Tuesday, August 19, 2008

RIP Jerry Wexler

Unfortunately for me, this blog is a little pretentious. It's a panegyric to Jerry Wexler, the president of Atlantic Records partially (mostly) responsible for the fame of the likes of Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and Otis Redding. He died Friday, 8/15.  But that's not what makes the post pretentious; it's because it's partly a paean to music of the 50s and 60s but it's written by a girl born in 1980 who can't claim soul and blues and rock n roll from 20 years before her existence without a little bit of affectedness.  It's a little hypocritical coming from a person who has voluntarily downloaded a Britney Spears song because it made her want to dance around the room.   It's a little high-minded because if you snuck into my car today, you might find it on XM's 20 on 20, and you might find out I know the words to that new song by Carrie Underwood, "Last Name." 

So at least I'm honest.

But I was listening to a tribute to Wexler the other day, which included a sampling of songs like "These Arms of Mine," "R-E-S-P-E-C-T," and "I Know a Woman." Driving down the road on my way to Oxford, I was singing along at the top of my voice when I thought -- who will pass down this music to my students? To my children? To my children's friends? 

Flashback to 1992. I'm 12 and very impatient with my dad.  I've come to ask him a question about history, a question I always precede with, "And can you give me the short answer please because I just don't have 4 hours this afternoon."  Very bratty.  But I come in on him singing.

"These  ----   armmms ----- of ------ miiiiiiiiiiineeeeee" he croons.
"Dad, I have a question about the American Indians." 
He smiles at me and raises his eyebrows but doesn't answer. "They are yeeearrrning, yearning." 
There's no music playing. I roll my ungrateful teenage eyes at him. I've gotten in trouble for this a lot.
"From wanting youuuu." 
"Dad. Are you listening to me?"
"I need somebody. Somebody to treat me right ohhhh." 
I sigh. And wait until the end. "That's Otis Redding, Kacy. I love Otis Redding. But not as much as Bob Dylan."  

A typical conversation in my household. My mother compromised on the radio and let me listen to Bon Jovi. My father would not. "You need a musical education. This stuff you listen to is all boom boom boom boom."  He was talking about the beginning of hip-hop.

So he played Aretha Franklin. And Sam Cooke. The Drifters. His favorite thing to do was imitate the 50s falsetto, especially if it was a Frankie Valli song. He made up his own music too and sometimes paired it with really moldy country songs. It resulted in an odd "Ode to Charlie Pride/Ode to Myself."  Here's just one example:  "Ohhh the Crystal Chandeliers light up the paintings on your wall. . . plunka plunka plunka -- I'm wonderful, I'm marvelous, I'm terrific and I'm great. I'm one of the greatest people I've ever knooooowwwwnnnnnn."   

The music Wexler helped get to the public is the soundtrack to my childhood.  What do I have to give my own (nonexistent) offspring? "Make 'em Say Unnnnn?" "Gin and Juice?" Shooting stars of hip hop & R&B who flare up just to fall down as quickly? 

Nope, no thanks. I'll risk being a musical leech -- a person who makes claims on music beyond her generation -- any day.  

Sittin in the morning sun. I'll be sittin' when the evveeening comes. Watching the ships roll innnn . . . Then I watch 'em roll away again. . .

RIP Jerry Wexler. (And thanks, Dad.)

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