Sonically, things have entered into a kind of strange Other World in our household lately. A generous, some might even say gratuitous, serving of spa and new age music seems to now fill our afternoons. Some of this has to do with the need for Gorgeous to have soothing, non-interfering sounds so that she can concentrate on her clients. Because I am a long-time admirer of Brian Eno, his brother Roger, and artists such as Deuter and Harold Budd, I actually do enjoy hearing it. It is very soothing. For the uninitiated, I highly recommend Eno’s “Music for Airports,” plus his collaboration with Robert Fripp on “Evening Star.” Many years ago I was listening to these albums with headphones while smoking herb. Now it’s with green tea. Times change.
Ambient music aside, Gorgeous has nonetheless purposely begun to challenge the boundaries of my musical patience. She is doing this all in the name of kitsch. What used to be called “Easy Listening” but was more popularly known as doctor office or elevator music, is now being played in our home throughout the day. Those over a certain age know exactly who I’m referring to when I mention the names Ferrante & Teicher, Ray Conniff, André Kostelanetz, and probably the grandaddy of them all, Mantovani. It’s incredible how a bad song like “Feelings” can become even worse when given a syrupy orchestral treatment from one of the above. You would think works like these would be found in the bins of flea markets or on eBay only. But no, Sirius-XM’s “Escape” channel happily and proudly still plays them. I know this only too well because lately it’s also our cocktail hour soundscape. Let me tell you, there is never enough Scotch…
And if this isn’t enough, my lovely wife’s desire for camp has also extended itself to our evening television viewing. Perhaps because it’s summer time, and our regular favorites are on hiatus till the fall, but I am now also being asked to record certain retro shows on our DVR that I wouldn’t have been caught dead watching when they actually aired as new. Yes, dear readers, the picture at the top of this post is precisely the main program to which I am referring: the Lawrence Welk Show. Somewhere my grandmother is smiling and proud. Hell, John Waters, if he knew us anyway, probably would be too.
There is something admittedly endearing about these old music programs. Just like when Liberace would wink at the camera back in the fifties, Welk would encourage (force?) all of his singers and even some of the musicians to mug for the camera when they were featured in a close-up. His “Champagne Lady” was one extremely happy woman during a song! But if the sappy and mawkish arrangements don’t pull you in, the fashions definitely will. Gowns and dresses worn by the women are as bad as any that a bridesmaid had to wear, circa 1966 to 1980. And for the men? Oy. A veritable sea of polyester in all shades of wonderful colors.
Yet, the shows also display a simple and friendly portrayal of an era seemingly lost to time. In spite of all of the strife that went on in the sixties and seventies, glimpses of the mostly middle-age audience members who attended the tapings, dressed in their Sunday finest, is quaint and charming to watch. Lawrence Welk never talked down to his TV or studio audience, always treating them with an old-fashioned kindness and respect that seems almost non-existent today.
Not present at all is any humor with ironic or double entendre-packed references that we are so accustomed to now. For whatever saccharine and schmaltz-like qualities the shows had — and in viewing it today there is indeed an overabundance of it in almost humorous proportions — the desire to entertain was expressed in an honest and sincere manner. Oh, sure if you look hard enough you’ll occasionally catch two singers in the middle of a song exchanging a conspiratorial glance with one another as if to say, “Good God, can you believe this arrangement?” But even that conveys such a wonderful innocence too.
Normally in our household we play a very healthy mix of the great 1940’s and 1950’s crooners, modern jazz, and classic rock. Lots of Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Miles Davis, and more Beatles and Genesis than you can shake a stick at.
On Saturday mornings for some reason we sip our coffee to the sounds of classic country. I’m not sure how that one developed, but we’ve nonetheless both grown to like it. Gorgeous used to play the violin and likes to hear classical music, especially when we’re out driving. I’m not an opera fan at all, but I can at least appreciate a recording of Nessun Dorma by Carreras, Domingo, or Pavarotti; or maybe from one of those wonderful 1950’s recordings by Jussi Bjorling (I can thank my ex-wife for that introduction, though she also never got me to go to an actual opera. I have my limits).
Yet, we are currently in this elevator music phase. Mock me all you want, good people of the blogosphere. I am going to sit here listening to really bad versions of Greensleeves, The Girl from Ipanema, and the Theme From a Summer Place. I assume that this is a passing fad of Gorgeous’, and at some point soon Robert Plant’s delicious howl from Kashmir will return to the rhythms of my day. Until then, goodnight and keep a song in your heart.