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Yesterday.

 

I love the past.

1970’s superstar Billy Joel has his own SiriusXM station. Unlike the breadth of his continuing career, he gets to keep Channel 30 for just a few weeks, kind of like a feature. I’ve been enjoying his retrospective, while driving to the Food Co-op, or out on errands – every time I’m behind that wheel. Along with legions of others, I get this brief chance to travel across his repertoire with him, in between snippets of commentary and gems from his recollection.

Of particular interest is the story of how he became a songwriter. Apparently, his mother always played her favorite records, at home. She loved Gilbert and Sullivan, and others from her era. Billy absorbed solid songwriting from these masters but, as he recounts, his fire wasn’t really lit until he heard the Beatles.

And, the other day, while presenting his Songs I Wish I’d Written segment, he invariably cited one of them: Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday.”

Now, everybody knows that the popular song is the capsule for every memory, in our lifetime. And, most of us have a narrative for every favorite we can name. But, only the psychologists have warned that nostalgia isn’t particularly “healthy”; they, along with those Be In The NOW proponents, argue that living in the past is oppressive, even toxic.

At least two songwriters might challenge that.

Here we have legends, in their own time – Joel, and McCartney. I’m betting neither of these song meisters are wallowing in whatever happened to them. Their respect for the past is a real religion; they both know that, if we lose faith in what has made us who we are today, we’ll have little upon which to grow for tomorrow.

The Millennials, who live in a world of instantaneity, may not have a concept of history. They may be missing a reverence for that which is foundational, upon which the new must be built. They may not realize that what they deem worthy may have come from the mind of one for whom effort to produce it was lifelong. From their perspective, that which isn’t current is both passe and dispensable, devoid of value. Displacement has supplanted any concept of what used to be termed “classic.” Yet, how many of their pop celebrities are producing music which will endure? Whatever happened to “the test of time”?

We may long for that which is past, but we can hide away, even believe, in our yesterdays. I’m grateful, today, to be part of a generation which can still embody what it can also remember.

Sing on, gentlemen.

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© 10/21/18    Ruth Ann Scanzillo.

 

The Prolific.

 

Beethoven was a loner.

Reports are his hair was often dirty. He’d wear a long top coat, pencils in the pockets, and pace the streets, muttering under his likely foul, acidic breath. His personality was neither warm nor appealing. To use contemporary vernacular, he was not well liked. Had there been a club, he would not have been invited.

Upstairs, where it all happened, he’d pore over his scores, for hours on end. The man was a driven perfectionist; his original manuscripts show so many scribbled erasures so as to have damaged the paper upon which his markings were made.

The totality of his compositions, while many, were not what one would call evidence of a prolific; rather, they were each in their own way masterpieces. They were masterpieces because, whether Beethoven himself realized it or not, he was changing the sound of music for ages to come.

And, in fact, there is hardly a civilized person who cannot name the 9 Beethoven symphonies as placed among the pearls of creative treasure for all of history.

Bach preceded Beethoven, by a stretch.

His output was enormous.

Each Sunday, there was a new Chorale for the church. Bach wrote 600 of these. And, within the mainstream of cultured society, although they are among the most beautiful of musical creations he isn’t even known for them; most cite his volumes of two and three part inventions for keyboard instruments, his partitas, his chaconnes, his toccattas and fugues.

Two singular composers, both creative geniuses.

Is one of higher value than the other?

In matters of taste, two constituencies may form. Under Beethoven, those who prefer to be moved by chordal harmonies and driving rhythm; under Bach, those affected by the intricate complexity of voicing and counterpoint.

But, each contributed not by the collected volume of individual works, but by sheer artistic impact. Regardless the quantity, the power of their affect lay in the quality.

Let’s not ask of our artists that they fulfill our time based expectations. Let us cast aside judgment against the frequency of their contributions. Art needs neither justification, nor critique upon its merit. The next masterpiece may already be in progress. All we have to do is wait, and prepare our hearts.

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© 10/18/18    Ruth Ann Scanzillo.  Thank you for respecting original material.

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The Closet Politik.

PappyAndTheGirlsAtTheBeachCirca1929
L to R:  Dora Mae; Lydia Elisabeth (“Betty”); Henry Thomas Sweet; Front row, L to R: Martha Louise; Frances

My grandfather was a closet Republican.

Harry Truman was his hero.

Born in Wilkes-Barre, PA, of parents who’d hailed from Cornwall, England, he’d brought his young wife, Mae, across the Commonwealth on or about 1915 to build cranes at Bucyrus-Erie. Yet, Erie, newly founded, was up and coming and this move – for a working class conservative – was, at its heart, progressive.

But, after having attended a tent meeting led by Christian evangelist Billy Sunday, this naturally gruff dogmatist had experienced a conviction of belief which would solidify his politics for life. He brought with him to Erie a Bible thumping, street preacher’s passion and, after meeting two elders of the Plymouth Brethren at the City Mission, would join their fellowship at the Gospel Assembly Hall on East Avenue.

But, Henry Thomas Sweet would not register to vote.

He and the rest of his fellow fundamentalists would populate a small, but ardent, segment of this growing town. Their teachings were the most extreme among conservatives; preaching that only those things due Caesar would be rendered, the rest would be left up to Almighty God – who would put into office whom He will.

Still, Henry Sweet taught his family all the values upheld by the Republican party. Hard work having yielded sufficient income, all resources would be put toward the sustenance of family and a tenth toward “the Lord’s work”, all capital kept close to the vest for just such purposes. The downtrodden were to be regarded as slacking, irresponsible, vagrant, and were admonished – from the street corner pulpit – to “Get up out of the gutter, repent, and get a j.o.b.”

What Henry and Mae did was work. Raising four daughters, they used their hands – baking bread, and delivering it door to door; hooking and braiding rugs, from old, discarded wool coats rescued from the Salvation Army; planting vegetable gardens, and fruit trees, gathering their harvest (had poultry been permitted inside the city limits, they’d likely have had hens and chickens); “slaving” over the stove, preparing meals for the entire, extended family for every holiday and birthday celebration. Mae also sewed, repairing and altering all manner of clothing, and creating from remnants everything from pajamas to suits and spring coats, draperies, and furniture slip covers. Henry, after a long day at the crane factory, maintained every inch of their humble property on East 29th Street, as well as their royal blue Chrysler.

In his final decade, disaffected and excommunicated from the Brethren for “railing”, sunken into his harvest gold La-Z-Boy recliner in the northeast corner of the livingroom reading his National “Geographs” and his Bible, listening to talk radio (and, calling in daily), he would brood.

Sympathy was not part of his lexicon. Compassion was merely a concept, to be contemplated while meditating upon the person of the Christ. Weakness was not to be indulged; one was given a life, and one must take up the reins of it and serve the Lord with all one’s might. Paying income tax was the bane of existence.

Three of the four daughters carried on the traditions of his closet politics. All honorable citizens they, nevertheless, also never registered to vote – raising their children to accept having come out from among them, being separate, avowing to touch not the unclean thing. There were us, the elect bride of Christ, and there were them, the reprobate, damned to hellfire lest they repent and believe the Gospel.

I don’t know what happened, but something did. Time, and its inevitable evolution. Being Republican of mentality used to mean such noble (if self centered) intent, even if it appealed to the most narrow minded among them. One wonders if the GOP was forever affected by those who would only vote for he or she whom their God had ordained. Being a Democrat came to defy such selfish, belief driven ideals. In between, I now find myself – a registered Independent, caught, without a closet in which to hide. We are all part of America, a nation of so many countries, fighting to stay socially intact, more exposed than ever before, members of a globe of earthly nations pushing and pulling and hanging on.

And, the world’s eyes are still on our family.

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©10/15/18  Ruth Ann Scanzillo.  All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line.

littlebarefeetblog.com