Monday, May 4, 2009

I Want to Be in That Number

First, an update on where I am these days, sort of, with the blog

At this point my blog is still taking shape—the focus (of course) is “me” and my observations and experiences, and sharing the things I like. That’s why it must have a focus also on the Ozarks, nature, and cooking and restaurants. That’s why it has to talk about being a fourth-generation German American living in the house my great-grandfather made, on the street where both my sets of grandparents lived most of their lives.

I have to admit that I would much rather spend time writing blogs than working, or working on things I am trying to work on, most of it mental work. Or cleaning house.

I still want to “finish” telling you about our Arkansas trip (particularly the Cliff House at the Arkansas “Grand Canyon”; the Fordyce Bathhouse at Hot Springs; and the wonderful music scene at Mountain View); and I want to write more about the Missouri River Lisbon Bottoms area. I’m feeling like I’m “getting way behind” in things I want to write about. I haven’t told you my favorite morel-hunting story. I haven’t told you the story about the Johnny irises, even though they’re almost finished blooming by now.

But this is the season to move all the plants out of the house, establish the flower beds, and cut the grass incredibly often. Plus all the usual work. I’ve just been really busy. And I don’t want my blog to become another one of those things on my “do list.”

So I hope you’ll bear with me being a little disorganized these days.

And now, the topic du jour

When you start a blog, one of the things Blogspot has you do is fill out your personal information or “profile” (which I really only sketched in the briefest way: “From Missourah,” etc.—I do intend to flesh that out a little more), but at least I could confidently list books and music I like, and under “music” I wrote that I like the “unpopular” kind.

Under that category I have to put “jazz.” I don’t want to have to put it into that category, but that’s where it has to go in this country. I guess because it is generally seen as fine art, which by definition excludes the largest, indiscriminate masses.

It is a strange and ironic thing that America’s indigenous musical art form, jazz, is largely unknown here in the States, whereas in Europe it is appreciated and known by all sorts of people. I hear.

Anyway, while we were driving around Arkansas the other weekend, I was playing a CD that had a mix of various southern-flavored music. Some of it was twangy country, some bluegrass, some soul, some blues, and some Dixieland. And one of the tunes was a sassy, swingin’ rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

My dad asked me to turn up the music. (Wow!) He wanted to listen to it. He explained that he had never heard of the song as a kid, and one year when he was at Boy Scout camp, one of the other scouts had a conversation with him. The scout had found out my dad plays the piano, and then asked, “Can you play ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’?” And my dad had to admit he’d never heard the song, and couldn’t play it.

And the boy had replied, “Well, you’re not a piano player then.” This is an interesting story to hear from my dad, who plays Chopin, Scarlatti, and Beethoven. Beautifully. When I think of him as a youngster, I imagine he must have been a lot like “Schroeder” in the Peanuts comic strip. Blond, smart, handsome, reserved, and totally focused on his classical music.

Yet one of the big theme songs of American jazz—this rousing, cross-cultural, spirited, jazzy march—had eluded him and no doubt others. Kids of my generation learned the song as elementary students in music class in the 1970s, when school music books included a multicultural selection.

I know that “political correctness” and “multiculturalism” are troublesome concepts for many Americans, but although we always run into trouble when such notions are bureaucratized, codified, and enforced, the basic impulse of inclusiveness, of welcome, of generosity and understanding and simple politeness, is a fine thing to have toward all who are different than ourselves.

When I try to imagine this country before Civil Rights and before schools and the media became more inclusive, I realize that the white majority had been robbing itself of the richness of our complex society. Segregation hurt the whites, too.

Meanwhile, I would wish that all Americans might know the bliss of Chopin, the majesty of Bach, the glories of Beethoven, as well. Even Sousa. These days, even the “white” canon seems endangered. How can we pass all this worthy music on to the next generation, beyond the elite few who attend music school?

And whom shall we blame for the current flood of vacuous music? MTV? Big media corporations? Or our own lazy appetites? Junk music is like junk food; the only solution for the problem is to make better personal choices every day, and to teach our children to be discriminating (in the good sense of the term).

By the way, Dad really seemed to enjoy hearing “When the Saints Go Marching In” that afternoon, as we drove through Little Rock and past the memorial sculpture of the Little Rock Nine.


As usual, no matter who you are or where your feet are planted this moment—on vacation, at funeral time, working or jobless, in the North or the South—that bouncy, magical song always hits the spot.

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