Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Telling Music Stories

DC Editor Adam writes…

SCENE: A Living Room.

MUSIC: Florida Suite (1887) by Frederick Delius

ME: (Talking over the music) “Did you know that Delius was buried at night time?”

MY WIFE KAREN : “No I did not know that. Did you know that I can’t hear Delius’s lovely music because you keep telling me stuff such as ‘Did you know Delius was buried at night time?’”

My dad in the late 1960s
I have always been fascinated by the stories behind the music.

It was perhaps inevitable, therefore, that I would end up spending my life sharing music stories as a Music Tour Guide.

I recently found myself wondering where this interest – this obsession? – came from. And whether or not I’d have a greater appreciation of the music if I forgot all about the backstory and just listened.

Frankly, I didn’t fancy the prospect.

Rather than change the habits of a lifetime, I tried instead to trace back up the tracks of my trainspotterish proclivity for musical biography.

And the line led, as it so often does, to my father.

That's him in the picture above. His name was Alec and he was born on this day, the 7th of April in 1933.

He shared a birthday with Billie Holiday (1915) and Ravi Shankar (1920).

My old man had an eclectic taste in music.  For the purposes of the tale at hand I’ll set the gamut as being everything from John Phillip Souza to Johnny Cash.

Johnny Cashmy old dad was fond of saying, could sing heartfelt songs of life behind bars because he had himself been a hardened jailbird.

This last is a PR man’s dream. In truth, Cash served several one-night-stands in the pokey for various minor misdemeanours (including the daft flower-picking incident that featured in the song Starkville City Jail). Down through the years, however, these incidents have, in the retelling, become a tale to rival anything out of Dumas.

A Chequered Past, of course, does no harm to The Image.

John Phillip Sousa, my dad told me, also had a backstory…

Sousa, according to my dad, was a man obsessed with precision. Evidence? Well that was plain in the marches that he wrote. My dad loved them. Martial music. March time. Brisk. Not a hair out of place.

Sousa’s obsession was such, so my dad told me, that his quest for precision in all things eventually drove him stark staring MAD.

I have always LOVED that story.

My dad (above) and me… 

But I’d never sought to question it. Until, that is, I decided to trace back up the tracks, etc, etc (see above)…

It turns out, thanks to just the most cursory glance at Google, that J.P Sousa lived to the ripe old age of 77, was happily married and had three kids.

The "maddest" thing he ever did was that he once considered joining a circus band, but soon thought better of it. He was fond of wearing his Marines uniform when performing, even long after he left the military – eccentric, rather than barking, I would have thought.

Far from the stuff of raving lunacy.

Does it make me think any less of Sousa? Well, he was never going to feature on my Desert Island Discs at the best of times. Does it diminish my dad, somehow? Not at all. The fact that my old man was a bit of – ‘ow you say? – a Romancer, was one of things I loved most about him.

I just wonder where the story came from? Did my dad just assume that the slightly unhinged undertone of marching music would surely drive you to the booby hatch over time? Was it a paternal cautionary tale to take Sousa in small doses?

And, frankly, who could take large doses of Sousa? For most listeners, a march spends most of its time either approaching and/or receding – based on the reasonable assumption that the listener is standing watching a parade. Thus the music never outstays its welcome. The only folks exposed to the music for protracted periods of time are the band members themselves. Or people who like following parades. Those band members are often soldiers with training to toughen them up for horrors almost as bad as martial music. Those who jig along in their wake, however, would need to be judged in another court.

So is this another tale of parental let downs and disappointments then? Far from it.

It’s a thanks-giving tale. My father’s love of music and a good yarn both are the greatest gifts he bestowed upon me. Music and the stories behind the music are central to my every living day.

Thanks dad.

Here’s the U.S Marines giving it large on Sousa’s most famous piece…

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