I imagine a teenager, Debra, who has her friends over in her parents’ rec room, perhaps the den, perhaps the basement with knotty pine walls. Her little brother wants to come and join them but Debra firmly refuses. This is for her friends, not for twirps. Debra and her friends have a few bottles of soda which they pour into aluminum tumblers; there is a bag of potato chips. But the main focus is the music.
Debra has a pile of new 45 rom records and she has gotten a special record player for her birthday — one of those with a big center spindle.
She stacks up a pile of the current hits: Les Paul and Mary Ford, Tony Bennett, Percy Faith, Jo Stafford, Frankie Laine, Eddie Fisher, Patti Page, Perry Como, Teresa Brewer, Kay Starr, Leroy Anderson, Al Martino, and someone the kids don’t immediately recognize. He sings familiar songs: COLD COLD HEART, BECAUSE OF YOU, MAYBE IT’S BECAUSE, I’LL KEEP THE LOVELIGHT BURNING.
He has an unusual voice — rough yet tender — and there is a really impressive trumpet player on the records. ”Who is that singing, Debra?” one of the girls asks. ”Don’t you know Satchmo?” Debra responds. ”Satchmo?” says Julie. ”What kind of name is Satchmo?” ”Oh, that’s Louis Armstrong,” another friend pipes in. ”He’s a jazz musician. My parents listen to him all the time.” ”He sounds really good,” says Julie. ”Let me see the record,” says one of the other girls.
And so taste is formed.
And, yes, there was life before Bill Haley and his Comets, before Elvis.
These ruminations are the result of a trip to a fabled flea market in Alameda, California, where the only thing either of us purchased was this set of two extended-play 45 rpm records — for a dollar.
I have invented the little scenario above because my copy is well-loved and well-played, and Debra wrote her name on the front cover and on the label of each record. They were hers, you know, and she wasn’t going to get them mixed up with anyone else’s records.
There was a time when “popular music” wasn’t so energetically polarized, when people gathered communally to listen to records, to enjoy, to comment, to discuss. Life before earbuds. When Satchmo serenaded, and no one recoiled from “jazz,” or “Dixieland,” or “your parents’ music.”
We can’t bring back those days — or can we? Play some music for a friend or colleague or family member . . . see if you can send them some old-fashioned good vibrations. I’m going to play SATCHMO SERENADES when I get back to New York.
Where is Debra?
May your happiness increase.