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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

16 July 2008

Hearing Things (Revised)

Her name was Mrs. Washington. She was a beautiful, tall, statuesque black woman, and she was our ninth grade music teacher at Junior High School 143 in the Bronx, New York. She seemed way old to us, but in retrospect she must have only been in her mid-20s, maybe 30, tops. And she loved music, that much was clear. But I didn’t care, because I was a self-absorbed fourteen year-old among a classroom full of self-absorbed fourteen year-olds. I’ll say this, being a junior high/middle school teacher has got to be tough. You’ve got to be dedicated.

But Mrs. Washington was not deterred. Oh, how she tried to teach us. We did not listen. I don’t remember much about the class, just one thing. She said that really good music was that in which every time you listened to it you could hear something new. Hey, teachers say a lot of things to students. Most of it goes in one ear and out the other. But that phrase…her description stuck with me even if I didn’t think it was absolutely true.

And so it was that I was headed home from the airport recently, tired from a long day of flying (it is what I call “work”), and so preoccupied with other things that I was hardly listening to my iPod. I haven’t got quite 250 songs on it yet but we’re getting there (231 at last count). I leave it on “shuffle” and just let ‘er rip. There are very few songs I skip over, hand-picked as they were.

Ringo Starr’s “Photograph” began. Co-written by George Harrison, it’s one of my all-time favorite recordings, and I have rhapsodized about ad nauseum before. I’ve sung along with it countless times, holding my cellphone up to my ear and pretending to talk on it so other drivers will not think I’m crazy. (”Lookit that, Martha! That man is yelling into his cellphone…he must be crazy!”)

Bit of trivia: George used a little, descending-chord riff in “Photograph” that he later repeated in his song, ”Cheer Down" which was used over the closing credits of the Mel Gibson movie, Lethal Weapon II

But as much as I love “Photograph,” even this time I wasn’t paying attention, my mind a million miles away. The chorus played a second time:

”I can’t get used to living here
While my heart is broke...”


One small part of my brain focused subconsciously on the voices singing harmony. It does that sometimes. So clearly recognizable, it jumped out at me - George Harrison’s voice! Suddenly I was jolted out of my reverie. Not only had George helped Ringo write it, he sang on it as well. I did not know that. Alert now, I stopped the song and hit “replay.” As it began again, there’s this jangly acoustic guitar part that is also very clearly George playing. So he helped Ringo write it and sang on it and played on it too.

I wanted to slap my forehead with a Homer Simpson-like, “D’OH!” Why had I not heard this before? I’ve listened to this song countless times…I mean, literally, and I had never recognized George’s guitar playing nor his background singing. It just never registered. D’OH!

I’m stupid sometimes.

And with that revelation…not that I’m stupid, that’s no revelation…but the revelation of hearing something in a piece of music that I’d never heard before, I immediately thought back to Mrs. Washington’s music class and her telling us that bit about really good music. She was right after all!

Since graduating junior high I’ve tried to use that as a yardstick to determine whether I liked a piece of music or not. But to be honest, I thought it didn’t always apply. Sometimes, I thought, a song was just a song, the same song that I’ve heard a thousand times or more. The reality is that sometimes I just stop listening.

It was doubly odd then that I’d hear something “new” in a song that I wasn’t really even listening to.

And so it was in that spirit that I clicked forward until I found Kanye West’s “Stronger.” It’s one of the few songs I do skip over. I gave it another objective listen, hoping to hear something new. Nope, same crappy piece of waste-of-my-valuable-time crap song I thought it was the first time I heard it. Only its raging popularity caused me to download it (hey, we all make mistakes). Got home and, well, let’s just say we’re down to 230 songs on the old iPod now.

Sorry Mrs. Washington, it had to be done.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I wish I had a nickel for every time I'm driving and listening to an old song and I pick up something I never picked up in the past. I've been having some fun watching/listening to old band's cuts on you tube. Picked up a bunch of things I never picked up in the past listening to Woodstock clips... lots of fun!


Your Junior High teacher was cool!


kman

Bob Barbanes said...

Oh kman, don't get me started on YouTube. I can spend hours...literally hours watching and listening to music videos. It's my worst addiction.

I'll be looking at something...some old Gram Parsons/FBB video, and that'll trigger some distant memory of another obscure song. And then I'll go, "I wonder if...?" And sure enough, someone will have put up a video of it!

Gotta love YouTube.

Bob Koford said...

Fist of all, I hope its ok that I have been leaving comments here. I enjoy your writing.

This latest article hits home for me, as well.

I was/am a big Beatles fan, and always enjoyed when "Ringo" sang a song. I remember when I first heard Sergeant Pepper's LHCB, and realized "hey, that's Ringo singing a cool song".

I enjoyed his first solo album, as well. Paul and John also contributed to that one.

Thanks for pointing those areas out in "Photograph." I'm going to find it and listen for George.

Thanks for the great web log!

-Bob

Anonymous said...

Ditto here, Bob.

The live clips are great. I was never a huge Steely Dan fan, but like you, one evening, one thing lead to another and I came across a fairly recent live version of *My Old School*. It rocks, and I ended up watching every clip from that concert and more.

If your interested, search it as *Steely Dan live plays My Old School* on You Tube.


kman

Hal Johnson said...

Wow, I never knew that George sang and played on "Photograph." I don't have it on my iTunes, except for the live version from Concert for George. I guess next time I get into town where there's high speed access I'll remedy that.

Bob Barbanes said...

First of all, Koford, you are more than welcome to post comments here. We bloggers love comments! Sometimes I feel bad because I read a lot of blogs but hardly comment on any of them. A lot of times all I want to say is, "Great post!" but don't want to look like a toady.

Secondly, no one is a huger Beatles fan than I (maybe the hugest!). And you kind of really have to be one to pick out George's voice in the background of "Photograph." But it's there and anyone who knows their music will be able to hear him. And his guitar playing in the beginning...think "Here Comes The Sun." They're strikingly similar.

We can only imagine the pressure the four of them were under to continue as "The Beatles." But would it not have been wonderful if John, Paul, George and Ringo could have just ended the group as an entity amicably, then pursued their solo careers in which they all collaborated on each other's albums? It would have been the same, times four! God, think of the possibilities!

John could have still retired to be househusband to Yoko. Paul still could have taken Wings out on tour, playing songs he and John still composed without infringing on any "Beatles" copyrights. And imagine how good Ringo's albums would have been with the other three contributing openly? If Paul tried to get bossy during the recording of "Isn't It A Pity," George could've just said, Sod off, you bloody bastard, you had your way with "Hey Jude." This is MY song now!

Oh and kman, I will check out that Steely Dan cut. They were a little to "jazzy" for me back in the day, but I did like a lot of their stuff.

Bob Koford said...

Tanks, Bob.

Although we aren't the Beatles, if you ever have a moment, maybe you can check out my soundclick page:

http://www.soundclick.com/augustfields


I think you can tell we listened to them.

-Bob k.