Tuesday Talks (IV)

yes it’s Tuesday again

Today’s Theme: What does our music say about us?

Have you ever wondered about why certain music genres seem to appeal more to you than others? Is it due to our parents? Our peers? The communities that we live in? The timing of lunar or solar eclipses?

My tastes have varied over the years and there are not many genres that I haven’t had at least some interest in the products or themes that are produced therein. But recently I have take more time to reflect on just why, when & where particular tastes seem to dominate. Humour me a wee bit and follow this thread and perhaps allow yourself to ponder what your tastes were at similar (or otherwise) stages…

Obviously the first music in my life was provided through the tastes of my parents. Two major factors were that my father was a Presbyterian minister and our family car did NOT have a radio.
These combined to introduce me to copious amounts of hymns from the Book of Praise along with a variety of popular (or not) songs that my father especially could sing while driving. Mother mainly sang hymns to us to help us fall asleep!! They did combine occasionally (they both had beautiful voices) to serenade us with an old folk tune or something from the popular hit parade of the day: one in particular was How Much is that Doggie in the Window, another was Somewhere Over the Rainbow… Dad’s most enduring was a song titled Donald & John & me (which was weird because his brothers were named John & Don). I won’t drive you insane by listing all the hymns that we learned, almost by heart, due to attending church at least twice each Sunday and often two sessions of Church School as well. Then in my teens when I joined PYPS (Young People’s) I learned more gospel tunes. I should also note that from a reasonably early age, I attended church camps in the summer or on PYPS weekends and so was introduced to campfire songs of one dimension or another!!

However, I started working on ranches/farms in the summers after Grade VII and usually the music in the barns was country and when I left home for college, initially it was my record player and then I got my own cars (all with radios) and so familial influences waned…

In high school I quickly became drawn to folk music as I could buy the sheet music and play it on the piano. More importantly I could (in my own off-piste voice) sing it. I didn’t dance until late in high school so I particularly liked Pat Boone (who I could also see in movies), the Everly Brothers, The Kingston Trio, The Limeliters, the Brothers Four and from this basis a whole raft of artists. Both the Kingston Trio & the Limeliters had live albums which were always more attractive as it made me feel I was actually at one of their concerts (as normally I couldn’t afford to travel to where they were playing). During my MHS (Madoc High School) days, I was assisted in this particular love of music by the local drug store owner. Mr. Johnston, the Rexall druggist would order in particular LP’s for me and give me a discounted price. As a result I had built up quite a collection by the time I left for college. Nevertheless I can’t say that the music was making a particular statement with me – most of my classmates were listening to similar sounds and there were few real debates about who was better (other than the classic Pat Boone vs Elvis Presley and maybe the Limeliters vs the Kingston Trio). I will say that I was very sad the day that Buddy Holly died in that plane crash.

College Years began to change both my musical tastes and the imprints that these tastes had on me. I was still buying records, but then added eight-track and cassettes depending on the car that I had. The first real influence came when Glenn Yarbrough left the Limeliters. He had two songs on his Time to Move On album that became themes for my radio show at the UofA Student Radio: I opened with You’ve heard my voice and You Know My Name and closed with It’s Time to Move On. Moreover his influence grew as he sang more and more of the works/poems of Roddy McEwen. These pieces of music resonated in large part because they mirrored my life, especially my rather erratic social relationships.

John Denver and the Jefferson Airplane/Starship had special impacts on me in Graduate School primarily because of their specific songs including Country Roads and Miracles. To this day they bring back memories of special times, special relationships. Living in Residence for half a year at U of Minnesota also afforded me the opportunity to hear other people’s favourite music (coming through the walls in the evening in particular) – it was there that I came to know Eric Clapton through the music of Cream and Blind Faith as well as the great team of Elton John & Bernie Taupin. To this day, when I hear either of these musical traditions, my mind goes immediately to my days at the U of Minn.

After Minnesota it became more the World of Work even though there was a co-terminus period where I also was doing my doctorate. Arising out of interests that were cultivated in Minnesota, I became very appreciative of Chris de Burgh, Rod Stewart, Arlo Guthrie and Carole King. Through Diana Krall I was introduced in a more in depth way to the world of jazz (leading me to listen to Radio 2 (CBC FM) and its after dinner and late night shows – I also became a staunch supporter of its daytime classical offerings, especially Bob Kerr’s Off the Record). Probably the most intriguing thing about this period was the lack of a really intense musical focus. Basically I was all over the map – listening to radio, playing cassettes in the car, even watching The Midnight Special with Wolfman Jack on TV. There are songs from this era that made their way onto video productions I did for studies I led; there are other musical treats that I know most of the words to, such as Billy Joel’s Piano Man, John Denver’s Leaving on a Jet Plane, and Elton John’s House. But basically this era was just an era where any good or novel talent could catch my attention like Jim Croce on Midnight Special, or Harry Chapin at the Regina Auditorium, or Harry Belafonte or Frank Sinatra or Neil Diamond or the Moody Blues (all in concert at different venues). I came to appreciate Bob Dylan and even went to two of his shows (one with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers was superb, one with Ms. Chapman was bizarre).

Almost simultaneously my World of Play seemed to generate different artists: this was, I think, due to the state of relationship(s) I was in. Thus Barry Manilow, Carole King, Blood Sweat & Tears, the Beach Boys, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings (to name just a few) at different times seemed to hold my attention. Similarly sound tracks from different movies became frequent plays on my tape systems: Stealing Home is likely my all time favourite and relates directly to a special moment in time; close behind is music from The Big Chill which I still have fond memories about. Easy Rider is another legendary sound track that marks a moment in time.

On another plane, I even have music that takes to places within my family. First and foremost is Tamarack and their extensive catalogue of Canadiana; then there is Allison Lupton who has always been a favourite, and more recently Connie Koldor. The music these people share does not pinpoint a moment in time or even place but rather a deep connection to family, and that too is special!

If there has been one steadying influence it might have been the emergence of classical music, attending symphonies season by season and having CBC 2 (in its classical/jazz days) on the number one pushbutton on the car radio. During that time (before CBC tried to become all things to all people and became next to nothing to anyone) classical and jazz (the latter bolstered by the film, the Fabulous Baker Brothers & the Jazz Singer) seemed to give my head a more restorative moment. The constant changes at CBC seemed to coincide with my own slide into a type of mental darkness. Church music also gave me a more reflective time, an opportunity to re-load and/or re-tune.

What is your favourite musical genre? Who are the artists that resonate most with you? And what all does music say to you, and how often does it say it?

In reflection,