Thursday, March 4, 2010

Music of the Night

By Kelli

Some of my earliest memories are of music ... my Dad, who is from Kentucky, used to sing all the time. Mostly folk songs from Appalachia, country songs back when country was really country. Cool stuff by Hank Williams or Little Jimmie Dickens or ancient ballads about young love betrayed. Fun story songs like "Saginaw, Michigan" or one about Miller's Cave with a title I can't remember.

Singing is a tradition in Appalachia, as it is in coal mining towns around the world, or any place characterized by oppression, misery and brutal, back-breaking labor. Leadbelly and the blues, or my dad's Kentucky music--all cut from the same musical fabric.

Anyway, I grew up with it, and also grew up with my mom's music. She sang a lot, too--in fact, still does. For the last few years, she's been singing soprano with a church choir--they even recorded a CD. Mom is from Chicago, and she loves classical music and standards and show tunes, music with rich melodies and narrative lyrics that transport you to Bali Ha'i or Brigadoon or somewhere other than the street where you live.

And then there was the music they both liked, especially when they were young: rhythm and blues and classic rock by artists like Ray Charles and Brook Benton and Sam Cooke, Motown groups like The Four Tops. My Dad likes Bob Dylan and Neil Young, my mom doesn't. But they met in the middle on R&B. As a kid, I got to hear it all.

So I grew up exposed to an wide mixture of musical traditions, and broadened them further by learning to play an instrument ... first, the drums (I'm still a sucker for a good percussionist) and then the violin, and finally the piano. I taught myself how to play and read piano music, 'cause I found it much more versatile than the violin ... then came lessons. I love to play the piano, and one of my goals in the next couple of years is to take it up again. Right now, I lug around a harmonica, which is a whole lot easier to transport and sounds nicer than a kazoo.

My own tastes? Yes, please. I like most music--with some notable exceptions, like whiny folk rock songs from the 70s. I cannot abide Janice Ian. I avoid music that drenches itself in self-pity, and prefer the motivational. I'm not a Dylan fan, with a couple of exceptions (I think he was a brilliant writer--I just don't like his voice). I'm not an acid rock or metal fan (don't like screaming in general, unless I'm doing it), loved New Wave (the 80s were incredible), Billy Joel, pop music from the 60s, Bond theme songs, and the kind of country music my dad sang. I like Dolly Parton. I like The Clash. I like Pink. I even like The Archies. My vote for best rock album of all time is Springsteen's Born to Run.

But--what resonates with me most deeply, and what I listen to most often--and, to make a short answer long, what influences my work ... is jazz. Show music and film music and standards, big bands, swing, be-bop. I love a good lyric. Poetry is music ... in fact, that's how poetry was originally performed in the ancient world. So music exerts a profound influence not just in City of Dragons--which has its own soundtrack on my website--but on everything I do and what I think and who I am. I can't listen while I'm writing ... but before, to get to the time and place and mood and character ... well, it's better than a straight up glass of bourbon, and won't leave you with a hangover. ;)

An example? If you haven't heard Billy Strayhorn's noirish masterpiece "Lush Life", one of my favorite versions (by jazz great Nancy Wilson) is below. Strayhorn wrote this when he was 19. An amazing talent! Thanks for reading ... and let the music play on!

And by the way--our own Michael Wiley's Bad Kitty Lounge is now on sale!! Go, Mike, go!!


Graham Brown said...

Hi Kelli - I think your post proves one thing for sure - attempts to say - this person listens to this kind of music OR that kind of music are just wrong. I'm not sure Dolly Parton, The Clash, Pink and Springsteen have ever shared the same page - let alone the same sentence before, but they're probably side by side in many an I-Pod.


Terry Stonecrop said...

It must have been nice to grow up exposed to so many different kinds of music. No wonder you appreciate so many diverse groups and styles.

Thanks for the link. I enjoyed it.

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks, G-man! :) My liking for music mirrors my insatiable curiosity ... one reason it took forever to settle on a major in college, before Classics, there was Drama (for a number of years), Film, and English. Plus I double majored in Art History and strongly flirted with Chemistry.

I've never been good with boxes. ;)

Keep the speakers cranked!!


Kelli Stanley said...

Glad you liked the link, Terry! :) And thanks for the comment!

My parents are very unique people in a million ways, and it was great to be able to write this post and realize that music was one of them! :)

Right now I've got "The City of New Orleans" stuck in my head and I can't get it out ...

Shane Gericke said...

The City of New Orleans is a stirring song, Kel--no wonder it's stuck in your head! And I couldn't agree more about '70s ballads. They suck sooooo bad. Hard to believe that they're even worse now, but they are. My gym pumps ballad videos on the TV in the locker room. That whining-white-guy alleged music--"Baaaabeeee, I'm a shell of a man without yooooou ..." makes me wanna hurl.

And The Clash rocks!!!

Meredith Cole said...

Great post, Kelli!

I love all kinds of music, too--jazz, reggae, show tunes, classical... Although I don't like too many of the 70's ballads either, I do have soft spot for folk music. I heard a lot of it in my childhood since my parents were hippies.

Kelli Stanley said...

Oh, Shane darlin'--I am so with you! I barely got through the 90s. So much of it was the whiny, self-pitying stuff from the 70s recycled for a new generation of bell-bottoms.

Made me wanna hurl, too. ;)

Give me The Clash any day!!


Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks a million, Meredith! :)

Folk is powerful, powerful stuff ... and it's influenced every other genre to such a huge degree.

I think what I like are more "message" songs (One Tin Soldier) than the stuff from the 70s that uses folk to talk about how the songwriters/singer's life sucks (i.e. Janice Ian). She makes me run straight to Billy Idol. ;)

But Joan Baez I like, and some of Judy Collins, and much of Gordon Lightfoot (Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is a great song) and the aforementioned-and-yet-to-go-away The City of New Orleans. :)

Mike Dennis said...

Good post, Kelli. Nice reminiscences about the music in your life.

And as a former professional musician (30 years), I can say that LUSH LIFE was a great singalong tune. " the guys!" {:>)