A roundabout Thanksgiving post

Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones in "Oklahoma!"

Gary and I have a lot in common. We both grew up on the east coast and lived in Los Angeles before moving to Portland, Oregon. But Gary’s old enough to be my dad. We were having dinner last weekend and talking about members of Occupy Portland vandalizing ATMs downtown with super glue, as if even 1% of the 1% actually use ATMs, when Gary asked if I listed to musicals as a kid. I had and have eclectic tastes in music: rock n’ roll, jazz, punk, classical, folk, hi-fi exotica, country & western… So I answered by singing:

There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow,

To which Gary joined in and we sang:

There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow,
The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye,
An’ it looks like its climbin’ clear up to the sky.

Oh, what a beautiful morning,
Oh, what a beautiful day,
I’ve got a wonderful feeling,
Everything’s going my way.

After we finished, Gary asked could you imagine not growing up with music like that? Popular music before rock n’ roll was written for adults. And popular music after rock n’ roll begins to focus on kids. Yes, Oh What a Beautiful Morning, the opening song in Oklahoma!, reflects unlimited optimism. But it’s sung by a cowboy, which next to the farmer symbolizes hard work and individualism more than anything else in popular American culture. And among the play’s themes are love triangles and committing murder in self-defense. An even older musical, Show Boat, also written by Oscar Hammerstein, is about racial prejudice.

I thought about that. Does popular music suddenly become infantilized in 1955?

Eddie Cochran recorded Somethin’ Else in 1959. The song begins with Cochran seeing a girl he wants to date and a brand new convertible car he wants to drive.

But she don’t notice me when I pass
She goes out with all the guys from out of my class

To own that car would be a luxury
But right now I can’t afford the gas.

But the lyrics then go from a thinkin’ to myself to doing.

Work hard and save my dough
I’ll buy that car I’ve wanted so
Get me that girl
And we’ll go ridin’ around
We’ll look real sharp with the white top down

By the song’s end, Cochran is a knockin’ on her font door. His car’s out front, but it’s a ’41 Ford and not a ’59 because he bought a car that fit his budget.

Despite Eddie Cocharn’s ode to hard work, achievement and integrity, has pop music turned to expecting things to materialize without effort? Like Petula Clark singing:

(If you go downtown)
We can forget all our troubles, forget all our cares
So go downtown, things’ll be great when you’re
Downtown – don’t wait a minute for
Downtown – everything’s waiting for you!

Or the thug life featured in rap music, does that symbolize rugged individualism or somethin’ else?

Fifty years after Eddie Cochran’s Somethin’ Else, Lady GaGa sang Bad Romance:

I want your ugly
I want your disease
I want your everything
As long as it’s free
I want your love.
(Love, love, love, I want your love)

Lady GaGa knows what she wants and, unlike Eddie Cochran, she thinks she’s entitled to get it for free. But the larger question is does popular music reflect or drive popular culture? And can people who believe they’re entitled to things without hard work be truly thankful on Thanksgiving or any day of the year?

Happy Thanksgiving to you. And thank you for reading this.

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About Robert Moss

I write ads: traditional, non-traditional, interactive, edutainment, story-based, broadcast, and experiential marketing events. Sometimes I write about ads and the business of advertising. Sometimes I write about other stuff. The views expressed here are solely my own and don't reflect the views of my employers. I also published a novel called Descending Memphis that's getting great reviews on Amazon. see http://www.amazon.com/Descending-Memphis-Robert-R-Moss/dp/0692364226
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