Part Three - Another Brick In The Wall
To begin this installment, I want to explain what it was like to grow up in the English education system in the late 50’s. Understanding how that felt will give you a better idea of why rock, jazz and the blues opened the floodgate of teenage frustration with post-war British society. Those music forms released a cultural revolution the country’s ruling classes had never seen before; a youth movement that baffled them and opened the door to a new era in British culture.
To give you a feel for what my school years were like, here’s Roger Waters and an immaculate ensemble of musicians and backing singers performing one of Pink Floyd’s greatest hits, Another Brick in the Wall.
(The song starts at 6.25)
We had plenty of dark sarcasms in the classroom, along with deliberate shamings, public humiliation, thought control and physical abuse. Here are just two examples:
A French teacher who would walk down the rows between desks slapping every boy he passed hard on the back of the head, just because he, a barely adequate teacher, wasn’t satisfied with the progress the class was making.
An art teacher who hurled thick wooden 3x3 drawing boards sidearm across the room if you talked during a painting session. These potentially lethal Frisbees would hit the wall a few inches above your head and blow plaster dust out of the wall. How he never killed anyone, I don’t know.
This kind of abuse was a routine part of getting a Grammar School education and we had no choice but to go along with it. If it happened these days, imagine what the reaction would be.
So we clung to the sounds and images inspiring us from across the Atlantic. What we heard offered salvation from the severe restrictions imposed on us by an older generation who just didn’t get what we felt or needed, and didn’t give a damn about either.
Here’s an example of the kind of music that triggered this cultural revolution. Jerry Lee Lewis in a more recent performance, playing one of his classic rock songs from the 50’s, accompanied by the outstanding Jeff Healey, one of the most amazing musicians of recent times, but sadly no longer with us.
Although I hated the rigidity of school life and the mindless, pseudo-sadistic, control-freak discipline, I now value the academic quality of the education I received. But imagine how I felt at 14 when I saw Elvis in the last half-decent movie he made (King Creole):
That clip featured an amalgam of musical styles that embodied my personal musical rebellion: a combination of rock, jazz and blues. It seems tame now, even corny with Elvis dressed in a dopey busboy outfit, but back then it seemed magnificently defiant. It was another spark thrown into the gasoline of teenage rebellion. The fire had been lit.
But then it burned out.
The rock inspiration that had been pouring across the pond fizzled out in a perfect storm on unrelated events in the late 50’s. Chuck Berry went to jail, Buddy Holly died in a plane crash, Jerry Lee Lewis fell into almost terminal disgrace by marrying his 13 year old cousin, Fats Domino and Bo Diddley just faded from sight, Little Richard got religion and, worst of all, Elvis went into the army. When he was discharged years later, he was a pale shadow of his former self.
In place of these inspiring rock and roll heroes, we got a bunch of American teen idols we grew to despise – singers like Booby Vee and Fabian. Worst of all, was Pat Boone, a choir boy who got rich recording boring, soulless, white-bread versions of rock songs written and performed by African-American artists, and earning more royalties than they could ever dream about. I’m sure Pat Boone is an admirable human being, but in those days he became the poster boy for the sickening demise of the music that had fomented a teenage rebellion in Britain. But help was on the way.
It took the form of a glorious musical genre that has been around for a lot longer than rock music: Traditional jazz, also known as Dixieland and New Orleans jazz. I’ll tell you more about this phase of the British cultural revolution in the next posting.
But, for now, here’s a contemporary taste of this wonderful musical form that became a life-long passion for me. This clip features Wynton Marsalis and a magnificent group of musicians, including a moderately famous English guitar player named Eric Clapton. In the background you will also see Chris Stainton, keyboard player in Joe Cocker’s original Grease Band. Enjoy.