A few months ago, for some unfathomable reason, my iPhone started to play America the Beautiful. This was not something I had ever recorded, nor was it something I would have chosen to listen to while prowling the aisles of the A& P. But there, or in a restaurant, or at a meeting, it boomed, uninvited, from my pocket at unexpected and irregular moments. I sought help from grandchildren who told me how to turn it off only to have it reappear at the oddest of times. In case you think I was butt dialing, the same thing happened repeatedly when the phone lay untouched in my pocketbook. Needless to say, the song, when it played, never matched the circumstance.
And so I began to think of this ghostly intrusion as a command to think about my musical tastes which are embarrassing by the standards of most music lovers but suit me well for different reasons. I play some as background for writing movie reviews, others when nostalgia overwhelms me, and a few like Oh Sweet Lorraine just because I love them. Doo Wop, The Platters, and The Ink Spots are always just a click away. The problem here is that this doesn’t add up to any kind of coherent picture of my artistic appreciation and I wonder if I should worry about that. Random tastes for random reasons.
The score for Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is always fun to write to except for the temptation to jump up and try to do the Charleston whenever that track comes on, but then that’s the fun of writing alone in a room. No one can watch you make a fool of yourself.
I love folk and country music – mostly for reasons of nostalgia. In the early 50s when my husband and I had our first jobs in Washington with CIA, we drove to places like Wheeling, West Virginia to hear the real deals of country music. They yodeled and sang with the twang of that time. In Nashville we went to the Ryman auditorium for Saturday night at The Grand Ole Opry – Loretta Lynn sang that night, along with Minnie Pearl and others. And each morning on the way to work we tuned in to WWVA Wheeling to listen to the likes of Hank Snow, Kitty Wells, and Hawkshaw Hawkins. In our early 20s that’s what we loved to hear.
One night in 1962, my husband came home with a new record player and the first LP recorded by Peter, Paul, and Mary. It was our first LP and for a while the only one so it played until even our two older children knew the words. We went one night to one of their first concerts – in Asbury Park in a space with folding metal chairs. I would remember that night later when we watched them in Carneigie Hall. We took our three, including the little guy in arms, to P,P &M concerts in Newark, New York, Saratoga, and the Garden States Arts Center, sharing the anti-war sentiment that fueled their songs. Our older son once said, “You and dad gave us your entire value system through Peter, Paul, and Mary.”
Then, with Vietnam on the horizon, we began to listen to Joan Baez who had burst on the scene at the Newport Festival. She had captured the voice of the time then and she’s still singing beautifully on tour in her 70s. Whenever I hear her now, I have great respect for her bravery in the face of Conservative rage during those bad days of the 60s and for her obvious delight in singing all these years later.
I browse through all these favorite people when I drive or write and, as I’m winding this up, I just might visit the iTunes store to buy a download of America the Beautiful.