Guest column | James Pettican

Stuck in the '30s, when music was nice and simple

I usually manage a wry smile when I read young music critics and reviewers who are "Stuck in the '80s." I sometimes feel I should be telling them to be stuck in the '30s, where I am.

Most of us carry the pop music we grew up with through our lives, and I'm no exception. I just think I lived through the Golden Age of American Pop — but then again those younger than my soon-to-be-90 age bracket probably think so, too.

In the view of my teenage grandson, I probably get a bit carried away at times in my criticism of rock, rap and the rest of the current pop music scene. I try to be fair-minded, but it's hard.

At our house, you'll hear the big bands of Glenn, Tommy, Guy or Sammy, plus singers Bing, Frank, Perry, Peggy, Jo and Helen. If you can fill in all the last names, you're probably still enjoying their music.

I tune in now and then to American Idol and wait for someone who can sing, but, alas, it's a long wait. But then a Susan Boyle comes along on Idol's UK counterpart and the audience, in rapt attention, discovers once again what real singing talent sounds like. I keep telling young friends and relatives that screaming and shouting are not singing. They are just screaming and shouting.

We live in an age of special effects. Movies are prone to substitute them for storytelling, and today's musicians use them by the truckload — lasers, fireworks and they would probably have a comet roar past if they could.

I remember when Perry Como or Bing Crosby just needed a stool, a mike and a spotlight to keep us mesmerized.

The big bands were called that because they were big. Anything smaller was known as a quintet or quartet, etc.

These days, four or five young lads shuffling their feet and singing to, perhaps, a lone guitarist constitute a band.

Because the '30s were my teenage years, I remember well seeing famous bands in person at big downtown movie palaces, which really did resemble a palace. The bands were usually accompanied by a B-movie, which no one paid much attention to anyway.

Certainly, not all the musicians were role models and there would be an escapade now and then, but they all shaved regularly, got haircuts, wore coats and ties, and no jeans were ever seen.

Now, we see movies in big compartmented warehouses with huge snack bars rivaling a small cafe in size, prefeature commercials and much-too-loud sound. Sitting through the trailers and commercials can almost prejudice viewers against the movie. There is hope though, as big, flat-panel home TV screens are coming to our rescue.

As for me, I'm grateful for the many sources of music these days. I'm a geezer with an iPod filled with big bands and a computer with '30s music on its hard drive. So although the present won't go away, I can at least hold it at bay.

As for clever, creative lyric writing, well, that's a story for another day. Jeans are comfortable, though, for the off-stage life that most of us live. Meanwhile, to the younger generation, keep the volume down or you'll need hearing aids before they're age-appropriate.

Retired journalist James Pettican lives in Palm Harbor.

Stuck in the '30s, when music was nice and simple 02/20/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 20, 2010 1:27pm]

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