Saturday, July 7, 2018

Selected Shorts #02 - Nostalgia


At the beginning of my eighth decade, I find myself immersed in resistance, and not simply the unremitting struggle to persuade people that human hatred, greed, and stupidity are screwing up, like, everything. Nope, I mean the personal age-related variety of resistance, in which all of us who are fortunate enough to achieve “old age” engage.

Since so much depends on genetics, we are immutably limited in what we can do about physical deterioration. Don’t smoke, eat right, exercise, avoid stress, wear sunscreen, all that stuff. The mental part is trickier, however, assuming one does not fall victim to some godless, horrible degenerative disease. Keeping the mind engaged and the spirit strong takes work.

In my case, I read, practice music, and every so often write snarkly (snarkily?) about the ultramaroons in power. And, though I refrain from making a habit of it, occasionally indulge in a bit of nostalgia.

Nostalgia for its own sake is not helpful. The whole “but things were so much better when…” perspective is inherently flawed and can lead to some world-class dumbass thinking. For example, the 50s and early 60s were indisputably a damned good time to be a White male living in the U.S., so why can’t we just MAGA (“Make America Great Again”)? Which is transparently NARB (Nostalgia As Reactionary Bullshit).

But once in a while…

In 1963, The Beatles recorded songs for a BBC radio programme called “Pop Go The Beatles.” One of these was a cover version of “Soldier of Love,” first recorded by Arthur Alexander, an American soul singer and great favourite of the Fab Four. I had never heard of this song before now. The lyrics aren’t all that special, but it has classic chord changes, and the Beeb recording features a great lead vocal by 22 year-old John Lennon with marvelous background vocals. (The Beatles may have been the first great “boy band,” but they also had their “girl group” chops down cold.) All in all, it is a terrific piece of pop music. Naturally, I had to check out the original.

The basic arrangement is the same, although Alexander’s version, in a different key, is slower and more soulful. The instrumentation is basically an R & B combo instead of a guitar band, and it is a better recording. (The sax part is all kinds of awesome.) But the effect of both versions - the original by a young Black man from Alabama and the cover by a quartet of young White men from Liverpool - was, for this 70 year-old White man from Kentucky, the same: Exhilarating.

This is music from my teens and, although I had never heard “Soldier of Love” before, it took me back. I was reminded of that brief time when the musical integration of Black & White artists, what we called “Top 40,” was a wildly popular radio format and highly successful business model. It was a glourious thing, but of its time and not likely to return. The recordings, however, are still out there.

Sometimes it only takes an echo to give the spirit a lift.

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