Saturday, December 10, 2016

Music is not my life

Music is definitely not my life. I like music. I love some music. But, I can't say it has been a dominant force in my life.

I have been working hard on a post for a month now, really re-working a previous post that was important to me, but I think I got a few things wrong. Done in a few days and I'll post it, the last one of the year before my 2016 holiday spectacular. I thought, while waiting to do that, I would do an autobiographical one, as that seems to amuse people (for some odd reason).

I was born into a family with no music. Not literally, but mostly. My parents did have a record player. I don't believe it was what was called a hi-fi, for high fidelity. Probably more a low fidelity. I realize that there could potentially be someone reading this who does not know what a record player was. It was a machine that had a disc set on top, upon which you would place a vinyl disc onto which music was recorded. Don't ask me to explain it. It still seems magical to me. In any event, the vinyl disc had a hole in the center of it through which the little nub on the attached disc fit, holding it in place. Then you lifted the arm (and eventually, the arm lifted itself) which contained a needle. The needle rested on top of the vinyl, which spun when the lower disc began spinning. Starting at the outside of the disc, the needle went round and round, creating sound (it didn't have to be music) until it got to a spot near the middle at which point it made a horrible sound until you lifted it off or, eventually, lifted itself off.

The first music I remember in my house other than painful dissonant Hebrew chanting, which I will never understand, was a few records belonging to my brother. The few I remember were Tiny Tim's Tiptoe through the tulips, Herman Hermit's Mrs. Brown you have a lovely daughter and their Henry the 8th I am.

It is hard to explain Tiny Tim to people nowadays. It was a novelty act. But, he really was a strange man. Youtube is best for such things. I will put a few links below.

Herman's Hermits' Henry the 8th I am, and Mrs. Brown you've got a lovely daughter,
were fairly typical British invasion rock n' roll prior to the Beatles' revolution, not that they 
did it by themselves. But, other than the names of the Beatles and The Monkees I 
learned in (I believe) the first grade, HH and TT were who I knew - that was pretty much it. 
See what I mean about not having music in my life growing up. 

Eventually, my mother sort of "got into" music a bit, and would play her own records. 
I believe she had three - Kenny Rodgers greatest hits (of which The Gambler was 
the classic), the soundtrack to My Fair Lady and a Jamaican folk singer (or were they
classics) named Harry Belafonte. Actually, I liked them all. But my mom really liked 
them. Over and over.

When I say that I knew the names of The Beatles and The Monkees, the second group 
being a pretty good television version of the first (again, for anyone who doesn't know), 
I mean that I heard their names in school. Everyone else seemed to know all about them. 
Not me. I seem to recall that one of their songs that I did hear was I want to hold your 
hand  and possibly She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Also in first grade I got my first terrifying musical experience. We had to sing a song we 
knew in class. The other kids seemed to enjoy this. But I didn't know any songs. The 
teacher suggested I sing "Happy Birthday." Little problem. One, I did not know how to sing 
and two, I did not know the words to that either. I laughed nervously through it, talked sang 
it and had to be reminded of the words as I went along. I'm 57 and I still remember. It had to 
be traumatic. I still will not sing it or pretty much anything else. I did have to suck it up and 
sing for Ole McDonald had a farm and other songs for my kid, but that was an exception.

Sometime during the next few years, I think it wasn't until the fourth grade, I had to go 
to a dance. Now, I was very shy, but that was only part of the problem. I didn't understand 
dancing. I am no different today. I just don't get why people want to jump around to music. 
I may tap my foot, snap my fingers or bop gently (although my evalovin' gf says I do all of 
them off the beat - I tell her its syncopation) but I do not get the jumping around and, 
usually, doing the same moves over and over thing. There are dancers of course who 
I admire, because they look good, and even some people I know (mostly all women) 
dance well. I do not. And I avoid it like the plague.

I will slow dance, usually once, at a wedding. I realize that other than the fun of holding 
a woman, I get no pleasure in that either. And, she who I presently like to call my 25
to life sentence adds to my comfort by telling everyone that I just turn around in a circle
(true) and make her nauseous. Imagine me not finding that fun. And, though she is a 
very good dancer, she insists on leading, which often leads to very ungraceful wrestling
matches.

Year later, in my 20s and 30s, I would sometimes dance because girls liked it and for 
whatever reason, some find it an aphrodisiac. I was a little amused that this was true even 
though I was a terrible dancer. I'm pretty sure it's more about them than me. When I was in
law school a friend asked me to dance. In the middle of it, she said, "I can see you 
aren't into dancing with me" "No," I said, "don't take it personally. I just suck at it."

During grammar school, 4th grade I believe, I chose the sax for my instrument. 
Regrettably, they were out of small alto saxes and I was given a tenor. It was a half mile 
to school and back, and as unbelievable as it sound now we walked in all kinds of bad
weather. The damn thing was heavy for a little kid. Maybe I improved on it. Our instructor,
who seemed old to me, was probably in his 20s. He told me I had talent, but
I have no way to measure that then or now and try to be as immune from praise
as possible (it's often impossible). Often it has to do with the praiser's interests as much 
as it feels good to hear it. And, as I now realize being an older fellow, much of my failure 
had to do with the fact that I couldn't breathe and didn't sleep much. Then I just thought 
I didn't want to bother with it.

In seventh grade we had an assignment in art class to bring in an album from home so
that we could redesign the cover. Leave aside I also have no artistic ability I also did not
have any rock albums at home. The other kids are bringing in Beatles and Rolling Stones
albums. I brought in My Fair Lady. The teacher took one look at the cover and gave me 
one of his own. 

Somewhere in high school though, I started to listen to and like music. I remember 
sitting Bear's bedroom and also our friend Rick's room, listening to rock for hours. 
This was also the disco era. We were not disco guys and even now there are few disco 
songs I like. One of my favorite t-shirts from that era said "Disco Sucks" on it. Wish I 
still had it. For some reason I remember listening to an instrumental (if you don't count 
the yodeling) called Hocus Pocus by Focus and Sting's Every Breath You Take. 

Soon, my tastes started to expand. I got into jazz (Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dizzy 
Gellespie, Cannonball Adderley, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Chet Baker, Dexter 
Gordon all come to mind) and also classical, where my tastes did not stray far from the 
greats - Bach, Beethoven (not so much Mozart), Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Wagner.
Add Mendelssohn, who I discovered much later (his Violin Concerto in E Minor is 
probably my favorite piece) and that is still a lot of what I listen to until this day. 

There was this magical moment when I was playing a record quite loud in my (parents')
living room. My dad came in and said something like "Can't you turn this crap down?" 
I said "Dad, it's Beethoven and its yours." The point of the story is really about 
expectations and judgments, but this is a music post so I'll skip that to save for another day. 

I did, like many teenagers, play my music too loud. I remember sitting on my front lawn 
blasting what was to some degree a Yes imitator, but I thought very talented group called
Starcastle. Good chance you never heard of them even if you grew up at the same time
as I did. But, I still have a couple of their songs on my workout ipod. In any event, my poor
neighbor politely asked me why I needed to play it so loud. I told her because it sounded
better that way. Later that day I realized that I should have went and turned it down, but 
at that moment I thought it strange she was interested in what I was listening to. Oh, well.

It would not do to go through all the music of my generation that I loved then or still. Too 
many. But, thinking of high school a few songs bring me back most - Springsteen's
Born to run and The Four Seasons December, 1963 (Oh, what a night) for some reason
set something off in me that brings me back. But, my favorite group then was Emerson, 
Lake & Palmer, a progressive rock band that used classical music. And, Pink Floyd's 
hypnotic sounds were best to nap to and I almost always needed a nap after school unless 
actively engaged in a sport. Okay, fine, these were my favorite bands growing up:

ELP, The Beach Boys, Chicago, Pink Floyd, Starcastle, Springsteen and Bob Seeger.
Of course there were many more bands and many more songs I loved. But those come
to mind readily. I generally preferred keyboards to guitars.

In high school I started going to concerts at the Nassau Coliseum, probably the summer
between being a junior and senior. I couldn't drive because I was a little younger but my 
friends could. Parents were a lot looser in those days with adventures and my friends and
I slept out a few times on line. The earlier you were, the lower your number was to get 
tickets, of which any number holder could get ten. Just one of us was needed to get tickets
for all of us, so we'd sell our places on line. I did have a few very innocent (meaning 
sexless) adventures. In fact, I guess I should be embarrassed, but I don't really feel that 
way. I didn't talk to girls yet (just my friend's sister) - I was very slow that way. So any 
contact felt good. One night one of the other kids on line, George, who was a little older and
had long hippy hair, was pestering a girl who just wanted to sleep. She wasn't all that 
attractive to me, but I invited her in my sleeping bag so she could be left alone. George was
a good natured lech and took it in stride. But, I had a warm girl sleeping next to me. I didn't
take advantage of it - maybe I was supposed to. But, unless a girl would have grabbed me 
then, nothing was going to happen. I think I just felt proud and we slept a little. Like I said, 
these are innocent stories and the topic is music, not girls.

On another occasion one of my friends and I met two women - grown women - both 
married and sexy. Again, they could have been in their 20s, but I think 30s would be 
more accurate. Who cares? They told us that if we got them front row seats (I think it was 
either The Beach Boys or Chicago) they would do anything. We kind of thought by "anything" 
they meant a  n  y  t  h  i  n  g, and each decided which one of the women we wanted. 
But, 4th row was the best we could manage. Oh, well. That could have been a better story.

The last story is a little more bittersweet. I met a young girl one day while waiting on line. 
She went to school in Bethpage, a few miles distant from mine, and fortunately for me
she didn't know what a weirdo I was in my own school. The vibes were intense. We talked
on and off online during the night and said we would see each other at the concert. When 
the night came, we did talk, but we were sitting a few rows apart. We looked at each other
all concert long. I don't think I told my friends because they would have tortured me about
it (because that's what we did). Anyway, 40 years later I still remember how she looked. 
I didn't ask for a number. Maybe because I didn't drive, maybe because I was too shy. 

Of course, we had a great time during concerts. Bear still remembers one time we walked 
across Eisenhower Park and down the long road to the Coliseum only to discover that I 
had left the tickets home. Why he would be so stupid as to let me hold the tickets I can't say.
Bear was not a good runner. I was. But, he pretty much chased me the whole way home. 
Thanks only to youth, we made the concert on time. I think it was a concert, anyway. Could 
have been a sporting event and not belong here. This was decades ago and memory fades.

Another night I was at a concert with one friend. I thought it was a good idea to separate
from him silently in the night as we walked home, and terrify him along the way, because, 
well, that is just the kind of thing stupid thing young men do. But, I couldn't find him again. I 
figured he was ahead of me so I started running. The next thing I knew cops had pulled me
over. They put me against the car and frisked me, asking me questions, which I stuttered 
answers to. It was a little intimidating. I was taught never to sass a cop and was completely
respectful. At the end I asked why they stopped me. They said there had been a robbery in
the area and I was running. That seemed logical to me, so I didn't mind. But, maybe that's
just what they said. How would I know?

One concert in 12th grade at Madison Square Garden was very memorable. At least four,
maybe five of us went to see Elton John, who was huge. I still am amazed at his talent. One
of us asked a date to come. We'll call him H. He was a very good natured kid who I like to
say was a 50s kid raised in the 70s. She told him she couldn't go because (fill in an excuse -
I can't remember). But she did come - with her actual date. In an amazing coincidence I 
still list as one of my favorites, our group actually sat next to her and her date. I know it 
would be a better story if I told it with him sitting right next to them, but, he was a few seats 
away. We weren't vindictive kids and didn't rearrange to make it happen. He was hurt, of 
course, and he was kind of intense, but, to his credit he laughed it off and had a great time.

One of my favorite concerts to go at that time was by a creative folk singer from Long Island 
named Harry Chapin. He had a few hits, Cats in the cradle, Taxi and W*O*L*D, but mostly it 
was about the stories and his banter in small audiences. Now that I think of it, Taxi really 
was a fascinating song. The youtube link is below.

Then, sometime in college, with I think my then fiancee, I attended my last concert for 
a while. It was my favorite group. Even then I didn't really like crowds and raucous behavior. 
We were young, of course, maybe 19 or 20. But a teenage couple, probably 14 or so, were 
sitting in front of us and they were very drunk. The girl got up to go to the bathroom. Clunk! 
She fell and her head hit the cement. Her boyfriend was yahooing at the stage. She got up. 
Clunk! I tapped him on the shoulder. Hey, your girlfriend - no reaction, to me anyway. Clunk! 
Not one other person seemed concerned about her. This is why it doesn't pay to be sober.
looked at my fiancee and shook my head. I got up and picked her up and carried her to
the infirmary (which OF COURSE was on the complete opposite side of the Coliseum). 
Every once in a while her eyes would pop open, she'd look wild eyed at a complete stranger 
carrying her off and she'd leap out of my arms only to immediately pass out. I am telling 
you this got tedious after the first few times. I was in pretty good shape back then but 
carrying a hundred pound sack of potatoes that would suddenly spring up like a cobra was
not easy. 

Finally, I got there and turned her over to the nurses. The nurse asked me her name and 
I said I don't know her, I found her. She literally called me a liar. But, then the girl's 
boyfriend showed up. I looked at him once and left. In retrospect it was an adventure. It 
was not terrible at all even then. But I was not happy I missed a song from my favorite 
group and it put me off concerts. I don't think I went to another rock concert for another 
20 years or so. Elton John again at the Madison Square Garden. He was great, but I did 
not like the video screens everywhere. What was the point of being at a concert if you 
weren't looking at the actual performer, but at a screen like you would at home.

In those 20 years I discovered a musician who would become one of my all time favorites - 
Louie Prima. I first heard him listening to the Disney movie, Jungle Book, in which he was
the voice of the giant ape, King Louie and he performs with Phil Harris what I think was
one of Disney's greatest songs (though there are many - just thought of a top ten list), I
wanna be like you. I only knew that he was born in New Orleans in the early 1900s, and 
probably because of his first name, pictured him as something like Louis Armstrong. 
Wrong. He was very Italian and had an entirely different personality. I went right 
out and bought his Capitol Record collection and it took off from there. I've written about him
before, and his greatest piece, Sing, Sing, Sing before on 5/16/08 and 12/10/07, 
respectively which, if you really don't know who he was or what he did, may be interesting 
for you. You still likely hear his music and just don't know it.

I entitled this post Music is not my life. I like or love music as much as the next person. 
What I meant, if I haven't been clear enough, was that I grew up without a lot of music in 
my life, I am not much of a concert person (if it was a small audience, I probably wouldn't 
mind some performers), I do have an ipod and music saved on my computer, but I don't 
listen to it in the car (except in holiday season) and I really don't get into the whole fancy
equipment thing (with tv either). And, I have no musical talent whatsoever.

Let me elaborate on that last one a bit. As I said, I dropped the sax pretty quick in the 4th 
grade and never played an instrument. I did try. When my daughter was in junior high I 
would take her to a music school once a week for lessons. It was hard to read there 
because of all the sounds coming out of the rooms. So, I decided I should take lessons too.
I chose the violin because at the time I listened to a lot of violin concertos. I knew it was 
a difficult instrument but I also wanted to learn about music and thought that might be a 
way to learn. Besides, I could rent a violin. I could not rent a piano and that was the only 
other instrument that interested me.

So, I started. My first instructor was about 21. I was in my young 40s. She called me Sir 
or Mr. Eisenberg. I asked her to call me David but it did not take. So, I started. She was 
encouraging, but I thought I was pretty bad. I was started on two songs, but, of course, 
a little bit of it. Beethoven's Ode to Joy, which I loved, and Mary had a little lamb. I 
practiced for six months before my life got busy and I decided to bag it, having achieved
very little. After six months I could not play either well, without struggling. Think about 
that, six month and I couldn't play Mary had a little lamb well. No talent.

I was always chagrined that I was taught to hold the violin in a very uncomfortable 
position. I could not for the life of me see why it was necessary. It made it harder. One 
day I watched a quartet on television. None of them held it like that. Then I went to 
a school concert. Again, no one did it. But, my teacher would constantly correct me.
So, I laid a trap. Yes, I trapped my violin instructor. One day I said, would you mind
playing me this line. Sure, and she put her violin to her chin and started playing.

"Aha!" I said. Picture Jackie Gleason in The Honeymooners screaming Aha! at Art Carney.
"You don't hold it the way you make me hold it!" I told her of the professionals I saw 
who also didn't hold it that way. "Well," she said, "that's the way you have to learn, Mr. 
Eisenberg." I couldn't win. 

She actually was a very nice girl. I was the only adult taking lessons that I could see and
I'm sure it was weird for her as it was for me. But, I was very interested in the intellectual
side of music and peppered her with questions. One day I said, "do the other kids ask you 
as many questions as I do?" "Sir," she said dead pan, "no one has ever asked me
a question before." Uh huh. Clearly my approach was not working.

After some months she told me she would not be my teacher any more. "Am I that bad?"
I asked. She gave me what might have been an excuse, but possibly true, that her band
was getting back together. 

So, she was replaced, by another nice young girl. After a few months, she told me that she
too was leaving. I asked her why? 
"I'm moving to India."
"Oh, come on. You can do better than that. Why can't you just say I'm terrible?"
"No, really you aren't. My husband has to move there."
"To India? Why?"
"He's going to take drum lessons."
"What? They teach drums at this school."
"No, it's a special type of drums. You can only learn it here."

Maybe it was true, but I was skeptical. Was I that bad that people would quit their jobs
rather than listen to me? 

Only my daughter knew I was learning. Sometimes when I knew friends weren't home, I 
would call and leave my playing (badly) Mary had a little lamb on their answering 
machine (which, yes, we had back in the day). I would try to do it every few days so they'd 
wonder what was going on. Yes, I found this funny. But, no one ever mentioned it to me. 
Later on, long after I quit, I mentioned my joke to some of them. None had any memory of it. 
Worst practical joke I ever played.

Not long after I was at a friend's house and her middle school daughter was playing the
violin. She was wonderful. I asked my friend how long she had been playing. One week.
Admittedly, she was a very talented person who could instantly draw a picture like a 
photograph. That led me to the conclusion that there is a hereditary component to it or 
something you imbibed very young. Whatever it was, she she had it. I didn't. 

One thing I learned from my attempts - I did not understand playing with feeling at all, 
though of course I had heard of it. How could you play an instrument with feeling if you 
couldn't play well? I tried to just feeeel the music. Nope. 

After that failure, I decided to try the piano as someone had given me a used one. I figured
I had the time and I was good at disciplining myself to learn something. But, I was
self-taught. My daughter came home one day and played Beethoven's Fur Elise as if 
she was playing piano, and not the flute, for years. Her friend's mother taught her in a few
minues.  I tried it too. Utter failure. I just couldn't get it. I was also baffled at the way the 
notes you read changed when the key changed. Why couldn't they just have one system 
and change the color or something.

Since then I have twice (it could actually be three times) tried to learn keyboard again. The 
last time, when living in Virginia, I borrowed my daughter's keyboard. I set out a tough 
schedule, only one day off a week, and I think for an hour a day. After six months I still 
could not play FΓΌr Elise.  And that was with a keyboard where the keys lit up so you knew
what to hit!!! This was my last attempt. I would only try again with a five day a week 
teacher.

And all I ever really wanted to learn, after the initial song or so, was some Xmas tunes. I love
Xmas music. Perhaps 20 percent of my downloads on itunes are Xmas tunes. Recently I 
rated my top twenty:


1.      All I want for Xmas is you (Vince Vaughn and the Vandals)
2.      Baby it’s cold outside (Johnny Mercer and Margaret Whiting version followed by Zooey Deschanel and           Leon Redbone’s version)
3.      Let it Snow (Dean Martin)
4.      All I want for Xmas is you (Mariah Carey)
5.      Joy to the World (Whitney Houston)
6.      Snoopy and the Red Baron (Royal Guardsmen)
7.      Santa Claus is coming to town (Bruce Springsteen)
8.      Pachelbel’s Canon of the Bells (Trans-Siberian Orch.)
9.      Christmas Eve (Trans-Siberian Orch.)
10.   Siberian Sleigh Ride (Trans-Siberian Orch.)
11.   Linus and Lucy (from a Charlie Brown Christmas – I think of it as a Christmas song)
12.   Frosty the Snow Man (Jimmy Durante)
13.   Home for the Holidays (Perry Como)
14.   Christmas (Maria Carey)
15.   Put one foot in front of the other (Fred Astaire)
16.   Ave Maria (Andrea Bocelli)
17.   It’s the most wonderful time of the year (Andy Williams)
18.   Winter Wonderland (Eurythmics)
19.   Santa Baby (Marilyn Monroe)
20.   Zat you, Santa Claus? (Louis Armstrong)

I sent my list to a friend, who generally agreed, but said I should have had Darlene Love's
Baby, won't you please come home on it. Maybe next year it will be. My lists are fluid.

Why do some songs mean something to us - or touch us - and others not? I don't know. 
The song The Heart of the Matter by Don Henley, formerly of The Eagles (who I did not 
really like for the most part, though I do the individual members) meant a lot to me at one
time when I was getting over a heart break because it was about forgiveness. The final 
song in The Lord of the Rings trilogy makes me tear up (and other people - I've tested it).
I find La Vie en Rose very touching. Recently, I heard the song Hallelujah. Not the Handel
piece, but the Leonard Cohen song from 1985. I don't know how I never managed to hear
it before. There is no clear reason for me other than for the Henley song why they so 
attracted me - or why girl power songs are suddenly inspiring for me (shut up, Bear).

I think we're good here. I'm sure I have other stories, but, I'll add them later if I think of 
them.

Taxi -
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5dwksSbD34

Tiptoe through the Tulips -
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcSlcNfThUA

Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter -
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lv8k0VI9tBc 

I'm Henry the 8th I am -
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOg0d5Wq4i0

As usual, apologies for the formatting here. For some reason the auto-wrap won't work 
and some parts are highlighted in white. Why? No idea. My fault or Google's? No idea. 
Music is not the only thing I'm bad at.

2 comments:

  1. Tiny Tim? Herman's Hermits? Girl Power songs!?! I have no words.... for the record, the chase you across the park event was a Chicago concert, which was one of your favorite bands, though they draw no mention above. As you say, memories dim... Right on, Louis Prima. Ha-cha-cha-chaaaa.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, when I was in grade school they were one of my and your favorites. But with Chicago X they jumped the shark. Although I do still love some of their earlier songs. 25 or 6 to 4 was, I believe, my favorite, or, maybe their cover of I'm a Man.

    ReplyDelete

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About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .