Where there’s a restaurant kitchen, there’s a radio that, for whatever reason, tends to end up on the “Classis Rock” station, if not one that plays “the Oldies.” Having graduated from high school and college in the Seventies, much of what passes for “classic” was the soundtrack of my adolescence (this was the number one song my senior year in high school) and, though some of it is worth repeating, I had not planned to ever again have to hear
because love grows
where my rosemary goes
and nobody knows like me
(Quick – name that band.)
My current kitchen is filled with cooks who know and play music, so the old songs provide us with conversation starters, comic relief, trivia questions, and the chance to both critique and sing along. We’ve had a couple of good laughs listening to lyrics that, well, sound kind of creepy in today’s world:
I’m the friendly stranger in the black sedan
won’t you hop inside my car
(“Vehicle” – name that band.)
It sounds destined to become the Amber Alert theme song. And then there’s these lines from “In the Summertime”:
have a drink have a drive
go out and see what you can find
(Once more – the band?)
My favorite unexpected use of a word in a rock and roll song goes to Rick Springfield for “Jesse’s Girl”:
I feel so dirty when they start talking cute
Want to tell her that I love her but the point is probably moot
I know it’s only rock and roll, but I like it.
One of my favorite things about our conversations is how we each have had to own up to some guilty pleasures. For all the superiority we can so easily muster, we’ve all had to come clean about the songs we love to hear, even when they aren’t necessarily cool to own up to. After all, pop music is about infecting our brains and hearts with melodies (sometimes cheesy) that won’t let go. I have to own up to this one and this one, at least. Oh – and this one. OK, one more.
One of the things that has struck me is how often I can sing along with the songs – even the ones I don’t like. Maybe it’s the power of radio and repetition, maybe there’s some deeper reason, but my mind is full of the words and music that have filled my days from then until now. I’m also struck with how hard it is to say I like these old songs in a room full of guys who need to make sure we all know we’re above that sort of thing. It’s easier to be a snob than it is to be one of the general public. I want to feel cool, not common.
The truth is while the Beatles were coming apart the Carpenters were only just beginning and I owned both records. I bought Joni Mitchell and Neil Diamond and stayed up late in the dorm room playing America songs with friends, even though we had no idea what it meant that “there ain’t no one for to give you no pain.” But in the hierarchy of hipness, it’s cooler to talk about Tommy, or to know the deep cuts on albums by the Kinks, or to be able to dive off and talk about the Plimsoles and the Pogues. I can keep up for awhile, but I’m just not that cool.
One of the dangers of life on the liberal end of the theological spectrum is falling prey to thinking that our end is where the cool, enlightened people are. That sentence carries a stronger air of superiority than I intend to convey, but I can’t come up with another way to say it. And it may feel the same way at the other end of the continuum. I don’t know because I don’t live there.
The guys in the kitchen aren’t trying to belittle anyone, in fact, our combined musical tastes run the gamut, yet there’s a certain level of musical acumen expected if you want to be taken seriously as a part of the conversation and that, ultimately becomes at least somewhat exclusive. When it comes to what I sing while I’m slicing onions, the ramifications of rock don’t really matter; they’re going to play the same ten songs again tomorrow. When it comes to life in the larger context, how easily I make it to sing along with me or how willing I am to join in with someone else becomes more critical. Harmony and humility, it seems, are essential partners.
I’ve ended up getting a little heavier than perhaps the story of our kitchen singing can hold. Somewhere during the day today, we moved from snarping on the songs to singing along. It just seemed like something worth noting and carrying home.