Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Through a 21st Century Lens

Hands up! Who sings in the shower?

Thanks. Nice to know I am in such august company.

I have been singing, both in and out of the shower, for many years. So many, in fact, that I am actually beginning to bore myself with my repetitious repertoire. And in order to add new material, I have to stretch my memory back to the songs of my youth, rather than try updating my act, because “All My Friends” by Snakehips and Chance The Rapper or “Light It Up” by Major Lazer, Fuse Odg & Nyla don't really cut it as shower-song material.

My childhood songs, however, are from the likes of Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins and Johnny Horton. Now, I didn't grow up in the 50's, but my parents did, and lacking an Internet connection, cable TV or even a my own personal radio, I made use of what I had.

I can hear the Y2K Gens gasping, “No Internet...how did you survive?”

Well, with records. More to the point, my parent's records and the family phonograph.

I now find myself in the odd position of not having to explain a phonograph to the youngsters, as this anachronistic method of musical entertainment seems to be making an unexpected, though robust, comeback.

But during my childhood, this was not a retro-novelty, it was state-of-the art. Our phonograph had a spindle that could hold up to five 33 rpm records, with an automatically retracting arm, and a little brush that swept the dust from the record just ahead of the needle. It was sweet.

And so, on many a lazy afternoon, I would sit on the floor in front of the phonograph and listen to Johnny Horton sink the Bismark, or Marty Robbins lament about his terminally unrequited love for a Mexican waitress who worked in Rose’s Cantina in the little town of El Paso, or Ed Brown and his sisters, Bonnie and Maxine, waiting patiently for bluebirds.

This was the Johnny Horton album I listened to.
Sink the Bismark is at 21.20

These are the songs I now turn to when looking for fresh material to warble as I wash. Though, I have to admit, “Gimme di’ thing and mek’ me rock inna’ di’ dance, Mash it up, hot step inna’ di’ dance…” a la Major Lazer does have appeal.

Now, I have dragged you through that rambling preamble simply so I can introduce you to my latest shower song, a ditty by Johnny Cash, from his humbly named 1958 album, “The Fabulous Johnny Cash,” which tells the story of a young cowboy named Billy Joe.

The Marty Robbins album, one of my favorites.
El Paso is at 18:00

According to the song, Billy Joe was “a boy filled with wanderlust who really meant no harm.” But being bored with the farm, Billy spiffs himself up and heads into town to celebrate his entry into manhood. As he leaves, his mom begs him to leave his guns at home.

Naturally, Billy does not heed his mother’s advice and, when he gets into town and orders a whisky at the bar, someone laughs at him and, with malice a forethought, Billy draws his gun. Unfortunately for Billy, the “dusty cowpoke” he is challenging out-shoots him. As Billy lays dying, he repeats his mothers refrain: Don’t take you guns to town.

The Bluebirds Sing,by the Browns.
Yeah, this is what I listened to as a child,
because I didn't have a choice.

Now, back in the day, it was just a song about a romantic past that Americans love to reminisce about but which never actually happened (sort of the way Brits feel about the Victorians) as well as, one must hope, an object lesson (don’t be like Billy).

In reprising it in the shower, however, certain previously unasked question came to mind:

When was it acceptable, indeed, expected, behaviour to shoot someone for laughing?

Does the description of Billy as “really meaning no harm” match up with the fact of him attempting to commit murder over a minor slight ?

Does Billy, perhaps, have some anger management issues?

Shouldn’t his mother, instead of pleading with him to leave his guns home, maybe have arranged an intervention?

And what about his victim, the poor cowpoke, who was merely forced to defend himself? Is he going to be offered some counselling?

A high school video of Don't Take Your Guns to Town.
Amusing because I recognized my colt cap pistol as the gun Billy uses.

These unanswerable questions make it difficult to enjoy the song as I did as a young lad, so maybe turning to “Gimme di’ thing and mek’ me rock inna’ di’ dance, Mash it up, hot step inna’ di’ dance…” is the right thing to do.

I can’t have any existential questions about that; I have no idea what it means.