Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Music in My Life.

     It's tough to name a blog on music without making it sound like a tag line for a radio station.  The music you remember, the music of your life, the music that rocked the world, it all sounds hokey, but I still wanted to do a blog on my musical influences, which is interesting, because I have no musical training or ability and cannot, in fact, even read music.  So for me, it's about appreciating what others create from a position very close to pure ignorance.

Look at Goosey's bling.
     The first music or songs that I remember, like for most people, come from childhood nursery rhymes and games.   Ring around the Rosy, London Bridges, Goosey, Goosey Gander,  Red Rover Red Rover, Miss Suzie had a Baby, and a whole lot more.
These are those catchy little ditties that stick in your head, and are fun to sing.  You don't really want to think about what you are singing in most of these, as they have their roots in some dark places. Ring around the Rosy is about the plague, London Bridge is about urban decay, Goosey Goosey Gander is possibly about prostitutes, and if you don't think child services should have called on Miss Suzie a long time ago, you can't babysit my kids (I mean seriously, I know single parenting can be hard, but can you get to the baby before he tries to fit the bathtub in his throat?  The soap, I get.). 

     The next musical influences in my life come from the three places I spent the most time, in school, in front of a TV, and in church.  I loved chorus in school, although I cannot sing well.  I squeaked along with my class and hoped that my caterwauling would go unnoticed by my peers.
Sister Benedicta taught me the likes of Don Gato the cat, and Old Paint who was leaving Cheyenne, and there was a song we sang about ships that I liked, but can no longer remember.  I remember that I liked it because it had a part in it, that I would lower my voice and sing like my Dad, and it made me feel so grown up to do it.  Feel free to comment on it, if you remember it, because now it's driving me nuts that I can't remember it.  Church had some songs like that too.  Be forewarned, I still sing Amazing Grace that way, if you sit near me.  I liked to end mass with "Go tell it on the Mountain" or "Go Forth" (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, heard good news so they passed it on...)  I still kind of get excited when I see the numbers for those songs on the end of the songboard. I'm easily excited though, just ask my wife.  I could fill a few paragraphs with the songs or openings to TV shows from back then, that I remember, but I bet most of you could too.  They were designed for us to remember, and hey, they worked!  Who doesn't remember the tune to Bonanza?  You are doing it now aren't you? I can do the entire theme to Gilligan's Island
still, and amazingly can remember the chorus to Flipper.  I can't hear the words Sanford and Son without it's funky theme popping into my head.  It's usually followed by the theme from the Jeffersons (Well, we're moving on upppp!), which probably means I'm a closet racist, but I'll bet some of you are already humming the theme from Good Times, so you are too (I would have accepted Fat Albert and Shaft as well).  If you thought of the theme from the Mod Squad, you are probably only a 33% closet racist.  I was sure I was going to name a kid "Link" when I was 10, and dead certain that Clarence Williams the I and II, must have been pretty cool too, to produce Clarence Williams III, but I digress.  My favorite TV Theme song from that era is probably the theme to "Welcome Back Kotter" and from later shows, MASH and Cheers.  A lot of folks don't think of these as music or art, but if they stick with you and evoke emotion, so many years later, how can they not be?  A quick test would be to think of an actor and see how many theme songs you can remember of the shows they were in and if the theme songs make you feel different emotions.  If I think of Bill Bixby, I immediately hear the song from the Courtship of Eddie's Father or maybe the closing music from every Incredible Hulk episode (If you thought of My Favorite Martian, you are probably old and obsolete, sorry).  Try a couple of others, how about Michael Landon, or Mary Tyler Moore?  Fun, isn't it?  I think that I made my point.

     My next musical influence took me far outside of the mainstream.  I blame my parents.  You see, they sent me to bed way too early on Sunday nights, so how could I not curl up with a transistor radio and listen?  It was there that I discovered Dr. Demento and his 2 hour radio show dedicated to offbeat and zany songs from a huge library of music. I, in fact, first heard the song that I use as the blog's theme song, "I Love Onions" on his show.   If you want to hear it, go to my complete profile, and play the audio clip that is attached there.  My
Sunday nights were  replete with zany music like Fish Heads, Dead Puppies, My Bologna, Pencil-necked Geek, The Battle of New Orleans, Shaving Cream, The Lumberjack Song, Making Love in a Subaru, and countless others.  For those that never heard the show on the Westwood One radio network, I'll bet you've still heard some of the songs or artists that were played or inspired by Dr. Demento. He is credited with launching the career of Weird Al Yankovic, and he is still relevant today.  My Scouts like to sing his Amish Paradise on the way to outings, but they weren't born yet, when Weird Al was playing his first parodies like Another One Rides the Bus, I Love Rocky Road, or even Yoda (I heard this song on Dr. Demento in 1980, but it wasn't released on an album until 5 years later due to restricted permission from George Lucas).  Dr Demento taught me an appreciation for music that came from all era's and formats, and that it didn't have to be mainstream to be enjoyed.  All through my life, after this, I liked a wide variety of music.

    I happened to grow up in one of the most influential rock decades of all time, the 70's, and although I wasn't exclusive to this type of music, I couldn't help but be a fan.  How can you debate the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Eagles, Aerosmith, Billy Joel, Don McLean, Led Zeppelin,and of course Queen.
NYC show circa 2004
I was told several times that I had a likeness to Freddie Mercury, so I actually did one Halloween-themed trade show, years ago, in NYC, dressed as Freddie.  I had a white silky shirt with an open chest, red leather pants, a chain belt and flattop red sneakers.  I didn't even get a look navigating my way in Manhattan to the show, and wasn't entirely sure I could pull it off, until I got to the show.  Before I reached my booth that was adorned with Freddie posters and playing Queen music, another sales rep pulled me aside and stated, "Yarger, no offense, but you look just like that f*g, Freddie Mercury".   Success!  See the picture and tell me what you think.

     Back to the story, the 70's quickly gave way to the 80's and now that I was in High School, I started listening to the more popular groups like Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, Journey, Rush, Def Leppard and of course Michael Jackson.  He owned that decade and his 14 minute Thriller video is forever ingrained in my mind. We seemed to listen to a lot of local bands too, I remember using fake ID's to get into a Duke Jupiter concert at the Pier 9. The rumor, that summer, was that they were going to shoot their "This is Japan" in the Japanese garden at Sonnenberg Gardens, but I don't think they ever did.  I remember a great performance of the Good Rats at the Penny Arcade (Cuz, your face could stop a clock, I'll call you Coo Coo Coo...) I worked at Papa Frank's back then, and would spend a fair amount of my money on the jukebox each night.  I was shopping yesterday and I heard Eddie Rabbitt's "I love a rainy night" and it brought me instantly back to that machine.  Olivia Newton John's "Please Mr. Please." will do the same thing.  I saw her in concert about 10 years ago, and she looked fantastic (insert Australian expression for "I wouldn't kick her out of bed for eating crackers" here). A high school teacher of mine, Frank Meyer introduced me to some unique artists at that time too, like John Prine.  I still get out to hear Frank and his partner play often.  As a matter of fact, I plan on spending St. Paddy's day with them this year at Buffalo Bill's in Shortsville. It promises to be a good time.

     I started dating my wife about this time, and we started investing in albums together.  We both had extensive collections of 45's of our own, but now would pool our money and buy the album.  Our first shared purchase was Simon and Garfunkel's concert in Central Park.  I'm a fan still.  Mentally flipping through them
now, I see Loverboy, Madonna, Peter Gabriel, Men at Work, the Beatles more than once, Styx, Bread, Lionel Richie, and the list goes on.  The 80's wasn't a bad decade either.  We discovered 3 Dog Night during this time, and went to see them at a few places.  On the subject of concerts, I was never a huge fan of the large ones, but I love an intimate experience.  One time in Lake Tahoe, Char and I went to Ringo Starr and his All Star band in a 750 person venue, and actually did a sing along to Yellow Submarine. That was memorable.  I took my boom box with me from Papa Franks to the factory I worked in, in Canandaigua, and I filled the 12 hour shifts cranking up the tunes next to my injection molding machine.  I loved the Saturday night oldies show, and when I got my job selling food to restaurants, that was the format that I preferred.  To this day, I am tough to beat in a trivia game on 50's and 60's artists.  Driving home yesterday I heard the song "96 Tears" by a one hit wonder and named the group in 3 notes. Can you?  (No Googling) Some credit this song with starting the Punk Rock movement. 

     I have my family to keep me up on newer artists, as my wife is a Top 40's listener, and my kids have very eclectic music tastes.  Unlike my wife and I, they all have taken music lessons and each of them has a good singing voice, believe it or not.  I know I didn't at first, I had to be convinced.  It must be one of those two negatives makes a positive things.  Two out of three have sung on stage so far, and in a month I'll be able to say 3/3.  My daughter added the first country songs to my Ipod, but they brought back memories of the Country music my Dad used to listen to, Patsy Cline, Buck Owens, Johnny Cash (brings back memories of singing Mean Eyed Cat with my sisters) and Hank Williams.  Think that's eclectic?  I still use the Lawrence Welk theme song to help me sleep if I struggle (sleep patterns are learned early and my bedtime was right after Lawrence Welk).  Speaking of eclectic, if you ever have a chance to go to a party that my brother Ace and I cater, you can hear some of our picks, as we always play music when we work. So I hope you have enjoyed the trek through my eclectic musical influences.   I'll close this blog, with Mama Cass singing California Dreaming, because as we all know, it's not really over until the fat lady sings.


Denise said...

Ever notice how Mama Cass looks like a guy in drag?
Thanks for the memories Bill I think music is a big pat of many peoples lives especially as a teenager!!

Roberta said...

XM radio 70's...

cdyarger said...

This may have been my favorite blog!! I love music and I am so glad all of our children have such an appreciation of it! This brought back such memories!

Regina said...

Red leather pants, just wrong... so wrong... the music part I liked... when Jay and I were on the cruise ship they played a music trivia game and played theme songs from popular TV shows... out of 40, Jay and I got about 35 right... they played the Mash, Cheers, Happy Days, Friends,etc theme songs... you are right, they stay in your head... and now you in these red pants... this will forever stay in my head!