Thank God my music’s still alive.
— Elton John
We were at a family gathering, circa 1965, visiting relatives we naively considered well-off because they could get more than one channel on their TV.
Because of that wondrous fact, I sat in front of their tiny black-and-white watching the Kinks play “You Really Got Me” live, mesmerized by this amazing music and spellbound to actually see the band. Except for an occasional Ed Sullivan broadcast, my only interaction with music to that point was through AM radio or the tiny all-in-one compact record player my brother and I got as a shared Christmas gift.
I barely registered my granddad when he came into the room, so caught up in the music was I, but I was brought back to the here and now by his “Hmmph!” Granddaddy Bill could do a Hmmph! like no one else.
I turned to him expectantly, saw the look of disgust on his face, then winced as he said, “Nothin’ but noise!” When I recovered sufficiently, I tried vainly to convince him he was wrong.
In the intervening years, I’ve often found myself defending musicians I admire … rock and roll to die-hard country fans, Tom Morello’s place among the greatest guitarists ever, Bob Dylan as music’s greatest lyricist, Kanye West’s talent over his grating personality, Elton John’s musicianship over his sexual orientation, the massive influence of George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, the real country of Jamey Johnson over the pseudo/bro country of his contemporaries …
A funny story: My daughter Jordan introduced me to Skrillex and dub-step, a music I immediately fell in love with, during a shared lunch one day. I came back to The Herald, went immediately to YouTube and was listening to “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” — maybe a little too loudly — when the big boss, Mike Gebhart, came out of his office. He froze in place, got a confused look on his face and said, “What in the world is that noise?”
Shades of Granddaddy Bill.
Like many other real music fans I’ve run into over the years, those kinds of comments don’t deter me. I’m amazed at humans with the capacity to create art — to touch people — with their voices and instrumental virtuosity, and I fall in love with their works each new time I hear them. When no other person can calm me or heal me in times of pain and torment, music always has.
As I’ve thought of Grandaddy Bill’s — and Mike G’s — “noise” comments over the years, I’ve taken comfort from two unimpeachable sources: Neil Diamond and the Bible have each lauded the concepts of “beautiful” and “joyful noise.”
I pity anyone who doesn’t hear beauty in Art Garfunkel’s and Eddie Vedder’s and Otis Redding’s and Adele’s and John Legend’s heavenly voices. I feel sorry for anyone who isn’t moved by Stevie Ray Vaughan’s and Brian May’s guitar notes … Neil Peart’s and John Bonham’s and Lars Ulrich’s caveman drumming … Paul McCartney’s and Flea’s and Les Claypool’s rhythmic bass runs … Greg Allman’s haunting Hammond B3 organ.
I’m saddened for people who don’t feel real joy listening to “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” “California Love,” “Yellow Ledbetter,” “Ns in Paris,” “L.A. Song,” “The Israelites,” “Copperhead Road,” “Try a Little Tenderness,” “Hey Jude,” “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie,” “Tie Dye on the Highway,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “Amen Omen,” “Radioactive” …
I once had an old football coach tell me he didn’t trust any man who wouldn’t sit down and drink a beer with him. I feel the same way about anyone who can’t sit through and appreciate Ringo’s drumming in “Rain.”
As far as I’m concerned — with due respect to Granddaddy Bill and Mike G — I’ll go with that hip-hop prophet Chuck D, who once monumentally proclaimed, “Bring the noise!”