Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Noise

In the deservedly obscure movie Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother, a secret document is supposed to be transferred between spies... onstage, during an opera. Naturally, the movie had to show the opera. It opens during a party scene. The women in the chorus-- all in high, white powdered wigs and elaborate ballgowns-- sing the following, supposedly a translation from this (imaginary) opera's original Italian:

"We're at a party, we're dancing! Dancing at a party! Party party party-- party! Dancing dancing dancing-- dancing!"

From what I know of opera, this might not be far off from the actual dialogue in some cases. Just to make the audience clear that what they are observing is, in fact, a dance party.

The point is, people at a party seems to want to hear songs about... being at a party. Lionel Richie has "All Night Long." Pink has "Get This Party Started." Kool and the Gang has "Celebration." Miley Cyrus has "Party in the USA." The Black Eyed Peas have "I Gotta Feeling." Sam Cooke has "Havin' a Party," and even mellow old James Taylor covers Cooke's "Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha."

Here, Tom and Jerry stage a rave-up, 1950s-style. "Are you coming to the party tonight?/ Are you ready for the party tonight?/ We're gonna yell and we're gonna shout/ We're gonna make some noise-- watch out!"

The next line could also be from any party song-- "Everybody's gonna be there"-- but the following one "dates" the song to its era of inception: "Stompin' 'til the break of day." The Stomp was a dance step of the time. There is a line in Chris Montez's 1962 "Let's Dance": "We'll do the Twist, the Stomp, the Mashed Potato, too/ Any old dance that you wanna do."

It's hard to remember that rock was once controversial altogether. It was the music of youthful rebellion, reviled by parents and the establishment in general (like swing before it and rap after). In the 1960s, people were still burning rock records. (An accurate treatment of the hatred rock engendered is captured by John Lithgow's performance in the movie Footloose.)

Here, Tom and Jerry turn from calling for a party to warning such opposing forces, and assuring their fellow revelers: "Nothing's gonna get in our way."

Decades before the Beastie Boys' told us is ""You gotta fight for your right to party," Tom and Jerry lobbed this shot across the bow of the "sqaures": "Everywhere that I've been lately/ People say, 'Be quiet.'/ I'm gettin' tired of all that jazz/ And I'm gonna start a riot."

Now, who are the "people" saying this? Librarians, sure, but also parents, teachers, the clergy, the police and other governmental types, and of course the self-appointed morality-imposing pundits every generation must endure.

The line "all that jazz" is an idiom for "such nonsense," but it is also a glancing blow at jazz music itself, by then a somewhat sedate musical form, calmed down from the Louis Armstrong fun and not yet subject to the abstraction of the Miles Davis era. Naturally, there were still some experimental jazz composers at the time, like Dave Brubeck, but even their music was relatively sedate compared to, say, that of Elvis Presley or Jerry Lee Lewis.

But yes, like all teens, Jerry Landis here forgets that the music of his parents-- in this case, jazz-- was once just as eyebrow-raising and hand-wringing as his own generation's.

After the word "riot," we get sax and drum solos. Again, the teens thought they had invented such things, when in fact jazz musicians like Cannonball Adderly and Gene Krupa already had done so decades before.

Our song started with "Are you coming to the party tonight," and now we turn again to the addressee of that remark. "Don't be afraid, little girl/ It'll be out of this world/ I'll rock you, come on let yourself go/ And we're gonna make some noise."

Is this using dancing as a metaphor for sex? It would be foolish to deny it. And yet, it could just be about dancing, which has its own charms. Even rock's opponents might agree.

An illustrative joke comes to mind: A groom is required to meet with his clergyman before his wedding. "There will be no dancing at the wedding," he is told. "It's... inappropriate." The groom protests, but the topic is immediately changed to the wedding night.

The clergyman says that the missionary position is ideal. "Can the woman be on top?" asks the groom. "It's not preferred, but it is acceptable," comes the reply.

"Can the man be... behind?" he asks. The man of the cloth sighs. "It is the way of animals, but there is nothing written against it."

Last, the groom ventures, "What about standing up?" "ABSOLUTELY NOT!" the clergyman thunders. "It could lead to dancing!"


Next Song: Surrender, Please Surrender

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