Guest Blogger - Don in West St. Paul
They say music can change the world. The same omnipresent and anonymous "they" will also speak of a "song that changed my life."
But changing the world, or even a life, seems quite a burden to place on the shoulders of a song. Most songs, fortunately, have more modest aspirations. The best aim to convey something of the thoughts and emotions of the writer to the listener in a way that, to quote songwriter Carrie Newcomer, makes the listener say, "Yes. I know. Me too."
A piece of music, though, might change the way you listen to music. For me it happened when I was maybe 14 years old. My listening at the time was pretty much limited to whatever happened to be on the top 40 countdown of the week. I played in the school band, but the "classics" we were exposed to hadn't really sunk in. My parents were not at all musical. My father's tastes ran the full gamut from Mantovani to 101 Strings (though he was enamored of the wordplay of Gilbert and Sullivan, and I am forever grateful to him for that). I don't recall my mother ever listening to much at all. In other words, there was nothing to lead an observer to believe that I would become the avid listening, concert-going, record-collecting enthusiast (my word) or raving fanatic (other's words) I have since become.
On the fateful evening my parents were watching "60 Minutes." I didn't care much for the show at that time, but I just happened to walk by the TV as they began a story about the record business. They were following a recording from the studio to production, marketing, and, ultimately, the store. And in a particularly wonderful happenstance, the record they were following was not "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy, I've Got Love in my Tummy" but "Whose Garden Was This?" by Tom Paxton.
Whose garden was this?
It must have been lovely.
Did it have flowers?
I've seen pictures of flowers,
And I'd love to have smelled one.
It stopped me dead in my tracks. I didn't know that songs like this existed, that they could have words that meant something and that these words could be enhanced by a sensitive melody that made me say, "Yes. I know. Me too."
(My actual thought process was more like, "Hey, cool." I was 14. Cut me some slack.)
A week or so later, I was being dragged by my mother through a J.C. Penney's store in Syosset, New York. To relieve my boredom, I wandered over to a very small record display, and there sat Tom Paxton's new album "6," and the first track was "Whose Garden Was This?" My fate was sealed. I made the purchase, and here I am, some 1500 albums later (still including my treasured copy of "6") writing a guest blog for a roots music program and wondering what would have happened if 60 Minutes had chosen to feature 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" instead.
I bring this up because most people never get beyond the "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy" of their generation. But Radio Heartlanders are obviously different. We march to the beat of a different 12 string guitar.
So what was it for you? Was there a song, or an artist, who changed the way you listen? Did others have a Paxton-like epiphany? Did your tastes change more gradually? Or were you born with a banjo in your cradle? Let's come up with a list of music that, if it didn't change the world, at least left some lasting mark on us.
Don - I love Whose Garden is This. Thanks so much for the link for some early morning listening. Like many of my age, I played a little guitar when I was younger and fully immersed myself in the folks songs of the age. I remember loving "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" by Pete Seeger. It seemed a perfect commentary on where the war in Vietnam was leading us.
My late-life epiphany was "Holy Now" by Peter Mayer. The first day I heard it I went out and bought the CD. Then I played it over and over again in my car so I could learn all the words. It can play 3.5 times between my house and office!
Thanks for blogging for us today, Don!
thanks, Don - wonderful description of your growth in music. i've always loved most music but i am a very lazy listener. i don't buy discs and i listen to the radio in the car. but the main "me too" has been the eclectic menu of first the Morning Show and then RH. that's why losing to HD (with no service up here) has been such a strain. i can't just lazily turn on the radio and hear the music i love. Don, hearing a throat singer do "Inna Gada Da Vida" can also be life changing! when i hear it i say "Yeah! Me too!"
Well, I think it was rock and roll played on radio stations in the 50s that got me started. This was really great music, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, and many others.
Then there was going to the record store and finding some other interesting things, such as a record by Harry Belefonte with his versions of music by many great blues musicans. Also, recordings by The Kinston Trio and similar groups lead to an interest in folk music.
Books from the library, mainly one by Alan Lomax, educated me and I started reading Downbeat Magazine to learm about Jazz. A friend turned me on to old time music and blue grass.
One of the first songs I remember hearing and loving was "Good Night, Irene" by the Weavers...then cowboy songs by Eddie Arnold and the Sons of the Pioneers...then Tchaikovsky's piano concerto played by Van Cliburn...Judy Collins' Wandering Aengus...Lightnin' Hopkins, Mississippi John Hurt, Geoff Muldaur...the list goes on...Bok, Trickett and Muir's Turning Toward November...okay,the list goes on and on.
Thanks for making me remember them and the list will go on and on in my mind. And will include Tom Paxton, of course.
This brings to mind for me a brief time span around 1968 and 1969, when it seemed there was a seismic shift in the sensibility of music that was presented on the radio. I was about ten years old at the time and had just received a little transistor radio as a gift, and all sorts of wondrous and creative sounds spilled out of it daily. When Janis Joplin sang "Piece of My Heart", I wasn't sure if that was really a woman's voice at first - before Janis, women sang like Petula Clark.
Most of all, though, I remember I was riveted by "The Weight" -
I picked up my bag,
I went lookin' for a place to hide;
When I saw Carmen and the Devil
walkin' side by side.
I said, "Hey, Carmen,
come on, let's go downtown."
She said, "I gotta go,
but my friend can stick around."
I was astonished, mystified, fascinated. I wanted more.
I grew up in a house with eclectic music, so I think I was destined to be an RH listener. Dinner music at our house ranged from Bach to Simon and Garfunkel to Dave Brubeck. My big brother introduced me to 1910 Fruitgum (of "Yummy Yummy Yummy I Got Love in My Tummy" fame, as I recall) as well as The Beatles, Gordon Lightfoot and an assortment of others. I found my way across the radio dial taking in Cyndi Lauper and Bonnie Raiitt and Judy Collins and Aretha Franklin (and, yes, "The Weight and Janis, too - Like you said, Linda, fascinating and wonderful).
Was there one song? Probably not. But The Beatles showed me how one band can have so many different sounds - and that perhaps taught me that a good musician is about more than one song and good music comes in all sorts of flavors.
Fall '63 went off to the University of Chicago from the backwoods (literally) of NE MN. I was required to take Humanities, which there was a survey of the arts at a pretty deep level. Discovered painting at the Chicago Art Institute, architecture on campus, and music started with Brahms Tragic Overture. It was the fact that there was the tight structure of the piece, the technical elements, and the expression of an emotion that I was feeling coming through all of that.
Music has been a constant for me all my life. All my brothers and sisters play an instrument or sing in a choral group or both - and virtually all my cousins are involved in music, too. Mom listened to the opera on Sat afternoons, but made sure we saw were exposed to folk music, as well. Church also played a very large part in forming and filling my musical tastes. My children and grandchildren ae also under the spell of all types of music.
One wonderful 'aha' moment that I observed in my kids was their reaction to the music from "O Brother, Where Art Thou?". That disc was played continuously for weeks!
And yes, the kids grew up under the music tutelage of Dale and Jim Ed on The Morning Show for their entire young lives - so I guess thier indoctrination is complete!
I credit my big mean brother for the start of my musical awakening. Mom gave him permission to join Columbia Record Club and we all got to pick an album. I chose Leslie Gore's Greatest Hits because I loved her Sunshine, Lollipops & Rainbows. I was maybe 10. A few years later, I joined my own club. I think it was Record Club of America - you didn't have to buy more than 5 or 6 a year and they didn't send those monthly nuisance selections. Two of my favorites were Elton John's, Honky Chateau, and Carole King's, Tapestry. Finding The Morning Show was an epiphany. I had no idea that so many artists and styles existed. Now, I just love it all and look forward to each day's programming. Long Live Radio Heartland and all its counterparts! (Would Jasper ever consider playing Earth, Wind & Fire's, September?)
Thanks for the tantalizing entry, Don.
Linda - The Weight still stops me in my tracks.
Barb - Until I got to know you, I thought throat singing was strange.
DUDE! Way Cool Blog entry!
My parents were more the polka type people and Dad liked nothing better than finding polka music on the radio while we milked cows... made me crazy. But that idea of 'music-while-you-worked' certainly made an influence on me because I always have music going. I joke that I do what I do just so I can listen to music.
I have a memory of the local AM radio station KWEB playing 'Knock Three Times' by Tony Orlando and Dawn-- and I certainly hope that didn't form my musical basis but it's an early song I remember for whatever reason. And Bugs Bunny taught me about classical music.
Then my big brother; whatever he was listening too I loved. That would have been in the 70's so Alan Parsons, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Jethro Tull... not much of the Beatles though... and then I found The Morning show and here we are...
Wow, what a great blog this morning! I grew up with classical, Broadway & opera, and then the top 40. When I was 14, an early boyfriend opened it up with Peter Paul and Mary records, Smothers Brothers :), Brothers Four, Kingston Trio... I was hooked on folk, got the guitar and learned to chord. Hate to admit it, but Little Sister got me into rock opera, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, Mothers of Invention et al. The morning show rounded it out.
Thanks Don for the trip down memory lane.
Please excuse this post if there are typos. I went in for my glaucoma check this morning and they dilated my eyes like crazy. So, O'm still working on seeing clearly at this distance.
So, we're looking for one of those "Ah-ha!" moments with respect to music. Hm. Y'know, I have had so many through my life...and continue to. Because when I hear something that's new that speaks to me, it's another my soblings were so much older than I am, I was "into" pop music at an early age because it was what they were listening to. When my brothers/sister bought music, they seemed to buy a lot of those K-Tel compilation albums.
When I started going to school, my folks gave me a clock radio. So I used to go to sleep with the 'snooze' function playing WEBC 560 AM in Duluth playing the top 40 stuff.
I remember one "Ah-ha!" was when Dale & Jim Ed played "All Soul's Night" by Loreena McKennitt. I was absolutely stunned and had to get the CD -that day.-
I guess, for me, most songs has the potential to be an "Ah-ha" type because they each are their own little world...their own work of art. Whether or not that response happens depends on a lot of variables.
GREAT TOPIC INDEED.......
For me this topic is so filled with possibilities……where do I begin and even better how do I stop?
For starters, it was musicals (movies) that my Mother would take me to, 2 songs that stood out for me were “Happy Talk” from Flower Drum Song and “I Won’t Grow Up” by Mary Martin, not a movie but I saw Peter Pan on TV. Then I got the Mary Poppins Soundtrack for Christmas the year it came out (1964?) and played it non-stop!
Next, when I started buying my own records, it was Elton John, Carol King, Simon & Garfunkel, Todd Rundgren, Moody Blues. I always enjoyed the “deeper tracks” more than the radio hits on these records.
Then I met Bill and was introduced to Folk & Blues….Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Tom Waits…etc.
Then I got a job in a record store and was introduced to Richard Thompson, Elvis Costello, Kate Bush, Warren Zevon, Tim & Neil Finn, like I said I can’t stop…the list goes on and on because it keeps getting added to.
We just got our first Townes Van Zant, Chris Smither, & Peter Mulvey….so much music and so little time.
Ben - my uncles ALL played polka music while milking also! KNUJ from New Ulm (JUNK spelled backwards we all said :-)
but now, when i milk the goats i can't get RH and i can't get polka either. so it's classical MPR - soothing i suppose, but no "feet can't stop me now" from RH or "she's too fat for me" polka to dance to and freak out the goats. i tried all kinds of stations on the goats - they tolerate most of them but walked out on the rap. they don't seem to like talk radio and i suppose rap was too close to talking. when will we get all bleat radio?? they wonder.
Greetings! Sorry, I had to work all day, so I'm just getting on now. Very nice piece, Don. While I enjoy music tremendously, I am a lazy listener. I rarely catch words or nuances of songs, but when I do it's usually stunning. I don't buy CDs or tapes or anything -- never have.
Finding MPR, The Morning Show and now RH is my record collection. Being a kinesthetic person, I'm more attracted to rhythm, harmony and feeling than grasping words and meaning. When I was younger, we sang in church and I was also in Sweet Adelines -- LOVE those close a capella and barbershop harmonies. I remember loving the Beatles and Seals & Crofts growing up.
My 14-year old son is very musically talented with only 18 months of piano lessons and band in school. Of course, he's into the heavy metal/hard rock, but I know he listens and (seems to) enjoy my music as well.
I had gotten off work at Hardees back in ‘73, and walking in the front door, caught the opening harmonica solo of the fourth song of Neil Young’s Harvest album, which my older brother had just bought. I’d heard the song a couple of times on the radio, and liked it all right, but couldn’t figure out the next song that asked me if I was “ready for the country” or some such thing. A few of this Neil guy’s songs were okay, but some were so loose, so strange, that it sort of scared me. Then my brother put on Cinnamon Girl, the opening cut from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, and I became even more ambivalent. He takes nine minutes to shoot his baby down by the river, and then it takes him ten minutes to ask if her band had begun to rust, whatever that means. This music was so simplistic, so raw, man was my brother a fool to pay seven dollars to get this mess.
Then a couple of days later, when no one else was home, for some reason I didn’t understand, I dropped the needle and listened to it all over again, and again, and again. That was my first lesson that “it’s in your heart, not your head,” a lesson I’m still sort of figuring out.
Thanks Don...what a good essay. Freewheelin' Bob Dylan Talking World War Three Blues was the moment for me!
PS. But Mahler's Third Symphony made me fall in love with my husband!
Great essay Don! Freewheeln' Bob Dylan album changed my life...specifically Talking World War Three Blues....in 1963..but it was Mahler's Third Symphony..Third movement...that made me fall in love.