Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Song In My Heart, or, I Love To Singa!

Today, November 10, is Carl Stalling's birthday. Stalling is best known as the composer of the classic Warner Brothers cartoons from the 1940s and 1950s.

A pioneer in film music (he scored early Mickey Mouse cartoons), Stalling created lush soundtracks for animation. Many WB shorts were music videos, featuring songs from Warner features, which encouraged viewers to then purchase the sheet music for home use.

There are two techniques Stalling used: the literal and the figural. The literal?  A woman is seen in a red dress, and we hear a quick snippet of "The Lady In Red". The figural? We see the camera pan across a pastoral forest scene, and hear "Peer Gynt".

So, why do I mention this? Because, every day, I live a life affected by what I call "Stalling's Syndrome." I create, usually subconsciously, a soundtrack to my existence. Sometime's, it's a visual cue, like rushing to catch a bus, and I'll think of the Simpsons theme (based on the scene where Bart skateboards, swipes the bus stop sign, the bus drives by the waiting passengers, and the passengers then chase the bus).

Or I'll whistle, hum, or skat an instrumental marching tune while walking down the street. Or I'll be reminded of a movie song, and recreate it in my mind. (For example, Central Park = Hair.)

How did this happen to me? When I was in the Fourth Grade, in 1979, two related events occurred. The local NBC affiliate began showing old Warner Brothers cartoons at 3 PM. At 3:30, the local ABC channel would show old MGM cartoons. At about the same time, my oldest brother began working at two local public radio stations. Whenever he would record the local symphony or opera, my mother and I would tag along, listening from the recording booth located up in the old projectionist's booth of the renovated movie palace. At intermission, we would sneak down to an empty seat and enjoy the remainder of the performance like normal people.

So, at a young age, I was exposed to a variety of music. Mother would often play Broadway soundtracks while my siblings and I helped clean house. Three older brothers also influenced my musical experience, as well as a "pirate" radio station which later transitioned to cable radio. (Remember when stereo television was a big deal? Cox Cable had a gizmo where unused frequencies on your stereo would be utilized for stereo signals from specific premium channels like HBO. Later, I figured out how to run the VCR's sound through the stereo, to make TV mixtapes.)

Cable television also expanded the width of the music spectrum. There was MTV, but also BET and Night Flight. During high school, I would tune to the local NPR station to listen to "Piano Jazz" or one of the the other music programs during that drive time.

Of course, thanks to my brother, I was also somewhat addicted to Dr. Demento. We made basement tapes, memorized lyrics, and laughed our asses off! (American Top 40 was what the normal kids listened to. Not us!)

Also, because of the Looney Tunes cartoons, I developed an exposure to American Standards/Hit Parade songs. Sinatra, Crosby, Cantor, Benny (see above)... usually sung by Bugs or Daffy.

Later, I became a karaoke crooner, and expanded my repertoire by frequenting various bars. Of course, whenever something strikes my curiosity, I'm off to YouTube to sample! And then there's my #forgottentvlyrics project, where I research the actual, little used, lyrics to television themes. I also have a fondness for popular music covered by marching bands. (The best?  The Superfriends Theme!  But it's bootleg.)

So, I have accepted my condition. I am careful not to offended others (for some reason, Shortnin' Bread pops into my head on occasion). I try to keep things to myself, although with cellphones and earphones, it's easier to conceal one's propensities!

But... I soon discovered I was not the only one with this syndrome.  One late night, on Letterman, Leslie Nielsen made an appearance. Band leader Paul Schaffer played "Groovin'" by the Young Rascals. Why? Because of the misheard lyric: "That would be ecstasy, you and me and Leslie"! That was when I realized I wasn't alone!

So I post this, for those lone souls out there, who don't know exactly why a particular song pops up in their mindpod. You are not alone. You are not weird for wanting to break into song, to make your life a neverending musical. You can live a productive life! You might not become a bandleader, or radio personality, but your life will never sound dull!

While others might have songs which define their lives, you have a soundtrack of your life, ever changing! Embrace it! And if necessary, imagine yourself at the center of a big Bollywood dance number!