Notes From Michael Masterson’s Journal: A Lesson in Music Appreciation

One thing a mentor will do for you is prepare you before they occur for things that will change your life. My father did a good job of this healthwise. He documented his physical tribulations so that I could see – 30 years ahead of time – what pains and aches life held for me.What he didn’t tell me about was the change that takes place in the area of your brain that controls your tastes – your appreciation of music, for example.

This morning, after weeks of tinkering with the idea, I set my satellite music channel to “Easy Listening.” I never thought this would happen to me. I have had a very sophisticated anti-elevator-music upbringing. I was listening to Chuck Berry and Duke Ellington before I had hair on my chin. I loved rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues, etc. And, yes, there was some progression. I came to like, even prefer, “classical” music and then opera.

About five years ago, though, I had my first run-in with “the other side.” I found myself listening, every once in a while on the car radio, to country music. It was twangy and obvious, but the sentiments seemed true. And what’s wrong with that? Then, three years ago, TG got me to a Jimmy Buffet concert. K never forgave him for that.

On Sunday mornings now, if I get up before she does, we listen to Jimmy Buffett rather than jazz. And now this … Don’t get me wrong. I won’t do it again. Not, at least, for another five years. But I can feel it coming. Easy-listening music does seem to calm me down, smooth out the rough edges. And maybe I’m wrong about music anyway. Maybe this is the sum of all music, not the void. Maybe it’s like the color white, containing everything. I’ll find out soon enough.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]
  • Douglas Keith

    My parents listened to the easy listening music of the late 60s and 70s when I was a kid. So, naturally, I hated it. Too “arranged”, too “studio”, I thought. Eventually I got interested in jazz and I came to appreciate the jazz ballad. I saw that Charlie Parker had made an album called “With Strings” and John Coltrane recorded one with Johnny Hartman. I came to realize that not all music had to be (or seem) like some sort of spontaneous act of creation. There’s considerable skill in arranging music. I came to like the big bands (Ellington, Basie, Dorsey, Shaw, and Miller too). I got tired of the 3-guitars-and-drums approach to rock, which came t seem like self-imposed sonic poverty; why couldn’t rock use other instruments. I got tired of pretentious singer-songwriters and their usually boring lyrics. I never much liked synthesizers or at least not their overuse. I hate drum machines. And I really hate vocoder vocals. As for hip-hop and rap, I can generate only a very limited amount of interest in music that pretty much ignores melody.

    So, now I find the old “… and his orchestra” easy listening gives me music made by people actually playing real instruments together, in one take (not something put together with data files in a computer). It gives me great melodies. It gives me a variety of instrumental colors and sounds. It doesn’t bore me with dumb lyrics. It’s cool to hear different approaches to the same song.

    One of my favorites is Jackie Gleason (yes, of The Honeymooners and Smokey and the Bandit). He (evidently) couldn’t read, write, or play music. But he knew what he liked and the musicians who could make it a reality. Check out any of his records.