There’s music and there’s music. I started out being a big fan of classical music as a preteen, most notably Mozart’s Symphony No. #41, and Brahm’s First Symphony, both of which I’d listen to over and over again, whenever I had the opportunity. Another favorite record of mine was The Red Army, which were a whole bunch of sad songs, sung in Russian, which I’ve never understood, but I loved the tunes and voices nonetheless, while failing to understand the meaning of the songs. That record, too, was another record that I’d play over and over again. When my mom and I would drive somewhere, I’d always want her to put on the car radio, so that I could listen to the classical music coming over the radio. Another record, called “Absolute Nonsense” by Oscar Brand, was another favorite of mine, which I brought to school one day in the third grade and played it for my class, evoking much laughter from most of my classmates. My dad was always a big fan of jazz, especially Dixieland, and the likes of Gene Krupa and Benny Goodman, which he’d put on full blast on Sunday mornings. Since I never liked jazz, I could never, ever get into it.
Then came the late 1950’s and the early to mid 1960’s, when the rock-n-roll scene began to grip the country. The first rock-n-roll I heard was back in the summer of 1962, when I attended day camp out west for six weeks. The Four Season’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, and the songs “Davy Crocket”, “Johnny get Angry”, and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence”, all of which I found moving. In 1963, folk singers such as Peter, Paul & Mary, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, along with Pete Seeger and the Weavers were also on the general music scene, although the Weavers were a favorite thing to listen to in our household even before the other afore-mentioned folksingers came along. Since the early to mid 1960’s also issued in the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement, much of the folk music back then also had special meaning. Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” also had an intense meaning–it was about the civil rights movement, which meant “The answer is coming”. I ‘ve always loved Peter, Paul & Mary’s rendition of that song, and still do. The Weaver’s rendition of “Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd”, also has a special meaning, as it is about African slaves attempting escape to the North for freedom via t he Underground railroad. This particular song tells a story about how slaves traveled by night en route tNorth, and the Drinking Gourd was the Big Dipper. The phrase
“for the old man is awaiting’ for to carry you to freedom”
, meant the North Star, which was at top of the Big Dipper, or the drinking gourd, as it was slangily called, was pointing to the direction of freedom–North. It was a fitting name–and necessary to protect the escaping slaves from torture by sadistic Southern white plantation masters, who, fortunately for the slaves, were not aware of what they were singing. Although I was still too young to really understand the meaning of much of this music when it was first out, I became more aware of it when I got older.
Fast forward to the spring of 1964, when my sister and I were visiting relatives then residing in a neighboring town from the initial skepticism as a young seventh-grader, I watched the Beatles along with everybody else, and was charmed and impressed by the music. The Beatles were in vogue during those years, and everybody had Beatles Albums, wrote “The Beatles” on notebooks and clipboards, and sang their songs on the buses to and from school every day. Despite warnings by my mom that the Beatles would corrupt my taste in music, I listened to the Beatles and other rock-n-roll anyway. For a time, she may have been right, but when I was well into adulthood, I began to understand the meaning of songs and to expand my tastes a bit more. At the height of Beatlemania, there were even Beatles cards, Beatles wallpaper, and Beatle sneakers, but my younger sister created her own on a pair of white sneakers. Beatlemania continued throughout the mid-1960’s, although other rock groups, such as Herman’s Hermits, Dave Clark Five, and many other rock groups began to edge their way in. Elvis Presley, long a big 1950’s icon for teens during that period, began to evolve with a new style during the rock-n-roll era. Then came t he late 1960’s, with the advent of more psychedelic music, often, though not always, related to LSD trips and experimenting with other drugs, and t he Flower Children era. Scott McKenzie’s famous song “San Francisco” was a good example of what was beginning, and was clearly about the Summer of Love in San Francisco’s Height-Ashbury section in 1967. Aretha Franklin also became prominent with her song, “Respect”, which demanded, as the song said., respect. The Seeker’s “Georgy Girl”, a theme song from the movie, was about an ugly, gawky-looking girl who is constantly excluded from parties and datings, while her beautiful-looking roommate is always partying, dating and having an active social life. Later, Georgie’s turn comes, after she shyly and slowly makes changes in her dress and appearance.