Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Friday, May 28, 2010

Plug the Hole

In public relations, they call it “putting out fires.” In the department in which I work, our editors use that phrase all the time. The ringing telephone is the substitute for the clanging claxon, the exclamation point e-mail the substitute for the running script in red under a television broadcast.

Things go wrong. Sometimes it’s the result of a mistake, other times it’s simply a natural catastrophe, like a hurricane. Sometimes it’s murder. It’s not so much that these things happen or who’s at fault, but what we do about them and how we respond to them.

I worked for Exxon at the time of the Valdez oil spill. Exxon was so sensitive about what information got out about the company, just in general, that prospective employees had to sign a non-disclosure statement, vowing that they would never discuss any propriety information about the company, even after they’re no longer employees.

Violating that agreement can bring about a costly lawsuit. Exxon is serious about the old saying, “Loose lips sink oil tankers.” So is the company for which I work now. I cannot mention their name and I am not authorized to speak for them. In order to do that, I would have to attend a series of classes at corporate headquarters and sign a disclosure agreement similar to Exxon’s.

Thank goodness, I work in internal communications. When I get a reporter on the phone, I can blithely tell them I’m the company photographer. It’s the truth, as far as it goes (I'm not about to throw oil on the fire by telling them I'm also a writer but I'm not authorized to talk to them - I don't want to wind up on tomorrow's front pages), and I get rid of them – after a surprised pause – very handily. They’re too surprised to even be annoyed.

“I can take your picture,” I tell them, “but I can’t answer your questions. However, I can give you the cell phone number of the person you need to talk to.”

And I do. It’s company policy to give the reporter access to the informant, plug that hole, as quickly as possible. If you don’t tell them what they want to know when they want to know it, they’ll write in their newspaper article that the company had no comment.


I worked in Exxon’s international oil trading department. I was simply a clerk, so there’s no danger of revealing any proprietary information because I didn’t know anything and don’t remember anything lawsuit-worthy.

I just processed the paperwork. In that process, I often got to speak to the tanker captains. I may have even spoken to Captain Hazelwood. One of the captains told me about the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf and how it was a convenient place for terrorists to sink the tankers.

After the oil spill in Alaska, we employees watched in horror as television news reports showed, night after night, the oil lapping up onto the shore. There were the besmirched seabirds and angry fishing boat captains wanting to know when our company was going to do something.

Or at least, say something. Anything! We pleaded with our department supervisor to tell us what was going on. He said the lawyers had advised the public relations spokespeople to say nothing at all. Silence was golden. The best policy. Lawsuits were in the offing.

Meanwhile, our company was becoming oilier than the ducks on the beaches. Our reputation was sinking. The captain had been drunk and gave command of the tanker over to a junior, less-experienced officer at a critical moment trying to leave the bay. As a result, the tanker went aground (steering an oil tanker isn’t exactly like driving a Pinto or a golf cart).

The media pilloried Exxon for hiring alcoholic sea captains. My grandfather was a merchant seaman and taught at the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point. And he certainly drank. The Valdez captain drank? That was their charge? So did the crew, no doubt. These were seamen, not Wall Street executives wearing Brooks Brothers suits (I’ve known those types, too, and they can drink and snort any seafarer under the table).

Of course he drank.

Neverthelesss, there was a big mess in Prince William Sound (the Valdez was named for the port town where the refinery was located – the ship has since been renamed and relocated) and no one – least of all Exxon, who was responsible for the accident, was doing anything about it.

John Denver scheduled a rare New Jersey concert in Waterloo Village, mere miles from Exxon’s headquarters at the time in Florham Park. There were a number of Exxon employees and fans of the singer at the concert.

Denver did not spare Exxon. He wrote a song specifically about the oil spill. The employees couldn’t divulge any information about what they knew of the spill. They couldn’t name the company. But they could sing along with John Denver – and they sure did.

Eventually, far too late, Exxon realized that it had failed miserably to put out this public relations fire. They got up to the microphone and they got up to Prince William Sound to clean up the mess. The oil has been cleaned up. To this day, they’re still trying to shake the public relations oil from their feathers. Upon hearing about this latest incident, the first name that comes up on comparison is Exxon.

People have to think a minute to remember the name of the tanker. Geographically-challenged, Americans problem don’t recall the body of water. The captain’s name is hazy in their memories. But they remember “Exxon.”

We fast forward now to Deepwater Horizon – British Petroleum’s (BP) Valdez. This involves a poorly-explained rupture in an oil well below the ocean. BP seems to have taken the early pages right out of Exxon’s hold-your-fire public relations playbook.

Thirty days out, they’re only now trying to do something about plugging the leak. Granted, the leak is not only miles down in the ocean, but a mile below the earth’s crust. Still, you think they could have done something by this point. Couldn’t someone stick their finger in the dike.

And that’s precisely what they’re going to do, apparently. Their top-kill method involves plugging the hole with mud. The public can only shrug its shoulders helplessly and hope BP knows what it’s doing.

We, the public, like we, the (then) Exxon employees, have a lot of questions about why a solution has taken so long that aren’t being answered. We can’t help wondering if strings were pulled to prolong this disaster for ecological political advantage.

We learn now that many oil drilling deals have been called off. Would they have been cancelled had the leaking well been plugged sooner, before the oil could reach the Gulf Coast and even the Gulf Stream?

This incident is now also going to affect my present company, and we’re receiving the same message we got at Exxon – that silence is golden. Say nothing. Don’t even say why we can’t say anything.

I tried to explain to a frustrated co-worker how it bears similarities to the incident at Exxon – an oil spill, letting fires burn, silencing our communications team (that would be us). But he’s young and didn’t buy it or didn’t get the message.

We aren’t at fault in this incident and have no responsibility for the clean-up, certainly. This is BP’s mess, not ours. But we will be suffering the after affects and will have to answer to our customers and the Media if we don’t get the message right.

It’s not looking promising that we will. We’re heading for troubled waters and what I was trying to point out to him was that in this oil spill incident we’re following along the same public relations path as my former employer.

Our corporate public relations adviser pointed out that a storm might disperse the oil and we could be spared any nightmares. Only it’s said that oil and water don’t mix. Oil has a tendency to suppress waves and storms, becalm them. It’s heavy and may not disperse but head right for the beaches.

But as we’re only regional communicators, not corporate leadership, we’re not allowed to question corporate directives on this issue much less defy them, though this oil spill may very well affect our regional business.

Our job, as public relations minions, is to seal our lips and pour oil on troubled waters. We bobbled our heads when our adviser gave us the message points for this upcoming incident. What else could we do?

The lawyers have spoken and have the last word in public relations.

But so okay. That’s what companies do and what company employees have to do. We receive a salary to keep our mouths shut when we’re told to do so. We all know the story and the deal. That’s what it is.

When our government starts acting like a company, though, when the President of the United States acts like the Chief Executive Officer of a company, deciding what questions he will and won’t answer, that’s a problem.

When he and his government withhold information, and delay responses and recovery efforts beyond what would be considered a reasonable time, that creates a public relations hole. We shouldn’t still be seeing oil gushing out of that well.

During Hurricane Katrina, President Bush only delayed his visit a few days and for valid reason. Louisiana was a flood zone and in the middle of a crisis. His early appearance might have made for great media visuals but would have diverted officials from their real task of helping people in the area in order to accommodate him. The only people incommoded by his later appearance was the press.

Obama ultimately placed the responsibility (where it belongs) on British Petroleum. However, there’s been no good explanation for the delay in oil spill fighting tactics. Where there is smoke, there is fire, and where there is silence, there is a lawyer. Or government bureaucrat.

Oh there is certainly the inevitable leaking memo, laying the blame on BP officials for not reacting in a timely manner to the impending crisis, when it looked like this leak could not be contained. The memo sheds no more light on why exactly it occurred. But we know who’s at fault. Sort of.

Now that he’s waited long enough for this oil spill to evolve into a full-blown crisis. Now that the oil has reached the shores of the United States and is heading for the Gulf Stream. Now that we have the pictures of oil-saturated wildlife and grasslands.

Now that all the pieces are in place, Obama and Congress can come to the rescue with legislation. Ta-ta-ta-DAH!!! Here he comes to save the day! They can’t cap the oil well but they can cap and trade the oil companies.  This oil well didn't have a safety cap, incidentally.  That's the cause of the blow-out?  Or that would have been a solution had they been prepared?

It’s this miraculous public relations curtain-raising that raises suspicions and doubts about the timing of this incident and the delay in preventing further damage. Have we anticipated the chessmaster’s moves? Are all his pieces now in place, so that now he’s willing to parry questions from the Media?

Rush Limbaugh has been suspicious and skeptical since Day One and geological experts had to be trotted out (on cue?) to allay those suspicions and accusations and forestall further public inquiry with predictably incomprehensible scientific answers.

Impossible to fix it, at least immediately – it’s a mile below the crust of the earth. Oh yeah? Well they managed to drill the well hole and get the pipes down that far in the first place, didn’t they? Is it that BP didn’t have the ability to do it? Or is it that they weren’t allowed?

Did our government insist on doing “environmental impact studies” before they would permit BP to proceed? Did the government insist on signing off first on whatever solution was found? Did the Liberal politicians need more oil to gush out first in order to fuel their agenda?

When the Liberals were ramming TARP down our throats, they claimed economic Armageddon was looming. We were facing a worldwide economic collapse if we didn’t bail these companies out (!).

Health care reform! People are dying! We’ve got to do something. It was lie; no one was dying from lack of health care insurance. Now they’ve all but signed off on yet another government-encroaching, freedom-sucking financial bill. This is an emergency they said. They’re saving us from evil Wall Street Bankers.

When Conservatives said, “Hold on a minute; we’re not sure about all this. We need to study whether this is really good for the country” the Liberals cried foul. The Conservatives were obstructing progress (darned right).

But when an oil well in the Gulf spews billions of gallons of oil into the ocean, they need to “study the environmental impact” of any solution. Sounds more like they’re studying the political impact to discover what kind of hay they can make of it, how they can blame it on a past administration, and how it can be made to serve their cap-and-trade ambitions.

Sometimes you have to dig a hole before you can plug it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Shocking Idea

“I meant to kill a turkey and almost killed a goose instead.” Benjamin Franklin, 1750

Glenn Beck is a national treasure; he truly is. He should receive some sort of medal for service to America with his outstanding efforts to educate the American people on their history, their heritage, and the imminent danger they are in of losing their freedom.

But now and then, he displays a disconcerting lack of, shall we say, common sense? In particular, his common sense is unfortunately wanting in regard to the controversy over the 15-story mosque/playland being planned a few blocks from Ground Zero.

According to news reports, this building is well within sight of this tragic landmark, providing an unobstructed view of the blasted-out area. The local zoning board just approved the project and Glenn supports their right to build there on constitutional grounds.

He’s very proud of our nation’s tolerance for all religious beliefs. How can the American public say no to a religious group wanting to build a place of worship (a community center, actually, according to the planners), even if it is near enough to Ground Zero to roast marshmallows?

Citing the intent of the Founding Fathers, he constitutionally welcomes the right of Muslims to worship in America, although even he would be hard pressed to regard suicide bombing as a form of Constitutionally-protected religious worship.

The law is blind and so is Glenn. Where the law is silent, human judgment must take a hand. There are many things the Founding Fathers were unable to foresee. Looking into the future, they couldn’t have predicted that Muslims would pose such a threat to freedom.

Perhaps they recognized Islam’s dogmatic nature. Transportation of the times, slow and expensive, though, limited any invasion by immigration. Recognizing it might be possible, on the other hand, they did provide Americans with the ability to restrict immigration, protecting those who already lived here from those with less invested in the nation.

They didn’t foresee opportunistic politicians gutting those legal barriers. They didn’t foresee a revolution in transportation, giving us the jet plane that could fly unimaginable numbers of people to any point in the world and unimaginable monsters into unimaginably tall buildings.

They didn’t foresee the Civil Rights Act of 1964, not only making discrimination of foreigners, and their intent in coming to America, illegal, but even penalizing criticism of certain protected groups. They didn’t foresee the concurrent gerrymandering of Congressional districts that would give those minority groups unlimited power to perpetually vote in their corrupt politicians.

They couldn’t begin to imagine Americans who hated freedom and who would use our own freedoms, our own Constitution against us, to destroy that freedom.

Glenn has urged his followers to create their own “freedom libraries,” with books on the founding of the country and the issues of freedom. I’m happy to say I created my own library years ago. One whole shelf is devoted to 9/11.

How would I answer Glenn Beck on the issue of a New York City Mosqueland, if I could? What can I at least say to my own readers about what’s wrong with the knuckle-headed idea this zoning board in Lower Manhattan has about reaching out to the Muslim community?

I sought the answer in my 9/11 library - the Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam. Surely, if any book could tell you what the problem is, this one could. As I took the book down from the shelf, I noticed there was a bulge. I had placed some other book inside its front cover. A pamphlet on the Koran, I supposed, or something of that sort.

But no; it was a children’s book on the inventions of Benjamin Franklin. “What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin?” In my hasty housekeeping, when I shelved the PI Guide to Islam, it must have devoured this children’s book.

Instantly, as I bemusedly perused it, I came to the section on Franklin’s experimentations with lightning. Franklin was a prolific inventor (the whole point of this children’s book). He sought out the answers to the mystery of lightning in order to discover some invention that would prevent colonists’ houses from being burnt to the ground (he founded the first fire company, among other things).

A Dutch scientist had discovered that electricity could be stored in glass bottles. The latest fad of the time was to watch electrical experiments. Franklin bought some electrical equipment in order to conduct his own experiments.

Two days before Christmas 1750, he decided to hold an “electrical picnic.” His plan was to kill a turkey with an electrical shock and roast it in its container, which was connected to electrical circuits (grizzly, to be sure, but in those days, there were no frozen dinners. It was strictly do-it-yourself).

However, as he was conducting the experiment, he was distracted by the conversation of his guests (much as we were distracted by the chatter of our Media before 9/11). Holding the two top wires of the unit in one hand while grounding himself by a chain attached to the jars containing the electrical charges with the other, he electrocuted himself.

When he came to, he noted in embarrassment to his alarmed guests, “I meant to kill a turkey and almost killed a goose instead.”

Critics of America enjoy noting that the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center served as a “lightning rod” for Islamic extremists. We “asked for it,” they claim. Nervous Lower Manhattan planning board members quickly changed the name of the new World Trade Center building being built from Liberty Tower or Freedom Tower, to a simple street address.

The Twin Towers, lightning rods? Possibly. But those buildings should have been well-grounded in the American principles of freedom and free enterprise and better able to absorb the unpredictable lashings of a frenzied religion. If the Twin Towers were not morally grounded, as they obviously were destroyed, it may be because we had not grounded them in American principles as firmly as we ought to have.

We had just finished eight years of the Liberal Clinton administration. His experiments in political correctness left America dangerously exposed to the effects of Islamic lightning strikes. Other Islamic “lightning rod” experiments had been successful; we did not keep up with the current journals on their effors.

The Twin Towers are gone; some remaining buildings in the area still bear the scorched scars of those lightning strikes eight and a half years ago. There is still no memorial to its victims. The replacement buildings are mired in bureaucracy and empty-headed politics.

But this zoning board quickly approved the Mosqueland building, a veritable picnic ground for extremists to come and admire the handiwork and victory of Mohammed Atta and his crew. That is the way common sense Americans and the 9/11 families see it.

The Liberals and the Lamestream Media would have us believe in some sort of La-La Land of religious tolerance. They obstruct the building of a memorial while heralding this obscenity disguised as an Islamic Disneyland, open to the general public.

Come, swim in our pool, dine on fine cuisine, enjoy the view of the former World Trade Center, and at the same time, learn about the diversity and tolerance of Islam. Share in our cultural heritage. 9/11? Oh, let bygones be bygones.

Roasted turkey, anyone?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Knowing Your Place in History

“We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we do this.” Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 19, 1863

If Barack Obama doesn’t want to perform the simplest duties as President of the United States, why doesn’t he just quit? The Associated Press reported yesterday that our commander-in-thief will be skipping the wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day to vacation in Chicago, instead.

Funny, he didn’t mind decorating himself with laurel leaves during the campaign.

If he really feels that way about the duties of his job, we’ll happily accept his resignation. He’s certainly given every indication that the United States of America isn’t his kind of country. He disapproves of the Constitution. He pillories states that try to enforce the laws of the land. He hasn’t held a press conference since last summer, refusing to answer the questions even of a docile, supportive news media.

If my poll numbers were in the low Forties, I wouldn’t want to answer any questions about terrorist guys, gushing oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico, or drug-dealing illegal immigrants, either.

He bows to foreign potentates. He wants to redistribute our wealth, tell us what to eat, what to say, and what to think. Does that sound to you like someone who enjoys being President of the United States of America? I didn’t think so; me, either. So we’ll understand if he wants to turn in his title and his laurel leaves. Let’s give the guy a break; I’ll even volunteer to help him write the letter of resignation.

Oh, he wants to be president. The top dog. Just not of the United States of America. Since he can’t run for an office in another country, he’s stuck with this one. So he’s reshaping it, transforming it to his own liking, like a diva “transforming” the Star Spangled Banner into an unrecognizable hodge-podge of melismas, runs, trills and wrong notes.

Some Liberal a long time ago (I can’t remember who or when), said they hoped one day that Memorial Day would become an obsolete holiday; that with the end of all wars, there would be no need to memorialize dead soldiers.

Well, you know, the trouble is, dead is forever. Once our soldiers in uniform made that sacrifice, there was no taking it back. Jesus will return on Judgment Day and all souls will answer to His call. He’s the only one who can bring the dead back to life. Until that day, it behooves every patriotic American to remember this solemn occasion.

It’s not supposed to be a holiday, as in “Let’s Party!” Until Congress enacted the Monday Holidays law in the 1960s, it wasn’t. Yes, people celebrated Memorial Day weekend as the beginning of summer. It’s the holiday when the white shoes and bags come out of the closet.

Originally called Decoration Day, it was first enacted to honor Union soldiers of the Civil War. Memorial Day was expanded after World War I, when we went on having more wars. The First Decoration Day was held in Charleston, S.C., at a racetrack that had been converted into a cemetery for Union soldiers. Former slaves exhumed the bodies from their mass graves and reburied them properly in individual graves, according to a Yale Historian.

On May 1, 1865, a Charleston newspaper reported that a crowd of up to ten thousand, mainly black residents, including 2,800 children, went in procession to the location for a celebration which included sermons, singing, and a picnic on the grounds, thereby creating the first Decoration Day. The first official observance was in Waterloo, N.Y., on May 5, 1866.

Maybe now Obama would like to rethink his vacation plans? It’s very nice that he wants to honor Abraham Lincoln, a courageous president who put his political career and his life on the line to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But if he could speak, he’d probably tell Obama to do his duty and lay the wreath at Arlington National Cemetery.

Or if he really wants an historical holiday where he can give his daughters a history lesson (he could use a few lessons in American history himself), go to Gettysburg, the most famous of the Civil War cemeteries. Let him walk on a few Union graves and then tell us they didn’t die so he could one day become president of the United States.

Many Southern states refused to celebrate Decoration Day, due to unabated hostility towards the Union Army and also because relatively few Union Army soldiers were buried in the South. In 1882, the alternative name of “Memorial Day” was first suggested, though it did not come into common usage until after World War II.

No one really knows why the date of May 30th was selected, except that there were no battles scheduled on that date. But that date now is pretty much lost to history anyway, thanks to the Congressional act of 1968, declaring Monday holidays. Without an actual date and advertising circulars, no one would remember exactly when Memorial Day is.

Guess Obama figures it’s just an arbitrary, made-up holiday (like Kwanzaa?), so why bother? History isn’t exactly his strong-suit.

Evidently, it’s a date our Commander-in-Chief would just as soon forget and not be bothered with. He’s chosen to “celebrate” at a more convenient location near Chicago. He and Michelle can get a little shopping in, maybe a little golf. He can forget for a few days that he’s President of the United States.

One group that won’t forget May 30th is my band. It’s the birth date of our band. We were formed on May 30, 1884 – Memorial Day. We’ll be out on the street parading, our trumpet-player performing Taps at the cemetery, as we have for the last 126 years.

The original members of the band have long since gone to that Great Bandstand in the Sky. Our uniforms are different. Our instruments are somewhat different. Our musicians – in some cases – are different. Others are related to the original members. They’re not so different.

Only one member has something like an 1880’s mustache. We have women on the band now. When not in uniform, our members wear jeans and tee shirts, or suits. They jet off to meetings in Europe and Asia. They have laptops, cell phones, and I-Pods.

But aside from the technological changes and variations in fashions, they’re still Americans. They know their history and know why we march down the street every Memorial Day. Because of the unbroken link in our band’s history, we still retain that tie to that first, distant Memorial Day when our band honored those who gave their lives for freedom.

Unlike the President of the United States, no matter what else we do that weekend, on Memorial Day morning, our band knows its duty and its place, on Monday, on Memorial Day, and in history.

Where will you be on Memorial Day?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My Generation, Right or Wrong

“You make this world lousy.” “We didn’t make it.” West Side Story

I’ve been on such a music kick this last week or so, my blog followers must be wondering whether I’m becoming a one-note bell and what all this has to do with politics?

In a word, everything. (Just as a reminder to my followers: I chose my blog/online name for a musical, as well as political, reason. The bells are the instrument I play).

Music - popular culture - is the driving force behind our political lives. It’s the drummer we all march to. Each generation seeks to find its own, distinctive drummers who determine whether we step off on the left foot, the right foot (traditionally, marching units step off on the left foot – no offense, my conservative friends) or whether we straggle down the street in a sort of a mob.

If music is the universal language, the teens of the Sixties and early Seventies certainly spoke a strange dialect. We, their younger brothers, sisters, and cousins followed along dutifully. We didn’t mind the folksy Hippie tunes (“If I Had A Hammer”).

But the wild guitar riffs of the likes of Jim Morrison – a friend once described his version of The Star Spangled Banner as 13-car pile-up on the freeway – well, either you liked it or you didn’t. There was no middle ground with heavy metal.

Strangely, it seemed to be a white kid thing. The black kids, as far as I could tell, didn’t think too much of heavy metal. Heavy metal music made one glad to be a social outcast. My kindly older brother, worried about my declining social status, tried to bolster my interest in popular music.

I felt no veneration for the musical gods of rock.  I was too much of a music-lover and drew the line at what was passing for music in those days. Elton John, yeah, okay, even though you couldn’t understand a word he sang. Judas Priest, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple – not so much.

Where I went to school, the heavy metal stuff was all the rage. Thank goodness there were pop alternatives to the migraine-inducing heavy metal rock. John Denver was my particular favorite. Barry Manilow – definitely chick music, but easy on the ears. Michael Jackson, very cool, obviously a real musician. He could carry a tune.

By the mid-Seventies, heavy metal rock was drifting off into its own current, out of the mainstream. Though it still had a large following, the Kid Brother generation had had enough of music you couldn’t dance to.

What, were our big brothers and sisters stupid or something? How were guys and girls supposed to get together to that kind of music? Much to the dismay of hard rock hucksters, in came Disco. Bland, soft, and melodic, they hated it. No matter, the kids were dancing again.

People started recognizing songs once more, even, perish the thought - adults. They could sing the lyrics. Dance bands could play the tunes at weddings and bar mitzvahs. It was fun. They invented dances to go along with the music. Couples entered disco dance contests.

Meanwhile, the hucksters on the left were fuming. People were enjoying music again. Couples were partnering. Everyone was out on the dance floor, having a good time. Having fun. Where was the angst, the rage, the anger? People were – uniting.

So they began a campaign against disco music. Can you imagine? Launching a smear campaign against possibly the most innocuous music of all time? But it worked. The creatures came crawling out of the woodwork, snarling into the microphones once more.

Disco passed its popularity zenith, as all musical forms, do. Dancing, thanks to Michael Jackson, didn’t go away, though. However, by the Eighties, we’d passed once again into a lyric-free, melody-free zone. The music, such as it was, sufficed for the current moment then vanished into a void, never to be remembered.

But an awakening seemed to have happened during the Seventies, for which my generation (right or wrong) I believe is responsible: they became more open-minded to all sorts of music, not just rock. Frank Sinatra regained his rightful place among the pantheon of musical stars.

I’m officially old now and well past the point of knowing any more what music is popular and what isn’t. The no. 7 song in 2009 – “My Life Would Suck Without You”. From what I can hear on the company muzak station, we’ve drifted back into a gentler, rhythm and blues current (thank goodness).

From what I can tell, it’s a more peaceful generation of music. Whether it passes the test of time only time will be able to tell. Whether it makes it into the canon of Americana depends on how much the music has to offer to Americana.

That is where the Generation Gap becomes a real problem. From generation to generation, we’ve isolated ourselves, planting our generational flags on one brand of music or another. Some music transcends time better than other music does.

American Patrol (written in 1885; recorded by Glenn Miller in 1942) and Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the U.S.A (1984), though written a century apart, fit very nicely into the same portfolio. Last summer, one of our bands tried to appease the Sixties crowd at a Fourth of July concert with some number by The Doors as part of American pop culture.

Some of the musicians thought it was groovy (it was certainly tamed down from its original arrangement for electric guitar); the rest of us begged the director to never do that to us again. The other band I played with once jettisoned a band arrangement of the disco number, “Gloria.” A John Denver medley barely made that band’s estimation of pop music and younger members actually vetoed The Beatles.

If you want to hear one of my bands play a pop tune, it better have been at the top of the pop charts for a long, long time. The band will play Take Me Home, Country Roads or Rocky Mountain High, but not My Sweet Lady (pretty number, but only John Denver fans know it).

If a brand of music is dependent on a certain type of musical instrument or piece of equipment, if it isn’t “portable”, it isn’t going to make it. Music that is artist-oriented, likewise, will fall into the time trap. That is one reason deejays have become popular at parties. It’s the only way artist-oriented, technology-oriented music can survive.

Today’s audiences would rather hear a recording than live music by someone other than the artist. Such musical parochialism guarantees royalties for the artist and their estate. Still, deejay music just doesn’t have the same impact as an old-fashioned sing-along.

Recordings have the tendency to discourage audience participation. Sing-alongs need a leader, and a band, where possible. Somehow, I can’t see people at a Memorial Day or Fourth of July concert waving American flags to the strains of “Back to the U.S.S.R.” The idiots do wave flags to Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” though. (Why is rock music so loud? So you don’t hear the lyrics.)

Contemporary music, save for some country-western artists, isn’t particularly patriotic, either.

More and more, big fireworks extravaganzas are accompanied by egotistical rock singers trying to plug their latest me-generation romantic ballads (which have nothing to do with Independence Day) than Sousa marches or God Bless America. I’ve been known to turn off the sound on the TV and use my own considerable library of music.

America is at juncture in the road of history where it’s ready to get back together and party, if the Tea Parties are any indication of the current trend. Like the high school pep rally I mentioned the other day, we’re tired of the gloom and doom, the same old Liberal war songs.

They’re singing patriotic music at the pep rallies, not anti-war songs from the Sixties, disco numbers from the Seventies, or whatever they sang in the Eighties. The Liberals have been trying to silence the Tea Party music, from a distance.

We need to put the Liberals on mute and turn up the volume on Americana, fife and drum corps, marching bands, country and western singers, even doo-wop groups. You can’t march if you don’t have a drummer. The Liberals know the value of music in uniting people of disparate generations to a cause (or disuniting them, as the case may be).

But so do we.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Who?

It’s official. The Beatles are history.

They are square. Passe. They’ve joined other Sixties rock groups like the Rolling Stones and the prophetically named The Who on the ash heap of musical history. They are yesterday’s news, according to yesterday’s edition of our local newspaper. And it couldn’t happen to a better group.

Their decline as a hip rock group began some years ago, when today’s older teens were still in their playpens. A friend happened to mention The Beatles to her then-teenaged daughter. My friend received the classic teenaged eye roll.

Never a big fan of the Fab Four, I was still surprised. After all, we were talking about the most famous and most successful rock group of all time. If they didn’t exactly invent the genre, they certainly defined it.

I asked the girl about Elvis Presley. She became serious for a moment. “Oh,” she faltered, with something like a hushed reverence, “he’s kind of old. But he’s okay. Grandpa told me about him. He and Grandma used to listen him.”

Her answer confirmed my theories about the musical Generation Gap. There’s true musical history. The Greeks and their lyres. The Romans and their rams’ horns. Gregorian chants. Beethoven’s Sonata. Strauss waltzes. Sousa marches. Ragtime.

Then, there’s ancient musical history. That is, the music your parents cut their teeth on. There’s always an overlap between the parental generation and the grandparental generation. As a very little girl, I loved Glenn Miller because my grandmother taught me to dance to him, but regarded Frank Sinatra (who was of the same era) as totally outdated and boring.

Once I got into my teens, though, I discovered how musically-bigoted and ignorant my peers truly were. As a budding musician and music-lover, I couldn’t bear to be confined to their narrow definitions of what good music was, and I became a musical anti-rebel, a musical counter counter-culture revolutionary, if that makes any sense.

That’s okay – nothing made sense in The Sixties. I didn’t care. I considered myself free to listen to and enjoy any music, from any period, that I chose. Personally, I couldn’t understand the swooning over The Beatles. I was a little young for the teeny-bopper squealing, but I remembered the long lines around the local theater for “The Yellow Submarine.”

The Beatles were okay. I liked some of their music. My parents bought me a record-player for my 6th birthday. The record I requested was “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” The group became too transcendentalist for me, though. Once they began screaming instead of singing, I was done with them.

Apparently, Paul McCartney had the same complaint, and it’s reported that that was one of the reasons the group broke up. That kind of singing is not only hard on the ears; it’s hard on the throat.

I didn’t get the hype, and I wasn’t surprised when The Beatles dissolved. They became more concerned with making headlines than making records, with making movies instead of music. They made records instead of playing concerts. Their electronic music, while making enormous profits for them, forever distanced musicians from the audiences for whom they were playing. They depended on ratings and profit margins to tell them whether they were playing what their listeners wanted to hear rather than applause.

Instead of deciding for themselves whether they liked what they were hearing, young people depended on deejays, musical middlemen, to tell them they liked what they were hearing. Groundbreaking, indeed. The Beatles were no longer making music; they were making noise.

Still, the profit margins, the Top 40 lists, declared that not only were The Beatles successful, but that they were a phenomenon. What was it John Lennon boasted? That they were bigger than Jesus? Something arrogant like that.

Sadly, the young people could no longer tell the difference. Even when the lead singer, Paul McCartney himself, declared that The Beatles were producing musical garbage, the young people could no longer hear. Other heavy metal bands picked up where The Beatles left off.

The theme of the times was “Trust No One Under 30.” That is to say, your parents. As many of our teachers were under 30, they didn’t count. The rest of the authority figures, though - tune them out, we were told. Drugs and alcohol helped enormously.

The next person to inform me of the demise of The Beatles was my nephew, now finishing his junior year of college. He had the same opinion of the group, and gave the same answer about Elvis Presley. Presley passed the Pop-Pop pop music test.

But The Beatles? Be serious, Dad! My brother was crushed. I was delighted. One had to wonder, though, what they're teaching the kids in school these days about modern music. Aren’t The Beatles supposed to be the icons of rock music?

You can’t blame the kids, though. The Beatles broke up in 1970, forty years ago. Two of them are dead. For some of the kids with young-ish parents, even their parents weren’t born yet when The Beatles broke up.

Now this, in the local paper. Our local paper has a section called “The Young People’s Page.” Local schools send in students’ poetry, essays, short stories, and art work. A young man, asked to depict something “archaic”, chose a phonograph of 1920s vintage.

Underneath, to give a modern comparison, he shows an I-Pod. Still, in order to illustrate an example of “archaic” music, the I-Pod display shows The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus” (a song Lennon admitted he got all wrong. Let that be a lesson to the next generation. When you’re reading and writing verses about Lewis Carroll, don’t drop acid.)

“If something is archaic,” the young artist writes in the caption, “it is used in earlier times and not commonly found in modern times. It is something old and ancient.” The Beatles, for their times, advocated overthrowing the old generation in favor of the new.

Still, in their early days, when they were trying to make a name for themselves as recording artists, they did what many groups did – they recorded previously published songs to prove they had the musical chops to cut it. They could write their own material later.

I have a tape of one of The Beatles’ early records. One of the songs Lennon sings? “Ain’t She Sweet?” This 1961 re-recording is up-tempo and I guess it has their iconic back-beat. It’s quite good – for a song written in 1927, the year Lindbergh flew solo over the Atlantic. My mother was three at the time.

Ironically, it was written by Milton Ager for his daughter, Shana, who would grow up to become ultra-feminist political commentator Shana Alexander. Known for his irony, perhaps that’s why Lennon chose it. Personally, I prefer “Ain’t She Sweet?” to “Back in the U.S.S.R.”

And that is the news for today. If my theory holds true about grandparental influence over musical history, there may still be hope of resurrection for The Beatles.

But for now, it’s: R.I.P. - The Beatles.