Valley Voices

From advent of rock ‘n’ roll to today’s jazz, music has been soundtrack for her life

Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” was one of the earliest national televised music shows. Mary Shehadey of Fresno recalls watching it as a teen.
Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” was one of the earliest national televised music shows. Mary Shehadey of Fresno recalls watching it as a teen. NPR

What a kick to feed the jukebox! It was the 1950s and I, along with teenagers all over the country, discovered rock ‘n roll. We were the “good” kids, grateful our dads were back from the war, grateful for butter and sugar, and gasoline! Gas, especially, freed us from parental supervision as we used our brand-new licenses, cruising the drive-ins, seeing and being seen. We “liked Ike” and enjoyed peace and prosperity.

After the vapid sounds of Pat Boone, Lawrence Welk, and their ilk, rock and roll slammed our systems, minds and souls. We played Fats Domino ‘45’s; and danced ‘til we dropped to the beat of Bill Hailey’s Comets. It was exciting, but didn’t compare to the next life-changing sound — Elvis Presley with his guitar, gyrating hips, and sultry smile. He combined black gospel with a sexy beat, driving young girls into frenzies. Right on his heels and even bigger, came Briton’s Beatles, complete with their long manes and long-lasting mania. Every generation has its language and our generation spoke fluent rock ‘n roll.

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Courtesy photo Contributed

We sock-hop teens proudly wore white bobby socks folded to the ankles, saddle shoes, and circular felt skirts, which boasted large poodle appliques. Layers of tulle petticoats flashed streaks of color, as ponytails swished, during the West Coast swing.

Kids of the 50’s grew up repressed. The arrival of the down and dirty beat of “old fashioned rock and roll” let them go a little native in a safe environment. The lyrics, so tame by today’s standards, could be a bit suggestive, as in “Wake Up Little Suzie.” Dick Clark ‘s “American Bandstand” featured Philadelphia teens dancing on national TV, the first reality show, no doubt making us feel more grown up and important than our reality. Whatever its faults, this new dance provided a positive way to release pent up energy and hormones.

Alas, the ‘50s optimism and energy was fleeting, giving way to the music (and drugs) of the ‘60s. “The Yellow Submarine” was created, it’s suggested, “under the influence.” The hippies first sang of peace, flowers, and love; but soon, discovering LSD and other psychedelics, turned to angry protest songs.

Back home, the radio filled our house and my brain with country western music, the twangy Hank Williams and George Jones; along with Patsy Cline, who single-handedly reinforced women’s co-dependent traits by urging them to “Stand By Your Man.” Today, after a few notes of country, those lyrics come flooding back — taking me home again.

The power of music! I read Glen Campbell (the Rhinestone Cowboy) continued performing and touring even as he battled Alzheimer’s disease. Everything was forgotten but the music as he continued to sing on stage.

Music can bring people together, inspire, console, and energize. Singing in the church choir became a big part of growing up, exposing me to some values and religion along with the hymns. My high school chorus director, Jack Overby, young and balding, seemed permanently bent forward — jabbing his baton toward us, willing us to perfection. His dedication resulted in many awards at district and state contests. At his insistence, we all practiced deep breathing for the sound he wanted — and it was not “breathy”! Thanks to him, I know all the words to the “Hallelujah Chorus” but need another strong alto to stay on track.

My taste leans toward jazz or blues, but it varies. Would I have married my college boyfriend without absorbing Elvis’ seductive “Love Me Tender”? Could I have powered through divorce without Janis Joplin’s raspy, angry songs? “Here’s A Quarter, Call Someone Who Cares,” a song I belted out in the privacy of my car to vent mid-life dating frustrations.

Many rappers and heavy metal performers espouse violence to women and/or authorities on stage and in their private lives. Again protestors attack the flag, police, even statues. (Victor David Hansen in his column compared this mentality to Captain Ahab’s obsessive retaliation against Moby Dick.)

To avoid the discord, my refuge is music; and Lyle Lovett’s quirky lyrics seem safe. Do you know, “Give Back My Heart, You Fickle Redneck Woman”? (He wants to be free but can’t bear to leave his redneck love, explaining, “Redneck is a disease, you catch it on your fingers, and it crawls right up your sleeves”). If you ever hear it, think of me, I may be a carrier.

Mary Shehadey of Fresno is a wife, mother, grandmother and part-time realtor.