A few weeks ago, the world of entertainment lost legendary rocker Little Richard, and this this week Charlie Daniels joined him in the great rock’n’roll beyond. Also the other day, Beatle Ringo Starr turned 80, an age with which I am intimately familiar.
Great balls of fire! The times they are a-changing.
I was not a fan of Little Richard or any of his contemporaries in the world of popular music. Oh, I bought Elvis when I was in high school. Who didn’t? Elvis and Richard and others — Jerry Lee Lewis, for example — arrived when I was a high school student and, looking back, it changed everything. But not me.
The reason is that right around then, after surviving “Marizy Doats and Dozy Doats and Liddle Lamzy Divey” as a child, I came to appreciate classical music more than anyone else I knew. I went through the motions of digging the pop music of the day, but my heart was in the classics even as I watched Buddy Holly and Co. in the Duluth Armory three days before they died in a plane crash. I have written about that so often even I’m sick of it.
I suppose my music appreciation proclivities are and were rooted in my childhood-teen-young adult home. My mother was an accomplished pianist with a classical background and also a church organist who could blast Bach from a two-manual instrument through the ranks of pipes in the Lutheran church where she played. It can get your attention.
So when we played records (now known as “vinyls”) at home it was classical music coming out of the phonograph (now known as CD player, rapidly being eclipsed by other advances in technology I can’t begin to understand). And when music was played on our grand piano at home, it would be the likes of Chopin and Schumann and only on special occasions “The Irish Washerwoman” accompanying my father who could do a passable Irish jig. Ah, the memories.
Cool, huh? Not very. In my teens I started making my way through the great dead Germans — Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner and others with the Russians — Tchaikvosky, Mussorgsky, Shostakovich — not far behind, blah, blah, blah. I could go on but nobody cares. Almost nobody.
When the Beatles came along I was already in my 20s (around the same age as the Beatles themselves). I ignored them. Then there’s Duluth-born Bob Dylan. A local area kid just a bit younger than me becoming a worldwide phenomenon, but his art meant nothing to me. He’s an amazing poet and interesting personality I came to realize years after most people embraced his music.
Why all this now? The other night I watched the movie “The Seven Year Itch” starring Marilyn Monroe and a now forgotten actor, Tom Ewell. He plays a bumbling husband left alone in his New York City apartment for a few weeks in the hot summer when his wife takes their son to camp. Marilyn plays an aspiring actress who lives upstairs and who inflames his imagination while being fiercely loyal to his wife.
In one of the movie’s funniest scenes, he imagines himself as an accomplished pianist sitting on the piano bench with Marilyn beside him while he plays — here comes the classical music — Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, a gorgeous romantic piece. As he frantically plays, he turns to her and intones, “I’m going to take you into my arms, and I’m going to kiss you, very quickly, and very, very hard.” About then, she falls off the bench.
Great humor, and great music. Fed right into my appreciation of classical music. I’d always liked the Rachmaninov Second.
In those days — the ‘50s — it was common for teenage boys in cars to cruise along London Road in Duluth near the old Curling Club at night when roller skating there ended to see if any of the girls walking along the sidewalk would like a ride home. I know this sounds incredible today, but it was pretty common and innocent at the time. Teens meeting teens.
One such night in summer, a buddy with a convertible and I decided to cruise past the Curling Club to see if any girls might like a ride home. Just as we arrived, incredibly, the Rachmaninov second piano concerto came on the car radio.
I was thrilled. Who could resist this romantic music. Girls would flock to our convertible dying to meet us and, perhaps, get better acquainted. I imagined myself embracing one of them and saying, “I’m going to take you into my arms, and I’m going to kiss you, very quickly and very, very hard.”
Never happened, of course. Even a girl inclined to meet boys in that manner would be repulsed by such music emanating from the car. Not cool. Who are these squares? (In today’s parlance, squares have become nerds.)
It was, I must admit, a hard day’s night. Almost as bad as when Long Tall Sally saw Uncle John and jumped back in the alley. But not quite.
Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and maintains a blog at www.jimheffernan.org.