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Columns

February 12, 2011

'Modern' stuff not exactly music to my ears

I think Christina Aguilera can be forgiven for forgetting some of the lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner" in front of a stadium full of Super Bowl fans and the largest television audience in U.S. history.

I just wish she had forgotten ALL of the lyrics.

Especially coming right after "Glee" star Lea Michele's classy rendition of "America the Beautiful," Aguilera's screeching sounded like somebody was torturing a porcupine.

Robert Goulet (who certainly could sing) and sprinter Carl Lewis (who certainly couldn't) achieved some measure of infamy decades ago for botching the lyrics to our national anthem. Steven Tyler of Aerosmith changed the last line on purpose in 2001 at the Indianapolis 500 and got into a whole lot of trouble.

Not that the exercise wouldn't do him a world of good, but one imagines Francis Scott Key spinning in his grave after Aguilera's caterwauling had raised him from the dead.

In fairness, it is important to note that I am to music what Woody Allen is to sumo wrestling.

As far as I'm concerned, popular music reached its apex with Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein (not to mention Hart), Lerner and Loewe and George and Ira Gershwin.

The Super Bowl turned out to be a pretty good game, but for me the best thing about Super Bowl Sunday was an afternoon program on Public Television's WCNY, "From Gershwin to Garland -- A Musical Journey with Richard Glazier."

It was heaven to listen to Glazier tell anecdotes about meeting Ira Gershwin and play "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Embraceable You" and "Rhapsody in Blue" so beautifully on his Steinway piano.

The thing to keep in mind, however, is how little I know about anything composed after _ say _ 1976, not coincidentally the year the group Wild Cherry came out with "Play That Funky Music, White Boy."

Don't ask me why, but if that song comes on the oldies station in my car radio as I reach my destination, I won't get out until the song is over.

My research has revealed that a gentleman named Robert Matthew Van Winkle, who goes by the name of Vanilla Ice, did a 1989 rap version of the song, along with a little ditty called "Ice Ice Baby."

Either song, played frequently, could easily elicit far more information at Guantanamo than waterboarding ever did.

One of our younger copy editors wrote "Ice, ice baby" as a headline under a photo of the Hanford Mills Ice Harvest in Monday's paper. In our news meeting that day, when I expressed ignorance of the phrase, my colleagues' comments suggested that I should be bundled in a shawl and confined to a rocking chair.

Along those lines, my bride of 32 years is far more tolerant than her husband when it comes to modern music. Her eclectic tastes often result in her listening to our cable TV's station that carries current hits.

The other morning, as the TV's discordant sounds filled the living room, I was just trying to be nice, complimenting her on how she's keeping up with the latest trends.

"Sam," she said, her voice as incredulous as it was condemning, "that's the '80s channel."

Sure enough, Stevie Nicks was singing something I must have slept through (no doubt with some difficulty) during that decade. While I'm at it, I refuse to believe that 1980 was 31 years ago. It just doesn't seem possible, somehow.

I know bubkes about classical stuff, but when it comes to denigrating a younger generation's music, I'm in some pretty good company with the late, great violinist Jascha Heifetz.

"I occasionally play works by contemporary composers, and for two reasons," he said. "First to discourage the composer from writing any more and secondly to remind myself how much I appreciate Beethoven."

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was 30 when he met 16-year-old Ludwig van Beethoven, and according to some accounts, referred to him as a "dirty, little beggar boy." Mozart, however, supposedly told his wife: "Don't forget his name _ you will hear it spoken often."

Perhaps people centuries from now will revere the _ uh _ music of Christina Aguilera and Vanilla Ice … but somehow I doubt it.

As for George Gershwin? Even a musical ignoramus such as I can feel confident in giving this advice to future generations: "Don't forget his name _ you will hear it spoken often."

But then, what do I know?

Sam Pollak is the editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at spollak@thedailystar.com or at 432-1000, ext. 208.

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