Getting to Know You

More student exchanges have to be a good idea. And a Tunisian high school student might leave with a better understanding than ABC’s. One student reports: “Before, I thought the Americans were like the Europeans – no religion, no moral values, taking drugs, having sex, drinking all the time.”

“Drinking all the time” might describe country videos and none (or very few) would have the anti-war stance the host family seemed to take. But despite their passionate patriotism, surely they are not only more realistic but more appealing representations of American life than Britney Spears. (Though I’m sure Lex would prefer that other host families followed the lead of the one that banned television viewing.) Maybe Hammerstein is schmalzy, but modern pop is cynical with adolescent angst.

And perhaps to these North Africans, a man would attract in a way that a boy does not. Spiked emphasizes: “Even as a young man, that’s what Presley sounded like – a man” rings true. I wasn’t of a culture nor a region that found Presley appealing. I’ve never seen a Presley movie through. But a few years ago when, in a tribute to him, various modern singers covered some of his originals, followed or enclosed by his versions, I was struck by how much fuller, deeper, richer his were. Switching stations, I’d never intended to alight on that one, but called out to my family and we watched it for a while. His biography may not be that of a man, but his voice was. And whatever interest he had in pubescent girls, he sounded like he was interested in women.

Thanks to AL for both.

5 thoughts on “Getting to Know You”

  1. It may not have been something you noticed, but Presley was a baritone.

    “…I was struck by how much fuller, deeper, richer his were.” That’s the difference between a baritone and a tenor. It’s true that tenors can generally sing higher and baritones can sing lower, but even when they’re singing the same pitches, a baritone’s voice is more full, richer. It’s a different kind of timbre, and absolutely unmistakeable.

    Jim Morrison and Neil Diamond were baritones, but they were very much exceptions. Nearly every male rock vocalist is/was a tenor e.g. Paul Simon or Paul McCartney.

    That’s one of the big changes that happened in the 60’s. In the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, almost all the big name male vocalists in pop music were baritones e.g. Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.

  2. like the Europeans – no religion, no moral values, taking drugs, having sex, drinking all the time

    No religion maybe, but the rest are stupid stereotypes Muslims have of Europeans. Probably one of these guys who’d kill their own sister if she wnated to have a boyfriend.

  3. Ralf: Well, yes – it is unfair to Europeans, perhaps. But many a European would like to emphasize how unlike America Europe is. The Tunisian merely agrees.

    Steven den Beste: Thanks. And you are right, I hadn’t thought of that (nor, with my weak understanding of music would I have). Your comment opened up a lot of discussion with my daughter & husband. Thanks for both the comment (Crosby & Sinatra dominated so thoroughly) and for the insight.

    About country: What distinguishes country may be its “ragged but true” form and the “cry breaks” as well as yodeling all of which encourage high-pitched, quite thin plaintive sounds, but it also encourages an excessively low sound. Johnny Cash & George Jones always sounded like men; Randy Travis, Trace Atkins, Josh Turner, Junior Brown & Toby Keith at times aim at a rumble. And there are the groups (influenced by & often originally religious), where the depth of the bass (as in the Statler brothers) is emphasized. It seemed to me that that sound was also (not surprisingly) characteristic of several works chosen for the Patriotic albums.

    The genre is characterized by maturity & definite gender roles—in clothing, sounds & lyrics. (Country music stars are more “filled out.”) And its influences are complicated: it comes from traditions dominated by women but popular country has more masculine stars. Major thematic topics concern relations to grandparents as well as parents & children. Loretta Lynn’s & Dolly Parton’s autobiographies note country fans tend to “stick” and that careers are much longer. Respect for tradition & age is clear in the constant sense of the Ryman as sacred ground and in allusions to earlier (and even current) country heroes. Alan Jackson does this often: “Midnight in Montgomery”, “Death on Music Row” & “Don’t Rock the Juke Box.” Rodney Crowell’s repeated tributes to his ex-father-in-law, the late Johnny Cash, can be moving. Waylon Jennings discusses why he chose to go “country” after Buddy Holly’s death. His reasons were cultural: although quite young, he had a wife & child & couldn’t see himself in a rock culture but could in country. Don Williams, too, is in this laid-back but traditional style: “Those Williams boys still mean a lot to me – Hank and Tennessee” (by the great Bob McDill).

    While Alan Jackson is both charming & thoughtful, I tend to agree with my youngest daughter’s sense that “Where I Come From” is irritatingly prideful; still a line from it may sum up part of this: “Where I come from we like women who sing soprano.” And another current hit, “Songs About Me” describes the essential if sometimes mundane subject matter.

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