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Mychal Wilmes: Every generation has its songs

August 21, 2018

A pick-me-up was needed on what was a down day when good intentions crumbled under the weight of petty concerns.

I found relief in music – specifically Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood’’ and “Chattanooga Choo Choo.’’ The songs, which reached the top of the charts in 1939 and ’41, mark the pinnacle of the Big Band era. It is impossible to listen to either composition without a renewal in spirit and energy.

Mr. Smith – who taught junior high music in a church converted to public school use because of Baby Boom overcrowding – would have been pleased that I have an appreciation for swing and what he considered the classics.

Mr. Smith was a fan of great movie musicals of the time – “Oklahoma,” “The Sound of Music,” “Mary Poppins” and others. Composers Ludwig Beethoven and Johann Sebastian Bach also enjoyed an exalted place in his musical firmament.

We, a generation immersed in the Beatles, the rest of the British Invasion and most all the songs that reached the pop charts, did not share his tastes. We struggled to stifle our laughter when he suggested that in 300 years Beethoven and Bach would still be cherished while the Beatles and their ilk would be mostly forgotten.

Although it may seem that thee centuries have passed since Mr. Smith’s class, the rock-n-roll era has proven to be more than a fad. I think Mr. Smith would have learned to appreciate Herman’s Hermits, The Who and even Metallica.

He certainly had little appreciation for me. It wasn’t just because I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. Our choir had been practicing for what was certain to be a serious Easter concert when someone cracked an age-appropriate joke and I laughed. Mr. Smith slapped me across the face and asked how I could treat Our Lord with such disrespect. He would make mention of it the next time he talked with my mother.

I had acted foolishly, but not in a profane way. My choir career came to an ignominious end at my insistence and not his. My respect for Mr. Smith grew in time. He had a love for music that he wanted to share.

He re-entered my thoughts the other day when the retired and near-retired who gathered at table discussed their shared distaste for modern music compared to the greatness of what we listened to in our youth.

Every generation has a natural bias about those things they knew whe they were young. Model Ts and rumble seats, doughboys, zoot suits, hoopskirts, bobby socks, crewcuts, Brylcreem, long hair, bellbottoms, tie-dyed shirts, peace symbols and hard hats.

Each generation’s mileposts ranked as the best, and those that followed pale in comparison.

Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade’’ ends and I commence to cleaning out a little-used desk door. A playing-card container with a picture-window cover contains wallet-sized graduation pictures from the 1970s. The boy who thought himself a man smiles; his hair is neatly combed; and he wears a shirt and tie that was certainly far too tight to be comfortable. Because of vanity, he isn’t wearing the uncool heavy black plastic frame glasses.

It doesn’t seem possible that he was once me.

A farmer’s son with roots in the fertile soil; a dreamer of big dreams destined to go to places only read about; and a finder of love so powerful as to overcome all things and to be all things. The dreams didn’t die, they morphed into something more aligned with reality. Love is found and returned 10-fold when freely given. I do not like to have my picture taken. However, when I look in to a mirror I see wrinkles and scars – some of which are on the surface and others hidden deep and only exposed in the solitude of self-reflection.

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