Tony Bennett and Judy Garland, 1963
Mind The Gap
I grew up on the crooners when I was a kid and, of course, did not appreciate them at all at the time. Their music was not rock and it was not cool. How could it be? It was my parents' music. However, with the passing of time, I have come to appreciate the grace, sensuality, lyricism and wonderful jazz timing of Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and the other crooners who were ever present on TV. I can now see the artistry my 15-year-old self was blind to.
But then I grew up in a time when there seemed to be a massive cultural and generational gap between those of us born after the war and those born before. My parents' generation hated what I listened to and couldn't see any merit in it at all. It was all an awful racket that was always too loud and very definitely needed to be turned down.
I don't think that massive gap exists any more. After all, modern festivals have become family affairs and parents take their kids to see the Rolling Stones. However I must admit that in my advancing years I also, on occasion, take a rather jaded view of contemporary music. There does seem to have been a triumph of marketing over soul in recent years but maybe it's just me.
In fact that generation gap seems strange to me now as I can see that the golden age of American music is not just the 60s or the 70s, it's a period of unrestrained musical expansion which runs from the jazz age of the mid 20s right through to the punk / reggae / rap era of the late 70s / early 80s after which, for me, popular music became corporate, predictable and bland. The beast had been tamed. But that's half a century's wealth of music which surprises, fascinates, thrills and also seems to react with and reflect the times which created it. Blues, Folk, Jazz and Rock are the art forms which dominated 20th Century culture (along with the cinema of course) and it is no surprise that as the USA grew and found a confidence in itself the best of its popular music reflected that. It was also a time when each generation seemed to have its own soundtrack, fashion and philosophy. Beats, Hippies, Punks... Each new decade brought new heroes and new surprises. There didn't seem to be a script. If there was, it was being written as we went along.
In this interview for the BBC Tony Bennett starts talking about his signature tune, his favourite song,"I left my heart in San Francisco" and then goes on to express strong views about the state of contemporary music. "The songs written today are terrible" he says. The music business is "controlled by corporations who think the public are ignorant" and just focuses on the young. I'm not sure that hasn't always been true, certainly since Elvis and the invention of the "teenager" in the 50s but then who knows... sometimes when I turn on the radio I wonder if he doesn't have a point. The surprises, once so common, now seem few and far between.
Take a listen
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