This is rather long and probably a bit chaotic. I keep being interrupted, and my mind is on so many things. So my brain got fuzzy when I tried to edit. Oh, well. You'll read it as a gift to me, and be rewarded with music at the end.
Completing my 46th trip around the sun today. If you're near my age there is one thing we have in common. No matter how cool your family was 40 or so years ago—and mine was, Dad listening to Ray Charles & old jazz, Mom into Motown, brothers playing Beatles records and more—there was still one constant in all our lives at that time. Burt Bacharach.
Okay, and Laugh-In, unless your parents were the kind who thought that sort of thing was wicked. And talk of the moon landing, Vietnam, Liz and Richard, sure.
But really, Burt Bacharach. I napped to him, is what I remember. I enjoyed his particular style very much, especially when rendered by the smooth jewel-toned Dionne Warwick, or the Fifth Dimension or one of those other vocal groups that made with the groovily blended harmonies back then. I never gave any thought to any of this, though. It was just background music for the times. Later on, if you asked me what I thought of it, I'd have remembered it all as distinctively bland, unexciting, good for listening to while dozing on a summer afternoon. Taken and smoothed out even further, it became what we then referred to as "elevator music."
Oh, and Billy May! I always liked his sound, but if I could conjur the typical listener of a Billy May record back in those days, it would have to be someone I'd make fun of, just a little. The kind of guy eventually known as Leisure Suit Larry. Or someone's uncle and aunt, the childless ones in a really sharp-looking apartment which came straight out of a catalog, but none of the chairs were comfortable.
To me, back then, cool was only what young people were into, except not the ones who went around in ragged jeans that covered their dirty bare feet. Because that was just never cool, no matter how much your cannabis-addled brain thought so. Anyway.
Of course I was, as we all are early on, a young idiot. I had natural good taste, but didn't understand or appreciate it. And by the time I started to figure it out, there was no one else to share it with, not for a long time.
The world's a bit more open-minded now, but when I was growing up, the Cult of Youth controlled everything. The baby boomers were in charge, and they were never going to grow up. At least, not grow up and turn into their parents. I didn't know it at the time, but their parents were laughing at them. To continue with music. How could you find anything sexy in "Paint it Black," when you were making out to "Tuxedo Junction" 20-25 years earlier? How could punk music 15 years later sound like anything but noise next to your cool jazz and bossa nova records? But that was the past, and to a young person in the 70s, that past looked sterile and uptight, though it was actually anything but. People like me who were interested in both present and previous eras were oddities back then. The Happy Days nostalgia for certain aspects of the 1950s was a fairly new type of phenomenon, and once that was over, the past was just old again.
All my favorite singers now were considered has-beens or jokes when I was young. They were not respected. They couldn't keep up with the rapidly changing times, and the ones who tried just looked awkward and out-of-place. Nothing was respected when I was very young except whatever someone had just thought of the day before. Many young people know better now, as they're exposed to so much more, but it's still a basic aspect of youth. And when they discover something that's been around awhile, they discover it as though they're the first ones to see how great it is. Young people discovered Tony Bennett and swing music and rockabilly…in the 90s, and acted as though they were gifting these phenomena to the world. As though, because they made the discovery, these things were worth appreciating as they never had been before. They eat them up and spit them out, though, and the turnover is remarkably fast. I am just barely, but barely, old enough to remember when a cultural era outlasted a shopping season.
When you're young and filled with furious sexual energy, you think your time, the best time, the only time, is now. But all you're really doing is releasing excess energy, and you don't find out until later how good it can feel to burn and seethe and hang onto the energy, stretching it out to an aching point like the tempo of a great song. You think that when you're older, you won't feel sexy, no one else will look sexy, and you won't even care, but of course none of that is true at all. You know who already knew that when I was a kid? Billy May.
He took this Burt Bacharach song that just everybody was recording when I was a little kid, and he made sex out of it. Don't laugh. It's easy to just write it off as cheesy ephemera of the Disposable Era. Listen to it with your eyes closed, instead, and think about what your parents knew that you thought they didn't know. Er, maybe don't picture them knowing it, though.
I remember now and then while growing up, hearing some older person joke, "young people think they invented sex." Already my young adult children think there are things I might not get, or would find shocking. This is, of course, partly because as parents we shield these things from them so carefully when they're little. So when they discover it, they first assume we must not have known about it at all, since we never mentioned it. But of course there is nothing new under the sun. (And rule 34 was around well before the internet. Young people just gave it a new name.)
But this is about music, and the point is, it was often and usually about sex, even though we didn't always get that when we were kids. It's just icky when you're little, a nearly violently biological imperative in young adulthood, and then, well, something quite different in middle age, quite spectacular if you let it be so.
It's kinda like booze. Young people tend to like fruity or fizzy beverages. Even though I had a fairly well-developed palate when I was younger, the first time I tasted a martini, I was sort of depressed by it. How could that be the magical drink people sang about and glorified? I went for gimlets, instead; crisp and dry, but with a familiar fruity essence. However, the combination of gin and dry vermouth is a taste best acquired with seasoning, and once you've acquired that taste, so much of the rest seems cheap and cloying. All the best stuff is like that. Think of the various spiritual disciplines that aren't even available to students until after they hit forty. Your mind starts to stretch for real only when it starts to slow down a little bit.
So when you look back at who you were 10, 15, 20 years ago, during the wine cooler days, Nirvana and NIN, and Alice in Chains, hopefully there's only a little melancholy, not too much regret and especially not any longing at all for better days gone by. The best is yet to come.
(Talk about not getting it. This song just seemed sleazy to me when I was a young adult. Now it seduces me.)
Maybe there'll even be an opportunity to recapture a little youthful energy to enjoy in the delectable middle years. Now that you know so much better what you should be doing with it. No reason at all you can't still enjoy this (track chosen fairly randomly and hilariously,)
While really starting to appreciate this as well: