Monday, August 12, 2013

For the Record, This Stuff Was Great

A requirement in all Catholic homes in the 1960s.

From a dusty box in a cluttered room in the corner of a well-worn second-hand shop, a nun sang to me.

So did Andy Williams. And Julie Andrews with Dick Van Dyke. With some background music from Herb Alpert.

They say smells and tastes trigger memories, but in that dusty corner of a St. Vincent de Paul deep discount store it was the images of hundreds of records that brought back the music of my childhood. But it wasn’t
nostalgia born of what my favorite records were. These were the records of my parents.

They weren’t specifically my parents’ records, of course. It is, however, probably the same store where my parents' records ended up after the house was emptied, the estate sale held and the leftovers donated. It occurred to me as I was leafing through dusty box after dusty box, that as this generation passes, so passes their music.

I’ve spent a ton of my adult life flipping through record boxes – at record shows, at flea markets, record stores and thrift stores. The record stores and shows tend to be collectibles; flea markets and thrift stores will get you stuff that people who were teens or 20-somethings in the '70s and '80s tossed a long time ago or replaced with CDs. That’s why your average thrift store is loaded with Barry Manilow, Peter Frampton, disco, K-tel collections, Yacht Rock and New Wave.

I know where old records live, and the records I saw at the St. Vinnie’s deep discount store were things I
had never seen anywhere else beyond my parents’ closets. No one donated these over the years or tried to make any money reselling them; they just kept them til it was time to shut down the household. As I saw my parents’ favorite records that day, I recalled several conversations over the years among friends about how many records our parents had in common.

“The Singing Nun”? Practically a requirement in every Catholic household. Some Andy Williams and Glen Campbell? From the TV to our console stereo, of course. A little bossa nova because everyone loved that in the '60s. A few soundtracks here and there and some wunnerful music from Lawrence Welk.

Parents like mine, who graduated from high school in the late '40s or early '50s, were in between some major musical genres. They were a little young for the big World War II bands, although that’s what they grew up
hearing as youngsters. They were a little old for Elvis, the Beatles, Motown and everything that came after.

The Billboard No. 1 song in 1949, the year my dad graduated from high school? “Riders in the Sky,” by Vaughn Monroe. The No. 1 song in spring 1950, when my mom graduated from high school? "Mona Lisa" by Nat King Cole. The No. 1 song on their wedding day in 1957? "Tammy," sung by Debbie Reynolds.

Their music was Hit Parade, not Rolling Stone. They didn’t go out for drinks and dinner and then go to a concert like we do. No, when they went out it was dinner and dancing, a beautiful concept anyone born since about 1955 simply cannot grasp.

Music was a part of their lives, but not in the fetish-y obsessive ways that began with baby boomers and has continued ever since. I don’t remember ever hearing an argument among my uncles over which bandleader was superior – Nelson Riddle or Guy Lombardo. I don’t recall anyone ever bragging about having a brand-new, still-in-the-shrink wrap Firestone Christmas compilation circa 1967.  No women in my family debated the merits of Tom Jones vs. Engelbert Humperdinck.

But I remember hearing music. Always.

These days, there’s not necessarily much of a difference between what parents and their children listen to.
There are parents who feel that introducing their children to the right music is as important as teaching them to walk. There are kids who love the Beatles or ABBA as much as they love Barney or the Wiggles. Music can be what families have in common, not a wedge that divides them.

Conversely, music changed immensely in my parents’ lifetime. My dad went from admiring Sarah Vaughan to loving Tracy Chapman. As a kid Mom loved the cowboy music of Roy Rogers, yet didn’t mind my youngest brother cranking Motley Crue in the car everywhere they went.

What I most appreciated about my parents’ approach was that music was good. Period. They never tried to tell us what to listen to, and in fact bought records for us such as the Rolling Stones or the Monkees without us even asking for them. We were too young to know what was what, but very early they created a bridge that went from their music to our music. The sound of the house changed, but music remained.

So if my parents could indulge my David Cassidy obsession, it’s worth my time to learn more about June Christy. If they could sit with tears in their eyes while listening to Sgt. Barry Sadler sing about the Green
Berets during the Vietnam War that cost my family dearly, I’m not going to chuckle too much when that song gets played in jest.

Part of me feels so sad for all those lonely records at the St. Vinnie’s deep-discount store. But you know what? One day down the road Dinah Shore, Buck Owens and the cast of “Camelot” will be joined by Smiths B-side compilations, the Stones' "Sticky Fingers" with working zippers and obscure indie bands whose stuff never did make it to CD. They’ll wind up in the same dusty place, the remnants of an owner who still couldn’t part with them at the very end.

It all has quite the makings of one interesting lineup. Tom Jones, Morrissey and Lawrence Welk all together for one legendary appearance? Sounds just wunnerful to me.

The perfect stereo for the warm tones of Andy Williams.