but now I remember — and just because my old car broke down badly and I had to get a new one.