Friday, 1 January 2010

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 71

(42/M/London, England)

Well, it's a new day and I'm struggling manfully on, trying to make good my second cyberspace loss, hence the "echo" of the title. No doubt it's a metaphor anyway (is there anything that isn't?):

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter

- only right now, in this dimension, we're kind of stuck with those that do actually assail the eardrums: in music - as in writing or any form of art - the intention isn't the same as the actuality of the finished piece, although imagination and forbearance on the part of the "fifth Satin" can go a long way to bridging the gap. (And no, Clarke, this not special pleading for my play - well, only partly...)

This is actually not what I was going to start out doing - discussing some influential early record purchases, culminating in a discussion of The Letter - but I'll go with it. May get back on the main road eventually - and if not, I'll arrive at another destination. even if not the "'lost" route I was trying to recover. (We're travellers on Life's highway; enjoy the trip ... as Keats or someone said.)

For all my doowop purchasing life - some 22 years - I've been hoping to find the Numero Uno doowop song in the next compilation and have been mostly – almost invariably - disappointed. Obviously there have been great ones, as discussed here, but so many that in some hard to define way fall short. I used to think "All ballads good," and still sort of hold to that (so many compilations favour uptempo - don't they realise some follks want to wallow?), but then strange, hard to justify thoughts start to come in: is that lead voice just a little too affected? Isn't this just a rehash of their big hit? I think someone put A Kiss From Your Lips in their Flamingos Top Three for the Alan Freed concert - fair enough but can anything ever be more than an echo of the shimmerng perfection that is - but it's fair to say my thoughts on THAT song have been sufficiently rehearsed earlier in this dialogue.

What I'm getting at is that in dowop, as in art generally - life itself, come to that - very, very little comes close to the wonderful thing we imagine. Familiarity has dulled (for me, anyway) the excitement of Why Do Fools ... And maybe even the best songs, the highest manifestations of the doowop art, as good as it gets for a drugfree high, shoobopwise, are, in any case, pale imitations, faint echoes, of what the artist intended. Ringo used to say he'd sing I Wanna Be Your Man in the studio imagining he was Stevie Wonder, then he'd ear the playback and find out he was Bing Crosby all along (a pretty self-deluding claim in itself, but let that pass).

But the fifth Satin (or fifth Beatle) role is a vital one: if we don't want every musical experience to be as ashes in our mouth we have to, if we can, see beyond what's there to the doowop El Dorado (no, not doowop's El Dorados!) promised at fitful moments - the bending of a note; a wordless wail - during an otherwise underwhelming song. Besides, art can only go so far: it's a souvenir of the singer's (real or imagined) "emotion; it’s a time machine for your memories as well as enhancing the moment itself - as you’ve shown us so vividly, Clarke – but it’s not the thing, the emotion, itself, merely a way of evoking the emotion in us, if we're prepared to let it.

And this presumably mirrors what the singers are doing in the first place. There's a song I know in a version by the Persuasions:


Heard melodies ... from Keats's Ode on a Grecian Urn. Mini-lecture on youtube here.

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