I grew up in the age of radio. No, not “The Green Hornet” era of radio, but good old AM rock-and-roll radio. The Casey Kasem Top 40 Countdown was a weekly event where he would tell us which songs were the best-selling and thus a ‘must-have’ with whatever money we could put together. No other radio shows were quite like it. And there certainly were no radio shows that would highlight pop, swing, jazz, or classical in the way that Kasem did for rock-and-roll. An AM/FM was a pricey option for cars back then so ‘alternative’ forms of music, which normally played only on FM, were rarely heard. If you were a teenager in the ‘60s and you liked jazz, it was probably because you, a friend or family member had an FM receiver or the good old-fashioned LP had exposed you to it.
The first time I was exposed to music of all types was when I went off to college in Boston. In a large university, 18 year-old kids arrived from all around the country with varied backgrounds and experiences. I was in for a type of education that I had not envisioned. Whatever my college major was, my real education slowly became music. And it continues even today.
My first new college musical exposure was to John Coltrane. (Thanks Rod) To be honest, I didn’t get it. Beyond that, I didn’t really like it. But my roommate constantly espoused the virtuosity of it all and I tried very hard to understand. Finally, I took a music course in Jazz. Since rock-and-roll is all 4/4 time, my first exposure to time signature variants was a real revelation, especially Brubeck. In a very short time, I not only understood what I was listening to but also became a fan of a wide variety of jazz types and sounds.
My next exposure was at a Beethoven concert that my friends wanted to attend. I had no interest in this at all but I was dragged along. The next thing I knew I was taking a Romantic Music course and my music world was changing forever. All my electives were filled with courses in different types of music. I wouldn’t try to suggest that I liked all of it, but I certainly began to appreciate each type of music for what it was and what it contributed to the world’s body of work. A teacher of mine once told me “that you can’t appreciate the beauty of things until you’ve experienced the ugly of things.”
Interestingly, the more I learned about music, the more I learned about people, their culture and their past. Primarily I learned that there is no such thing as bad music. There is music that you do and do not understand, music that makes you laugh or cry, or music that somehow makes you sit a little straighter in the saddle. There is music that makes your foot tap, makes you move to the groove, or is so atonal it just makes you cringe. There is music that is so pure you feel it must have been written by God. There is music that contains so much power and beauty that you think you might explode. And, there is music that is something less than you had hoped. I also learned that the music of the world mirrors the people, the cultures and the era that made it. I have come to believe that as there is no bad music, there are no bad opinions. Just as with music, there are some opinions that I don’t understand, don’t like, and don’t agree with. But there are also some of enormous purity, beauty and grace.
Just as music transcends cultural, political, and ethnic realities, so too can people allow themselves to transcend what they think they know. Too often, I see and hear people pass along the opinions of others. Hardly any person, group, or philosophy is nearly as bad or as good as it seems. Every discussion that sinks to the level of name-calling ceases to be a discussion and the fruitful exchange of ideas has ended. Every day, people have a chance to step up and be counted, to create a new, original, and exciting thought on something about which they care very deeply. Few have the courage to bring that thought out into the open and subject it to examination. Be among those that have the courage to think. We all need you desperately.
© J T Weaver