What Music Means to Me

Originally published in shortened form in "The Ottawa Beatles Fan Club", Vol 1 No. 4., 1996


By Tony Copple

As I write this, I'm having a near-spiritual experience. I have a strong desire to share it, and I almost can't help myself. So here I am, laptop on my lap top, and I'm breathing in Simon & Garfunkel's [Homeward Bound] playing as I write. Let me go back a bit....

About 15 years ago I had an idea to record on cassettes all my very favourite music. As a collector since 1953 I had a lot of favourites, on disk, on reel-to-reel, on cassettes. My music collection numbered hundreds of hours of music; everything I liked I'd kept, catalogued, and archived for the time in the future, perhaps when I was retired, when I would have all the time just to listen [Duane Eddy - Rebel Rouser].

The plan was to send the tapes around friends and family, so I started the "Copples family and friends cassette club". Over the next two years some 10 tapes were circulated, serial numbers H1 - H10, and amazingly all came back to me. All of this happened in England before I emigrated, but I have the full collection here in Canada. So this morning, going to church in a storm and having mail to deliver on my way home, I picked H5 out of the library, having not listened for years, and [Heart like a Wheel - Kate & Anna McGarrigle] that's when I started having this highly emotional experience. After all, some of the people on this tape, like John Lennon, have paid with their lives that we would be able to enjoy their music [Beatles - Golden Slumbers/Carry that Weight/The End]. We as listeners can choose any time from thousands of artists' creativity. They, in contrast give their all for a time, and many then fade into obscurity, while we move on to someone else. Now here come the tears: [The End] was the final climax of the Anthology video, and it's going to do it to me again; excuse me while I prevent saline solution dropping into the keyboard....

Yes, the love you take IS equal to the love you make. And I've taken a whole lotta love from these people. It's time I started to give some back. I'll never forget them, even if some are now homemakers in Hereford or bakers in Boston.

Amy Grant sings: It's not a song till it touches your heart/ It's not a song till it tears you apart/ ....till it gets through to you, it's not a song. This music on my tape gets through to me in all those ways. Music doesn't affect everybody like this. I guess my birthday is a clue, fairly close to Lennon's. So when The Beatles legitimized the pop music scene I'd loved since I bought my fist single - Ruby Murray's "Softly Softly", and my first album - the Lonnie Donegan "Showcase", I was ready to enjoy the music of the baby boomers. It seemed to me as an amateur musician that no song they - JPG&R - created was ordinary, with ordinary harmonies or time signatures. By the third album Beatles For Sale I was a 'day of release' buyer, and remained so until I repeated the thrill with the Anthology releases.

Which is really what got me to looking back so longingly. The Anthology video recreated all the same feelings I'd had 30 years ago when every paper every day had articles about the Beatles. Long before they had numbers 1 - 5 in the 'Billboard' chart I was convinced that this music was really special [Ziggy Stardust - David Bowie]. And not just the Fab Four, but the golden age beginning with Elvis and still continuing with writers like Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. What is it that some people have that they can literally dream wonderful tunes, as Paul did with 'Yesterday' that give intense pleasure to millions. In my case the pleasure is only second to falling in love in intensity. [Love - Forever Changes]. Some of my favourites were influenced by the pervasive cultures of the time; a special magical quality accompanies 'Strawberry Fields,' 'A Day in the Life' and the 'Forever Changes' album that I can detect looking back [Dory Previn - Brando].

I sit here listening, glazy eyed, heart pumping, caressed by Dory Previn's unique gift for music and words, and think of her "Reflection in a Mud Puddle" album that tells the story of the airship disaster, and explained so much to me about my own father. Dory and I have lots in common, and though I have little musical talent, I can tap into her's anytime. Kate and Anna's "My Town" reminds me that I could probably pick up the phone now and call them {I actually did this and had a great chat to Anna, and met them a few months later in Ottawa}; they live in Quebec, and remind them of the time I met them in Cambridge, England, decades ago. "When that Foghorn blows I will be coming home," sings Van Morrison, and I know why I predicted with "Moondance" that he would be one of my specials.

H5 has songs I considered my ultimate favourites in 1983. Among them, artists with several songs include Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles and The Byrds, Neil Young, Bowie, but I also get tremendous pleasure from the one-hit-wonders like Gail Garnet: 'We'll sing in the Sunshine'. I wonder what Gail is doing now, and if she senses I appreciate her from the many times I've listened to that song.

H5 finished with "A Day in the life". I'd shortened the final long sound-experience, and this time I felt cheated; I wanted every single second of it. And then, thrills, I found that H5 was only part 1 of my all time favourites, and H7 had more...

In 1968 a band called Idle Race made a zany album called Birthday Party. British DJ Kenny Everett popularized it and I bought it, beginning a quarter-century admiration for its leader Jeff Lynne, a true tunesmith of the pop world, giving us many gorgeous hits with Electric Light Orchestra. Jeff was an avid Lennon fan, eulogizing him at concerts, and of course produced the Travelling Willburies albums featuring Harrison, Dylan, Orbison and Petty.

Building my collection from radio, discs and some live performances, my intellectual incentive was to try to pick the songs I'd still love 20 years on. If you could measure my pleasure from these songs today, 20 - 30 years on, it's far greater than the pleasure when I first heard them. Years of practice has improved my skill at estimating song quality, sometimes knowing within a few seconds that I love it, as with "Free as a Bird", produced by Jeff Lynne, who turns a Lennon voice track into a song I can't stop humming. I value my collection of songs I like as one values fine art. Cast on a desert island, I'd be happy if this collection were there too, and a supply of power for the player. Radio would be no good because they only cover the "play song" from an album, ignoring the gems they never have time to listen to. I want to hear the DJ's opinion of the music she's playing. When a music lover surfaces, such as the exceptional Brian Murphy on Ottawa's CHEZ, they are liable to be 'let go' in the interests of 'less talk'. I sometimes think that many of my real favourites are almost never heard by the majority of radio listeners [Gram Parsons/Emilou Harris - Love Hurts].

[10cc - I'm Not in Love] was an unlikely hit that became the all-time favourite of thousands. You never know what you'll love next in the ever-changing world of popular music. [John L. - Love] Music for me can never be background. The 'At Work Music Sation' concept is a non- starter for me. If it's playing, I'm listening and not working. Some people may treat music as background, but they aren't real music lovers.

I could include my many classical, choral, orchestral, jazz favourites, but this article would be far too long for your attention span. Delius, Prokovief, Beethoven, Mozart, Ives, Rachnmaninoff, Walton, Bernstein, Lloyd Webber, Claude-Michel Schonberg, Louis Armstrong, Stan Getz, Thelonius Monk, Gerry Mulligan, MJQ, Basie: you'll have to wait for an in-depth appraisal. Others have written appreciatingly of their contributions to our life's quality. Few have acknowledged the debt that we music consumers owe to the pop and rock artists who come and go, and we just turn to the next one, often deriding the previous pleasure giver. [Lennon's on sale again, very topical, from David Bowies' "Life on Mars"]. Please understand, perceptive readers, how incredibly privileged we are as listeners to be able to pick and choose from the blood sweat and tears of genius, for all fine composition is genius in my book, and a gift from God. There are hundreds of fine singers, bands and songwriters I appreciate from the bottom of my heart, far too many to mention in this piece. Next time you hear Elton John's "Blessed", being played a lot these days, remember just how blessed we are to be able to turn a knob and tune into that never-ending river of happiness, popular music.

Copywrite 1996 Tony Copple