One of the best parts of my volunteer gig has been the chance to take a deep dive into the archives of American pop music. Rather than a dusty drawer of oldies, I discovered a rich and invigorating variety of rhythm, melody and expression that I hadn’t fully appreciated.
However, in picking songs to perform for the oldsters, some practical considerations came into play. First, was it a song to which I could do justice as one man with a beat-up acoustic guitar and a virtuosity slightly below Django-level status?
Secondly, there was the subtext of the song. I found myself worrying that in the confines of a senior home dining hall, even the most innocent little ditty could take on a whole new set of associations. I mean, could I honestly play “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” to an audience dependent on wheelchairs and walkers? While we all grew up with the music from The Wizard of Oz, is it cruel to sing “If I Only Had a Brain” to someone’s poor grandma suffering from dementia?
The list goes on and on:
“Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” (‘This one’s for all you pacemaker lovers…’)
“Straighten Up and Fly Right” (Osteoporosis)
“Let’s Get Lost” (a painful reminder to those who had their driver’s license taken away?)
Eventually, I told my inner cynic to shut up and I played these songs because they evoked happy memories for the residents. And that’s why I started doing this in the first place.
I’ll sign off with my version of “Slap That Bass”, a jumpy number that made me realize the Ink Spots were really a rock ‘n roll band years before the world knew what that was.