As a public service, I have pinpointed the acme of American popular music. It occurred in 1956 during the final 1/3 of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” An oboe solo (!) resolves to a joyous, Riddle-led orchestra, and a giddy singer drives it home. Arrangement and vocal: peerless. The great American albums aren’t the White album, “Woodstock,” or “Dark Side of the Moon,” they are “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers,” “In the Wee Small Hours,” “Nice n Easy,” “Jolly Christmas,” and assorted other Sinatra discs from the 1950s.
Classic Sinatra never gets old because, like old school country and bluegrass, it is music for adults. It doesn’t look dumb to see a seasoned Tony Bennett or Ralph Stanley onstage. It does look dumb to see the Stones up there “rocking” while a bunch of gray-hairs bang their heads. I remember bemusedly observing an audience engaged in this while walking by an outdoor Grand Funk Railroad concert back in the late 90s. The hypnosis ended when the singer shooed us along, berating us for not buying a ticket.
How many of us have heard the standard rundown about the rock era, that to appreciate rock you have to get into the blues, and then you have to see the mixture of Gospel, blues, and country that was Elvis, and then along came the British invasion, then Dylan went electric and the Summer of Love happened, Hendrix blew up, and Woodstock showed us peace, love and understanding, and then the punk rockers came along to reinvigorate things when they got stale, and then… OK, you get the point. Folks, trust me, most of this music isn’t worth such scholarship. And why do insular Boomers listen to little but James Taylor, the Beatles, the Eagles, and CCM? Someone is paying $100 to see Dave Matthews in concert.
And now this music has been imported into the churches. Look, I love classic Sinatra, but I don’t want the organist laying down an East Coast Swing rhythm during the liturgy. I like Johnny Cash but must we hear boom-chicka-boom during the prelude? Boomers, listen: It’s time to grow up.
You know, popular entertainment was once aimed at adults. Movie stars were often in their 40s, even 50s: James Stewart, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Ronald Colman, and my own favorite, the inimitable, but not dreamy, Basil Rathbone. Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey and Bing Crosby were the big boys. Today it seems as if everything is targeted to youth, perhaps because someone discovered the buying habits of 18-34 year olds in a wealthy society.
And so the youth movement continues. These youths seem to know almost nothing beyond popular culture, with bits of pieces of knowledge gathered from fifth-rate sources like the Daily Show. Politics is pop culture’s only intellectual endeavor. Not politics informed by economics or political theory or Christianity, mind you, but the kind of unfocused blather skewered so perfectly in Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language.” What we have in popular culture today is a big self-referential web of half-formed thoughts, like ping pong balls popping about in a lottery tube.
What can I say: This old crab Gen-Xer is ready for the juvenile “Rock Era” to end.