April 4, 2013

Why I Like Music From The Fifties

Sherlock Holmes, after listening to Dr. Watson's rapturous description of farmsteads on the English countryside, replied, "You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there. ... the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside."

I think of this passing by a church on the way home. It is Easter Sunday and the parking lot is filled with cars. The service is just ending and the faithful are slowly making their way out of the church, stopping to chat with friends before getting into their cars to head home. Like Watson, I think of the normalcy and safety represented by the scene, something right out of a Norman Rockwell painting, the little girls' white Easter dresses matching the white clapboards of the church.

Then I remember a conversation I had many years back, when I was volunteering at a local youth hot line. The original intent was to provide a safe place where latchkey kids could talk away their fears and older kids could safely reveal the secrets that had lead them to think of suicide. After a year or so, the pervs started showing up.

Most were obvious and pathetic. This caller made a real effort to sound like he had a problem. The details escape me, but the gist was the caller -- a man, his voice pure country -- had gotten into one situation after another, usually with a pretty young girl who may or may not be married, always someone in the church ... never his fault ... just the victim of misunderstandings and other people out to get him.

Oh, hell yes he had a problem. He was a stone-cold sociopath. His hunting ground was the little church he had wormed his way into somewhere out in West Virginia. His prey was anyone he could get to believe his line of bullshit. I'm sure he was good looking and freshly scrubbed, with a sincere manner that would last as long as it took to get what he wanted.

Two things crossed my mind as I listened to this guy ask about where we were and what we did and how he was thinking of moving to our area, some place bigger where there weren't so many small-minded folks. First, I was glad we couldn't be found, because I'm not ashamed to say he scared me. Second, I wanted to know where this church was so I could drive out there and tell them there was a wolf loose among the flock.

If you have never felt the hot breath of an evil so clear and present it menaces even over a phone line, be grateful. It leaves you permanently changed. You are a victim just by mere contact. You don't look at things the same way any more. The church is no longer just a congregation. It is no longer just a safe haven from the troubles of the world. It is a hunting ground.

And that's why I like music from the fifties, which to me includes songs recorded while I was in high school, so that adds the first couple of years from the sixties. When I think of evil and the many ways it manifests itself every day -- just read the headlines from any news service for stories of rape and murder, and any of the seven deadly sins you might care to mention -- I feel a need to recapture the innocence of a time in my life when such thoughts were the last thing on my mind, not the first.

These songs, even though they are mostly about broken hearts and broken dreams, lift my spirits in a way that no other music does, except possibly for Dixieland jazz. And it is that CD I reach for as I go past the church on Easter Sunday. This music is my church, my sanctuary, the place where only happy memories are allowed entrance. It may be that a little bit of soap will never wash away my tears, but listening to the Jarmels sing about it washes away the years and leaves me feeling better.


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