Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Of Lilts and Lesley

Earlier this month I stopped at the Green Knoll Grill. A friend was playing bass that night for Little Jimmy and the Starlites, a very good local band specializing in classic 50s-70s rock. There was a sizable crowd for the venue and a fairly enthusiastic one too, though naturally it was mostly older – not exclusively by any means, but mostly. I’m fully aware I fit the demographic, but it still looks funny to me to see gray-haired folks rocking out on the dance floor.

Even though I hadn’t heard many of the songs on the play list in years – in decades for a few – there were none to which I didn’t know the lyrics. The popular songs of our youth become entrenched in our psyches without any conscious attempt on our part to install them there. They not only provide a soundtrack to our lives but influence our perspective in ways of which we scarcely are aware until one evokes a strong emotion in us, often to the puzzlement of our older and younger companions. Music we encounter later in life can leave its mark too, especially if it is associated with some significant event or phase in our lives, but it never embeds itself in quite the same way as what entered our ears between the ages of 10 and 25. You can tell a lot about the quirks of a generation by listening to its music.

It should come as no surprise that we often feel an attachment (however one-sided) to the musicians/songsters as well as the songs. Back in January 2014 when Phil Everly died I commented about popular songs, “They are so interconnected with our life histories that when the artists who performed them die, we often feel the loss as a personal one.” All too frequently this happens when the performers are young (27 is a notoriously difficult age to survive), but in a way it is more unsettling when they begin to fall away at more natural ages: in the past year the departed include Joe Cocker (70), Paul Revere (76), Tommy Ramone (65), Johnny Winter (70), among others. Yes, I know the commonplace response is to say, “nowadays that’s young,” but in truth it isn’t. The deaths might well have been “too soon” by the way we like to reckon things, but the people were not really young. Neither are those of us whom they influenced, as we can’t help but be aware.

The latest to leave us is Lesley Gore (68) who began to chart when I was 10 (she was just 17) and who was a regular presence on radios and record players for the next decade. I’ll leave the commentary about her music and her life to others: there is quite a lot of that for a variety of reasons (many of them only tangentially related to her pop lyrics and sound), and there is little I can or wish to add. However, on a personal level, several of her songs are definitely entrenched in my mind in the way described above, and I’m glad they are. While news of her passing reminds me of my age, hearing her songs definitely makes me feel young.  Thanks for that, Lesley.

Lesley infatuated Robin when she was Catwoman’s sidekick in the “That Darn Catwoman” episode of Batman


  1. Music is a common denominator in my life as well. But other pop culture also resides there as well, like movies and such. I remember the first time I saw Star Wars at the theater, and where I was living. I remember the first full album I ever owned was the Beatles '65 album. Before that I had just bought 45s as our phonograph at home only played that format. I got a stereo for Christmas that played all the different speeds along with the Beatles album, and although it was a great Christmas present, I think everyone in my family enjoyed hearing the music. Speaking of record speeds, I don't think I've ever seen a 16 RPM record.

    But yeah, what a joy. I still love discovering new music, but I'd agree it seems a lot of that stuff from our youth or teen years seems to stick with us as the best. Last summer I went to a blues concert that had several acts. One of them was Rick Derringer, and near the end of his set, he played the song Hang on Sloopy. Sure brought back memories.

    1. Yes, movies surely do their bit, too. Gore Vidal has Myra Breckenridge say that there are no insignificant movies made in the 1930s and 40s. (Myra is a better novel than its reputation, btw; the movie deterred many people from reading it; see my 2013 post http://richardbellush.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-siren-of-myron.html ). His point is that those films vastly influenced the way the generation in power in 1968 (when the book was published) thought. Myra/Gore makes a pretty cogent argument.