Friday, January 23, 2015

Free Willie

Quotes Supplied by Mrs. Jaybee!

“Can’t We Just Sit Here and Have a Nice Meal?”:

Well, no.

So there’s Mrs. Jaybee and me sitting down to brunch, with a piano player (if I say pianist, everyone giggles) playing in the background. Because that’s what brunch is, right? Breakfast, but with a piano player.

I’m trying to impress the Mrs. by guessing the songs he’s playing. I say “The Lady is a Tramp”, but of course I’m wrong. She tells me it’s “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”.

She corrects me a couple more times. If it were a competition she’d be kicking my ass. But she just sits there patiently trying to eat her Chesapeake Omlette in peace while I take shot after shot and my Crab Benedict gets cold.

I don’t get them all wrong (there were a couple of Beatles songs, you see).  But why am I even trying?

It’s Willie Nelson’s fault.

“Do I Have to Hear ABout Your Allegedly Deprived Childhood Again?”:

But before I get to him, let me try to explain this behavior by revisiting my deprived childhood.

It was in war torn Berlin. No food. No heat. No air conditioning. No cable. Okay, I may be remembering it wrong.

It was actually Brooklyn. There was plenty of food, heat and even A/C. But while our parents provided us with all the basic comforts, they couldn’t help but also dish out a lot of negativity about my beloved rock n roll music.

I’d deal with it by going on the counterattack. I’d ridicule old music and dare to say it was inferior to rock  n roll. My logic went something like this: old movies were in black and white, people always had to dress up, and the bands had no electric guitars. Case Closed.

In retrospect, the parental reaction to our music was understandable. Rock was, after all, storming the citadel of what was considered to be acceptable music.

And their music wasn’t representing itself very well, on TV at least. Lawrence Welk, Andy Williams, Perry Como, Joseph Goebbels. You get the idea.

It wasn’t until I started going out with Mrs. Jaybee that I even began to scratch the surface of the alleged Great American Songbook, whose appellation I objected to more for what it implicitly left out (rock and roll) than what it actually contained.  Hey, it's not my fault said Great American Songbook up and left for Liverpool in 1963.  Get over it already.

I’d eventually hear better singers who would sing all those old songs that everyone recognized but me. Even Mrs. Jaybee sang along!  It turns out she knew all those songs! How did this challenge to my Musical Authority come about?

Well, in Mrs. Jaybee’s actual deprived childhood, she spent a lot of time in front of the TV, escaping. And she didn’t have the luxury of two parents deriding her musical taste. This made it easier for her to hear old music without prejudice.

I guess I had the luxury to be bored with/depressed by my surroundings. She had to take what she could get.

And in the process, she learned all those songs.

It Takes an Outlaw:

Willie Nelson.jpg

In 1978, punk was storming the Rock citadel. (Ah, the irony!)

Willie Nelson - a well-respected country singer and songwriter, but by no means a household name yet -  picks this time to look back - and off to the side - to rediscover several American “standards”, and in doing so, makes them real for me for the first time.

So how did he do it? Did the look - ponytail, beard, jeans and tee shirt - similar to a lot of rock musicians, help break down my defenses? Or does that look signal a lack of pretension?

Or was it that there’s about the same amount of time between the writing of these songs and his recording them, and between the release of this record and my hearing it?  To put it another way, did I just have to grow up a little? Let’s All Do the Time Warp (yet) Again, shall we?

The key - I think - is that Willie sings in that smooth, relaxed voice of his. None of that overbearing vibrato that was popular way back in the day to distract you from those otherwise jazzy chord changes and sinuous melodies. And here, he really nails it.

He also throws in a couple of more recent - but by no means new - songs, which only serve to buttress the concept that they can all sit together on the same record and play nice.

And a small band to keep it all nice and simple.  Not much bigger than, say, the Beatles.

Willie was way ahead of the curve on this. This record was released way before a bunch of washed up rock singers began to pontificate about the abovementioned Great American Songbook, which I guess is what you do when you’re done playing in apartheid South Africa.

I wonder how these versions sound to people who’ve always liked these songs? I assumed some kind of sacrilege must have been committed for me to like them. But Mrs. Jaybee likes them. She always was very open-minded. That’s how she got to be Mrs. Jaybee. And now, will I come to like other versions of these songs? Time will tell.

I've expressed my frustration with the very good but not quite great music I was hearing throughout 2014. This record is a glaring exception. It's outside my comfort zone, and yet done so well, that I enjoy every minute of it. And it may be the most consistently appealing record I’ve gotten all year. Okay, there’s nothing that knocks my socks off, but every single track rolls them down a bit.

So, now to answer the question of why I persisted in guessing the song titles during brunch.

Well, it was because I got the first one right.

It was "Stardust".


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