ON THE AVENUES: The musical year 2011, Part One.
A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.
(Part two here)
There’s no use in pretending.
Ear X-tacy’s demise is metaphorical, and the game of contemporary relevance in musical taste is almost certainly finished for me. In terms of chronology, I’ve effectively pole vaulted the shark.
Perhaps this state of irrefutable old fogeyism owes as much to technology, and my ongoing refusal to embrace it, as to any other single factor. I fail to utilize the handy mechanisms that currently exist to convey packaged music to waiting ears. I’ve no Sirius, Pandora or Spotify, and not a single song is stored on my phone or computer. You might as well bring on the 8-tracks.
Glancing at the year-end lists in the media, I’m struck by how few of the artists are familiar to me. Needless to say, I’ve heard next to none of their songs. Of those managing to strike a chord in my comfy hermetic world, most came from listening sporadically to Louisville’s 91.9 FM throughout the year.
Perhaps my current feelings mirror those of an imagined, long-forgotten devotee of the “swing era,” watching Elvis on the Dorsey Brothers Stage Show in 1956, and asking himself: What on earth compelled these two dependable veterans of hot jazz, sweet pop and the Lindy Hop to feature this pouty-lipped, swivel-hipped kid from Memphis? It’s not unlike the words Archie and Edith once sang:
And you knew who you was then
Girls were girls and men were men
Mister we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again
In point of fact, my parents raised me on these very same big bands, but when those LPs were safely put away into their dust jackets, I liked to retreat to my room to fiddle with the AM radio dial. That’s where I heard the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Doors and Beach Boys somewhere behind the pervasive static.
My conversion didn’t transpire overnight, but in due time, an immersion in rock and pop music blindingly occurred. Now it seems that rock’s dying, if not already buried, and pop is submerged somewhere beneath hip hop, electronica and a slew of performers whose names I don’t even know how to pronounce correctly, from Gaga to Kanye to Beyonce.
Still, I try mightily to resist the temptation to slip permanently into the illusory trance of the past by listening exclusively to my old favorites. Balance is difficult, but always sought. My goal remains to find the next rock band that speaks to me like the Who’s Quadrophenia did – except now, today, in the present tense. Is there music to help me feel the way I did when I was younger, when certain songs were magical talismans, and lengthy periods of life were defined almost exclusively by what I happened to be hearing at the time?
Alas, perhaps all that raw adrenalin has left the building for good, and I’m not actually supposed to feel transformed any longer. Increasingly, the daily memo suggests that instead of running over there and listening to one hugely transformative power chord, I should slowly walk, and try to absorb the subtleties of many types of different music as possible.
This I do, and yet it’s too bad the old-fashioned thrill seems gone.
In 2011, I finally installed ad-hoc audio in my office. While assuredly not made of wax cylinders, it is late model, but aurally suitable for CDs and radio. Laboriously, and over time, most of my compact discs have been hauled home from work, and accordingly, I’ve been delving back into the classical, jazz and world music collections.
The Baylor household will remember 2011 as the year we completed our long-term, chronological viewing of all eleven seasons of M*A*S*H on DVD, culminating with the series’ enduring, final episode, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” In it, Major Winchester endeavors to teach Mozart to captive Chinese folk musicians. It is the first movement of the Clarinet Quintet in A, K. 581, and it was lodged in my memory for quite some time.
The available collection includes at least a dozen compilations of music from the medieval and Renaissance periods in Europe, which hold an enduring fascination. I turn back to them frequently, but cannot pick one above the rest. Of slightly more recent vintage is Music for Egon Schiele, a 1996 release from the group Rachel's. It was scored as music for a play about the Austrian painter Egon Schiele, a great personal favorite.
Across the seasons, binding 2011 together for me was a multi-disc copy of Shostakovich’s complete string quartets (1-15), which occupied numerous early mornings of solitude, writing and espresso. This is “chamber music” of a high and inspiring order, and a sublime artistic achievement.
I must confess to it being a sub-par year for me in terms of jazz listening. Local favorite Dick Sisto’s sole appearance at Bank Street Brewhouse was a high point, as was digging out the Smithsonian’s Big Band Renaissance compilation for repeated listening. Seeing Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris produced a scramble not for Cole Porter, whose music is pivotal in the narrative, but Sidney Bechet, the virtuoso soprano sax player who, like many African-American musicians, sought refuge from racism in France.
Three archival releases spoke to me in 2011.
To What Strange Place: The Music of the Ottoman-American Diaspora, 1916-1929 … A three-CD gathering of tunes recorded during the early 1902’s in New York City by immigrants of numerous nationalities, who came to America from the collapsing Ottoman empire. Spellbinding.
Bossa Nova: Rise of Brazilian Music in the 1960s … a wide-ranging look at bossa nova as a pathway from samba to jazz.
Funky Frauleins, Vol. 2 … West German female pop performers, also from the 1960’s, doing original material and some crazy covers, like “I Dig Rock and Roll Music.”
It’s the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, and to observe it, there is Songs of the Civil War, which I first examined in July: Civil War songs: "I’m a Good Old Rebel," but assuredly not like this. I never grow tired of these robust, poignant, devotional and confrontational tunes.
(In Part Two next Thursday, it’s from Booker T to Twilight Singers to Wild Beasts, all in the year 2011)