I like traipsing through my musical past and trying to make sense of it.
Some people are almost reflexively embarrassed by their childhood records, others cling to them unyieldingly. I prefer to walk a middle road. There’s some good stuff in there. I like finding it. And I’m fine to get rid of that which no longer holds up.
A good example is Chuck Mangione. Often ill-remembered for his exceedingly eccentric fashion sense, and the schlock classic “Feels So Good,” (let’s see you get a Top 10 instrumental hit record — twice), Chuck was the inspiration to many marching band-types — to what must have been the utter delight of music teachers everywhere.
Simultaneously pedagogical and flamboyant, Chuck (we trumpet players always called him by his first name, in a nerdly zeal) managed to straddle that once-precarious chasm between rock and roll and the “serious” music that our teachers and parents seemed to prefer that we embrace. He did it by using conservatory-trained music nerds to play this ecstatic, um, burning Spanish jazz-rock-fusion thing that I have not really heard elsewhere to this day.
Not that I want to, mind you.
In this case of reappraisal, I am happy to put the needle down on songs like “Echano” or “Bellavia,” and I don’t need much more than that — partially because his records seem notoriously uneven, in retrospect. But several of them — Children of Sanchez and Chase the Clouds Away, in particular — contain remarkable material.*
At their best, his compositions (and ensembles) were careening and awesome — or they “burned,” as we liked to say. And 20 years later, I can see how those recordings would excite the ears of a technique-obsessed teen, otherwise focused on Rush and British heavy metal.
And the funny juncture of all this is that, 25 years after quitting marching band — for all the dorks and nerds — I’m in one again.
Last night, we were having percussion practice and I cracked a “CoS” (pronounced “coz,” in case you wanna get even nerdier) joke and nobody got it.
I went into a mock fury: “…You people call yourselves ‘band nerds?!’ And you don’t know Children of Sanchez?!? I can’t work under these conditions.”
Finally, our leader, the magnificent Tripp Bratton showed up, and not only did he fully get it, he told this story:
Years ago, he was playing in some drum line in Cincinnati, and they had been performing CoS. By coincidence, Mangione was in town for his sister’s wedding, and had heard tell of it — and he hunted them down, and got them to perform at his sister’s wedding. Tripp’s recollection: “He’s short. Really short.”
• • •
As I get older, I love to reconsider music. I’m fortunate to have a facility for keeping up with the “hip new thing,” and also enjoy honestly reappraising the music of my childhood. I still have some of those records, but they have been mercilessly culled over the years. I like to think that I won’t keep (too many) things for purely sentimental value. It has to have genuine merit.
And those couple of Chuck Mangione records that I still have are in no danger of being discarded. They hold up pretty damned well.
As I final note, the monkey business about Children of Sanchez set me thinking about how it was — as I had always known — actually the soundtrack of a movie, directed by Hall Bartlett (a kind of iconoclast-sentimentalist who also did Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a bizarre and polarizing film best discussed another time). Of course, in the 80’s, living in a small Kentucky town, our chances of seeing this film (to say nothing of potentially liking it) were pretty much none-to-zero.
What’s neat is that, in this Internet age, I can find the movie Children of Sanchez.
And I think I’ll watch it — just to see how this music that formed a portion of my life for decades was intended to be presented. Maybe it won’t suck. But it’s okay, if it does. It won’t subtract from the goodness that I’ve gleaned from the short man in the funny hat with the weird horn.