Sunday, 17 February 2008

Record Of Embarrassment

A while back I read Daniel Tammet's interesting memoir Born on a Blue Day, about his experiences as an Aspergian. Having grown up with someone like Tammet, I was especially interested in what he had to say about Asperger's and I was not disappointed by this book. Much of what he wrote hit home with me, and I found myself thinking that if enough people read books like this and John Elder Robison's Look Me in The Eye, perhaps people will stop marginalizing Aspergians and recognize them for the interesting, often uniquely talented people they are.

But what I want to write about today is something that came to me as I read an astonishing admission on Tammet's part: His favorite band is the Carpenters.

Now I'm not teasing Daniel Tammet. Like I said, I loved his book; I was fascinated by his insights, his account of his extraordinary childhood and remarkable achievements. I felt like weeping with envy reading about his mathematical genius, the ease with which he acquires language. But more than anything, I marveled at his honesty. And let's face it, anyone who publically states that his favorite band is the Carpenters must be honest. And brave.

One of the reasons I'm bringing this up is that I have a theory. No matter how musically sophisticated you think you are, I'm betting that you've got a musical secret that embarrasses you to death. I certainly do, but I'm not telling you mine until you tell me yours.

This is a test of courage, you understand. It is also a test of your honesty. I tried this out on my husband two decades ago, just after we'd met. I suspected him of musical snobbery just after I told him that my favorite reggae album happened to be The Harder They Come. He smiled a little disparagingly and told me that he'd been to reggae music shops in London where you'd be laughed to scorn if you were daft enough to mention Jimmy Cliff; that he went for far more obscure reggae musicians. I found this snobbery worrying and I knew that it was not the sort of thing I wanted to build a relationship on. So I tested my theory on him. Watching him closely, I asked him point blank what his favorite Carpenters' song was -- just like that! Bless him, he blushed and I know that he considered lying that he didn't have one, but he passed the test with flying colors. Looking around furtively, he whispered. "The one about the birds on the telephone line." In fact, he won double with this admission: that happens to be my favorite Carpenters' song too.

I'm not a big Carpenters' fan. I gave birth to my second baby in Tokyo, and the hospital we were in had a communal feeding room. All of us new mothers waddled in periodically to feed our infants, and we were allowed to choose from a number of CDs of soothing music that would supposedly aid our lactation. One woman, obviously going through a terrible depression, chose The Carpenters' Greatest Hits time after time. She would sit there nursing her infant, tears streaming down her face as we listened to We've Only Just Begun for the umpteenth time. I could have cried too, but for different reasons. By the time we finally got out of the hospital, even the merest mention of the Carpenters made me froth at the mouth. But it took its toll: it penetrated my subconscious. To this day, I have to cross my arms over my chest when Desperado comes on.

But I digress. Go on and tell me -- what band do you like that you wish to God you didn't? What record album do you have quietly moldering away in the basement that you shiver to think of anyone finding but cannot bear to throw away? What is your deepest, darkest, most embarrassing musical secret? You tell me yours and I will tell you mine. And I'm betting mine's worse.

The only person who is excused from playing along is Daniel Tammet, who has already fessed up with a beguiling lack of shame. If he writes to me, I'll e-mail him with the goods straight away.


Chart Smart said...

NICE Blog :)

Mary Witzl said...

Chart Smart -- A quick word of advice to whoever posted this electronically generated response. Very few people can read a blog posting in less than 3 seconds. No sooner had I pressed the Publish button than your response popped up. Now, even a gullible type such as myself will smell a rat upon receiving such a quick, glib compliment. Next time wait at least 15 seconds, okay? Then I might believe you.

Susan Sandmore said...

I guess I have no shame. I have Perry Como on my iPod and I don't care who knows it!

I sing and hum aloud to the Andrews Sisters or Teresa Brewer or Patti Page or *gasp* Doris Day, even when I'm in the hallway at work! I woke up this morning with Benny Goodman and "It's Only a Paper Moon" in my head (who's that singing on the version I've got? I'll have to look it up).

So, no . . . I don't feel ashamed, though maybe I should. Now I'm off to blast The Mills Brothers! "Shine little glow worm, glimmer, glimmer..."

Katie Alender said...

I've never liked the Carpenters. I have a vivid memory of hearing them piped through the outdoor speakers on the roof of my grandmother's condo building when I was about 5, and one of my uncles telling me that the lady we were listening to was dead and that she'd died by starving herself! It's such a stark, depressing memory. That might be why I hate Ft. Lauderdale. That and the strange, lonely sound of the giant drawbridge.

(Normally I wouldn't go into so much detail in a comment, but I know you'll approve.)

My musical shame? Maybe the fact that every time I hear the words "to the left", I start singing Beyonce's "Irreplaceable"?

Ello said...

OK - I like the Carpenters. Really like them. My favorite CArpenters song is Rainy Days and Mondays. Love that song. I also love Abba. I guess what I'm saying is I have no musical snobbery. I know what I like and I know what I don't like. But my husband is very snobbish. He sneers at my Journey album and my Doobie Brothers greatest hits. And rolls his eyes at most of my musical tastes. Now I grew up in the 80s so I love me some 80s music like Erasure, Pet Shop Boys, Wham, Go WEst, Tears for FEars, New Order, Depeche Mode. This is musical heaven for me. Just don't play me any country western music. I would rather put out my ears with ice picks.

Mary Witzl said...

Susan -- Doris Day, Perry Como and the Andrews Sisters all have retro/kitsch value, so not only can I not count them, you've actually established your musical coolness. If you'd come up with Debbie Reynolds' version of 'Tammy,' say, you'd have gotten full points! And who doesn't love Benny Goodman? 'Paper Moon' is one of my favorites.

Come on, you must like something more embarrassing than this!

Katie -- Beyonce! Yes, that's just what I'm looking for! I think I'll start leaking out little bits of my musical shame (I have so much of it I'll bring down Blogger if I put it all in one posting), so for your candid Beyonce confession I will tell you that although I made a big fuss about hating it, I actually enjoyed my kids' Wee Sing America tape, featuring half a dozen really sappy patriotic songs. There -- I've just outed myself.

As for long comments, as far as I'm concerned the blog posting is just the starter. The main course is all the comments I get and the fun of responding to them.

Ello -- "Oh oh oh, listen to the music!" I liked them too, and just go ahead and ignore your husband! I like a lot of 80s music, though Depeche Mode is the one I listened to most, but I give you credit for Abba. I think they were musically talented, but...Abba, dear God!

Now because you've been honest about Abba, I will tell you that I LOVE country music. Not so much the mainstream stuff (though I adore Dolly Parton and even did back in the 70s before she was cool), but even some really weird stuff. And even I feel shame at some of the country stuff I have liked over the years, including one song called 'I Get Tears in my Ears Lying on my Back a Cryin' over You.' It was one of my favorites, and there is just no accounting for it. Or denying it, for that matter.

Gorilla Bananas said...

You like what like and there's no need for shame about it. I love to annoy music snobs by pretending to be a fan of Cliff Richard and humming his tunes. The trick is go completely over the top in your praise so they know you're sending up their snobbery.

Tigermama said...

I have been enjoying your blog for quite some time! This topic got me all excited (and a bit nervous) so I thought I better comment. Here goes:

Ummm, I really like "Ice Ice Baby" by Vanilla Ice and "Baby Got Back" by SirMixAlot. In fact, the latter song is one of my karaoke favourites.

I know all the words to "Wham Rap" too. Yep. I`m to sexy for these songs, too sexy for these songs. Uh oh, there`s another one!

I also like Neil Diamond and people cringe when I mention his name. Why? He is great!

Seriously, I could go on and on.

A Paperback Writer said...

I have very ecclectic musical tastes. This possibly comes from the fact that my brother started me onto the Beatles before I was 3 (they're still my favorite group, no surprises there), my parents listened to Ray Coniff, Peggy Lee, Tom Jones, and Englebert Humperdinck, and I have spent more than 30 years as a folkdancer, immersed in music from all over the world.
My CD collection includes ABBA (in English and Spanish), the Carpenters ("Top of the World" is my favorite), John Denver, The Andrews Sisters, and others many people would consider embarrassing. It also includes Scott Joplin music, folk music from all over the world, tons of classical (Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Tchaichowsky), many Broadway musicals, and lots of bluegrass. I don't own any country western, and I despise rap and hip hop. I also dislike classical jazz. (Dixieland jazz is okay.)
I own several CDs of yodelers and polka bands, vinyl of Herb Alpert and the Tiajuana Brass, the Bay City Rollers, Olivia Newton-John, and even Shaun Cassidy. I even own an 8-track tape with Donny and Marie Osmond on it. (but my 8track player is long gone).
Sure, I own plenty of Queen, Simon and Garfunkel, Elton John, and Billy Joel, too.
Really, you'd be hard-pressed to get me to be embarrassed over any of it. Why should I be? I don't really care if you sneer at yodeling or my students think it's not "cool." Sometimes I'm in the mood to hear yodeling. Deal with it.
I have a former student who loved opera (not my favorite, but I like a few pieces). Whenever he was out and about on weekends and some gangsta wannabe had rap pounding out of his car stereo, this boy would crank up Don Giovanni as loud as he could get it in return.
I find that amusing. (Rock Me, Amadeus.)
Oh yes, and my very favorite Beatles song is the only one that's actually a polka: Obladi Oblada.
(there are very few Beatles songs I don't like, however. Revolution No. 9 is far from my favorite, and I'm not keen on Sexy Sadie, but most of the others I like.)

ChristineEldin said...

Oh, I love John Denver and Neil Diamond. Saw them both in concert. I am a bit shy about talking about Elvis though.
Okay, I'm not.
I love Elvis.
I love country music and bluegrass music (Yay, so does Paca!)
I love being around hillbilly sounds.
There you go.

*returns to scratching butt, which as you may imagine is quite a big job*

Mary Witzl said...

Gorilla -- Just have done with it, man: say you actually like Cliff Richards -- none of this 'pretended to' stuff! Consider yourself outed. You're among friends. I have happily sung along to Barry Manilow, and I don't tell that to just anyone. But Cliff Richards, bless you! That's a good one, worth many, many points.

Tigermama -- Thank you for commenting! I love that Wham Rap song too and consider it a fine example of self-parody. I can't count it; self-parody just isn't cringe-worthy enough. But Neil Diamond scores big, and guess what? I've enjoyed any number of Neil Diamond songs. And shame on me: I've dissed his songs around more sophisticated types. I blush to admit this.

APW -- I used to think I hated rap and hip-hop, then recently someone played something for me that I loved. So now yet another category of music has been opened to me, but I sadly cannot for the life of me remember the name of the group I liked -- just that the singers had good voices, the lyrics were clever, and the music was fine -- plus, no racism or sexism!

For what it is worth, I love yodeling and bluegrass. You get BIG points for yodeling; lots of people will admit to loving bluegrass, but few will fess up to being fans of yodeling. I think Herb Alpert and his Tiajuana Brass are great, but am less enamored of the Bay City Rollers, Olivia Newton-John, or Shaun Cassidy. I heard an interview with Donny Osmond once and thought he did a fine job of handling his interviewer, and (God this hurts) I used to love 'Puppy Love.' Dear God, I can't believe I confessed that: how cathartic!

Chris -- I cried when John Denver's plane went down, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. As for Elvis, there was something about him that was so genuine, though simplistic. He was a true romantic, ruined by fame and the greed of others. And he had genuine talent, so what's not to like?

I am an unabashed admirer of country western music. I think it's just in the blood; you can't make yourself like it. And I love hillbilly music. If you haven't already heard it, try to get hold of Diana Jones's albums 'My Remembrance of You' or 'Radio Love.' See if you can listen to 'Pony' without crying your eyes out.

Gotta go clear some of those beer bottles out of the 4-foot high grass in front of the house now. And damn but my overalls are too tight!

A Paperback Writer said...

Here's one you can laugh at:
I never was a huge Donny Osmond fan. (The man has a nice voice and has done well with his post-teen heartthrob career; he was very good in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," both on stage and in the video version.) However, because the Osmonds are from Utah, they used to have all their silks-screening done at my dad's business. I therefore own, stuck in a little used drawer, mind you, a vintage 70s Osmond Brothers tee-shirt and a "Sweet Dreams, Donny" (printed in purple, no less) pillow case. Neither item has ever been used. (no wait: I wore the shirt as a joke to a party once....)
Beat that, anyone. I dare you. ;)

Susan Sandmore said...

Okay, I thought of something--you guys talking about yodeling reminded me that I love, love, love singing cowboys. If they yodel, so much the better. I like Riders in the Sky, Gene Autry, etc. The cornier, the better. One of my favorite tunes is "High, Wide, and Handsome" as recorded by Tex Ritter. Awesome!

If that's still not embarrassing enough, I will admit to listening to and singing along to some of my daughter's "KidzBop" type music when she's not even around.

Carole said...

I like singers like Randy Travis, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams. I like Erasure and They Might Be Giants. I like Weird Al and Garth Brooks. I love patriotic songs and old timey hymns. Simon and Gafunckel, Neil Diamond, and Faith Hill have a spot in my heart. I suspect that I should be embarrassed that I like Glen Campbell, Burl Ives, and Shania Twain. Jonathon Coulton and Carole King are good. So as you can see, I really have no musical taste whatsoever. Oh and don't forget Ernest Tubb.

The Anti-Wife said...

I love music of most kinds - especially country music, but if you really want to get me singing uncontrollably it's: OOOOOOOOOOOOOkalhoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plains, or The hills are alive with the sound of music, or practically any other musical. Love the ones from the 20's 30's and 40's too. 76 trombones led the big parade, with 110 cornets close at hand. They were followed by rows and rows of the finest virtuosos................

Mary Witzl said...

APW -- 'Sweet Dreams, Donny' -- oh, that is just precious, and no, I can't top it. The closest I could possibly come would be a Beatles poster of John and Yoko with a huge peace sign, under which is written in Japanese 'Let peace prevail on earth,' or perhaps a poster of the Rolling Stones in Danish, featuring the young Stones stepping out of a gilt picture frame. But these were both very used and tattered, and nothing like a brand new Donny Osmond pillow case! My envy is complete.

Susan -- Have you heard of the cowboy singer Don Edwards? He is marvelous. I only found out about him last week, and he is worth listening to if you like cowboy music. He is a musical historian as well, and very knowledgable about the music of the West and how yodeling became popular. Google his 'Coyote' and have a listen yourself if you haven't already!

Carole -- I love S & G, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, and Weird Al. And although people sneer when you mention Glen Campbell, I think he is one of the best guitarists I've ever heard. And Ernest Tubb is just fantastic. I can't even weasel out of liking Neil Diamond, as I made my confession about him earlier. This is it: I'm doomed. I like practically everything. The only music that really gets to me is muzak. But what am I saying? That's no more music than particle board is wood.

Anti-wife -- When we were kids, my parents had a lot of old 45s and 78s, and among them were Music Man and Oklahoma! (Did you know that the exclamation mark was actually put on as a last minute thing? Some clever person realized that it would totally change the public's perception of the entire performance. Before that exclamation mark was added, everyone was predicting that Oklahoma! was going to be a huge flop). Yep -- I like musicals too. Even the ones that are awful are fun.

I have always had a soft spot for 'I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy,' too, even if it was war propaganda.

Eryl Shields said...

Adam and the Ants - Stand and deliver, your money or your life! - T-Rex - I drive a Rolls Royce cos it's good for my voice - Neil Diamond, Kylie, Sheryl Crowe, Coldplay - especially that song about wanting to live in a wooden house - Johnny Cash, Abba, Dolly Parton, the list is endless. I don't know which ones are embarrassing and which aren't. Madonna, I nearly forgot her, and I love the Carpenters. Oh, I also love that song Midnight at the Oasis by Maria someone, my husband squirms when I play it.

Sam, Problemchildbride said...

Madonna. Dear God forgive me.

Sam, Problemchildbride said...

Also ABBA.

*runs away*

Mary Witzl said...

Eryl -- I liked Maria Muldaur too -- or at least 'Midnight at the Oasis.' I am amazed to find all these fans of the Carpenters, though. Clearly, I was on to something with that idea I had.

Sam -- I'm starting to feel awful about not liking Abba! Like the Carpenters, they seem to be a lot of people's default option. Maybe they're like country music, though: if you like them, you just like them and you can hardly help yourself. And people who like Dolly Parton can't afford to tease Abby and Madonna fans. Pity, though.

Jerseygirl89 said...

What a great idea from the post!

I love lots of bands that others might be embarrassed by, like Abba and the Dixie Chicks (I live in Jersey), but I'm not easily embarrassed. So to get into the spirit of your post, I have to admit my love of Olivia Newton-John.

There, I said it.

A Paperback Writer said...

Glad you admire my pillow case..... ;)
Personally, I'd rather have the Lennon poster, but hey, maybe I could sell the case on e-bay. You never know.
Oh, I do have an autographed copy of The Birds, The Bees, and the Monkees. It was my brother's. he was a huge fan at ages 8 and 9, and they came into town for a concert. The local TV station, where my aunt was executive secretary, had them over for an interview, and, well, guess who got to meet the Monkees? (I was a babe in arms, so I don't recall it. But I could sing, "I'm Not Your Steppin' Stone" by age 3 -- we have it on a cassette tape.)
And yes, I actually even like the Monkees.

Mary Witzl said...

Jersey Girl -- Thank you for visiting my blog! You are in good company here: I may not like Olivia Newton John, but as one who loves country music, I am not in a position to tease. And I LOVE the Dixie Chicks. My daughter brought home one of their albums five years ago and I will admit it -- I judged them by their silly name. Then I listened to the music, and now I'm a fan.

APW -- Aww, the idea of a little kid lisping through 'I'm Not Your Stepping Stone!' is so cute! Our eldest, as a three-year-old, could do a credible imitation of Peter Tosh's 'Downpressor Man (where you gonna run to?') that used to bring the house down. We didn't even teach her this; she learned it on her own.

Hang onto that pillow case; you never know! I wish I hadn't thrown out my Stones poster or the one of John and Yoko.

Anonymous said...

Ugh, that sounds like a character building experience!

I adore Garth Brooks which isn't exactly inkeeping with my normal grungy tastes. I also love Michael Jackson. There I said it. And I'm NOT ashamed to say I like U2 either. My car gets stones thrown at it whenever I play Joshua Tree on it's CD player with the windows down.

Mary Witzl said...

K8 -- Wow, I feel old! I can remember when U2 were still cool to like.

I adored Michael Jackson until he started ruining the way he looked. I remember what a cute face he had as a child and feel like crying, comparing it to his current freakish visage.

Danette Haworth said...

I like Hanson's Mm Bop. (My husband has teased me relentlessly about this.)

Carolie said...

Look Me in the Eye is a fantastic book...I will have to look for Born on a Blue Day.

As for embarrassing musical choices...hmmm. I tend to like it all: ABBA, Depeche Mode (I knew we were soul sisters!), John Denver, Neil Diamond, Cher (then and now), Wham, Broadway musicals (the older, the better), Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, The BeeGees... The list goes on.

I'm not listing all the music I love, just the stuff I think might have some embarrassment factor. I have no embarrassment for love-love-loving music like one finds on the soundtrack to "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" or the old-time and bluegrass (two very different genres) as played by my stepfather, Banjo Bob, at The Cook Shack on Saturday mornings in Union Grove, N.C. (an experience one must actually have to really understand it). And check this out...yodelling is so much fun!

I used to wander around the house singing "Delta Dawn, whut's that flah-er you got on..." and "why do BIRDS suddenly appeeeeeear, every are NEEEEEEEEAAARRRRRR..." At least I have the excuse that I was a pre-teen at the time.

But...I think I can pull out something really, really heinous.


I used to sing along to the Captain and Tennille singing "Muskrat Love."

I'm so ashamed.

Mary Witzl said...

Danette -- I am not familiar with that band, so they must be deeply cool. Just keep humming along and ignore your husband. Mine now sings along with the Dixie Chicks and can't even remember turning his nose up at their music.

Carolie -- I have just listened to that 11-year-old yodeler, and I had tears running down my face for so many reasons:

1) I can't yodel but would love to be able to.

2) I actually have a tape of that very song she's yodeling to, made back when I lived in Yokohama. I recorded it from an FEN country broadcast -- so help me -- and used to try and sing along in my apartment in Konandai. Which I can do just fine, but for the life of me I CANNOT yodel the yodelly bits.

3) The fact that an 11-year-old would actually try to teach herself yodeling is so heartening I feel like punching the air.

4) Last week I read a great interview of cowboy singer Don Edwards. He said he wished he could see more kids taking an interest in old-timey music like yodeling. And he also credited 'Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?' with reviving interest in old-timey American blues and hillbilly music, such as your stepfather's banjo music. Which I would LOVE to hear...

Captain and Tenille? I loved that one! Muskrat Susie, Muskrat Sam, lived way down in Muskrat land...

I know I ought to be ashamed!

Mary Witzl said...

Okay, now that no one is around, I'll confess the worst of it:

The Partridge Family. I owned one of their albums.

Michael Jackson. Ditto. I loved him before he made himself look so awful.

Freddy Fender. I still love him, and you would not believe all the flack I get for this from my family. Snobs!

Patti Kim -- a popular Korean singer, but only if you happen to be at least 20 years my senior and (usually) Korean. I loved Patti Kim and had two of her albums when I wasn't even out of my teens. So there.

Enka. (演歌 — from 演 en 'performance,' entertainment, and 歌 ka 'song'). It's hard to describe enka. Suffice it to say that it mixes the Japanese pentatonic scale with Western harmonies and most closely resembles Portuguese Fado, with themes similar to those found in American country music: s/he broke my heart and now s/he's gone, I'm so loooonesome I could cry, I drank too much and now I hate myself, and a wo/man's gotta do what a wo/man's gotta do. Please believe me when I tell you that it isn't cool to like enka. Maybe that's why I'm so fond of it.