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Sep. 7th, 2009

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There was no youth culture when I was a child. Popular music (we didn't call it "pop") was universally smooth and bland. At the high end were Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Doris Day. At the low end there was Max Bygraves. Big bands were still in vogue- and a band leader called Billy Cotton headed up one of the premier light entertainment shows on the BBC.  Billy Cotton was fat and bald - and about as happening as Mr Pickwick. For the hepcats there was jazz- but we didn't listen to that in our house.  The kids were catered for in a once-weekly radio request programme called "Children's Favourites" hosted by a person known as Uncle Mac.  He played lots of novelty records like Sinatra's "High Hopes" and a thing called "Sparky and the Magic Piano" which had a spoken narrative and stretched over several discs. Uncle Mac only ever played us the first side- the bastard!- so I never found out what happened to Sparky-  and could only speculate that it was too emotionally scarifying to be aired.
 
My mother had a big stash of pre-war 78s left over from her girlhood. I had license to play those on wet afternoons. There were selections from operetta, some Christopher Robin songs, a baritone singing Old Father Thames (Britain's answer to Ol' Man River) and (my favourite) someone (possibly Jack Buchanan) singing Cole Porter's "Miss Otis Regrets". 

At school we sung Victorian hymns and patriotic "folk" songs like "Hearts of Oak"- and my schoolmates were into singers like Tommy Steele and Adam Faith who- for all their youth- were as vacuous as Day and Crosby, but without the style.

Occasionally something a little spikier would weasel its way through the privet. My father had a passing crush on the French chanteuse Juliet Greco (a crush I have inherited) and I got to hear a little Brecht/Weill. "Pirate Jenny"- ohmigod!

This was my musical education more or less. I can see how it has shaped me. Most of what I heard through childhood was slop and I learned- from my parents, I guess- to take it or leave it- mostly leave it- which is why I missed out on rock 'n' roll and it took me until halfway through the sixties to realise they was something extraordinary going on.  I still don't listen to music much- and when I do it's because there's something I specifically want to hear. I don't do music as wallpaper. Whatever it is- and it could be anything from Schubert to Lily Allen-  it's got to really grab my attention- as Porter and Weill did- for me to prefer it to silence.

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