Saturday, April 20, 2013

Let It Be

"Who is your favorite musician?" The question startled me. I was not in the office to discuss whether Justin Bieber was about to become yesterday's news or "Accidental Racist" was a good idea gone bad, but for a rather unpleasant medical procedure.

In a moment of panic, I blurted out "Ben Folds." Was I doing this to impress the attractive young medical assistant? Did she even know who Ben Folds was?

Growing up, there would have been no uncertainty in my response. In those days I had a full head of hair and a round, almost cherubic face. Thus, I fancied myself a look alike for Paul McCartney. On a vacation to Florida I once tried to pass myself off as his American cousin. Now, the only way the two of us would be confused for one another was if Sir Paul shaved the top of his head, removed his eyebrows, lost most of his upper lip and grew a mysterious seeming lump on the side of his neck. Looking cherubic at this point in life only makes me appear one step removed from being confused with a bowling ball.

In the battle of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, there was only one winner. And the rest of the pretenders over the years, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, James Taylor, well, they were just that.

In recent years I have co-opted the choices of my children and made them appear my own. I have found an ongoing fascination with both bluegrass and country music. Chris Thile and I have developed a strong bond, and I even gave my son a mandolin as a present several years ago, hoping that he would be able to channel the Thilean energy into his fingers. And Brad Paisley and I, notwithstanding his recent flirtation with musical mutilation, are still on very good terms.

But the truth is that my musical world is mostly silent these days. The radio is tuned to the local NPR station and I find "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" a suitable companion on my trips in the car. And when I hum a tune, or to the total dismay of my family, break out into song, it is much more likely to be Hey Jude then anything else that has been written in almost a half century.

I think it is hard, in musical terms at least, to evolve with age. How could my mother and father find Frank Sinatra compelling? Why do we find such comfort in the tunes that we grew up with, but such reluctance to see the merit, and not the cacophony, in anything that was written after we "grow up" ? It must be the inverse to that mantra of the young never to trust anyone over 30.

During the morning that the doctor (along with his assistant) and I became such good friends,"Pandora" was streaming musical selections not only of Mr. Folds (and his "Five" who never existed in that number) but of other artists who Pandora told me I would enjoy. The doctor said he liked a tune of the "Strokes" and advised that he couldn't believe he had been listening to them for 15 years. I thought to myself that I am not comfortable with the terms Pandora and streaming, but I am really unhappy with a doctor who is working over me and talking about strokes.

I once wrote a song that I thought had a chance of being something special. Or at least I put a number of words on a page and imagined it catapulting me to stardom. It was a story of a woman wronged, who in the first part of this saga, was downtrodden, but rose triumphantly to advise her former lover, that he was the one who sucked. The word suck actually appeared a number of times and was, I guess, the central theme. After parading my masterpiece before a friend in the music business, I tried to pawn it off on anyone who was breathing and played an instrument. After a few weeks, my fervor and my words died a painful death.

And yes, the real answer to the question posed, if I had a moment to collect myself before answering, is the Beatles. With each album that emerged, the needle on the record player took a beating, the words were memorized and the legend was forever cemented. When I asked the young assistant how she would have answered the question, she said, "I like most everything." While I thought to myself that this couldn't possibly stand unchallenged, that someone must have captured her heart or her attention, I decided just to "Let it Be."

No comments: