The 1940s – The Music of My Grandparents

As we were driving down route 10 headed to the first weekend of Coachella in April 2016 I was giving my father directions from the backseat; trying to explain where he was going to be headed as he got off the exit.  Needless to say, when I don’t know how to pronounce a word I still sound it out like an eight year old and sometimes it is totally wrong.  Every street in the Palm Springs area are named after old time 1940s singers.  The area is considered Hollywood’s desert playground.  A place where people of Los Angeles can escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a weekend.  There was a street called “Dinah Shore” and of course I butchered “Dinah” where then my father proceeded to be in shock and make fun of me because I had no idea who this woman was in the industry of music.  So, I dug a little deeper into this 1940s icon and discovered the world of crooners, big bands, and barbershop quartets.

It was the decade that music was starting to really come back to life after the depression.  After the stock market crashed in 1929 music died a little.  Dance halls were empty and musicians couldn’t find work, but by the mid 1930s the economy was starting to recover and the 1940s crooner superstars (Bing Crosby, Cab Callaway, Eddie Cantor) started to hit the scene hard.  There was also the return rise of big bands such as Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and Artie Shaw as jazz and blues artists were becoming national sensations – Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.  Then you have Dinah Shore who hit on another level.  After failing auditions for the bands of Benny Goodman and Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey she struck out on a solo career leading to a string of 80 charted hits between 1940 to 1957.  She was one of the first singers of her era to achieve such success.  She was Taylor Swift before there was Taylor Swift.

1940s music was filled with brass, big sound, and a voice that could sooth any rotten day.  The voices of this generation seem gentle, soft, and hypnotizing.  Getting lost in an era of musicals, where men acted liked gentlemen, and woman had more drive and ambition than taking the best selfie for Instagram.  This is not a knock on the Millennial generation, but I sometimes wonder where the magic went in this world.  When did image and beauty begin to matter more than substance or talent.  There is no mistaking the talent of these artists and musicians.  There was no machine back then that could hide voice or instrument mistakes or imperfections; recordings were honest and had truth behind the words that were sung.  Even instrumental big band music such as Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller –  their music has power to bring you back in time as an underlying woodwinds carry the brass horns to tell a story of two young lovers being torn apart by war.

Maybe that is why this music is so special.  It was created during a time of bombings, air raids, and being exposed to horrific deaths at a young age.  Your best friend could be next to you one day and gone the next.  The music has a stroke of blues even in the up beat songs (i.e. Sing Sing Sing).  Benny Goodman’s song “Sing Sing Sing” is iconic.  Even if you don’t know 1940s music this song has been used in movies throughout the decades since its creation.  It goes up and down in moods from jumping and jiving to slow and bass level waves in notes that get a little too personal.  That bass drum remains its constant heart beat throughout the whole eight minutes as saxophones and trumpets slither in and out of quick and smooth music bar lines taking the listener through a party scene of people feeling different emotions and the rollercoaster that we call life.

Click Here for some my favorite 1940s music!  Better yet watch Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire as Benny Goodman’s “Sing Sing Sing” plays in the background.

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Amy Winehouse – Another Lost Legend

Asif Kapadia, the director of the released documentary Amy stated, “She was the unlucky one to be having a nervous breakdown in the public eye.” Amy Winehouse was a singer all to similar to Kurt Cobain.  An artist in her own right that wasn’t ready for celebrity.  The scrutiny, judgement, and overbearing view of the press and the general public.  She was always a punchline to a joke, and instead of showing support and love with her struggles and misfortune society laughed.  Her drug abuse, alcohol addiction, and bulimia was pushed off as self sabotage when it was a cry for help.  A cry for help that started when she was young.

Her mother couldn’t control her bad behavior and instead of doing something about it, Janis Winehouse never said no, and never disciplined.  Her father, Mitch Winehouse left when Amy was nine years old.  After his disappearing act she became promiscuous, skipping school, and got into drugs and smoking.  She felt that no one cared, so why should she care either.  It seemed that her friends became her family.  Lauren Gilbert, Juliette Ashby, and Nick Shymansky became the people that would do their best to protect her, make the right choices, and they were the ones who tried to get her to go to rehab before the alcohol and drugs got worse in the height of her success; unfortunately they failed.

In the film, it showed that Amy was her own worse critic. She made the statement, “I’m not a natural born performer. I’m a natural singer, but I’m really quite, shy really.”  She grew up idolizing great jazz singers such as Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. Artists who come along once in a lifetime, and become classic greats in the history of music.  When Amy released the album Back to Black she made it in that history book.  She had an edge and honesty in the album that could relate to people.  The hit single “Rehab” made her a superstar and celebrity, which in her state of being with the alcohol, drugs, and self-conscientiousness would be her down fall.  The album is full of sadness, heartbreak, and regret.  In “Love Is A Losing Game” the lyrics express falling in love being a series of mistakes:

“One I wish I never played
Oh what a mess we made
And now the final frame
Love is a losing game”

The song “Back to Black” is one of my favorite on the album as her deep, raspy voice flows over the lyrics and melody just like Frank Sinatra’s style way of carrying the audience over the emotion of every word she breathes.  She loved being in the studio – developing new songs, playing instruments, and learning and honing everything about her craft as a singer and musician.  The song “Back to Black” was more than just about losing her lover.  It was seemed to foreshadow her fate.  She sings:

“You went back to what you knew
So far removed from all that we went through
And I tread a troubled track
My odds are stacked
I’ll go back to black”

One of the final scenes in the movie that really stuck with me was when she was watching a video of herself singing with her bodyguard Andrew Morris.  Andrew said that during that time Amy said, “I would give it back, if I could walk down the street.”  Those few words expressed what really mattered to her.  Being normal.  Not living in a fish bowl.  Her life ended tragically by a drug overdose and I still don’t think society has learned anything from the loss of artists like Amy.  For them to continue to create the music we love, they need respect.  Personally, the paparazzi and the people trying to make a buck by making artists sign objects doesn’t show any of kind of respect.  The best you can do for an artist is show your support by going to concerts, posting their music and videos to social media, as well as continuing to listen and be a fan of their work.