The Birth of Music

The Birth of Music >> by Sean Bonniwell

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Copyright © 2012 Uncle Helmet's Music, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The first song that blew me down and kept me raptured to hear it countless times lying on my back was "Only You," by the Platters. I heard it one night when I was fourteen, as ready for an epiphany as any so young is, this song searched and found everything I didn't know I was looking for.


"Rock Around the Clock" was idyllic but improbable, due primarily to homework, and disgraceful as it sounds, Elvis was not cool. Only black people were. I thought they tolerated our clumsy attempts at it very well — and for the most part they did. Never offended by the search they truly enjoy to encourage, they welcome the soul to its rightful home, as was — and is — their way. It's safe to say that Eric Clapton is a genius for as white as he is. Perhaps he knows the extent to which contemporary music is endowed by the legacy of African-American influence, and that we can do little else but say thank you with a song true to who we are. No more is asked of us, and we should not pretend to be more of who we want to become.




There is no human activity more intriguing to angels than our making of music. An explanation of why this is so can be found in scripture, the implications of which dare us to challenge all that we know of mankind's never ending need to express the duplicity of his soul.


Angels inhabit the Kingdom of Heaven, and are counted among the heavenly host. Numbered by the Word of God as are grains of sand, they glorify His name with celestial singing that is incomprehensible to earthbound sensibilities. If it can be so explained, the music of Heaven is layers upon layers of interwoven harmonic resplendence, for all who are in Heaven sing an unending song, giving praise to He who "made the earth, whose hands stretched out the heavens, and all their host has He commanded." (Is.45:12)


Lucifer was one of three archangels (Michael and Gabriel being the other two), and no cherub or seraph was allowed closer proximity to the throne of God than these. As Heaven's choir director, it was Lucifer's responsibility to lead the angelic host in worship. Created with instruments of music fashioned into his being: "The workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou was created..." (Ezek.28:13) He not only conducted the orchestra, he WAS the orchestra.


And he was very wise and extremely beautiful: "Every precious stone was thy covering, the Sardis, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold." Then in the midst of Heaven's order and harmony, "When the morning stars [angels] sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy" (Job 38:7), Lucifer sees his own beauty and brilliance and declares, "I will ascend into Heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars [angels] of God; ...I will be like the most High." (Isa.14:13-14).


When Lucifer was cast to the earth "as lightning fall from heaven" with a third of the heavenly host (who by their free will chose to worship him as god), he brought his talent for music with him. It follows that a contamination of sorts has infected the music on earth, for we have songs that glorify Satanic deception, rebellion, and the occult, driven into the mind and soul by instruments and amplifiers pushed to torturous sound levels; and thousands have given themselves in worship to "the god of this age." I can hear the Lord God now: "...Everybody off the planet. I've got someone else looking at the property..."


At this writing a resurgence of sixties music and ideology is designing much of the present. But our contemporary youth culture wants little to do with the desperate hedonism of modern survival. The burned-out drug-induced aspirations of the sixties do not make for a bright future: Not with AIDS a world-wide epidemic, legal abortion slaughtering millions of the unborn, divorce, unwed motherhood, illegal aliens and drug addiction subsidized by welfare programs; gangs, murder, cocaine and violence on the streets of America everywhere, a criminal justice system criminally lenient and pendulous by inequity; a liberal agenda propagandizing the media with socialist dogma, indoctrinating 3rd graders with homosexuality and proselytizing moral authority while sanctioning chauffeur-driven "fat cat" swindlers with the legislative power to plunder the American dream: Don't worry. B e happy.


As under the omen star


The New Age movement was initiated by sixties legends as they gloried in the counter culture's rite of passage; willful contempt for God’s authority. But they never said as much. The vitality and naivete of fifties music yielded to the given that rock was growing up, and the tenets of secular humanism, though couched in feel good rhyme and rhythm, were cloaked in the subtle persuasion of duty to ego. Any number of titles from the era conform to what is recognized as New Age sacraments, and were ornamented in themes now honored as the maturing of rock'n'roll, which — at the time — didn’t vilify Christianity so much as it tried to ignore it.


Those of the ilk, such as John Lennon, Donovan, Cat Stevens etc., thought themselves to be enlightened, the word most wrong for what it means. The kingdom of darkness is for those who go one before the other as if led by their own light. The conceit that we've arrived at the next frontier of evolutionary consciousness originated in the culture of sixties idolatry, and began as oneness with the power of ourselves. I was guilty of this, and take now a moment to apologize for my portion of its emergence. Those of us blessed with a blue thumb are to the manor born; having planted that which prospered under the omen star, we negotiated blame in our rhyme and were proud to be blameless in our songs. Occultism marches to a drum beaten by a cloven hoof. It pretends to wear a sandal stained with blood from a crown of thorns, and the beat goes on.


The mystical enchantment of music can envelop the soul with a coma-like malaise, overpowering the prevalent mood of the moment so completely as to give us the sum total of our lives. We experience the full force of integrated longings for love, security, and social significance. These needs are so compelling we remember them in a time and place that never was, and so they "sleep" in the words and melody of a song remembered only by blameless expectations. As "captured" emotions, these feelings are so enshrined in subtle disappointments of anticipated fulfillment they can virtually obliterate the immediate continuity of life. It is a spell, it is escape, it is renewal of stranded dreams, and sometimes it's a denial of a disintegrating future we the collective feel powerless to amend; tomorrow is now.


On the whole this phenomenon is therapeutic. The songs that commemorate enduring expectations can rejuvenate the human spirit for romance, idealism, the beginning of relationships, careers, youth — the whole spectrum of future events and expectant fulfillment. An aspect of healing and released anxiety is associated, one that could be said to have properties significant for the treatment of ills common to an eclectic society. The recapture of youthful idealism softens the heart for tolerance. Introspection allows us to reflect on life's resolutions; the time it takes to appreciate the full design of lessons learned and bridges burned. We mistakenly assume youth is not receptive to experience as the final authority, that perseverance receives no rewards. While it's true contemporary culture demands immediate gratification while divorcing itself from values obtained by the patience required for living life one day at a time, music can revive the immediacy of hope — perpetually conceive it — so that the joy of its discovery is relived again and again.


The timeless vitality of this mystical rejuvenation remarries the present with the past, thus music endures as a "living" reward for faith in the future. Each time we hear a song that "lives" in what we are experiencing today, we are more of ourselves, more of who we were, and more of who we will be. Sometimes, however, God has other plans.


For example, my affection for the trumpet ended when, as a sophomore in high school, I got slapped. I was standing in line waiting for choir practice when Barbra Levin came strutting down the hall; a dazzling brunette carrying geometry books in a way that gave her multi-lateral spheroids uplift the adolescent male brain calibrates instantly; two squared by books equals cleavage. The baritones, tenors and bassos, were taking turns at their version of the wolf whistle. My mouth was all puckered to finish the second half of my version when she stopped in front of me, smiled, raised her hand — SMACK. From that time forward my lips recoil from a mouthpiece and I don't whistle at Jewish sopranos. If I do, I whistle air.


A week later we were holding hands and I was carrying her books. "In the Still of the Night" was our song, until the 78 dropped to the sidewalk and shattered into pieces, an omen for the relationship unless the record was replaced immediately — was my hunch. The willing sale of personal treasure (my trumpet) was expected from teenage boyfriends, and Mr. Levin thought I should get used to spending money on his daughter.


He declined to pay for the replacement when Barbra — with great trepidation for violating hereditary penny-pinching — made the appeal. Being a father whose face I never saw, he was settled (as usual) in a high-back divan watching TV. The request was refused by speechless dismissal; Mr. Levin turned his head with decisive authority — just enough for us to behold the profile of a jumbo cigar beneath its imperial equivalent. His nose. These time-honored symbols of inaccessible prosperity were so intimidating I whispered into Barbra’s ear, "It’s impossible to play the trumpet and sing at the same time... so let’s get out of here!"


As we enter the 21st century, music encompasses a wide variety of styles and crossbreeds: The big band era gave way to the pop song. What was once known as country & western led to the folk era. Folk was overwhelmed by rock'n'roll, conceived by the blues, which was fathered by the progenitor of most American-born music, gospel. These and a host of other music categories have found a universal audience. Whereas in times past there was really only one audience, now there are as many musical delineations as there are factions of the public to support them. While it's true that contemporary rock continues to express the obstinate relevance of its seniority, technology is contaminating the market place with artificial sentiment; cloned rhythms, and a redundant library of contrived chants with puerile themes. So much of what is heard obscures the magical power of music by degenerating its "quality of heart," but the real danger in the unspecified diversity of cause and effect is the exploitation of hopelessness.


As for rap, it's a form of urban folk music. With little or no enduring melodic structure, and lyrics enunciating social crises, rap's longevity as a musical expression evoking societal communion degenerates almost as quickly as its problematic themes. If we can't understand the words, and we can't whistle the tune, what's the point? The point is, we need music that reaches into our worth as intelligent beings, to remind us that we're more than just dancing bones and a haircut.


By way of nihilism and technological evolution, our feelings for the human condition have no value. Now bereft of inspiration by vulgar phrases and obscenity, the richness of compliant, emotional continuity so vital to the health of our nation, is vanishing. I don't mean to suggest we can turn back the clock, or that the mystical enchantment of music is reserved for, or limited to, a particular era — or that we should expect to hear gangster rap as hummed by the mailman. But we need to be reminded of simpler times. Of melodies whistled and songs cherished.


It is almost a sacrilege when the continuing treasure of songs that renew us comes floating as background music into elevators and shopping malls, or is relegated to commercials selling beer and pantyhose. This would be incidental to reality were it not for the fact that mainstream American music glorifies sex, drugs, and Satanism. Each generation hears the feudalism of its own voice. All other voices are impotent. Punk reflected the banishment of futility with its discordant noise, mindless tempos, and grinding ferocity. The fashion was body chains, black leather, and dark, masculine eyeshadow; the after the bomb look. With no trace of melodies that linger, the next generation will have no heart for the memory of its youth, but it may be too well-remembered, in a future world of obliterated reminders. We need to be reminded not to rejoice in the death of our dreams, that music lives through and for the nurturing of triumphant hope.


Youth is glorified by a culture of greed. But being young offers little to sing about, laugh at, or be led by. The best the next generation can hope for is a song commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts titled, "It's OK to Pick Your Nose." Dehumanized music, scantily melodic, underscores lyrics exalting Godless humanism. The influence of mysticism on music is now only slightly evident, having moved on to cartoons and toys with supernatural power.


I don't mean to suggest the artists of the sixties (with the exception of the Rolling Stones) made celebrating depravity a lifestyle, nor do I contend paramount obedience to New Age doctrine was the norm. "A Whiter Shade of Pale" was the poetry we never wrote, the song that made everyone who wrote songs wished they did. It was the sound of a distant train coming from a strange world and going to another. But many songs of the sixties were guilty of insinuating what others went so far as to endorse: Man is a physical being — evolved and evolving through many lifetimes, on his way to a bold awakening — on the threshold of becoming God. Bull. We are spiritual beings housed in a physical body, and our pilgrimage for one lifetime is created specifically to optimize reunification with a loving Creator who died for us — that we may inherit eternal life. The issue was clarified by Norman Greenbaum; "Spirit in the Sky" was so refreshing by virtue of its wholesome enlightenment it cried shame upon all other songs heard on the radio — for the rest of the day — then and now.


A personal list of songs I favor is not so much private sentiment as it is the gathered opinion they are rendered by voices who occupy a timeless spirit. Such is the distinction of an era that trumps the fullness of time, for it refers to our future from a past we continually reinvent. The true genesis of the Capitol album, Close, was summoned by surrender to this elusive impulse. Even today, the hypnotic "Theme from Picnic" takes me as a willing prisoner to a place where the man I've become is captured by the boy I was. The same can be said for the songs of Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole. They were my clouds, and I can do nothing to stop myself from going with them to where they linger — held by aching patience; and I still love her, whoever she is.


But the song that brings to a crescendo all that is within that place begins and ends with "Old Cape Cod." For reasons hidden by the harbor of a poet's heart, this song's mysterious enchantment charts both the time and tide of my life; as under moon and stars where hope is put to sea and sleeps not, doing for the boy what the man must do, leaving room for dreams.


Why did I abandon rock'n'roll to write and sing ballads? Perhaps a poet's heart is better heard and better served by singing songs rather than screaming them. This may help to explain why there's a song I cherish more than all others for its undaunted expression of tortured love made helpless by surrender. "Since I Fell," by Lenny Welch, has yet to be equaled (in my mind) for its capture of the soul with episodic lingering. A soaring tribute to the bewitchment of love that begs for an answer from the master spirit we seek to know; as did Adam fall, so do we all...


The Capitol album, Close, was where my poet's heart found its voice; being so much of what I can't explain, it does. It's as close as I ever came to defining the anguish of the void. And Close was aptly named too, like a bandage that doesn't quite cover the wound. At the time, I had to do something to stop the bleeding.


It took three decades for me to correctly assess the sources of influence colonizing my musical instincts. It all began with the trumpet. I've been told by relatives that as a tot, I could identify the prominent musicians of my father's day. I spoke no other words but their names, recognizing by sound and style the distinctive phrasing of each one. As the story goes, my pronunciations were typically garbled but not typically delivered. The picture of me as a three year old mimicking a trumpeter, appeared on the cover of Downbeat magazine in 1943, and included a paragraph reporting that no more than four bars of any record my father played was needed for me to announce with untutored confidence, "Hair James." "Sach-a-moe!" "Binny Good-one!!" This made my father smile. His son was walking in shoes that would always be too big.


I guess that's why I never sang for him. But Harry thought our canary did. Bing, so named for Bing Crosby, was a tag my father's practical ingenuity contrived, and was the only compliment he ever paid to a singer in his life. Whether by his intention, or one my mother coaxed from her wistful heart, Bing's song sweetened the morning hope, and his trilling serenade never failed to herald the new day with exhilarated rejoicing. I wondered what the hell he was so happy about. He was in a cage, under the indulgent care of a humanoid machine.


Harry was excessively proud of Bing's consistency, and allowed no one but himself — at the first crack of dawn — to remove the sheet that covered Bing's gilded cage. He would then, with great ceremonial efficiency, take the bird seed down from the upper shelf, and with an equal measure of accuracy pour the exact portion he required into the canary's feeder. As the morning sun spilled in through the windows, Bing tweedled and chirped until his glorious warbling reached a crescendo that woke the dead. According to Harry, no other bird could match such inexhaustible rapture, and he believed it was his meticulous routine — observed with allegiance to precision bird seed proportions — that expedited the grandeur of Bing's glorious song.


By my father's calculations, Bing was a messy bird. Is there any other kind? was one of two questions I was dying to ask, but since Bing was the only creature on the planet Harry ever showed affection for, I never got around to asking him the other question: How could Hart's Bird Seed make the exclusive and altogether extraordinary claim, "Guaranteed to make your bird sing!" It was written on the front of every box, and included — in bright BOLD letters — "Or your money back!!" I wondered what would happen if I ate some.


Harry's critical standards of cleanliness didn’t seem to apply to Bing’s cage, and it was a shame that the bird wasn't something he could shut off at the appropriate time; like the record player, or me. That may be why I never sang for my father. I didn't want to, unless I could match Bing's unfailing passion and unerring pitch. I knew if I ever started singing like that it would be because I had found the voice of my poet's heart.


When Bing died I supposed it was from excessive warbling, because a yellow canary, with its shriveled claws extended tenaciously upward — exhausted in death, takes on the exact likeness of two clamps fused to a dead battery. When I investigated Bing’s feeder it was full, and the correct portion of bird seed from the new box had been dispensed as usual; with perfunctory expectations. Did Bing starve himself to death? Was he depressed? Harry called the Hart’s company and was told that Bing had died from a change of diet; they were using seed from a different stock. The mystery wasn't explained until it was discovered that after discarding Bing's messy droppings into a flower box outside the kitchen window, what Harry thought was a tomato plant was actually a thriving clump of marijuana. The ramifications of these events were beyond my parent’s comprehension, in particular the fact that from that day to this canaries eating Hart's Bird Seed haven't sung a note.


While we cannot return to a naivete restricted by one color common to all, we can still respect the ethnic balance intrinsic to the rainbow. The family of man is moved, urged, prodded and empowered by the song in and of his soul. Even the angels are mystified. I listen to jazz because it clarifies my thinking, tunes my mind by its richness of expression as the missing chord is found, fondled, and forgiven. Be that as it may, the Word of God warns us that the day is coming when He will cause all music to cease. The anguish of such emptiness will starve the spirit of man, and he will wish to die for the lack of memory in his heart. This biblical truth gave birth to what I call the poet’s lie...


...and even if you promise me my poet will not die...


I fear the poet’s soul in me has told a poet’s lie...