Singing’s the Thing

There are moments now when I become painfully aware that I’m turning into an old fogy. Those examples of catharsis include forgetting why I’ve entered a room (which I believe happens to many people of different ages). The particular clue I’d like to explore here about my gradual transformation is my reaction (sometimes aversion) to much of today’s popular vocal music.

In the late 1950’s my parents thought it shocking that I played records of Elvis Presley until the phonograph needle almost went through to the other side of the vinyl songs like “You Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock.” I think they were worried that I might become a juvenile delinquent, listening to such “Wild stuff.” Mom and Dad were still listening to Glenn Miller, The Dorsey Brothers and singers like Patti Page, so I imagine that Elvis must have sounded like something from an alien planet.

Well, I’m becoming more like my parents every year than I care to admit. I still love the old Broadway shows like, Show Boat, The King and I, Oklahoma, Carousel, State Fair, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, Hello Dolly, Mame, Les Miserables, Cats, and A Chorus Line. Even the first time I saw each, I left the theater humming some of the tunes, ones that had a way of staying in my head, because they were all lyrically interesting to me and different from each other. Those songs survived the shows to become part of pop culture and are still sung by vocal artists everywhere. Of course, people under the age of thirty may consider that music as outdated as the minuet, powdered wigs, and buckled shoes, but now so many of the pop songs manufactured each year sound like each other. Not much stands out, because there is so much technology and electronic vocal enhancement to cover up the utter mediocrity and forgettable musicality of the songs and performers.

A while back I became hooked on the television series, The Voice, because the performers make songs their own in the most brilliant, heartfelt ways. Sometimes I know the performances are extraordinary when the hair goes up on my arms. There are no generic tricks of the trade, no echo chambers, or voiceovers.  It’s the real thing, and my whole being responds to hearing such talent.

I love “classical” music too and have a fairly large collection of recordings, but when it comes to pop singing, I still go back to The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, The Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell, Tony Bennett, Rod Stewart, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Ella Fitzgerald, Rosemary Clooney, Judy Collins, Frank Sinatra, Elton John, Edith Piaf, Lady Gaga, Adele, and Harry Connick, Jr. Their songs have lyrics that are still engaging to me, voices that didn’t need eight tons of electronics to make them sound great, and tunes that have stood the test of time (at least for me). I admire some of the verbal skill of rappers from time to time, but in general, I’d rather have a root canal than go to a concert of that genre. Melodic it ain’t. It just sounds “pissed off” most of the time. Maybe that’s its main purpose. I really don’t know.

So yes, I’ve become a musical codger when it comes to pop singers and their material, but as I don’t force anyone to listen to what I enjoy most, I don’t expect anyone to be suing me for my musical taste. To each his own.  JB

About John

John Bolinger was born and raised in Northwest Indiana, where he attended Ball State University and Purdue University, receiving his BA and MA from those schools. Then he taught English and French for thirty-five years at Morton High School in Hammond, Indiana before moving to Colorado. He spends his winters in Pompano Beach, Florida. Besides COME SEPTEMBER, Journey of a High School Teacher, John's other books are ALL MY LAZY RIVERS, an Indiana Childhood, and COME ON, FLUFFY, THIS AIN'T NO BALLET, a Novel on Coming of Age, all available on Amazon.com as paperbacks and Kindle books. Alternately funny and touching, COME SEPTEMBER, conveys the story of every high school teacher’s struggle to enlighten both himself and his pupils, encountering along the way, battles with colleagues, administrators, and parents through a parade of characters that include a freshman boy for whom the faculty code name is “Spawn of Satan,” to a senior girl whose water breaks during a pop-quiz over THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Through social change and the relentless march of technology, the human element remains constant in the book’s personal, entertaining, and sympathetic portraits of faculty, students, parents, and others. The audience for this book will certainly include school teachers everywhere, teenagers, parents of teens, as well as anyone who appreciates that blend of humor and pathos with which the world of public education is drenched. The drive of the story is the narrator's struggle to become the best teacher he can be. The book is filled with advice for young teachers based upon experience of the writer, advice that will never be found in college methods classes. Another of John's recent books is Mum's the Word: Secrets of a Family. It is the story of his alcoholic father and the family's efforts to deal with or hide the fact. Though a serious treatment of the horrors of alcoholism, the book also entertains in its descriptions of the father during his best times and the humor of the family's attempts to create a façade for the outside world. All John's books are available as paperbacks and Kindle readers on Amazon, and also as paperbacks at Barnes & Noble. John's sixth and most recent book, Growing Old in America: Notes from a Codger was released on June 15, 2014.
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One Response to Singing’s the Thing

  1. Mark Teran says:

    I have always believed that music was my 1st love – even before my 17 year old ,Romeo & Juliet love – a love …well an important love! So how important would music be , for the remainder of my life?

    I was introduced to rock and roll at 10 , after having heard my mother’s angelic voice singing Mexican ballads since birth. Having had the good fortune of rock and roll with intelligence introduced to me at that young age – I have not settled for less since and continue to listen to various of the same artists at 52! It is said that the truth will last!!
    What ever happened to the disco sound?

    In music I have demanded passion and intelligence! Madonna had passion , but , Pete Townsend, that was passion – motivated by an intelligent message!!

    I once had a passionate discussion with a fellow musician about “oppinion on music” ,
    he insisted that all music had artistic value – I ask of myself to be more understanding of others opinion’s today – but my 1st love is to be protected!! The day someone plays a Madonna album and suggests that the artistic value of her music can be compared to Pete Townsend’s dedicated aplication of intelligence to his work – is the day I ….well , I just don’t think the world is so gray on all subjects – is it asking too much for someone to really think about his work ?

    Elon Musk thought he could make millions coming out of college if he dedicated a year to creating and marketing video games, (he presently is in charge of varios projects that are changing the world – Tesla, Space X , high-speed trains, jet travel to China in a 1/2 hour, to name a few) he insisted ,as a poor college student, that he demand more of himself , that his work have lasting meaning.

    Could you imagine Townsend singing – “like a virgin”?

    Root canal ? I’m talking the water torture the ancient Chinese applied , give me Rck n Roll of give me death!!

    Best Regards – Mark Teran

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