Thinking Out Loud

June 6, 2017

One Album: A Half Century Later

Filed under: Christianity, music — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:04 am

…He lost his life out on the street
He hadn’t noticed that the times had changed…

It was a very hastily written update of the song A Day in the Life written to be performed at our church coffee house in the wake of John Lennon’s death. Somehow I often landed the performance slot on the Friday night following some major events. The explosion of the Challenger space shuttle was another. I wish I could go back and redo those nights. I was a musician first and a youth pastor second, and it should have been the other way around. I think our friend Craig actually came up with the lines remembered above.

But all that came later. I’m getting ahead of myself…

Even though many other things that happened at that age are a bit of blur, I remember this one with great clarity. We had been to Sunday School and Church in the morning and drove directly to my Aunt Stella and Uncle Dave’s house for the afternoon. I was still in my little boy suit with the white shirt and clip-on tie. Arriving at their home, my four cousins were all in t-shirts and jeans. I had no clothes to change into.

They were older and had been to the record store to get the album. “We got the album;” people would say the next week, and you knew they meant that album. There was no other album.

When I was older and got my own copy I would listen to it through headphones with the volume turned up high. One time I didn’t realize my parents had gone out, and I sat in the basement in complete darkness and one of my friends dropped in; saw that the house was unlocked but noted the glow of the rather large VU meters on my oversize stereo system. He called my name from the door of the basement, but I didn’t hear. So he put his hands on my shoulder. I screamed like a girl. He said I jumped about a foot in the air.

But all that came later. I’m getting ahead of myself…

So there I was with my cousins, and without the benefit of headphones or anything close to what I would have considered ideal volume, the album was on continuous play all afternoon, with the exception of course of changing it from Side 1 to Side 2.  “We’re Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; we hope you will enjoy the show.”

Before I got married, I did a camp show; traveling to Christian summer camps and doing a mix of bad comedy and music.

What would do if your cow would not moo?
And your turkey refuses to gobble?
Where do you go when your rooster won’t crow?
And you can’t get your duck to waddle?

Oh, I get by with a little help from my hens.

Ah, Beatles songs. Parodied endlessly, I’m sure. The highest form of flattery, as they say.

But all that came later, I’m getting ahead of myself…

So I’m at my cousins’ house and I’m just a kid, so I’m not thinking that Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds is about drugs, but I do have a sense that somebody might have been taking something when they wrote it. I’m Fixing a Hole. When I’m Sixty-Four. Lovely Rita… I had to ask questions about the job of a “meter maid” and what is “a hogshead of real fire” and as a kid try to figure out the logic of, “It really doesn’t matter if I’m wrong I’m right.”

Later Joe Cocker would sing A Little Help from my Friends and it would be used as the introduction to The Wonder Years and we’d all be a bit older and look back and realize those really were the wonder years, but not anywhere like we’re looking back now and typing this with a tear in one eye.

But all that came later, I’m getting ahead of myself…

So I sat uncomfortably in my grey wool pants and tweed jacket and white shirt buttoned to the neck with my clip-on tie partially falling off, and the music was a soundtrack to the afternoon, to the snacks, to my Aunt Stella’s glasses of ginger ale, to my Uncle Dave stretched out on the entire sofa watching a football game with the sound turned off, while cats and dogs came and left the room and the album just playing over and over. It was the music of our times, with Wikipedia noting that one critic called She’s Leaving Home “equal to any song that Schubert ever wrote.” 

And my cousins never left the room. Taking turns holding the 12″ record’s jacket and liner and reading every word as though it imparted some supernatural or spiritual message. They passed the album cover to me and I looked at it and though my record collection at that point was more children’s music, novelty albums and hymn collections; I knew I wanted a copy. In my mind I was saying, ‘I will own you someday.’

…Music changed significantly with that album. Pop music’s unit of currency became the album, not the single. Production values increased geometrically. Songwriting for all bands of that era moved from “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah” to more complex themes with both historic and pop culture references. It matured and held out the promise of even better music tomorrow.

A splendid time was guaranteed for all.

 

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June 24, 2014

Radio is No Longer About the Music

When I was in the 6th grade, I had pretty well solidified my career goal: To work in the television industry. Not in front of the camera, or even operating a camera, but in the control room or behind the scenes. Later on, this objective widened to include radio; an industry where you were both host and producer of what people heard. I’ve been told many times I have a great face for radio.

I realize that in 2014 radio is not the primary delivery method by which people are exposed to new music. There is always someone who has heard of a new music channel available for phone or laptop. But I miss those old days, and I especially miss listening to the announcers talk — what was called patter — between songs. I still go on YouTube and look up airchecks some of the original rock stations that were part of my growing up, WLS-Chicago, WNBC-New York, WOWO-Fort Wayne, WLW-Charlotte, CKLW-Detroit/Windsor, WKBW-Buffalo, WCFL-Chicago, WABC-New York, WXYZ-Detroit and some of the stations in Miami and greater Los Angeles I got to know later on.

radio-towerI love listening to the DJs talk. The cadence, the rhythm, the emphasis, the seemingly endless passion. “Be the sixth caller when you hear the secret sound and you win one-hundred dollars.” My goodness. A hundred bucks. Just for calling in. (Later, I would be such a lucky caller, and won a small sailboat, but that’s another story.)

Back then, the deejays talked about the songs. The singers. The album the song was from. The studio it was recorded in. The fact they were touring and doing shows in Dayton and Cincinnati and Lansing and Bowling Green, Kentucky. I got out the atlas to find those cities. There was a song about Bowling Green and I loved the name and wanted to go there. My friends said I was a walking encyclopedia when it came to music, and much of what I knew, I knew from listening to the guys — and it was always guys back then — on the radio. Some announcers picked all their own music, too — it was the days before everything was formatted in a highrise in Nashville — and it helped that they had a love for what they were playing.

What sparked all these memories was something that happened a few days ago as we were driving home and had the radio on in the car. I realized that the DJ wasn’t talking about the albums, the songs, the music at all. One singer just got married. Another was divorcing. Two of the guys in this band were gay. Two of the girls in that band were living with two actors who were starring in a current film. Another singer is suing his neighbor. Yet another is involved in a custody suit with his ex-partner for custody of their child.

I recognize that people want their radio announcers to seem close to the stars; they want to feel that the guy playing the music is just two or three degrees of separation away from the artists he or she is playing; or that they actually met backstage at a concert or at an in-studio appearance at the station. People want to think they have a sense of intimacy to their music heroes, and today opportunities exist whereby you can, in fact, send a note to a celebrity and get an actual, personal reply. Not often but it happens.

As we kept driving, I tried to find some common interest in all the marriages and breakups and shacking up, but failed to see how this was anymore relevant to the music than the relationship status of the guy who had just changed the oil on the car, or the woman who had rung in our groceries. Just as sure as water seeks its lowest level, radio had succumbed and now could only reflect the shallowness of the broader culture. Studios? Songwriters? You’d have to read the credits, but they are buried in one-point type in the booklet that comes with the CD, if you ever actually see a physical disc for that artist at all.

Decades ago Time Magazine did a piece when “rock ‘n roll” was emerging and observed that while outwardly this was music that highlighted drums and guitars, it was more than that; it was about the clothing and the hairstyles and the attitudes. Rock culture was born. Teens put pictures of their idols on their bedroom walls. I realize that is a fact of life where music is concerned, but it strikes me that today’s kids are missing out if they listen to radio at all, or whatever is the modern equivalent for the distribution of information about the songs and the artists. It’s all about who is having sex with who.

In my younger days, I would watch Entertainment Tonight. The show was all about the movie, TV, music and publishing industries. They showed how the stunts happen, how the songs get recorded, how the contestants get on the game shows. Today, ET has morphed into a celebrity gossip show and spawned a host of imitators. Talent has been replaced by looking good.

Some parents point their kids toward Christian radio as an alternative. It’s supposed to be safe. But even there, many times the DJ patter is borrowed from Facebook and gets preoccupied with the relationships between the band members, or the number of awards that singer has received, or the fact she gets her clothing from the same designer who does more famous people. How about, “This song is based on a phrase that occurs in Psalms;” or “This group takes there name from a verse in Jeremiah;” or “This song is about a woman who was a faith hero from back in the middle ages.” Maybe those songs don’t exist anymore, either.

I have no conclusion here. Tag me under #lament. I just wish things were different both for Christian radio and the broader market, because last time I checked, radio is still out there, cars still come equipped with them, and satellite providers still include a cross-section of radio stations in their basic packages.

 

 

January 4, 2011

Pattie Mallette: Behind Every Great Teen Sensation…

Don’t worry if you don’t have a clue who Pattie Malette is, but chances are greater you’ve heard of her son, Justin Bieber. The Biebster is everywhere right now; his name being used to attract readers to all types of text media, and his image being used to do the same for visual media. I almost hesitate to mention him by name here.

But it’s not the first time. On November 24th, J.B. was mentioned twice in this blog’s Wednesday Link List.

  • The blog On The Fence With Jesus, where a skeptical screenwriter and a Christian pastor discuss faith, asks the musical (pop music) question, Is Justin Bieber Really Religious?
  • Bieber also talked about how his faith keeps him grounded in the madness of Hollywood and celebrity. He told the AP[Associated Press], ‘Like, I’m a Christian, I believe in God, I believe that Jesus died on a cross for my sins. I believe that I have a relationship and I’m able to talk to him and really, he’s the reason I’m here, so I definitely have to remember that. As soon as I start forgetting, I’ve got to click back and be like, you know, this is why I’m here.’”

Around the same time as Justin’s faith background became more public, the blog Bene Diction Blogs On ran a link to a Huntley Street interview with mom Pattie. The clip was from an interview done prior to the family move to Atlanta, and before Justin’s career had broken wide open, and it was therefore focused on Pattie’s story.

Justin was invited on set about a minute before the interview ended and didn’t get to say anything. If you know anything about the history of Canada’s daily Christian talk show, you know that historically it’s not unusual for them to have a guest and not let the guest get a word in edgewise. But I digress, and the day was about his mom’s personal story. But it means that technically speaking, Justin was on Canada’s faith-based television show, and it’s a video clip that his fan sites can never get enough of. I often wonder how many people have heard Pattie’s testimony as a result. The first of the four main interview clips is now up to over 46,000 views.

Then there was a Toronto Star cover story — Saturday issue, no less; in Canada the ‘big’ newspaper day is Saturday, not Sunday — prior to Justin’s Air Canada Centre concert and appearance on CBC Television with The Canadian Tenors where a reporter went to great lengths to tell the world what a polite, well-mannered and caring guy J.B. is. Character does count, and when a stagehand suffered a minor injury and Justin stopped what he was doing to make sure the worker was okay, the reporter noticed.

One my personal fears is that Justin might not be able to handle the fame and go the way of Miley Cyrus or Avril Lavigne, both of whom were raised by Christian parents, but both now living a life that obscures that background. Sure enough, mid-October, there was a story that said Pattie had hired a lawyer after only learning through the media that a book was in the works with HarperCollins.   And on the last day of the year, CTV News had an extended piece speculating as to how Justin would manage his career and personal life now that he is turning 17; a piece asking the questions many are thinking but afraid to ask out loud.

When Christmas rolled around, I couldn’t help but wonder if I dared repeat my usual blog post on the subject of the endless list of Cliff Richard‘s Christmas songs. I then connected the dots and realized that if I ever had the chance to speak to Pattie Mallette (or Justin himself) I would say this:  Get your hands on a copy of a biography of the early career of 1960s UK pop sensation Cliff Richard;  an example of someone who enjoyed amazing music industry success — even though he’s not as known on this side of the Atlantic — and maintained a strong Christian identity at the same time as his chart-topping hits.

Or better yet, a more recent example, consider Adam Young, who records as Owl City, and had hit with “10,000 Fireflies.” On his blog he writes:

As I’m so often reminded what a priceless gift my life is, I ache with everything in me to make it count, so that when I finally cross the finish line, I’ll hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

To me, there is no greater reward.

Of course, all of this weighs heavily on the spiritual scale, so allow me to be completely honest and say none of it is intended to be “crammed down the throat,” if you will. That is not my intention. This is what I wholeheartedly believe, and to that belief, I remain steadfast until He returns or calls me home.

One thing is certain:

When He comes for His own, He will have no trouble recognizing me… because my banner will be clear.

Young wrote that at the same time he recorded an off-album version of “In Christ Alone.”  But there is actually a worship song on his hit album too. In Meteor Shower he sings, “I am not my own; I have been made new…”

It can be done.

As I write this, I’ve clicked back to Pattie’s 100 Huntley interview. Hers was a life of stress, abuse and tragedy.  She has come so far, and learned so much. I think her potential influence in Justin’s life at this critical time can be so crucial to where his story goes. I can only end this the way the Huntley Street interview ended, encouraging you to pray for this family. Maybe some day I’ll learn why I was led to post this at this particular time.

August 2, 2009

Father/Son Relationships

Dan Hill - bookThis weekend, I’m doing something a little different.   My world normally consists entirely of reading and evaluating books that will be sold in the Christian book market.   This weekend, I’m reading I Am My Father’s Son by Dan Hill, a singer-songwriter who was inescapable here in Canada in the late ’70s and early ’80s; and whose songs (Sometimes When We Touch; You Make Me Want To Be; etc.) have been recorded by artists around the world.

Is this book biography or autobiography?    Hill masterfully manages to do both at once.   He tells the story of the constant tension between himself and his father against the backdrop of the story of his own success in the music industry.   But he tells much of his father’s story as well.   Honestly, I’ve never read a book quite like this; a book which manages to successfully carry out several different objectives.

Dr. Daniel Hill III is a name known to Canadians for his groundbreaking work in the area of human rights.   As a black scholar with an earned PhD in Sociology, he forged new territory in Canada in the 1960s; both easy and hard to do in a place where racism was more subtle than in the U.S.

But it’s the younger Dan Hill — that would make him # IV — whose story I have tracked throughout reading the book, for one very personal reason:  We went to high school together and Dan was a good friend with my next door neighbor.    (Though, I have to note, that even this story has a Christian element to it, as Daniel Hill’s father — Dan’s grandfather — was a pastor who went on become Dean of the School of Religion at Howard University in Washington, D.C.)

The book takes us into the living room and kitchen of the Hills home in Don Mills, and invites us, like the proverbial guest at Thanksgiving, to be part of the debate atmosphere that characterizes the senior Hill’s interactions with his oldest son.  To many readers, these scenes are all too familiar.

As most men will attest, the main subject of this book, the relationship between fathers and sons, is a theme that forms the underpinnings of many a man’s life.   We men are all shaped by our fathers in more ways than any of us would want to admit.   Many of us men end up becoming like our fathers in ways we never imagined.

When it comes to defining that, Dan Hill nails it.

.

The book is available in Canada from HarperCollins and in the U.S. by special order with the publisher.


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