Feb 01
DORIS DAY AND BEYONCÉ: HOW THE SONG DIED by Vincent M. Ragay  |  Posted in Articles  |  on Fri, Feb 1, 2008

Whoever said we cannot compare apples and oranges must have lived in the Dark Ages. Or, he must have been a fruit seller arguing with a buyer who wanted to buy them at the same price. Fresh oranges are definitely more expensive than fresh apples in Manila. And I don’t know why. But as juices in tetra packs, they cost exactly the same. So, who said we can’t compare them? I just did. They are the same, both being fruits. They are different, having different tastes and nutritional values.

So then, let us compare Doris Day and Beyonce. Both are female singers. They have totally different styles and have their own separate bunch of starry-eyed fans. But why compare them at all?

We know that Doris Day sings (or sang) candy-flavored ditties that our parents and baby-boomers slurped on. On the other hand, the young ones today wriggle and pump their hips to the tune of Beyonce. But let’s forget about the beat or the itch to dance to the music. Let’s just talk about the message, the words of the song. No, let’s talk about whether we can hear or pick up the words at all.

Yes, we can see Beyonce’s lips move. We can certainly see that she is saying words and phrases (To the left, to the left….). After that the words are lost in all the wailing and scatting. So what is she saying? Phrases do not make sentences and therefore do not complete a thought or a picture in our minds. And without a complete picture, we have no story.

Without a story to connect us with others, society dies. We see images, we hear sounds, we feel the beat but we think of nothing that endures and keeps us company when we get old. And we wonder why the youth today are more confused than ever.

Doris Day sang out clear words and told simple stories. Each word came out and each thought stood out. Que sera sera, whatever will be will be…. From childhood, I heard that line and understood that there were principles at work in life. No, it didn’t teach me fatalism; it taught me to be realistic. It helped me attain balance between fatalism and faith. All because a singer could not only sing well, and clearly at that, but could also live and live up to her words.

Beyonce, from what I’ve read, is a believer of Christ. Her family supports her career actively. But I still have to hear her sing of her struggles as a child of God or as a struggling Christian artist in a world of glitter and glamour. (If she has, I certainly have not heard it or must not have heard the words at all.)

Honestly speaking, I see inconsistency in believer-celebs who behave as if there was no such word as modesty and purity. This may sound harsh but I merely wish to express my disappointment at talented people who cannot stand up for their beliefs or even make the spoken word clear – if not the good word – at least the words of their songs. Or are they hiding the fact that they (or their writers) really have nothing interesting to say at all?

Too many notes and too much beat and rhythm can kill a song and its message. Or is it a given today among music producers that the message is secondary or unnecessary just as long as they get the public to plug in and pump to the music? Too much waste of talent and opportunity to do good.

Hence, the story or the message of the song has been lost in the noise of vocal and instrumental sounds. The contest has gone beyond the musical virtuosity among rival bands and singers to that of competition between the instruments and the voices themselves. The more agilely you can outplay the instrument, the better for the song. Never mind the listener. They have successfully killed the song and its story and people still buy; so why bother with the song? Just keep the music playing.

Yet, composers have the responsibility of making both words and melody merge into one functional and aesthetic composition. There are thousands of ways to do this, obviously. The Beatles did it with painful poignancy through Paul’s Eleanor Rigby. The first time I heard it (note, I heard and got the story the first time without checking the song book), I felt the impact of loneliness right through the core of my being. And it still does every time I hear it. The Rolling Stones brought a similar heartfelt jolt with their As Tears Go By, the Zombies with Summertime and Harry Chapin with Cat’s in the Cradle. Yes, songs you don’t dance to but listen to, learn from and embrace life thereby.

When Elvis came along, he crooned ballads that spoke of tender and sweet love and rough songs with gyrating music that let loose the prisoners of inhibition. Yeah, at first he spoke clearly and straight to the heart of many a young pimply idealistic lad. But when he picked up speed and shifted from his baritone to that falsetto, he had many people either confused or taken for a ride in wild abandon. The words got lost in the process. Anger and rebellion became the theme. Music became a vessel to induce a trance, a hypnotic spell that could take you to heights of passion only drugs and alcohol could match. Many more followed his steps. Once that happened, the song eventually died. Yes, the music lived on somehow (notice how they use old songs in rap songs?) but the song would take a long time to come back since the 70’s. It barely survived through the 90’s. Thanks to Josh Groban and others who have kept the sanity.

I was born and raised in an era when stories not only entertained but built society. My family would gather after supper in a half circle around the radio to listen to a comedy program. We listened, we laughed and we learned as a family. Hence, the first and foremost consideration in the ritual was a clear broadcast reception. Our radio, a wooden-framed console with a phonograph did the job well. Music and drama told stories of love and adventure. Our radio was a virtual school that relayed information and recreation.

And, of course, there were the movies back then that relived the books I loved to read: The Count of Monte Cristo, Time Machine and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The music used to be a non-distractive tool for telling the story, whether in a song or in drama. But MTV married sloppy story-telling with equally sloppy music and caused a destructive explosion. When the smoke cleared, the movie survived but not the song.

Today, with high-tech gadgets, information and entertainment come on the go. Inside the elevator and while you ride the train, hip-hop and rock fill your brain. Other mindless beats and yappity raps assault us without let-up. A few are worth listening to, to be honest, especially the ones that slow down the beat and relapse to that dying practice of telling a story with clear and well-paced words. Never mind the melody if they can’t carry one, as long as the conscious mind is involved through the story, we can ride along. A good laugh from an amusing story is good enough. But noise disguised as music – now, that, is a rip-off!

Apples and oranges. Doris and Beyonce. After all is heard and done, we all want to be filled with good nutrition or good emotional release. The thing we should be thankful for is that we still have the choice not to eat rotten apples or oranges.

You can email the author at manariwa@yahoo.com

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