Schlock and roll
Let’s face it: We all think we are, to use that old saw, smarter than the average bear.
And let’s face something else: We all can’t be.
Average is average for a good reason — it’s how the numbers shake out. Add ’em up, divide ’em by the population, and that’s it. It’s how the bell-shaped curve happens, and there’s no escaping it – except in our minds.
So while we will generously concede we’re no Albert Einsteins, if we fixed our own place on the bell-shaped curve, we’d be a lot closer to AE than to, say, Gomer Pyle. And since we think we’re smarter than most, our opinions count more than most too.
Sadly, I’m a victim of this delusion, and nowhere does it show up as clearly as when it comes to music. Simply put, if I like a song, it’s because it’s a good song. And if I don’t like a song, it’s because it’s lousy.
At home I listen constantly to internet radio and always have it on an oldies station, oldies being ’50s and ’60s music, with some ’70s stuff thrown in. As for anything ’80s or newer, fergit it. Garbage, all. Why, I’d rather eat a roll of aluminum foil than listen to that dreck.
That was my attitude for decades, but when I recently examined it, and the oldies themselves, I was in for a big surprise.
My musical tastes are rooted in rock ‘n’ roll, starting from the get-go: When I saw Elvis on his first TV appearance in 1956 on the Ed Sullivan show, I became an Instant Believer. If My Home Town had had a Church of Rock n Roll, I would’ve been its first convert — my sainted mother’s sitting Shiva for me NOT to the contrary.
After Elvis hit the scene, the rock ‘n’ roll dam burst … and swept me away with it. It seemed that rock music and musicians flooded the world, literally.
But the flood dried up, and by the late ’70s the Age of Rock was over. But my love of rock never wavered, and as a result it turned me into the snob I’d mentioned a the beginning — thinking the only good music was the old music, and all the new music was no music at all. But taking off my rose-colored aviator shades and looking back, I realize that while almost all the rock of my Gilded Youth was musically appealing, a whole bunch of it had lyrics that were utterly moronic, and I even realized it at the time. In fact, there were so many downright dumb songs, I don’t know where to begin.
Love and death
Almost all the songs were love oriented, as maybe most music is. But oh, some of the love songs we suffered through!
For example, there’s “Tell Laura I Love Her.” The “hero” is some love-struck lad who wants only to marry Laura, but first he wants to give her an engagement ring. So how does he go about it? Simple: He takes his car to the racetrack because first prize is $1,000. What that shnook needs a thousand-dollar ring for is anyone’s guess. No matter, because he gets killed in his quest.
The song tells us he was the youngest driver there, which means he had no business racing in the first place. Gawd. But if he wasn’t aware of his racing skills (or lack thereof), he was at least a polite kid, who called Laura before the race. Of course, in keeping with the treacly ironies, she wasn’t there. But her mom answered, and the message he left was, believe it or not, the title of the song.
Then, continuing in the vehicle-love-death combo, we have “Last Kiss.” Here the kid and his girlfriend are driving “in daddy’s car,” when they come upon a car stopped in the road. No time to brake, he swerves off the road, hits some damn thing or other and passes out. When he comes to, there’s his g.f., breathing her last. So, true to romantics everywhere, he gives her a hug and a kiss, and that’s that. At least that was that for the relationship … but not for the song.
Here’s the last verse:
Oh, where oh where can my baby be?
The Lord took her away from me.
She’s gone to heaven, so I got to be good,
So I can see my baby when I leave this world.
While I’d like to admire the lad’s steadfast faith, I find his quid pro quo with God pretty sleazy. He’ll be good just so he can hook up with the babe again? Does that mean if she was alive he’d be a rotter for the next 60 years? Or is it just the usual o’erdone teen pathos, of which we already have too much?
Beyond that, trying to rhyme “good” with “world” is simply beneath my dignity.
Continuing along those same theological lines, we have a real classic of schmaltz – “Patches” by Dicky Lee.
This is a love match like no other. She’s a poor but pretty maid from the wrong side of the tracks (dubbed Patches because her clothes are naught but schmattas). He’s from the big house on the hill. They’re going to get married, except his fam prohibits it, and he bows to their wishes – without ever having the decency to tell her. Overcome by grief, she drowns herself in the crick. And he responds in kind, as laid out in the final touching lines:
Patches, Patches, oh what can I do?
I swear I’ll always love you.
It may not be right, But I’ll join you tonight.
Patches, I’m coming to you.
His belief in the hereafter is surely a good thing, I guess. I only hope is parents are as comforted by it as he is.
Love and lies
My final selection is a classic — “Hey Paula” by Paul and Paula. This is a crappy song, but for different reasons. The music and singing were lovely, so lovely that at the time I was lulled into such a state of hyper-romanticism, I missed the total hypocrisy of it all.
First, their names were Ray Hildebrand (who wrote it) and Jill Jackson, but that was the least of the deceptions.
The song itself was about mutual lust, thinly hidden behind a marriage veil. Check the lyrics:
Hey, hey Paula, I wanna marry you.
Hey, hey Paula, no one else could ever do.
I’ve waited so long for school to be through, Paula, I can’t wait no more for you.
My love, my love.
Hey Paul, I’ve been waiting for you.
Hey, hey, hey Paul, I want to marry you too.
If you love me true, if you love me still, our love will always be real.
My love, my love.
True love means planning a life for two, being together the whole day through.
True love means waiting and hoping that soon wishes we’ve made will come true …
And so on and so forth.
They had voices so sweet and they sounded so sincere, I was lulled into thinking the whole thing was on the level, that I was listening to a real love story with a happy ending a few months away. And how could I not like a happy ending? Oh, foolish little Dope!
It turned out that while they were singing together, they weren’t swinging together. They weren’t in love; they weren’t getting married; they weren’t even Paul and Paula. Like damn near everything else in the entertainment biz, it was only about the bucks. When I found that out, I was inconsolable for almost a whole week.
When my grief finally lifted, I found myself furious at that nonsense about “being together the whole day through.” As if all they had to do was get married and somehow they’d get paid to sit on their dupas gazing into each other’s eyes, while the rest of us trudged off to the jute mill?
And then my wannabe English teacher got in the act: “I can’t wait no more for you.” Can’t wait NO more? They used a double negative, when “can” would’ve not only been proper but would’ve fit in the rhythm just as well? They weren’t just phonies; they were illiterate ones as well.
Ultimately, those two hucksters and their deceptions served me in good stead when, 15 years later, Sonny and Cher split up. While the rest of the country seemed surprised, shocked and saddened, my only reaction was wondering what took them so long.