Monthly Archives: March 2017

What I wrote yesterday reminded me that, when I was learning French, I listened to songs a lot. My ex expressed puzzlement about it because, according to him, they all listened mostly to American music with some stuff from the UK mixed in, so nearly everything was in English. The problem I was having, I explained to him, was transitioning from what I used to call “schoolgirl French” to being fluent, or at least something close to fluent. I had actually done reasonably well in French classes in school. I can memorize vocabulary easily and grammar comes easily to me as well, but normal, casual social interaction in French was very hard for me to master. Incomplete sentences, mumbled pronunciation and dropped syllables left me staring in puzzlement.

The other thing which was strange, and I may have mentioned this before, was the feeling that the world lacked color. In our own languages, words have texture, nuance, associations and feelings. We choose one expression over another when we speak or write, not only due to the literal meaning, but due the feelings it may convey. In class, a word or expression might be marked as “familiar” or “formal,” and while that can be helpful for a total novice, it misses the full range of tones. It was a strange sensation when I was first living in a francophone environment to realize that the emotional content of the language was invisible to me.

Since in songs the music also supplies feelings and usually works in tandem with the lyrics, listening to songs helped to add context and color to words. That happens also in dramatic media, like films, but the fact that a person might listen to a song many times helped to make that emotional connection. Eventually, I could come to understand how certain turns of phrase were effective.

Now, don’t ask me why I can’t just throw everything in a box and have done with it, but as it happens those cassettes I was packing also included some of the stuff I was listening to when I was trying to master French. When some Canadians realized I was listening to Kevin Parent, several of them insisted I shouldn’t because I would learn “bad French.” Kevin Parent is a bit of an outlier for my taste, being more in the singer/songwriter vein. I can’t quite put my finger on why he appeals to me, but why question a good thing, right?

Seeing that I’m moving – yet again – this song seems appropriate:

Have you ever gone through a period when you didn’t listen music for an extended period of time and suddenly you start listening again. In this case, I think moving and dredging up old things got me listening to some stuff I hadn’t listened to in a while. Nearly a year ago, I mentioned ripping my vinyl. As it happens, a lot of my favorite stuff, or at least the stuff with the most memories attached, is on cassette. I went off to college in the era of the boombox and for a time had a car with a cassette player. Consequently, during my late teens and early twenties, that period when a person’s taste in popular music tends to form, most of the music I purchased was in the form of cassettes. So, tonight, I was going through my old cassettes and my memory was jogged of a moment from another period of my life.

I was teaching English in Paris and had been highly encouraged to use songs in class. We were also told to avoid love songs to keep the vocabulary varied. So I desperately tried to go through all my cassettes looking for songs on which the words were articulated well enough to be easily understood, did not have any grammatical constructions that would be too difficult to explain, did not contain poor grammar and were not love songs. All that was a taller order than you’d think.

For those who don’t know, my taste tends towards pretty straight rock and roll, a bit of r-n-b, some glam rock, some of the less hardcore punk, new wave, funk. Loud, hard and fast might be a good summary of my taste. You know, the stuff with barely comprehensible lyrics.

So, imagine my surprise when I popped in a cassette and the Parisians started squealing like stuck pigs, “EEWWW, eeewww! Stop! We hate country!” Now, I don’t want to knock anyone’s taste and start a big argument on that account, but country music doesn’t figure heavily among anything I have. Sure, I have a couple of Johnny Cash records, but that wasn’t what I was playing. If you were to close your eyes and put your hand into my box of cassettes, you’re more likely to come up with early eighties pop than any country. I tried to tell them that what they were listening to was assuredly not “country music.” I looked at the two other Americans in the room who looked as surprised as I was and reassured the French people that we were not trying to make them listen to country. Even more odd, that we were trying to force country music on them seemed to be a unified feeling on their part. The reaction was such an extreme, you would have thought they were breaking out in rashes.

It was just one of those really weird little cultural differences that takes you by surprise.

Oh, yes, that terrible American country music band – The Pretenders, who were mostly English (I think.).

Well, I just followed up The Pretenders with The New York Dolls and then Bonnie Raitt. Thank heavens I didn’t try that. It could have been a diplomatic crisis.

I guess it’s self-evident, but we all like our own taste, don’t we.

And just because – here’s one of my favorite songs by some of New York City’s prettiest gentlemen:

I remember sitting up to watch Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert when I was a kid. (Happened to catch the sign in the background.)