Today is John Lennon’s birthday. One half of the greatest songwriting teams in the history of music would have turned 78 today, if he had not been felled by a lunatic’s bullet and had survived the ravages of early old age.
78 is an interesting number with a distinctive musical element to it, for those of us of a particular age. When I was growing up, and John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr were standing, alone and unchallenged, at the absolute pinnacle of popular music, we had a phonograph that had four speeds — 16, 33 1/3, 45, and 78 — so you could change the revolutions per minute of the turntable depending on the kind of record you were playing. My parents actually had some old swing era records that played at 78 rpm, but of course the Beatles singles were 45s, and the Beatles albums, where the band really broke through the barriers surrounding popular music and changed music forever, were played at 33 1/3. We played those Beatles records over and over, and even though I’ve heard every song more than a thousand times — no exaggeration — they all still sound as fresh and great as they did when I first heard them on an AM radio.
I never understood why turntables had variable speeds and why different records were recorded to be played at different speeds — but still, even today, 16, 33 1/3, 45, and 78 remain almost mystical musical numbers for me. I really would have liked for John Lennon to have made it to 78; unfortunately, he never had the chance to make it to 45.
Our modern world of devices and gizmos specializes in sounds as well as visuals and electronic advances. The acoustic element might be overwhelmed by all of the technological wizardry, but it’s just as crucial to the whole experience — and in my view, pretty intriguing, too.
I’m not sure who picks the sounds, or what process they follow, but it’s got to be a pretty interesting job. For example, the remote log-in process for our firm’s computer system requires you to follow several password steps and work through multiple stages of security. If you successfully navigate all of the safeguards, you get a little audio cue that tells you you’re in. It’s a rising three-note piping sound that makes you think that Pan is gleeful, perhaps even prancing, about your success in obtaining access. On the other hand, if you’ve made a false move or mistyped a letter or number in a password, you get the sound of a colossal thud, as if a pallet of bricks has crushed a roomful of outdated electronic equipment and old Blockbuster videos. It’s the quintessential sound of failure.
Wouldn’t you like to know what other sounds were considered for these purposes? How many thousands of snippets of sound were evaluated and tested on focus groups before the final sounds were determined? It’s hard to argue with the happy piper, but I wonder whether the initial notes of Trumpets Voluntary, or the first few chords of Ticket to Ride, were among the finalists? And while the colossal thud conveys, quite effectively, that you’ve flopped, how about a descending two-note foghorn sound, or the crash of breaking china?
I remember listening to Aretha Franklin on the radio when I was a kid, and in fact the very first record I ever bought — a 45, for those old enough to remember such a thing — was an Aretha Franklin record. Back in those days the popular music stations were a lot more inclusive, and on the AM dial you could hear the Beatles, followed by an Aretha tune, followed by Cream or Crosby, Stills & Nash, or one of the many one-hit wonders of the ’60s, and then the Temptations or the Four Tops. Unlike today, music wasn’t stratified and packaged into heavy metal stations or hip-hop stations — AM radio played it all. And once you heard an Aretha Franklin song, even on a scratchy AM radio, you inevitably became an Aretha Franklin fan. Her voice was just so great, and warm, and her presence was just so powerful, that you couldn’t resist it.
Many people associate Aretha Franklin with R-E-S-P-E-C-T, or Chain of Fools, but I think my favorite song is Baby, I Love You, I’ve linked to a bad video quality YouTube clip of that song below, but who really cares about the video quality when you’re talking about Aretha Franklin? It was her voice and her humanity that was transcendent.
And, speaking now as a 61-year-old, I think death at 76 came much too young.
After last night’s Tribe win, they set up Progressive Field for a fireworks show that was synchronized with music playing on the scoreboard. As the likes of Heart and Led Zeppelin rocked the house, shells burst overhead and flames shot up to the sky. In all, it was more than 20 minutes of sound and fury — easily one of the best fireworks displays I’ve ever seen.
The game itself was great, but with the awesome fireworks spectacle it was like getting two fabulous performances for the price of one. It almost makes me sad that today we’ll be watching a day game.
Last night we went to Lake Arrowhead Village for an outdoor concert. It was an Elton John “tribute” featuring Kenny Metcalf as Sir Elton, and it was great fun.
I’ve never seen a “tribute” band before, and I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. But the performers took their roles seriously– complete with a feathered outfit and sparkly glasses for Elton and rocker wigs for the other members of the band–and they gave the crowd a high-energy set that had everyone singing along to their favorites. (For me, that was Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters.). And Kenny Metcalf played the piano beautifully and sounded remarkably like Elton John, too. A beautiful setting, moderate temperatures, and clear skies just made the evening more enjoyable.
A powerful set of rainstorms rolled over our neighborhood overnight, leaving the ground wet and the air with that light, crisp, delectable, freshly washed feel. Taking deep whiffs of the air the morning after a Midwestern summer storm is like crawling into a bed made with freshly laundered sheets.
I poured myself a cup of coffee, from beans just ground by Stauf’s, and padded out onto our back porch, where the neighborhood birds were putting on a musical performance, free to anyone who cared to listen.
Sunday morning is a good time to drink a fine cup of coffee and listen to the birds. There’s no traffic on Third to increase the level of background noise, and you can hear the different birds, with their different, melodic calls, distinctly. It is so quiet and peaceful that you can hear the chirps and songs of birds in the distance, answering the calls of their brethren, and when the birds take a brief break, the absolute stillness feels deep and almost palpable.
I went to work this morning, and as I was working I kept hearing this great jazz music coming up from the street below during today’s Sunlight Market on Gay Street. I couldn’t tell whether I was hearing a recording or a live band — but the music was terrific. It was old-school jazz that had a kind of New Orleans feel to it. It reminded me of Tuba Skinny, one of my favorite Big Easy jazz bands.
When I left the office and walked out onto Gay Street, I saw that the music was coming a live band. They finished a number and took a break, and I walked up to throw a few dollars into their open guitar case and thank them for adding a little musical accompaniment to my Sunday work session. They were a Columbus-based band called the Whirlybirds, and they were great. You can check out their Facebook page here and hear one of their numbers here.
I’m going to keep an eye out for a chance to hear more from the Whirlybirds.