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Not Easy Listening

Today’s sound of music is a far beat from the 1965 Mary Poppins’ soundtrack. Old school sanitized hits like I’m Gonna Make You Love Me have been replaced by a genre of sexually explicit (some would say downright obscene) tunes like My Neck, My Back.

A sexagenarian (How’s that for a play on words?) friend of mine enjoys good music as much as I do. Like other mature people of our generation as we aged-out of youthful imprudence into responsible adulthood some things changed, but not our taste in music. However, unlike me, my friend can readily identify some of the contemporary and hip-hop artists about whom I know nothing and could care less. And while I consider much of the present-day music to be a waste of talent and airspace, he often defends it. But something that occurred recently when he was dining in a buffet-style restaurant gave him second thoughts.

When he began telling me the story, I figured that he was going to gross me out about the food. I didn’t want to hear that, because I have occasionally eaten at that place (that I will not name), although it has never been on my list of favorites.

It turns out that his complaint was not about the food or the service. His beef was over the sexually explicit lyrics in a song that was playing over the restaurant’s sound system as he was preparing to leave. He said he approached the owner and a clerk who were standing at the register near the doorway and in an unobtrusive voice complained that the music playing was unsuitable in a family diner. His expression of disapproval apparently motivated some other patrons who were standing nearby because a few of them chimed in. One man, who my friend guessed to be fortyish in spite of his backward-turned cap, said, “He’s right. There are small children in here. They don’t need to be listening to that s**t.”

Then, an older woman described as having the demeanor of a no-nonsense, church lady, added, “It’s a shame. This is a family restaurant. That music is totally inappropriate in a place like this. This ain’t some hip-hop joint.”

The owner apologetically explained that it was Sirius XM radio and added that he had no control over what the station was playing. As he left, my friend heard someone in the group (perhaps it was church lady) say, “Is it unreasonable to think that you could change the channel?”

When I asked my friend what was the name of the song. He said, he didn’t know it, but then he repeated some of the lewd lyrics. (Did you think that I was going to write those words here? Really?) No, I’m can’t name that tune either, but I’ll bet it’s on the Rankers list of rappers with the dirtiest rhymes. Finished reading this post, before your curiosity leads you to rush over to that page and check out the list.

Some of you readers may remember that in 1985, Tippy Gore, wife of Senator and later Vice President Al Gore, spearheaded an organization called The Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). It championed the cause for including Parental Advisory labels on albums containing foul language and explicit lyrics.

PMRC faced strenuous objection from numerous people, including many in the music industry like John Denver, Ice Tea, and Frank Zappa, who protested that the proposed labeling would result in censorship.

In his book, “The Ice Opinion” published in 1994, Ice T wrote, “Tipper Gore is the only woman I directly called a bitch on any of my records.” In the same book, he later seems to express regret, saying, that he was 15 years old during the time of the PMRC controversy. He continues with, “I am now 41 years old and the father of two teenaged girls.” Ice T, whose real name is Tracy Lauren Marrow is now 60 years old with three daughters. I wonder how much has he changed his tune?

Although Tippy Gore and three other women whose husbands held prominent positions were successful in forming the PMRC, that guidelines and rating system did not last.

The current Parental Advisory warning label, trademarked by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) grew out of the PMRC. It was introduced in 1990, the same year that PMRC shut down. The label, now affixed to germane music products and other merchandise, does not control what is broadcast over radio programs. And while some broadcasters play edited versions of songs to eliminate content that may be considered objectionable or age-inappropriate, owners of restaurants and other businesses should assume some responsibility for music played in their establishments.


A Tribute to American Bandstand and Soul Train: Rock and Soul

Many Boomers bemoaned the loss of  Dick Clark, the 82 years young, 30-year host of “American Bandstand” who died of a heart attack on April 18. Two months earlier on February 1, Don Cornelius, the original “soul man” and long-time host of the nationally syndicated “Soul Train” was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 75.  In spite of the fact that Clark was white and Cornelius black, their “rock and soul” music and dance programs attracted fans of all ages across racial lines and there is hardly a Boomer alive who does not remember them.

American Bandstand became regular viewing at our home sometime in the late 1950s, when my dad – who loved to dance – discovered the show while switching channels in search of a Randolph Scott or John Wayne western. In a few weeks, I too had become a loyal “Bandstand” fan. And years afterward, I looked forward annually to watching “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin Eve.” As I was to learn, so too did many of my friends.

One New Year’s Eve, in the late 1970s, I was hosting a party in my apartment. My guests were dancing all over the place to a funky tune by Earth, Wind and Fire. At around 11:45 p.m. someone lowered the volume on the stereo (to the delight of my neighbors, I’m sure), and then switched on the television set. Everyone stopped dancing long enough to gather around the TV for the balldrop and countdown, and we all joined Dick Clark and the Times Squares revelers in a rousing “Happy New Year!”

In 1971, when “Soul Train” rolled onto the airways, I climbed on board. Cornelius, the train’s metaphoric conductor and literal host had viewers nationwide trying to imitate the fancy dance moves of Damita Jo Freeman, Joe Chisum, Patricia Davis and other members of the “Soul Train Gang.” In its early days, as the kids today might say it – “Soul Train” rocked!

Cornelius fans can only wonder what demons led him to take his own life, but when yours truly thinks of the soul man’s last moments on this earth, I imagine him signing off with his signature catchphrase, “In parting, I wish you love, peace and soooul!”

It seems ironic that both Cornelius and Clark, two men who brought so much musical entertainment and joy to the Boomer generation would die within months of each other. They were a dynamic duo of rock and roll — and rock and soul — and they made us get up and dance.


Times They Are a-Changin’ – Part II of III

Remember good music?  Every Boomer has their idea of what they consider to be good music. For many it is simply music that makes you feel good. It doesn’t matter if it is pop, rock, R&B or some other soul-stirring sounds, if the melody is pleasant and the lyrics understandable, we considered that good music. In our heyday, there may have been a few oldies that contained some suggestive lyrics, but overall the songs were decent and inoffensive. But fast-forward thourgh the 70’s on and the music started to change. Some folks apparently didn’t keep up or they listened to more refined music.

Several years ago, while I was browsing in a trendy dress shop, a popular oldies tune was playing on the store’s speaker system and a sophisticated looking lady, who appeared to be in her 70’s came into the store. The music was still bumping as the lady began looking at the suits on the sales rack near where I was standing. Suddenly, she looked directly at me. Instinctively I smiled at her, and then noticed the look of anxiety on her face.

“Young lady,” she said, “What are they saying on that song?” She asked the question like she was afraid to hear the answer and before I could reply she repeated the question with a bit more urgency, “What are they saying?”

Though the tune had never been one of my favorites, I was familiar with the Brothers Johnson song and immediately understood her concern. Enunciating as clearly as I could so that there would be no misunderstanding, I said to her, “They are singing, ‘get the funk outta my face.’”  “Oh,” she replied, and then she turned and walked out of the store, all the while slowly shaking her head from side-to-side as if in a state of disbelief. I stood there wondering whether she had misunderstood me or if she was just upset by what she thought they guys were singing. Anyone who is unfamiliar with the song can certainly understand how funk could be mistaken for a more explicit word.  Life used to be so simple, but times they are a-changin’.

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Going, Going, Gone

In their 1961 hit song, Peter, Paul and Mary sang “Where have all the flowers gone?”  The folk-singing trio repeated that poignant line consecutively in each verse, and in turn they asked where have the young girls gone, and their husbands, the soldiers, and the graveyards. 

During the sixties when that tune reached its height of popularity, it was regarded by many as a protest song which conveyed the pointlessness of war, particular the Vietnam War, but certainly the futility of war in general.  Just as the cycle of history repeats itself that haunting melody, although mostly unsung now,  is as relevant to the current war that is claiming the lives of U.S. soldiers as it was to the war in Southeast Asia four decades ago.

“When will they ever learn?” is the last haunting line of each verse of the group’s song, and “When will we ever learn?” concludes the tune.  In this twenty-first century, the song easily conveys aspects of current life, where in addition to war, terrorism, and countless other inhumanities of the world there is a loss of societal innocence and civility that begs the question not when, but will we ever learn?”


Reflections . . . On the music of our generation.

The Way We Were is an enchanting song and so beautifully sang by Barbra Streisand. Others like Gladys Knight have also performed it well. The first time that I heard it was on the soundtrack of the movie of the same title, Streisand co-starred in the movie with Robert Redford.

Such songs with haunting catchwords like “memories” is one reason that many of us replay favorite tunes in our minds for years past that special occasion linked to the adored song, and we relinquish those memories only when age or circumstance demands it. The Way We Were was the sweet companion for many boomers as we tiptoed across the threshold of time toward maturity and adulthood, and then began contemplating what we would be when we grew up. “Could it be that it was oh so simple then or has time rewritten every line? If we had the chance to do it all again, tell me would we, could we?” The captivating tune missed the sixties decade by a few years, as it skated up the Billboard chart in 1974. Nevertheless, it will forever be one of my all time favorites. There are some songs so moving that they touch your very soul. TWEW is one of them.