Monday, October 25, 2010

Serendipitous Discovery: Beatles and Penguins

One summer, I think it was 1965, I went from Oregon to Berkeley to use my beloved library for eight or ten weeks.  Yes, I think it was also the summer that I learned to drive.  My friends F. & S. had by then two boys, the elder, R., four years old, and I volunteered to take care of them at their house while they were away.  Some children are a joy to spend a weekend with.  These were a joy.  R. could show me where notes were on the piano, and he knew all the rules of the household (and played no tricks).  He also had his own little phonograph and his own records.  So when R. said, Please, play me Yellow Submarine, I answered, Well, you can play that, thinking of the stack of mostly yellow plastic 7" records.  But R. said, No, it was his father's record and he couldn't play it on his own phonograph.  Show me, I said, and there it was: an LP with pen-and-ink drawings on its sleeve, and one of the bands was Yellow Submarine.  I had barely heard of the Beatles, but from my neighbors in Oregon I'd had my fill of Hard Day's Night and Help  .  So I duly dusted the record, just as F. and S. would do, and I would do to my own, and there, oh joy, out of the main speakers, came "We all live in a Yellow Submarine".  Reading the album notes, also, behold, the successor to the late Dennis Brain was playing a horn obbligato with the Beatles.  So I asked R. if we could listen to the whole record, and we did.  I ended up owning quite a lot of Beatles LPs.  Recently, shortly before her death, I learned from his mother that R. is now a cellist with the Oakland Symphony Orchestra.
I came even more tardily to the Penguin Cafe Orchestra.  The other evening our late-night TV stream  feed played, with the heading Chamber Music,  a piece by the Penguin Cafe Orchestra.  It was the one with a found harmonium.  I didn't know it was from the 80s, when I was newly out  of the convent and still without more than a 3-channel B&W TV set and, in a word, clueless.  I just watched "Mash" and "Barney Miller" and "Jeffersons" re-runs on the projection TV while I ate my supper in the LSU cafeteria.  That was pre-Penguin, even pre-AIDS.  They still sold keg beer in the LSU Union.  When I got this house in 1986, our art librarian gave me that little TV aforementioned.  I did not hesitate now to get the DVD including the delectable "Still Life at the Penguin Cafe" ballet and a full hour of other cuts and extremely amiable interviews, and it did not disappoint.  It has genius and Attitude, all the right joyous attitude.  Alas, just as the union of all those supposedly disparate musical genres were being made one with classical music traditions (just listen to those elements of Harold in Italy on the viola!), and he wasn't just patching together but really understanding, Simon Estes died.
Now I have to stop and reflect on what it means in one's life to discover new pleasures when others may have forgotten them (or not have been born yet).