WHAT WOULD YOU DO

IF I SANG OUT OF TUNE? I don’t know where I was 50 years ago today but it wasn’t Woodstock. Oh, to be there though.

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August of 1969 was the end of the summer after high school for me. Probably, I was giving some thought to heading off to college in a few weeks. Along with my release from high school in May, was the release of the album, “Crosby, Stills & Nash”. One thing I know for sure about the summer of ‘69, that album was my favorite and it’s still in my top five in the category of “albums by bands other than the Beatles”.

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Seems like the best, credible estimate of crowd size at Woodstock was 400,000. And the line goes: if you count all of those who said they were at Woodstock the number goes up to 4 million, give or take a million.

I wasn’t the only one not there who would like to have been there. Joni Mitchell, the folk singer was not there either. She did, however, write the song that has sort of become the anthem for the phenomenon called “Woodstock” and most famously recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him where are you going
And this he told me
I'm going on down to Yasgur's farm
I'm going to join in a rock 'n' roll band
I'm going to camp out on the land
I'm going to try an' get my soul free

We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

(first verse and chorus)

I watched a special about the festival on PBS the other day. It was done as a day by day chronicle of the “Three Days of Peace & Music”. As they got to day three, I found myself feeling a bit wistful; not because the final scenes were mainly of bedraggled kids in a muddy mess, but because the festival was drawing to a close, and somehow it seemed something else was closing too. I don’t know what it was. Probably something that could not have endured anyway.

One of the bucket list stops on our extended Airstream roadtrip when I retire is Bethel, New York, to visit Max Yasgur’s dairy farm, to stand where the festival took place. I don’t know why, but I want to stand on that spot.

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For now: how best to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the beginning of Woodstock? Maybe I convince my Amazing-Missus to put on a pair of bell-bottom jeans and we’ll stand in the backyard, turn on the sprinkler and listen to Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and, of course, Crosby, Stills and Nash with the bluetooth speaker turned all the way up.

Or maybe we’ll string some beads, tie dye a shirt and watch “Wheel Of Fortune”.

DISTURBED

WE HAVE A GENERATION GAP. The first time I reckoned with that cultural reality, I was 15ish and wanted long hair. My parents, the Jenks Schools Board of Education, and most other “adults” in my sphere said, “No! And tuck in your shirttail.”

Today the Gap still exists, but I’m on the other side of it.

A few years ago, my youngest son, Kyle said, “Hey Dad. There’s a heavy metal band called, ‘Disturbed’. They’ve done a cover of one of your favorite songs, “The Sound of Silence”.

GRAPHIC BY COREY LEE FULLER

GRAPHIC BY COREY LEE FULLER

Isn’t it interesting that the generation gap often shows up in musical tastes. No doubt, adults back in the day found Elvis to be disturbing, as did parents of my day with The Beatles.

Now I am proud of my sons on many many levels, one of those being their breadth of musical appreciation and understanding. I’m especially grateful that they know that I hold the writing of Paul Simon and the music of Simon & Garfunkel in high regard, reverence even, so much so, that when Kyle used the words heavy, metal, cover, the, sound, of, and silence in the same sentence, I was disturbed, and he knew I would be—until I listened to it.

(I can picture right now, my old writing professor, Dr. Spears, writing “DISJOINTED” across the face of this essay in red pencil.)

(Stay with me.)

A friend recently sent me a link to a video of a person watching the video of Disturbed’s cover of the song. Believe it or not, it is a YouTube thing for people to video themselves reacting to music videos. In fact there are numerous reaction videos to the “Disturbed” cover. I have watched several of them and have drawn two conclusions:

1.) It’s scary how many young people have never heard of Simon & Garfunkel or heard their music. That pesky generation gap.

2.) People seemed to be totally flummoxed by the lyrics of the song. Or, worse yet, they don’t seem to be interested in a closer look.

I certainly don’t claim to know the “meaning” of the lyrics of the song, but I’ve had about 50 years to ponder them, and I have. If you have time, let’s see if we can peek inside Paul Simon’s mind:


VERSE ONE:

Hello darkness, my old friend

I've come to talk with you again

Because a vision softly creeping

Left its seeds while I was sleeping

And the vision that was planted in my brain

Still remains

Within the sound of silence


THOUGHTS:

There has been speculation that Paul Simon wrote these lyrics in reaction to the assination of John F. Kennedy. The problem with that theory is that he wrote the song before that event.

Why the “sound” of “silence”? Isn’t that an oxymoron? I like to think of it as being lonely in a huge crowd. In this midst of the cacophony of life there is no discernable Word, so it might as well be silence.


VERSE TWO:

In restless dreams I walked alone

Narrow streets of cobblestone

'Neath the halo of a street lamp

I turned my collar to the cold and damp

When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light

That split the night

And touched the sound of silence


THOUGHTS:

I listened to commentary about the song on a website. The analysis was that this could be someone overwhelmed by social media, email, and blogs like this one, etc. Then something happens that breaks through all of that. Seems reasonable—except the song was written in the 60s, before any of that.

There is a jolt, like an awakening or enlightenment. It cuts through. You have to take a moment to picture this guy, in the dim glow of a street lamp, with his collar turned up and all of a sudden: BOOM. A flash. “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me.” —Acts 22:6. That kind of flash.


VERSE THREE:

And in the naked light I saw

Ten thousand people, maybe more

People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never share

No one dared

Disturb the sound of silence


THOUGHTS:

Sound familiar? A mass of humanity, lots of words but no one “speaking” or “listening”. Are there sage voices today? Is there a “song” written worth sharing. I’m talking song in a metaphorical sense. For my generation that “song”-writer, that voice would be Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He spoke so powerfully, so relevantly, so prophetically. How did people respond? “No one dared disturb the sound of silence.”


VERSE FOUR:

"Fools" said I, "You do not know

Silence like a cancer grows

Hear my words that I might teach you

Take my arms that I might reach you"

But my words like silent raindrops fell

And echoed in the wells of silence


THOUGHTS:

There is the word and there is the messenger, but too often there is no one willing to receive the words and they fall like “silent raindrops”.

“In the beginning was the Word… He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” —from John 1, The Message


VERSE FIVE:

And the people bowed and prayed

To the neon god they made

And the sign flashed out its warning

In the words that it was forming

And the sign said, "The words of the prophets

Are written on the subway walls

And tenement halls"

And whispered in the sounds of silence


THOUGHTS:

So many times we look in all the wrong places and listen to all the wrong people. Sometimes we think it must be in the cockiness of contemporary culture, or in the arrogant shriek of politics. Sometimes though the message is in a still, small voice, or the words of a child. Sometimes the real truth is right in front of us but not seen or heard.

Simon & Garfunkel’s version of the song, in my opinion, is styled in the voice of a 60s era poet. It is sung, as sort of a lament. Disturbed’s version to me is more the voice of a prophet. It has an urgency to it.

In the 50 years between the two versions culture has drifted and decayed to the point that both versions are relevant for their time.

Here is a link to Simon & Garfunkel doing the song live. Listen to it first because it is the version of the songwriter himself, Paul Simon. It is done with only an acoustic guitar; again, as a poetic lament.

Then listen to Disturbed’s take. It’s almost as if he is saying, “You didn’t listen to this 50 years ago, so let me be a little more emphatic.”

CLICK HERE FOR THE SIMON & GARFUNKEL VERSION

CLICK HERE FOR THE DISTURBED COVER


“Poets, prophets and reformers are all picture-makers -- and this ability is the secret of their power and of their achievements. They see what ought to be by the reflection of what is, and endeavor to remove the contradiction.” ― Frederick Douglass

I'm With Her

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REMEMBER THAT SONG BY THE NEW SEEKERS? The one the Coca-Cola® marketing department borrowed and mashed up with their own theme song? It seemed so hip in ’71, now it looks like maybe their coke bottles could have been filled with “Kool-Aid”. No wonder the Greatest Generation thought the Baby Boomers were all going to march off the cliff together.

I'd like to buy the world a home
And furnish it with love
Grow apple trees and honey bees
And snow white turtle doves

I'd like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I'd like to hold it in my arms
And keep it company


Let’s dial back the idealism for a minute; forget about the apple trees, honey bees and snow white turtle doves. Let’s just shoot for a bit of harmony, even if it’s not pitch perfect. 

Before we can talk about metaphorical harmony, we need to spend some time listening to the magical, musical world of real harmony. Let me suggest:

Pentatonix: “Can’t Help Falling In Love”
The Beach Boys: “In My Room” and “Good Vibrations”
The Beatles: “Because” and “Nowhere Man”
The Everly Brothers: “All I Have To Do is Dream”
Crosby, Stills & Nash: “Helplessly Hoping” and “Suite Judy Blue Eyes”
Simon and Garfunkel: “The Sounds of Silence”

I want to give a shout out to my main music sage, Gene “Pops” Chapman. The musical tastes of Gene and myself are in near-perfect harmony, so whenever he makes a recommendation like the one to check out this all-girl trio, I did and was amazed. Click and listen to the NPR Tiny Desk Concert of “I’m With Her”.

Now, can we draw some lessons from the beauty of musical harmonies and apply them to our worlds and the world? Here are a few thoughts I’ve had: 

You must have at least one other person to harmonize with, am I right? Sure soloing is great sometimes, but we’re talking harmonies here. All of the people in the group have to sing the same song for a few minutes at least. They have to sing in the same key and at the same tempo. The notes though, while different, the common notes of the correct chord, have to be present. This is the magic. It’s as simple as one note and the note a third above it and maybe the fifth, and somehow it just seems right, and rich. There is a peace to it all, you can sense the beauty of the divine design of it. 

Unfortunately, today, at times at least, it seems people only know one note, and even if they know more, they just want to sing their one note, really loud. I’m that way sometimes. There are some people I just don’t seem to be able to harmonize with and others I have no interest in harmonizing with. I don’t like the song they’re singing. Usually my song is better (or so I think). 

When you watch a really good vocal duet or ensemble singing in tight harmony it’s sublime. They are synched and connected. And, at the end of a song, there is, at least for me, a sense of purpose, of completion, something worthwhile that makes us all better for having been there.

Sometimes though, singing or playing in unison can be harmonius. Yesterday for example, one of our Grand-Girls, Harper, and two of her friends comprised a cello trio. They sang and played “Jesus Loves Me” in “big church”. There was no harmony, yet there was nearly perfect harmony among the three. You could see it in their six year-old silliness before the service started, in their total trust and dependence on their teacher, and in their common mission. Banded together, there was no stagefright or limelight. Just harmony in unison.

Not to say there isn’t a place for occasional dissonance. This is where I often come in—sometimes intentionally, sometimes accidentally. 

One thing about dissonance: it is so sweet when it resolves, steps back into harmony, and even still amazing when it doesn’t. Listen to “Strawberry Fields Forever” by The Beatles. Click this and watch if you want to geek-out on all of this.

One more thing: Watch this video. It’s two sisters from Stockholm, Sweden, singing together a song they wrote, a song about having someone to sing with like Emmylou and Gram Parsons singing “Love Hurts” or Johnny and June singing “If I Were A Carpenter”.

Looking For The Next Little Drummer Boy or Girl

AT FIRST YOU THINK YOU HEAR IT, but maybe it’s an auditory illusion, an aural mirage born of anticipation. Now though; for certain. There it is, the distance sounds of a marching band drumline. At first, standing along the parade route, you hear it and then you feel, then they come into view. It’s a powerful thing, at least to an aspiring young drummer who’s been banging on pots with wooden spoons since his first Christmas parade.

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Words can’t express, so I’ve included a video, if you’re so inclined, to one of the finest drumlines in the nation, the Cadets drumcorp. Notice the near perfect precision, the dynamics, the textures. This is the product of hours of individual and team practice and discipline.

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Among my favorite childhood memories is going with my family to downtown Tulsa for the Christmas parade, hearing the distance drum cadence of that first marching band as they approached. 

Not too many years later I got to be in a drumline in that wonderful parade and on marching fields and parade routes from Tulsa to Washington D.C. across Canada and Europe. And, to this day, half a century later, I still love to sit at a drum set and play. I am so grateful to my parents for making all that possible and for band directors, percussion teachers, mentors and role models for cultivating the seeds. 

I have two sons. I am happy to say that they are both fine drummers. Watching them learn to play and develop their own style was so fun. And, they are still playing today.

Much has been written about the research done on the value of music and music education to a broader education application. Study after study confirms the impact on student grades, discipline and even school attendance. Let’s not forget the impact of music therapies of all kinds: physical, emotional, mental and certainly spiritual.

I am saddened and concerned knowing that school music programs are being cut or eliminated because of dire financial straits in our educational system, but also by misguided motives and priorities and politics. 

I am also concerned that our churches, once a fertile ground for budding musicians to have an opportunity to grow and develop have structured worship music more like a concert, with young aspiring musicians relegated to the role of spectator.

So, where are the seedbeds, opportunities, the classrooms, the labs, the practice rooms, the studios, the stages for the next generation of musicians? Maybe it will still happen in quiet, individual ways and on YouTube. Maybe for many they will never know the wonder of getting their first instrument for fifth grade band and discovering the richness of music.

Scripture says that old men will dream dreams. Well, I’ve been dreaming. I’ve managed to gather some resources, not a lot, but some, and I want to use these resources to help the next little drummer girl or drummer boy get their start, by helping them get the instrument they need and maybe a few lessons to get them off to a good start.

I’m not interested in just buying drums and sticks so some kid can drive his mother to insanity. The percussive arts aren’t for everyone, yet in a way they are. All music takes a lot of practice and commitment. Of course, not all will play like the Cadets Drumline, or Jack DeJohnette, or John Bonham, or Eric Harland, but they can, with practice and hard work, find joy and a sense of accomplishment, and make a difference.

So, maybe you can help me find the next one. Do you know of someone, maybe in the 8 to 14 or so age range, who has shown musical interest, who would have some level of encouragement from home, but may not have the resources to get the equipment or expertise to get started?

Feel free to reach out to me. My email is hey.pops.hey@gmail.com

Maybe you’re someone who would want to join in and help a young drummer get a start. Maybe you have a snare drum, a decent drum set, or a few cymbals stacked up, gathering dust in a corner, that you would want to donate. Let me know.

You can have a parade without horses or floats, or “Miss Whatever” perched on the back of a convertible. You don’t even have to have a Santa Claus at the tail end. But, there’s no way to have a parade without a drumline (and I mean that in a big, broad metaphorical sense).

Put your fingers on the inside of your wrist. If you can’t feel the pulse of your internal rhythm section—your parade has passed. The cadence is that important.

The beat goes on, the beat goes on
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da
— Sonny & Cher