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John W. Pinkerton


I’m more than a little reluctant to comment on music.  I guess I’m a little embarrassed.  It’s something about which I have for a long time felt a little guilty.  Most people seem to have a natural connection to music: I, on the other hand, do not have this connection. The only ancestor that I know of who had any musical talent was my Grandma Barron: she could tear up a zither and play a tolerable harmonica. Other than her, the family ground seems to have been pretty sterile when it came to producing music.

I have had machines that played the records, tapes, and CDs. I never had an eight-track; I guess I was otherwise occupied when they were au courant. Unfortunately, I’ve never really been interested in any of these. Oh, I’ve purchased them, but more out of a sense of conforming to societal norms and keeping my wife happy, mostly the latter.

Let’s go back a bit: when I was about ten, I discovered an old cracked 78 of Muddy Waters repeatedly phrasing “muddy water” over and over again with the regular click from the crack in the vinyl. I liked it. I liked it a lot. I should have known then that music was not going to be a touchstone in my life.

Also when I was about ten, my third or fourth grade teacher was leading the class in singing a song.  I don’t know if they still do this in elementary schools. Like the others in the class, I was straining the pipes.  Abruptly the teacher called a close to the singing, slowly walked to stand next to my desk, and asked the class where that horrible noise was coming from. Not being totally dim-witted, I got the message: I realized that the horrible noise was coming from me.  Now I’ve told this story before and people seem to be appalled by the mistreatment of the poor little boy. On the contrary, that teacher saved me a lifetime of thinking I could sing. She actually did me a favor. Being a teacher myself, I was pretty regularly submitted to horrible singing at special occasions by young people none of whom had someone do them the favor of letting them know that they should not pursue singing, certainly not in public.

I tried my hand at playing music.  When I was in the third grade, we were all lined up to meet with the band director who took one look at me and concluded that I was a clarinet player. He was wrong of course.  What he probably never realized was that I was no kind of musician: not clarinet, trumpet, piano, trombone, guitar, or jews harp.  What I remember most about the experience is taking private lessons from the poor old band director, a torture I still feel bad about inflicting on him.  I recently spoke with him at a fifty-year class reunion.  I apologized.  Additionally, I recall that I broke a display commode in my father’s plumbing shop while practicing my clarinet and that I faked playing my clarinet while in the assembled band--I could never hit a high note--and best of all was discovering that my dad had hocked my clarinet.  Hocking the clarinet I celebrated, but the loss of my shotgun I kinda resented.

When I was in the service in Germany, I was in a section of six or seven soldiers who had possession of a pretty good stereo. None of them knew where it came from.  I guess some soldier long ago acquired it and being that it would have been difficult to pack into a duffle bag to take home had left it behind along with a lot of pretty good records, none of which interested me much. I found my interest at the base library: “Leadbelly,” Huddy Ledbetter.  Now I can’t say that “Leadbelly” had a voice that would call the birds out of the trees, but his music did appeal to me.  Some years later while taking a national teachers exam, I ran across a question about “Leadbelly.”  Now what “Leadbelly” had to do with one’s qualifications to teach is beyond me, but there it was, a question concerning Huddy Ledbetter.  Of course I knew the answer and took a moment of self-satisfaction as I looked about the room and concluded that I was probably the only Aggie taking the test who had even heard of “Leadbelly.”

The one performer that I’ve maintained an interest in since I was a young fellow is Bob Dylan.  Other performers his age eventually decided to give up drugs and alcohol: I don’t believe Bob ever saw a need for such drastic measures.  You have to admire his determination to maintain his lifestyle.  I even once wrote a Bob Dylan song: a protest song.  I was surprised some years later to hear Bob say that he didn’t write protest songs. Well, if he did, the one I wrote would have been it.  I guess the thing I admire about Bob is that we’re about the same age and neither of us can sing.  Sadly that’s enough for me.

Now, as a teenager you can’t admit that music doesn’t move you. It was expected, especially by the girls.  I was about twelve when Elvis hit the airways.  I still admire the music from the late 50’s: it’s rhythmic and innocent.   If you don’t believe me, go back and examine the lyrics.   By the 70’s, most of the sweetness had been hammered out of popular music.

Nowadays, about once a month I’ll force myself to play Dylan, or “Leadbelly,” or Joplin, or sometimes a Willie CD.  I actually listen to a few bars but quickly turn up the TV and drown out  the lyrics.

Now you might be thinking that I just haven’t listened to the right music.  Nope, that’s not it.  I’ve tried classical, big band, Western, honky tonk, blues, jazz, and even Gregorian chants. My interest quickly fades, although I have to admit that I had high hopes for Gregorian chants for a while.

I sometimes wonder if I’m the only one who has such a tenuous relationship to music.  I kinda hope I am.  I’m sure it’s a great source of inspiration or relaxation or something else positive to most.  To me it’s just another thing I have little understanding of or appreciation for, one of many.