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Thursday, June 22, 2006

People Get Ready

I was a child in the sixties, a teenager in the seventies. The natural trajectory for a young man in the suburbs would be to embrace rock music. I never really did.

They were too much like me, perhaps, the arena power chorders. Aerosmith used to play in my high school gym, after all. I wouldn't change the channel if Bachman Turner Overdrive came on, and I had a well worn copy of Frampton Comes Alive, just like everybody else, but that was about it.

There was a jukebox in the lunchroom at our public high school. It was a revelation to me after spending my grammar school years in Catholic School. The nuns would have no more brought in a juke box than a Wiccan into our lunchroom. Upon reflection, it's the nuns that got it right. It was a symptom of the profound unseriousness of the place that the public high school supplied the same soundtrack a teenager demanded in his non-school life to muddle through it.

I could probably list every single song in that jukebox, down to the most obscure, and it was over thirty years ago. Not much of it was very good. But it was generally fun and disposable, like popular entertainment should be, but rarely is, any more. There was:
Led Zeppelin
Harry Nilsson
Dr John
Hollies
Beatles
Rolling Stones
Eric Clapton
The Beach Boys
Badfinger
Moody Blues
More Led Zeppelin
Grand Funk Railroad
Elton John
Wings
Billy Paul
Billy Preston
Earth Wind and Fire
Still more Led Zeppelin
Gilbert O'Sullivan
Looking Glass
Marvin Gaye
Aerosmith
The Rasberries...

Well, you get the picture. Nothing much recorded at La Scala. Nothing much recorded in a gospel church. Now having enough money to put into a jukebox was a foreign concept to me. The thing would play anyway, and you'd hear everyhing in it no matter what, eventually. I recall the only time an insurrection against the thing was mounted, when some wisenheimer pumped a buck or two into the thing and selected "Dogs Barking Christmas Carols" 15 straight times. After about five minutes, a grim and resolute shop teacher marched over, pulled the enormous contraption away from the wall, and yanked the plug. I'm certain it's the only cheer the prickly old fellow ever heard from his charges.

This one comes back to me though, and kindly:


The man, and the topic, was a world away from me. I was unlikely to adopt his huggybear/trotsky cap or his owlish glasses. But really, to a fifteen year old, looking into a world of dead ends, who could say it better, and funkier, than Curtis Mayfield?

Ask him his dream
What does it mean?
He wouldn't know...

5 comments:

Melinda said...

Hey, that's the playlist on my iPod!

My high school had a canteen that was open after school hours, where kids could go to hang out if they didn't have an after-school job or another activity. It didn't have a juke box, but it did have a stereo and a good selection of records, including "album rock" like Led Zeppelin. They even played Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa.

The surprising thing was, it was a Catholic high school. And the teaching brother who ran it was gay, in sort of a "don't ask, don't tell" kinda way. (Okay, the drama and art majors knew it.)

Ruth Anne Adams said...

I hope XWL gets that song up for his Friday Funk lyrics.

SippicanCottage said...

melinda- You could do a lot worse, playlist wise.

Beefheart would be "Trout mask replica;" Zappa- "Apostrophe," I bet. Funny.

One thing about all those records I never tire of: everybody is playing real instruments. It sounds so breathtaking sometimes to hear the sound of real persons playing real instruments coming out of the radio. It's really rare nowadays.

Pogo said...

Off-topic, but the huge number of TV commercials selling music from this era tells me there is a market for this music. So why isn't there a music video channel showing these clips, even if only intermittently?

A grown man can abide only so much rap. (P.S. The cure for any ubiquitous rap song is, in my house, for me to sing along and get funky. Sez my eldest girl Eeew.

SippicanCottage said...

Hi Pogo- It seems more to me that as the various technologies and delivery systems for entertainments develop, everyone has access to more of less, if you catch my drift.

By "more of less," I mean that if you really wanted to, you could listen to nothing but one thing all the time. That just was not possible thirty years ago.

Everything jostled cheek by jowl on radios and jukeboxes because that's all there was. Now, you decide. It's atomized shared experience to a degree.

It takes a certain amount of sophistication to root out Freddie's Dead or People get ready, but that's why I write about such things. Nostalgia is only of use to those that shared the experience.

But it is possible to point out what was good in a certain time period to those not already in the know, or remind those that knew and might have had it slip their mind. It's not mindless slavishness to a dead era.

We don't burn the books after the authors die. We just winnow to the best over time.