‘Steve, I’m told you’ve quite a sizable music collection. You’ll do this little job for us, won’t you? But mind, none of that rock ‘n’ roll stuff – no Beatles or Rolling Stones. You got that! We can’t have the ‘ankle biters’ off their trolley before they get to class! Now, next item people’
So there you have it. For a couple of years now I’d been trying to make a positive impression on the BOSS since our synchronized appointment to our rural school. It was the early nineties, he was very out of date with his popular music but, nonetheless, you dare not ‘go agin’ what the BOSS asked of you. Despite my generally positive teaching and my willingness to take on extra responsibilities, I still felt I had not fundamentally ‘cracked’ it with him. Maybe this was my chance to impress. He was a good man, a big man, a formidable leader and I decidedly knew that it was paramount I entered his ‘good books’ if I wanted to get on, for I loved the school and its student cohort. And now, in his wisdom, the BOSS had decided to do away with the screeching siren that defined the end of break time. Music was now used in most schools – the theory being the kids started walking at the commencement of the music, and were settled in class by the end of the five minutes or so of the march in tunes. The BOSS had done much to turn the fortunes of the school around, and he was determined our bucolic little affair was seen to be as progressive as the big schools down on the coast. This musical innovation was, he felt, part of this. Of course, being a ‘Kinder to Grade 10’, in our district high, as it was misnamed, the BOSS was determined to be inclusive of all sections, and he knew the early childhood teachers disliked their clientele being in the least ‘sparky’. In this regard the ‘devils’ music in his mind was akin to red cordial! But in that one sentence he had dismissed the possibility of ninety percent of my CDs being used. But still, I couldn’t let this opportunity to go by, so I painstakingly set to it to put some innocuous selections onto tape, ensuring it was as ‘ballady’ as possible to appeal to his taste.
This memory of long ago came surging around my synapses again after recent perusal of a Danny Katz column in my favourite broadsheet. When this fellow is ‘on song’ (pun intended) he does tickle my funny bones, but here he caused reflection as well. In this particular scribbling Katz railed against ‘dinner party rock snobs’, after he failed to defend his appreciation of James Blunt at a gathering he had latterly attended.
I’ve always considered my music tastes fairly catholic. Back in my uni days, when the ‘cool’ people were groovin’ to Cream, Hendrix and Zappa, my predilection ranged from Andy Williams through to Creedence via the Bee Gees (pre-disco). At our hall of residence we were a broad church, and I never felt a lesser being because I did not worship at the altar of Clapton – that came later! Gradually my tastes refined. My brother introduced me to the ilk of John Prine and Eric Anderson, and a whole new musical world opened up. Jimmy Buffett became my sunny life companion, and then there was my dear old Dad. Being a son of the soil, from the verdant Huon Valley to be exact, he passed on to me the country music gene, and I grew up on a diet of Slim Dusty and Marty Robbins’ ‘Gunfighter Ballads’. Later came his regard for the ‘Man in Black, and in his last years he adored Willie Nelson. Myself, I was more of a Waylon and a Kris man, but by the time my compilation tape was being passed over to the office staff for its first airing under the new ‘coming in’ regime, I had a few Willies in my CD library.
Willie was a rebel – he stuck his finger up at Nashville and the ‘big hatters’ whom he felt were defiling the purity of the brand, and he loved the ‘weed’. True believers know the country music gene is not a fallacy, and I am proud to say my father’s has now reached my daughter as she embraces my love of the alt guys and gals, even if she ventures into big hat territory. That she is also inclined to listen to heavy metal and the Spice Girls is a foible of hers that I adore.
But back to another time and another place, my tape seemed to go down well – there were no complaints about it not exactly being cutting edge or particularly ‘now’ – and I had ensured it was devoid of ‘bounce’ and naughty innuendo. All was rosy in my world until……….
She was large in body and large in her opinions. Pug nosed and pugnacious, she was a frequent visitor to our school and therefore our staffroom, and I got on all right with her as I respected the work she did with some of our at risk cherubs. It was the end of morning recess, we were all packing up as the music had started, and Willie was warbling away to the troops. I cannot remember the particular song – of course something like ‘On the Road Again’, although applicable, would not be seen as appropriate as it was too ‘happy-clappy-skippy’ for the little ones. More likely then it would have been a track from ‘Stardust’, his album of covers from the Great American Songbook.
I was about to leave the room when from over in the corner came, ‘WHAT IS THIS SHIT! WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND LISTENS TO WILLIE NELSON THESE DAYS?’ I ceased my departure, opened my mouth, but the words were too stunned to come out – so, head down, I went; wondering what had hit me. Of course I had been stirred about it all before, but this was different from the gentle ribbing of good mates. She bellowed each syllable with such vehemence, and each word seemed enveloped in hate. Even if I was not uber-cool by not, like her presumably, bowing down to all offerings from Waits, Cave and Radiohead, I was nonplussed at both her reaction and my shock. And after a while it hit me. It was the first time in my life that I had felt bruised and diminished for my musical affinities. Why I was so affected, I later figured, could be because Willie formed a songline between my father, now sadly departed and much missed, and I – in the same way that it now extends between my gorgeous daughter and her grandfather. And, of course, I hadn’t defended Willie!!!
A few weeks later the BOSS passed me in the corridor, patted me on the back and remarked,’ Good job with the music sir!’ I should have felt a frisson of pleasure that I’d pleased him, but my moment had already been ruined. My ‘taste’ had been publicly vilified, and though I realised it was illogical, it hurt. After that point I steered clear of my unknowing persecutor, and later she parted ways with the school. Nobody else said a word about the incident, and, until Danny’s musings, the memory of it had left my consciousness.
Yes I can understand people not liking country music, just in the same way I privately abhor rap and doofer doofer. It is within me to gently chide others about their taste – lord knows I’ve received plenty of that in my time. And in the end Danny and I now have an extra bond. So much so that I propose we form a militant body and call it ARSE – Abominable Rock Snob Eradication. We’ll protect the rights of the uncool to listen to Willie Nelson and James Blunt anytime, any place! Danny and I, we’ll stand up to the rock snobs of the world anywhere, but particularly at dinner parties and in school staffrooms! We will empower lovers of country music and bland Brit pop!
Now Danny, about Barry Manilow……….