Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The day the music died...

"I read the news today, oh boy...."

A quick look at the world on the Internet today brought back to mind that today is the day that John Lennon was so stupidly killed, now the anniversary 30 years since.  It certainly doesn't seem that is was that long ago and yet three decades have passed and gone. There was an article on line about the night and the events of this murder written by a fellow who had also written a book about the events up to, and after the death. The interesting thing to me was that after this article there were comments left by folks responding to the piece. It amazed me that there could be such a diverse bunch of feelings about the meaning of his life and of his death.

When I was very young I had a record player with some characters on it that I really didn't know. Their names were Beenie and Cecil and were some cartoon drawings. The record player was often the merry go round for my Barbies or whatever toy I was playing with on that day. Sometimes I would turn the speed up to 78 and watch the toys go spinning off. For some reason that seemed hilarious to  me at the time. Other times however, the record player did what its intended purpose was and that was to play vinyl records.

I also had a small box that someone gave me for a birthday or Christmas, can't remember which, that had some 45's in it. It had some songs that I had heard on my transistor radio from the Big Bam station, and most I was clueless to who was singing on them. This was early 60's and music was evolving as it reflected a generation of change in the world. Some of the music in my box was stuff like Connie Francis, and various female singers doing sappy little ditties, and there were a few unmemorable "rock" groups that my brothers liked and thought I should know about.  I liked music and listened to these despite the lack of quality in content.

One record I did like a lot was a big 78 size vinyl that was thick as a brick, a rich dark black color with a purple label with a gold scripted title. It was "The Waltz of the Flowers" by Tchaikovsky, a lovely 3/4 time dance from the Nutcracker Suite. There was a story that went with it about some mice in a garden who needed to escape from a cat who had found them. As the music plays and builds in intensity the mice brilliantly decide to take the flower blossoms they were hiding behind and wear them as camouflage. Carefully adorned with blooms, they waltzed their way out of the garden and away from the non suspecting cat.

I don't think the story that came with this recording had anything to do with the original story of the Nutcracker Suite and its dancing sugar plums, nutcrackers, and very strange uncles bearing magical gifts. It has been way too long since I have watched that to know. My little mouse story with them all dancing in flowers grabbed my imagination and I listened to this one for hours, imagining the joyful escape of these silly mice. I liked to think that had I been with them that maybe I would have come up with such a plan of evading the evil cat. It made me very happy every time I heard it. Just now I pulled it up on my iphone and once again I am back whirling with mice across a lovely green lawn to the sweeping sounds of violins, ....

The waltz was a long recording, a classical label, compared to the pop 45's, that only lasted for a minute or so. Songs that played on the radio had to be snappy and quick because the attention span of an average listener was presumed to be brief and their knowledge limited.  They were right. The recording world was starved for quality. It was a dark period not unlike the Dark Ages before the Renaissance. Then came the Beatles, and everything changed.

My brothers were older by a few years than I was, but infinitely more savvy about the world, and music in particular, as they went to school and were hearing about new groups from their friends. They somehow got an album of this group, the Beatles. The cover showed an outrageously long haired group of four lads smiling down from a balcony. It was the first collection/album of pop music that I had seen, as full big albums were for grownups and their music. These guys were from Great Britain and wore really weird suits but there music was captivating. It quickly became my brothers' and my favorite group and we waited impatiently for the next album to be produced.  

My mother worked at a fabulous toy store in a big modern shopping center, Normandale, about this time and regularly brought us home cool toys that had just hit the store. I suspect that she spent most of what she earned on this activity, but my brothers and I had no problem with the situation at all. It suited our plans just fine. On one day she brought home the best one tho. She somehow managed to grab two Beatle wigs for my brothers, a shaggy pile of dark fake hair with bangs and fuzz that reached over the ears.

Back in this time, hair for boys and men was short, really short. My dad had been a recent soldier in Korea and he too had very cropped hair and kept it tidy with some good awful crud called butch wax. My brothers both had buzzed tops and little short bangs that were held stiffly upward by using this pink goo. So for them to wear these wigs was making a statement. We had a great afternoon that day all taking turns wearing the wigs and playing air guitars using tennis racquets. Mom took lots of snap shots of us laughing and listening to the music of these guys, rocking back and forth like Paul did. Then dad came home.

My memory is fuzzy about the whole thing now, but I do recall mom crying, the wigs being thrown in the garbage can, a lot of loud bellowing about how disrespectful, horrifying, and how wrong it was for his boys to be dressing up like a bunch of girls playing loud raucous music. It was not a good end to the afternoon. I personally felt the anger was not proportional to the scene, but in retrospect it reflected the gap that was to become bigger as the 60's moved along, led larger by the changes that were influenced by this group of four. The wigs didn't stay long but the love of these guys' music did, for us and for an entire world wide generation.

The Beatles broke every record for sales probably ever done, but it was how they changed fashion, attitudes, music of course, videos of themselves ( the beginning of the MTV thing), visual arts, nearly every facet of the 60's were influenced by the talent and charisma of the four. The hard part for most girls was trying to decide which Beatle she liked the best, John, Paul, Ringo, or George,  and usually it was a tight race between Paul and John.  

My intent is not to give a history lesson, because the generation that knew them and grew up with them, worshiped the Beatles. It is the following generations that don't know what it felt like back then, and don't know what the void was like before the Beatles filled the airways with their songs. We were so surprised once when Mark and I were driving somewhere with our baby sitter and Beatle's song came on the radio. We asked her if she knew the group and she said no. We told her and she was stunned to know that Paul McCartney had been in a band before Wings, his then current one. We were stunned that  a phenomenon that shaped our lives could be in total ignorance of another's.

My guess is today that the comments I read after the article were by younger folks than myself and do not know the collective deep sorrow we all felt when Howard Cossell announced on the air of a Monday Night Football game, that John Lennon had been shot. I remember it vividly, when it happened, the shock, and the waste.

I will toast John's life and his passing tonight, and give thanks that I was lucky enough to be there during his life and career.



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