Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Music, music, music

I've mentioned here many times that I "used to" sing.  Music is to my life as is my skin or my hair--I was born with it, and it's just there, whether or not I'm actually listening to music or not.  (There is always a melody in my head.)  When I was in the womb, my mother's voice singing "I'll be loving you, always," and "Five-foot-two, eyes of blue" was accompanied by her heartbeat.  My sister, nine years older, was deep into the classics in her piano studies by the time I was born.  Chopin, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Brahms, Schumann, Schubert, even the Czerny exercises...all of these, plus the popular music of the day, were my aural mother's milk.

We were not an especially cultured family, nor was formal education a factor.  Neither of my parents finished high school.  It's simply that as ubiquitous as music was in the 1940s and 50s on the radio, just as is today, it was also more personal.  People made more of their own music then than we do now.  Pianos were not unexpected pieces of furniture in living rooms.  People played banjos and guitars, and house parties often ended with everybody singing songs, or indeed were held for the sole purpose of getting together to sing.  Parties at our house always ended with everybody standing around the piano, highballs in hand, singing--harmonizing--while my sister played. 

I was a kid who never gave much thought to what I would do in life.  The only overriding ambition I ever had was to get into the Peace Corps.  I did, and then it was done. At the advanced age of 27 I hadn't a real clue what was coming next, but the idea of singing for a living was always somewhere in the back of my mind. 

I had a the kind of voice that in the 1940s would have consorted well with one of the big bands--I could have been a crooner.  But my consciousness as a performer was awakened during the 60s folk era, so that was what I did.  When Joan Baez hit the scene, the die was cast.  I was completely bowled over, blown away, thunderstruck, by her entire presence. Her singing voice was indescribably beautiful, her guitar arrangements were simple but interesting (and always musical to the core), and her understated performance style allowed her songs to shine in all their ancient beauty, and the characters in them to come to life.  Her first record came out when I was a senior in high school, and I made it my business to get all her subsequent releases as soon as I possibly could after they hit the stores. I shut myself in my room with those records and my guitar until I learned all of her picks and strums.  By the time I got into the Peace Corps, I was the guy with the guitar.  I led singalongs and sang some solos, mostly Baez material.  Finally, towards the end of my time overseas, I began writing my own songs in preparation for what I had decided would be the next step, a singing career.  (Cat Stevens helped me in that decision. I had begun to see that the Baez guitar style didn't really fit with the kind of songs that were coming out of me.  Stevens's unique rhythmic strumming was the key that allowed me to compose.)

More next time.


splendid said...

oh you leaving me
on the edge of my seat!

Ralph said...

Sorry, Spendid. This is a long story and I didn't want you to have to sit there for hours....