Rediscovering a love of music
Recently Maggie and two colleagues led a class of middle-schoolers on a weeklong exploration of Philadelphia music from the last century.
There was a ton to choose from but so many of my memories are rooted in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.
The Stylistics, The Delfonics, The Spinners, and McFadden and Whitehead.
Philly is Gamble and Huff and all of the musicians they produced. The O’Jays, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, and former Blue Note Teddy Pendergrass.
Alone in my car I sing along with the music cranked up loud enough that I can’t hear how out of tune or off-rhythm I am.
Sometimes I pause when I realize how wrong I am about a lyric, push the back button and try again.
I would have loved being a Blue Note. I’d never had the ambition or desire to step into the spotlight like Teddy.
I prefer introducing you to people who I enjoy who are great at what they do.
In the 80s and 90s that was what I loved about working in radio. It was fun to be on-air in those days. That’s how people discovered new music and decided what they might want to buy.
Maggie asked me to talk to her class and so I Zoomed in.
I was their age in the late 60s / early 70s.
I listen to that music and it takes me back. I feel young as I travel through time and feel where I was and what I was doing at that time. The memories are specific and vivid.
The music I listened to when I was their age was recorded more than fifty years ago.
The music of my life is the music of their parents and grand parents era.
We look at these songs from opposite sides of the age gap.
I stopped and looked at songs that were recorded fifty years before I was the age they are now. That would be the 1910s and 20s.
One hundred years ago.
Somehow one hundred feels like a long time ago. Fifty, not so much.
Maggie’s students hear The O’Jays and The Stylistics the way I might hear Al Jolson, Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong - though Ellington and Armstrong were kind of modern with hits from the late 1920s.
When I worked at WMJI we were an adult contemporary (softish rock with oldies mixed in) station. Our AM side was WBBG - your big band grandstand.
The WBBG positioning statement was “The Music of your Life”. By that they didn’t mean my life. They meant the lives of old people. You know, people who were the age I am right now and older.
There’s a point in each of our lives when songs we remember as being new and hot are now being played on a classics or oldies station.
Do ages get frozen? Should Classic Rock refer to rock of a certain period the same way boomers or gen-x refers to a particular era, or should it be classic relative to today the same way we measure antiques?
Kim had speakers in the kitchen that she could plug her phone into to keep up with the music of today. She listened to college radio stations on her car radio when the kids weren’t in the car and she had to listen to Radio Disney (which was using the same frequency formerly occupied by WBBG. The music of your life was now the music of my kids’ lives.)
She listened to Toad the Wet Sprocket, Hootie and the Blowfish, Green Day and others before they hit it big.
Songs from those groups as well as the Radio Disney songs the kids listened to are now 20+ years old. You hear them on stations that play classics.
I’m now trying to grow my listening patterns in multiple directions.
I try to listen to some of what’s current while filling in categories I missed or didn’t dig into deep enough.
After listening to Fresh Air’s piece on the pianist Jessica Williams I played through part of her catalog which led me to other Jazz trios. I found music I didn’t know at all.
I then retreated to the comfort of the familiar and played some of Brubeck’s music from the 1950s.
The queue then delivered a classic from Philadelphia: “For the Love of Money.”
It was like a game of Heardle.
From those first notes in that first second I knew immediately who and what I was listening to.
It took me back to the old days - not the days where I first heard the song - but the days where I worked in radio and talked over the intro.
“A Florida judge tells us the pandemic is over,” I begin as the reverb cuts out and the intro instrumental line repeats. “No masks needed anymore for airplanes and other public transport methods.”
Man, I think, I’m rusty. It’s been a long time since I did this. And I continue.
“Snow on the ground today and short sleeves by the weekend.” I nod to the old Kid Leo trop and finish, “it’s a baker’s dozen after the hour, and here’s ‘For the Love of Money’ from the fabulous O’Jays.”
I nail the post and stop just as the O’Jays sing, “Money, money, money, money.”
It’s one of those things that only matters to old DJs. Nailing the post means I finished my thought naturally just that beat before the vocals begin.
I’m loving working on my music app as I’m listening to a lot of music these days.
I can create stations that are warm, fuzzy, and familiar as well as those that stretch me.
I still can’t sing, but I’m finding it rejuvenating to listen to music again.
Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 108. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe