Monday, January 14, 2008

598. The philosopher Jagger*

After writing yesterday's post, I thought some more about how the universe often takes us where we need to be. I learned to chant Torah because I had to understand why I was singing, although was completely disinterested when C. first asked me to join her class. My involvement in Judaism grew out of a halfhearted attempt to find my basherte, and turned into a discovery that made me into a whole person. "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need."

This got me thinking about pop music. Despite all the posts about Monteverdi et al, a big chunk of my early life was spent glued to a transistor radio, or a Walkman and cassettes of The Beatles and Led Zeppelin (long after their untimely demises). I grew up hearing only classical music, which my mother loved. When I got to junior high I realized I had to know about contemporary culture in order to appear even vaguely cool, so with some trepidation changed the dial from WQXR to WABC-AM--and loved it. I became a fan of polyester-clad depressed males: Terry Jacks ("Seasons in the Sun"--ah, how I cried), Harry Chapin, Jim Croce. There was also Fleetwood Mac, Randy Newman, Chic, Gladys Knight, Chicago, America, Billy Preston, "My Sharona." (And, well after the 70s, Wham! and "Wake me Up Before You Go-Go.") I was unaware of The Sex Pistols or David Byrne. I liked disco. I wasn't cool. Sad songs were fun, but ever better if they had a bouncy beat, were in a major key, and lasted less than three minutes. That kind of sound made me happy.

When I began to learn to chant Torah, I was shocked to discover that the trop was major, as well. Now, I attended Shabbat morning services regularly, and always followed along as the portion was read. But I had little sense of keys or modes of the music, maybe because everyone used a different trop and many readers were tone-deaf. And suddenly it made sense: short and self-contained, with a neat resolution for the last few notes. Upbeat, brisk rhythm. Stories of love, triumph, and sadness. (OK, also some long lists of kosher birds, types of rashes, and fancy jewelry. But not so much in comparison to the other stuff.) The Torah was a series of pop songs, and I got to sing them! I was pretty cool, after all.

*See HOUSE, MD, Pilot episode.


rbarenblat said...

Ah, the House pilot! Good times. :-)

Also, it amuses me that there were two posts in my blog aggregator linking that particular Rolling Stones quote to religious texts -- one of the Muslim bloggers I read referenced it this morning, too. Hee.

alto artist said...

ha! The Stones Roll on throughout all time and belief systems...