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Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

Gray Matter: Friend's intriguing thought questions music's path

Monday, November 14, 2005

Bob Reed is one of our town's most loyal expatriates.  He and wife, Maxine, now living in Florida,  visited here a few weeks ago.  Bob's parents, Carl and Hazel, were Sheldon natives and are now buried there.  Mr. Reed, was I.C. Station Agent when Betty Simonsen, a fellow teacher, and I came to Marcus, those many years ago.  We roomed together at the Reeds. Their young son was in junior high at that time, so we go back a long way.

He is a retired professor, a retired PBS executive, and a prolific writer. He recently posted a wonderful, witty and perceptive essay on music, entitled "Will the Melody Linger On?", on the Marcus Blogspot.  I would like to share some of it with you.

Bob begins, "What's happened to the standards -- the ones that lie in the part of our hearts where old songs dwell?  Where are songs like 'As Time Goes By' and 'Dancing In The Dark' and 'I'll Be Seeing You', and so many others? In the 40's we sang them gathered around a piano, longing to be somewhere over the rainbow; or congregated on Main Street, standing on the corner watching all the girls go by, hoping one of them would begin our beguine.  Now those wonderful lyrics and melodies are mostly gone…

"For the past 50 years popular music has relied on heavy rhythm and repetitive lyrics so banal they boggle the mind. 'I want to hold your hand' -- but again and again and again? And then there's that extreme version of today's popular music -- hip hop - the lyrics of which are understandable only to those under 13 years of age.  And finally, that other genre -- shouldn't there be a "c" in front of the word rap?...        

"Standards evolved slowly through the years, beginning around 1900 when Viennese Operettas came to our shores.  Eventually the guys on Tin Pan Alley took the clothes off the Merry Widow to find out why she was so merry. Some 30 years later, Broadway's songs were broadcast on the new medium of radio...

"The big 5 -- Kern, Berlin, Gershwin, Porter and Rogers --  turned out hundreds of songs with delectable rhythmic, imaginative lyrics and inspiring melodies.  They told complex, dramatic stories with wit and charm.  They composed ballads that spoke to everyone…

"The typical A-A-B-A structure of a popular song became the way to do it.  And the most practiced writers thought if you couldn't say it in 32 bars, maybe you shouldn't be saying it at all. …Everyone in the country knew these songs.  They were on 'Your Hit Parade' every week on the radio….

"So what happened?  The downward process probably began with the demise of the Big Bands in the late '40s.  Some say it can be summed up in four words -- Elvis and The Beatles.  They began composing their own material and performing it exclusively…

"A new generation of garage bands sprang up in the '60s with guitar and drums banging away.  The guitar is pretty limited harmonically.  The songs were usually three chords and you're out."

Bob went on to ask, "Where is the 'our song' of today -- the one that says it all for two lovers in a lovely tune with memorable lyrics?  The venerable 'Embraceable You' was it for some.  A rhythm-dominated number at jet-engine level just doesn't cut it."

Now I find I just can't "cut" the rest of Bob's clever, perceptive piece to fit today's Gray Matter.  So I hope you can come back to these pages next time to hear him out.