Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 28, 2012

Interview on music

Filed under: music — louisproyect @ 6:32 pm

My wife’s nephew from Istanbul just started community college in the USA as a communications major. The other day he asked me to take part in an interview about music. His questions and my answers appear below. I invite you to answer the questions yourself, a bit of a break from Syria, the black bloc, electoral politics and my usual obsessions!

1. What kind of music did you listen to when you grew up? (Have them name specific songs, bands, and genres if possible). What was your favorite? (then you’ll find youtube links if possible and describe the music).

ANSWER: I listened to rock and roll. This was before the “British invasion” and consisted of different styles.

The first was white groups who sang in close harmony and were considered unthreatening to one’s parents. For example, Dion and the Belmonts were very popular. Even though they were white, their primary influence was Black “doo-wop” groups. Here are Dion and the Belmonts performing “A Teenager in Love”, a song that captured the feelings of frustrated young people everywhere:

The next was Black groups and performers that came out of the “rhythm and blues” tradition. The most famous was Little Richard who like many Black artists adapted Gospel singing to the more rebellious rock-and-roll movement. Even though his music was very “Black”, most of his fans were white as this Youtube clip reflects:

The last style that came under the general umbrella of rock-and-roll was called Rockabilly. It combined rock with country-and-western. My favorite musician was Eddie Cochran. Here he is performing “Come On, Everybody”:

While Elvis Presley belonged to the Rockabilly school, he also incorporated the Little Richard Black sound and became the number one artist. Unfortunately, after his first two records, he started making mainstream music geared to Las Vegas audiences.

2. Did you have any traditional music that you grew up with? Any ethnic music? Holiday music? Church music? And/or family traditions involving music?

ANSWER:

There were lots of Jewish songs that we learned to sing for religious holidays. I have forgotten most of them but I am pretty sure that I knew the words to this when I was a young boy:

3. What kind of music do you remember your parents and even grandparents (if possible) liking and listening to? (Name specific genres, bands, names of songs if possible – find youtube links of these and describe the music).

ANSWER:

When I was young, there were still lots of people my parents’ and grandparents’ age that spoke Yiddish (this was the language of Jews from Eastern Europe). For them the music of the Yiddish musical comedy era was still very much alive. I remember my father singing “Romenye, Romenye” from time to time. This was a song that Aaron Lebedeff, a big star of Yiddish theater, was famous for performing. It is all about the pleasures of living up in Romania:

4. Did you ever play an instrument or sing? Describe.

ANSWER:

I have a very good ear for music but can’t carry a tune. That means that it is not a good idea for me to sing. I studied trumpet for a couple of weeks in high school but dropped it because I didn’t like it when the teacher yelled at me. I also studied piano for a couple of weeks after school but dropped it because it was too hard.

5. Did you know anyone else in your family or any close friends who played an instrument or sang? Describe.

ANSWER:

My wife, who is from Turkey, is a great singer but she never sings because she is too busy preparing classes and writing articles. She also plays guitar but left it in Istanbul when she came to the USA to study. Maybe I will buy her a new one some day.

6. What did music do for your life when you were young and throughout your life?

ANSWER:

Music is my greatest passion after politics. I have collected records and then CD’s from every imaginable style, from opera to jazz to world pop. When guests come to my home, I offer them drink from a well-stocked bar, food, and good music. Although I don’t understand the words in this video, I feel that the Turkish rock music Baris Manco expressed my feelings here:

7. If you could pass on something concerning music to the next generation, what would you tell them?

ANSWER:

I would tell them to only buy CD’s made by people with integrity. Too much music is being made today that is catering to the marketplace rather than to one’s artistic vision. This is especially true with respect to hip-hop that all too often lacks any kind of connection to the real problems of Black America, except for the rare artist like Lupe Fiasco whose father was a member of the Black Panther Party:

4 Comments »

  1. Hey Louis!, No mention of Latin-Music. This gift for you, from 1973: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Oym3CDcTzU

    Comment by Ian J. Seda-Irizarry — October 28, 2012 @ 6:47 pm

  2. Ian, I am a huge fan of 1950s and early 60s Latin music as my Perez Prado and Benny More CD’s would demonstrate. However, back then I had no idea that the music existed. This was not a survey of music from the period but only my recollections of what I listened to.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 28, 2012 @ 6:49 pm

  3. Comment by Jane E — October 29, 2012 @ 8:32 am

  4. My old friend Sid Whelan, who was the lead guitarist of Afroblue, responded to the interview as well. Afroblue, btw, was a superbly eclectic band that specialized in Afropop with Sid providing soukous type licks that I reviewed here: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/culture/afroblue.htm

    1. What kind of music did you listen to when you grew up? (Have them name specific songs, bands, and genres if possible). What was your favorite? (then you’ll find youtube links if possible and describe the music).

    I was surrounded by classical music in school and at home. We performed classical music in the school vocal groups and most of what I studied on piano was classical. My mom played classical piano and listened mostly to classical music. She also took us to concerts sometimes. But for me my early obsession was the Beatles. They were my main musical foundation as a kid, though over time I was exposed to much of what the 1970’s had to offer – Zeppelin, the Who, Sly and the Family Stone, the Rolling Stones, the Commodores, Paul Simon, Fleetwood Mac, Grease, Sha Na Na, Stevie Wonder, Dire Straits, Elvis Costello, the Cars, Blondie, Aerosmith, Billy Joel, Springsteen, Diana Ross, David Bowie, Barbara Streisand, Barry Manilow, Elton John, Donna Summer, Kansas, Cheap Trick, the Police, Talking Heads, Heart, Loggins & Messina, Boston, Queen, Bread, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Cliff, Paul McCartney & Wings, Jefferson Starship, Van Halen – this list could go on for a very long time.

    2. Did you have any traditional music that you grew up with? Any ethnic music? Holiday music? Church music? And/or family traditions involving music?

    Holiday music was the Anglo-Germanic tradition of Christmas Carols. We sang them at home for Christmas parties and also joined roving caroling groups on the Upper East Side. I loved that – strolling around the neighborhood en masse in the cold, holiday decorations everywhere, serenading people at their front doors or in their building courtyards. My Catholic church was very musical in the 1970’s – St. Thomas More on East 89th St. At various times they had an organist, a cantor, a folk singer (Mary Minor –great name) and kids would also play – one of my sisters played flute and my best friend Phil Tyson’s sister also played flute in services sometimes. We definitely also would sing songs around the piano at times with my mom playing. That was it for tradition, but my sisters and I all took piano lessons for many years. None of us ever had the ability with it that my mom does.

    3. What kind of music do you remember your parents and even grandparents (if possible) liking and listening to? (Name specific genres, bands, names of songs if possible – find youtube links of these and describe the music).

    My mom loved Mozart. She played Mozart on piano and took me to hear Mozart operas. (She also played Schumann some other classic composers.) I would sit on the floor underneath the piano while she was banging out those amazing chords and arpeggios. (No wonder I got hooked on the Who later on.) Mom never took piano to a public performing career level but she knew a pro violinist and a pro tenor and they would each come over to rehearse – she would act as their rehearsal accompanist when they were “woodshedding” as jazz musicians call it – that preliminary workout when you don’t know the music as well as you’d like but you’re getting your head in the game. She also an early audiophile, putting together a pretty amazing component system in the ‘70’s before it was commonplace. And she exposed me to country music because she grew up in California when it was pretty rural. Mostly Hank Snow and Johnny Cash was what we listened to. When she was young my mom played accordion and guitar. I had her 1950’s Martin 00-18 guitar for three decades but recently turned it over to my niece, who is becoming a great musician.

    My Dad loved New Orleans Jazz and old folk blues – Louis Armstrong and his hot 5 & 7; Jelly Roll Morton and his Red Hot Peppers. Bessie Smith. Leadbelly. He took me to see Art Hodes, Mama Yantzee, Lena Horne in concert. He had no musical talent but he sure loves that music with a passion.

    4. Did you ever play an instrument or sing? Describe.

    I studied piano from Fourth grade through 9th Grade and never got good at it. Between 7th and 8th grade I started teaching myself to play guitar and have stuck with it. At age 47 I’m pretty good – not a virtuoso but rather a good communicator. Before my voice changed I was a really good singer and in school did glee club, madrigals and barber shop quartet. I loved that and really learned a lot from singing those tight harmonies. After my voice changed I was no longer a naturally good singer and really should have taken voice lessons but I passed up that opportunity.

    In college I took up African-based hand-drumming – congas and djembe. Over time I became pretty good at it but eventually moving back to New York and not having a practice studio I gave that up – in apartments buildings the neighbors just could not stand the drumming.

    6. What did music do for your life when you were young and throughout your life?

    Music has always given me a cathartic sense of euphoria. It still does that. It’s like an emotional reset button, though that makes it sound simple and quick so perhaps it’s not the right metaphor. Going into the difficulties of the teenage years it helped deal with anxiety, depression, melancholy, insecurity. It helped me fit in and have a role in my community. I think it still does that. To be honest I love performing. I’d rather perform than listen to music. I’d rather perform than record music for posterity. Even though I enjoy all of that as well.

    7. If you could pass on something concerning music to the next generation, what would you tell them?

    Quoting Bobby McFerrin: “Sing for your lives.” In this world of instant media gratification it is so easy to not learn an instrument. So easy to not sing. So easy to leave it up to the “professionals.” Please do not make that mistake. Make your own music.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 29, 2012 @ 1:42 pm


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