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Fact: Great Music Still Unites People
The other day I was reminded of something so important that I can’t understand how I lost track of it to begin with.
I was getting dinner at that restaurant named after a group of Guys who number more than four but less than six. I got the usual, one of their exceptionally good cheeseburgers (with everything) and an order – well, they call it an order but it’s more like a truckload – of the best fries I’ve had that weren’t homemade. Oh, and a Diet Coke. Gotta watch my calories, you know.
(My friend Frank and I used to point to this as an example of just how stupid we humans are becoming. You see it all the time, too – someone ordering a 4,500-calorie cheeseburger and a bushel of fries, and the getting a diet soda to wash it down. Like that low-cal soda is really going to make a difference when you’re already taking in enough fat, sugar and salt to stop your heart and three others besides.)
Anyway, I was sitting there waiting for the man to call my number when the music in the restaurant caught my ear. It was old school soul music: Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell, Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, Sam and Dave, Aretha Franklin… you know, the really good stuff.
And then I noticed something else.
Everyone in the restaurant – white, black, young, old, male, female, worker, customer – was enjoying the music, too. They were smiling, tapping their feet, softly snapping their fingers, and in the case of the true devotees, doing that thing where you stick your head out like a chicken in time to the music. This is known to musicologists as “doing that chicken head thing.” It indicates that you are so in love with the music that you really don’t care how ridiculous you look.
It hit me just how unusual that was – to have an entire restaurant, a well-mixed bag of people, all truly enjoying the same music.
I went looking for the manager and found myself talking to a bright young woman from Indianola, MS (that’s B.B. King territory, for you blues enthusiasts), someone from the hip-hop generation who puts the store radio on the satellite soul station and keeps it there.
“I was raised on it,” she explained. “It’s what I like. It’s from the heart.”
That it is. And the great thing about hearts is they only come in one color.
You know, Berry Gordy founded Motown Records under a very clever motto: “The sound of Young America.” Not young black America. Young America. And it was.
Soul music tells stories of love and loss, heartbreak and glory, with immediacy and rhythm. And it is the flip side, if you will, of another of my best-loved genres, classic country music. In fact, during my days as a music critic I talked to any number of soul singers who loved country music, and country singers who loved R&B.
I guess it just goes to prove what Duke Ellington always said: “There are only two types of music: Good and bad.”
There was good music in the burger joint, and everyone, as the saying goes, knowed it and showed it – smiling, snapping, doing that chicken head thing.
The hamburgers brought us to the restaurant.
The music brought us together.
© 2010 Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.
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