The Association produced fabulously melodious hits, and I was surprised to find some of their live performances on the web. “Never My Love” is definitely my favorite song of theirs. It is simple but lovely.
They put on quite an energetic show with “Along Comes Mary” on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour:
Finally, in honor of my mother’s wretched little Shih Tzu by the same name, here is the ever cheerfully fun “Windy”:
I admit it; I like 60’s pop. Anyway, I always find the outfits of earlier performers a bit surprising. Even in the midst of the cultural revolution, these guys look like old school college chaps. I wonder when the move toward t-shirts or worse occurred.
I must have developed a taste for nihilistic melancholy as a toddler. As early as I can remember, I loved “Dust in the Wind” from Point of Know Return by Kansas. As a child, I would play the 45 over and over again.
Except in popular music (I confess to being hopelessly lost to the filth of pop culture), the 1970’s were an aesthetically challenged decade, eh?
It is a bit sad that many of our iPod youth do not even know how record players worked. They marvel at vinyl as some artifact from a lost civilization. My mom still has thousands of records. Their spacial and care requirements make the digital age understandable, but scrolling through a list of MP3’s just does not satisy in the same way as carefully removing an album from its sleeve and placing it gently on the record player. When you move the arm over, lower it down, and hear the initial hiss before the song begins, you act out your own hieratic D.J. liturgy; joy comes in the ritual.
On this Feast of the Meeting of Our Lord (the second of February on the Julian calendar), let us remember Simeon the Elder and Anna the Prophetess. Like the Theotokos and John the Baptist, they are human ties that bind the old and new covenants together. Some Orthodox theologians like to call them the last saints of the Old Covenant.
The Prayer or Canticle of Saint Simeon the Elder is one of many memorable supplications in Holy Writ. Simeon the Elder and Anna the Prophetess awaited the Messiah, and they lived to see the infant Jesus dedicated in the Temple:
And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to thy word:
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
A light to lighten the Gentiles,
and the glory of thy people Israel.
The Gospel of Luke, 2:25-32
The prayer is a much beloved part of the Orthodox vespers service, and it has also played an important part in Western worship known as “Nunc dimittis”—Latin for “Now let depart.”
When Sergei Rachmaninov composed his setting for vespers, he transformed the words of the righteous Simeon into one of the world’s most beautiful songs. Rachmaninov’s settings for the divine liturgy and vespers are both lovely, but his “Nyne otpushchayeshi” from vespers alone should place him among the greatest composers.
I generally do not care for modern musical compositions in the services, but I was fortunate enough to attend a vespers service in Saint Petersburg that used Rachmaninov’s settings. It was amazing. Sergei Rachmaninov, memory eternal!
They really are dweeb chic. I love them.
It seems that I slowly absorbed most of the music that I prefer; I learnt to like it from familiarity. I cannot, for example, tell you when I began to like Fleetwood Mac, Sam Cooke, the Rolling Stones, the Drifters, or the Four Tops. I grew up listening to my mother’s playing their records. Yet, familiarity cannot account for everything. To this day, I cannot stand hearing Randy Travis and similar country music acts, though my mom played such songs all the time at home.
However, there are some musical encounters that I clearly remember when I instantly fell in love with a song the very first time that I heard it. It might be that such songs simply speak the same language as other music to which I have been accustomed, or it might be that they just trigger some psychological pleasure point. Perhaps, they are just beautiful or they proficiently speak the language of the soul. From majestic movements to simple, catchy jingles, certain tunes just take you as soon as they reach your ears.
I remember the first times that I heard Beethoven’s Fifth and Ninth Symphonies in their entirety. Of course, I recognized portions of them from popular culture. Who can grow up watching Looney Tunes without a fair amount of exposure to the music of high culture? Anyway, if you would pardon the cliché, I was transfixed by the symphonies. From the very first sitting, I knew without any doubt that Beethoven had been inspired by God. As Socrates might say, Beethoven beheld the beautiful itself; for his work testifies of an intimacy with the divine.
I had the same experience with Wagner’s Tannhäuser, Smetana’s Má vlast, Rachmaninov’s settings for Vespers, The Planets of Holst, and mostly everything from J.S. Bach, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák, and Rimsky-Korsakov. To hear them is to love them. Of course, we might expect that such great artists would create works to be immediately appreciated.
Yet, I have had similar though lesser experiences with some pop, as well. I liked the Chieftains, Clannad, and Enya the first time that I heard them, I became a fan of Belle & Sebastian upon hearing “The Boy with the Arab Strap” on my brother’s music list, and I also instantly liked Coldplay. Clearly, I tend to like bands that sound like other bands that I like. So, that could explain some ready acceptance, though it does not account for everything. I remember finding The Cranberries very distasteful the first time that I heard O’Riordan’s peculiar Celtic wail, though I developed quite a taste for them after a few weeks of hearing them in my friend’s car.
Please allow me to showcase one last song. In elementary school, I remember attending a school assembly that featured a musician. I always liked assemblies, as they broke up the monotony of class time’s everlasting tedium. So, I was kindly disposed to the guests out of gratitude. Regardless, when the man began to play the piano, I fell for his song. To hear it is to love Scott Joplin’s famous ragtime classic, the “Maple Leaf Rag.” It is simple joy. Well, here is what I believe to be one of Joplin’s piano rolls (perhaps processed through MIDI, though I am not sure):
If you want a better rendition of the piano roll, consider Milan Record’s’ Scott Joplin: Ragtime Piano Roll. The quality of these recordings, as well as Joplin’s genius, make the album well worth your money. In my opinion, they excel the other recordings of Joplin’s works. If you wish to listen to full versions of these tracks, request them on Rhapsody, where you get to listen to twenty-five songs for free.
The album site’s short biography on Joplin quotes the following from Allmusic: “Born in Texas in either 1867 or 1868, Joplin was raised in Texarkana, the son of a laborer and former slave. As a child, Joplin taught himself piano on an instrument belonging to a white family that granted him access to it, and ultimately studied with a local, German-born teacher who introduced Joplin to classical music.” How remarkable! Enjoy Joplin’s great gift to America.