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Grace Schwanda Appreciation of World & Western Music - MUS110.4343.F12 1 December 2012 John Lennon and Being the Son of a Lead Singer Music is an essential part of all our lives. Without it, the world would be a much duller place. Thousands of cultures all throughout history have produced endless numbers of styles and instruments, and even within those cultures, every generation seems to reinvent the old forms anew. My own family is mainly of Polish descendancy, and came to America following the Second World War. Though much of their traditional folk music had been banned by the then communist state (Humanities Web, paragraph 1), they brought much of it with them. My grand-parents and great grand-parents had been very strict Christians, labeling much of the music that would come in the years to follow in the United States, especially rock music, as “satanic.” It was this view that led my father to rebel musically, and eventually help me form the tastes I have today. It was in the late 1960’s that as a boy of ten years, my father dragged his best friend to his childhood house in Allendale, Michigan, to play with his new tape recorder. Using song parodies from the pages of a copy of Mad Magazine, and pencils and tin cans for percussion, my father began his first experiments with music. The sound was naturally crude, and the lyrics, which were undoubtedly shocking for their time, came off
Jasperse - 2. as hilariously tame to my modern ears. Nevertheless, I found them funny, if not just for the fact that I was listening to my father at a time before his voice dropped, and it reminded me a great deal of the music of Weird Al Yankovic, the iconic parody singer/songwriter that has been mocking popular music for decades. Though through the years, my father went through numerous musical phases, his main tenure in music began when he and a group of friends formed the band Electric Monk. This was the music I grew up with. Their rock nâ€™ roll sound covered a span of different styles and moods, as one would expect with three different, capable singers in the group, and with influences like Moody Blues, and Credence Clearwater Revival. On stage, they were often very theatrical. The band members would wear electric blue colored robes while they played, and often incorporated fog machines and strobe lights into their performances. My father was even known to don a mask of an elderly man with long white hair, and a flowing beard, and parade around with a wooden staff he had made himself, like Gandalf the Gray from the Lord of the Rings series. Theatricality of course, has been a longtime companion of music, and in the absence of music videos, it was a good way to create a buzz about their shows. Of his band members, Bob Daves, bass guitar player and singer, was always interested in fantasy scenarios. He would write songs about witches and warlocks, about cruising the mean streets, or the perfect woman. He might have also been the most experimental, loving to take on different personas when he sang. One minute, he would be who he was; a tall, lanky white male with a pony-tail, and the next minute, he
Jasperse - 3. would alter his pitch and tone, and become a fifty year old black man, singing the blues from his back porch. He was a vocal chameleon. The other singer of the group, Mark Daves (unrelated to Bob) was the socially conscious member of the band. His style of songwriting always seemed to involve the wars abroad, about bombs and guns, and about the less fortunate of the world. Even when he didnâ€™t have a specific issue in mind, such as the most hated politician of the day, his music was always about tolerance, and understanding, especially between men and women. The fourth member of the band was Don bright, also known as Popeye for his love of the classic character, and for the fact that he not only did Popeye impressions, but had a tattoo of him on his arm. He was the drummer of the band, and while he couldnâ€™t sing like the others, he made up for it with dedication and intensity. He also never hesitated to let me sit at his drum set, and bang away to my heartâ€™s content. Considering the cost of a new drum set, and the way I abused them as a little boy, I was lucky these guys were as patent as the were. My father, however, was probably the most versatile member of the ensemble. His lyrics were always about something different. He would sing about love, about war, about money, anything he might have seen at Wal-Mart that day that struck a nerve. His style was much more ethereal, and emotionally based. Anything he sang about could really be about anything else, so it was always a puzzle to parse it out. I learned a lot
Jasperse - 4. about poetry from him, and the other members of the band. They were not only good musicians, but all practically uncles to me. Though he had a number of prolific artists that influenced him, so inspired by the music of The Beatles was my father, that once, while on stage, an audience member commented, “who’s the Brit?” My father had spent so much time learning how to sing from the music of John Lennon, that he had inadvertently picked up his accent while singing. Even to this day, sometimes the accent still comes out when he sings one of his old tunes, while beaming into his microphone in his pole barn in Brutus, Michigan, near Mackinac City. John Lennon’s own musical career began with The Blackjacks, later renamed The Quarrymen, a band he formed in the mid-fifties with a group of classmates (The Quarrymen official website, Myth Busting). Naming their new band after the high school in which they attended, Quarry Bank High School, in Liverpool, England, this group would eventually grow to become The Beatles, possibly the most beloved and best known rock band in the world. So popular was John Lennon and The Beatles in fact, that they have sold nearly two and a half billion records, a number near one third of the Earths entire population (Statistic Brain). Their success is not only due to the talent, and creativity, but is also often attributed to the group’s ability make the audience part of the music. Satirist, writer, and graphic novelist Kurt Vonnegut once stated “I say in speeches that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit. I am then asked if I know of any artists who pulled that off. I reply, 'The Beatles did” (Good Reads).
Jasperse - 5. The influence of John Lennon has had massive effects of music ever since the Beatles hit the scene. Massively popular musicians have cited Lennon as an influence on their musical careers, including Pink Floyd, Elvis Costello, Elton John, David Bowie, Sting, and many other prolific singers and songwriters. Noel Gallagher of Manchester’s Gallagher Brothers said once of The Beatles when asked about his creative process that “It's beyond an obsession. It's an ideal for living. I don't even know how to justify it to myself. With every song that I write, I compare it to The Beatles" (BBC, paragraph 22). That isn’t even to mention the massive number of cover songs created as a salute to John, and his fellow members of The Beatles. My own musical tastes were formed primarily in the mid 90’s. While I was listening to the then modern groups like Oasis, or Nirvana, I was also exposed to the rock music of the 60’s through 80’s by my mother and father. Though they divorced when I was six, I spent time with both of them, and was exposed to both of their music. John Lennon, REO Speedwagon, and Van Halen were common when spending time with my father, while acts like Journey, Pat Benatar, and Styx were favorites of my mother while I lived with her. One of the biggest influences on all 90’s kids is of course Kurt Cobain of the band Nirvana. His music influenced a lot of my own music tastes, but one his own biggest influences was John Lennon. According to his aunt, he was singing The Beatles song “Hey Jude” at the age of two. He himself said he listened to The Beatles nearly non-stop while growing up. In one of his published journals, he cited Lennon as a hero of his. He even stated that he wrote the famous song “About a Girl” after listening to
Jasperse - 6. “Meet the Beatles” for hours. It has also been said that the form of “About a Girl” is extremely similar to The Beatles song “The Things We Said Today,” possibly an homage to the classic song (Legacy, paragraph 4). My own experiments in music were much less successful. I joined band late in elementary school, and picked up the clarinet. While it could produce beautiful sounds, I was more interested in rock back then. My music we played in music class could not hold my interest, and I soon abandoned the clarinet. Years later, I was given a guitar by my mother’s then boyfriend for my birthday. He was and old-school rock ‘n roller like my father, and thought guitar playing could be a good bonding experience between us. Like most guitars, the one he gave me was strung for right-handed people, and I was a lefty, so I had to learn to play it upsidedown. I was thrilled by it, but like the clarinet, simply didn’t have the dedication to keep with it. My interests had always leaned toward the physical arts, like drawing and painting, and after a few months, I fell away from playing it. When we listened to music, my father often invited me to dissect the songs we listened to, and approach it like an engineer. We would play games, such as changing the words around, or varying the intensity at which it was sung. Then, he we would do the same with his own music. I recall him asking my advice on a song, and I told him to darken his voice until the final line. Then, he sang it as we drove together, and he sang the entire song aloud, and after he hit the final line, he laughed like Santa Clause with how much he enjoyed the sound I had suggested to him.
Jasperse - 7. Another important aspect in the formation of my music tastes was the classical scores of the movie industry. As a child, I was a lover of both the fantasy, and science fiction genres, both major outlets for the modern, classical composers. The music of John Williams, for example, the man who wrote and conducted the music for the Star Wars films, still echoes through the back of my head on a regular basis. Given the robustness, and powerful nature of an entire symphony orchestra, classic music has been truly unique in the film business in its ability to turn a great scene, into a truly epic scene. As a lover of films growing up, and now, I’ve always appreciated the contributions classical music has made to movies. Now, as an adult, I find myself moving back to the older music. The music of the 60’s through the 90s has always stuck with me. I’m not sure if it’s just me getting older, that I can no longer relate to the modern music, but I can’t help but feel that much of modern music has lot the old soul. With a few exceptions, I find myself unable to relate to the sound, and especially the lyrics of what plays on the modern alternative rock radio stations. Though I fear that it simply that I have grown out of touch, it has had its advantage, as I have ended up reaching out to the music of other cultures, of Demark, and Germany, and Japan for a new sound. If I were listening to Three Days Grace, I might never have discovered the music of Nephew, from Denmark, or Malice Mizer and Dir en Grey of Japan. For that, I’m glad I had the chance to explore music a little more broadly. I was never the type of person that cares much for even the idea of musical genres. I also never cared for classifying music by the album it was on. I was raised on
Jasperse - 8. the radio, and mix-tapes, and my parents would excitedly flip from one track to the next. For me, it’s always been simple: I listen to a song, and I either hate it, don’t care about it, like it, or love it. I have no interest in how complicated the song is technically, or how simplistic it is. If a piece of music can speak to me, if it manages to stir emotions in me, or refines an idea or situation so well that it becomes almost an artificial emotion, then I’m sold. The legendary composer, Beethoven, wrote his music as an expression of emotion, and I’ve always followed that philosophy. If a piece of music cannot affect me emotionally, if it can’t take me to other places, then it is nothing more than a series of ordered beeps and boops. It’s of no use to me. However, if it can speak to me, and wake something up in my heart, if I can listen to the same five seconds over and over again with my ear pressed up against the speaker, just soaking up the sound, just trying to absorb it, then I’ll carry that music with me for the rest of my life.
Jasperse - 9. Citations
BBC (30 November 2001) The Beatlesâ€™ Musical Footprints. Retrieved November 25, 2012, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/1452393.stm
Good Reads, (Continually Updated) Quotes About Beatles. Retrieved November 24, 2012, http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/beatles
Humanities Web (13 January 2012) Folk Music of Poland. Retrieved November 25, 2012, http://www.humanitiesweb.org/spa/cai/ID/1651
Legacy (Febuary 2 2012) The Making of Kurt Cobain. Retrieved November 24, 2012, http://www.legacy.com/ns/news-story.aspx?t=the-making-of-kurt-cobain&id=255
Philip Norman (9 September 2012) John Lennon: The Life, Reprint Edition. Ecco.
Jasperse - 10. The Quarrymen, The Band That Became the Beatles (28 October 2012) Myth Busting! Retrieved November 27, 2012, http://www.originalquarrymen.co.uk/html/myth_busting.html
Statistic Brain (23 July 2012) The Beatles Album Sales Statistics. Retrieved November 28, 2012, http://www.statisticbrain.com/the-beatles-total-album-sales/