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Sheer auto-biographical vignette. Why I do not like popular music.
It may come as a surprise for some to learn the big city was not always my home. Far from it. When I was yet a child, living under my parents' roof, that roof was located in a very small town in the Piedmont area of South Carolina. This part of the up-country, located in the foothills of the Appalachians, is one of the richest and most fertile sections of a fruitful region. The soil tastes and smells of nitrogen and will nurture the most unpromising seed into full glory. The very trees cast an aura of green quiet across the horizon and beyond. It has a delightful climate with warm summers and cool winters. In short, it is a demi-paradise and should have given rise to a populace of happy, decent people rejoicing in their good fortune and spreading kindness as far as the eye can see. Alas. In order not to subject this town, which still exists, to ridicule or worse for having harbored me for even so short a while, I shall not name it. However, I will tell you it is one of those minute blots on the map both birthed and bisected by the railroad. The double track runs right through the center of the town, paralleling the main street and, incidentally, separating the haves from the never will haves. It is one of those towns in which the upper class celebrates its diversity and tolerance by a super-fervid embrace of the sole Jewish family within its boundaries and a studied indifference toward the majority of the citizens who are poor blacks and trashy whites. A place where those who drink the occasional cocktail, take the Lord's name in vain and paint their baby grand pianos baby blue consider themselves the upper class. In short, it was and remains a typical southern small town, even now in the twenty-first century embracing a pseudo ante-bellum vanity which would be amusing perhaps even endearing were it not so vicious.
So here I was, about the age of eight as I recall, already a green monkey among these good people for reasons I have no intention of exploring here, trying to find some way to fit it or at least not to stick out quite so blatantly. My parents were no help; they moved in any society in which they found themselves with the ease of cuckoos snuggling down in another bird's nest. My sister, unlike me, was a beautiful golden child, stupid as a bag of walnuts, but one who used her looks to buy acceptance from the adults who oohed and aahed over her blondness. Naturally, I was bitter and isolated. It was the natural course of things.
Now, picture me - a gawky, bony girl child with shoulder blades which stuck out like plucked chicken wings, lank brown hair and yellow eyes - trying to survive in a clot of proudly illiterate and uncultured yahoos who took their ignorance for virtue and thought little chubby blonde babies were the height of any aesthetic experience. (Not that they could pronounce or define 'aesthetic'.) I despised them equally as much as they ignored me and spent most of my time with chalks, pencils and books. While they stared with total incomprehension at their opened Bibles, absorbing holiness by osmosis since the words could make no sense to their benighted minds, I was reading beyond my years and filling my head with ideas too advanced for my experience. It was a time of glowering resentment on my part and unthinking dismissal on theirs.
Then one day it became known, in an effort to offer entertainment and community to the town, those who were in control planned to stage a town-wide festival on the following Saturday night. They would have a stage erected in the middle of Main Street - which, you will recall- ran by the railroad tracks and would encourage the merchants to open their doors to sell food and goods until late in the night. Why it might even go on until ten o'clock in the evening! And there would be a communal singing; everyone was included, even skinny eight year olds with knobby knees. I was beside myself. Here it comes! The thing I had been waiting for!
For some reason, I had by this time made a collection of folk songs, learning both the words and the music for hundreds of the traditional ballads of the region. Now, I have absolutely no idea what possessed me to do such a silly thing. Then, however, it seemed like a good idea. Remember, I was just a child and not the fount of wisdom you now see before you. For whatever reason, I had done this and in my extreme naivetÃ©, I assumed this is the sort of thing which would be sung at the Sing. So I dressed with care and went downtown with the others of my family on the Saturday evening just as the twilight commenced. I felt an unaccustomed flutter in my chest and a bubble of excitement rising in my throat. This was going to be fun!
The single street was thronged. Farmers from the surrounding area had come to town, joining the entire population of townspeople. I doubt there was a person remaining within reach of the festivities who was not caught up in the gaiety. It was the Santa Claus parade, the market-day adventure, all the other special attractions of a small commercial center made as one and better.
I wandered around alone, this was a safe community, using my pocket money to buy a hot dog at the drug store and looking with wide eyes at the stage. There were instruments scattered around the folding chairs from the funeral home: fiddles, banjos, an accordion. Pretty soon now I would hear the opening notes of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" or maybe even "Greensleeves". I could hardly wait.
Finally, the musicians began to mount the platform, wiping their mouths with the backs of their hands and picking up their instruments. They tapped their feet on the echoing boards as they tuned up. Then, the designated leader raised his bow and gave the beat. Ah......
What?! What were they playing? What was this sound? There arose from the crowd gathered around the stage the most ghastly braying and bleating imaginable in my worse nightmares. They were not singing folk songs; they were wailing their g-d forsaken hymns about guilt and blood and nails and .... In utter horror, I stood transfixed. This had to be some sort of joke, soon now they would have this out of their collective system and make music not noise. When the hymn or a dozen hymns had finished, a soloist stepped to the front of the fiddlers and started twanging and moaning some country song. It was the triumph of the nasal over the vocal. Why do people who sing these abominations have to force the air through the nose? I was surrounded by the caterwauling of the ignorant, the keening of the non-musical, the conquest of the determined to be uncultured, the election of the commonplace.
With a smothered cry, I managed to break away from the awful cacophony rising from the mob and ran like the prey of a monster. I ran all the way home, up the stairs and into my own room. I slammed the door, closed the windows lest I hear any more of that soul-devouring noise and threw myself on my bed where I cried for quite a long time. This was not my place and if becoming a part of this world meant tolerating that sort of so-called music, I would remain a Green Monkey all my life and be glad of it.
And that, my dears, is why I am unable to appreciate popular culture as she is presented in the world of the uncritical.