Life is full of coincidences but it still strikes as a little funny the way things happen sometimes. I’m thinking specifically about a couple of musical revelations I’ve had, although revelation might be too strong a word. These weren’t instances where I slammed my forehead and said, “wow!”, but rather moments that set me on the path to more complete musical appreciation. Here’s the odd thing though — both occurred in the same place, thirty years apart.
In the late 1950s I was a teenager who was a little adrift in my musical likes and dislikes, but one thing I know is that I was not all that captivated by rock and roll. I was hearing it on the radio or jukeboxes and starting to listen a little more closely, but I still pretty much didn’t see what all the fuss was about.
It was about this time that a friend of mine talked me into going to a live rock and roll show that was going to be passing through our small city. It was being staged by one of the many promoters operating at that time, combining would-be rock stars into touring groups that roamed the country, performing wherever they could.
In our case, the venue was a large local movie theater that had quite a history, going back to its original days as a vaudeville-type showplace in the early part of the century. It was a gorgeous building in Spanish baroque style, complete with decorative sculptures and faux opera boxes, and had recently made a big investment in a wide screen and big sound system. It was still showing movies regularly, but since it had a large stage and lots of seats it was a good place for live shows.
Since it’s been almost fifty years, I have to admit that I can’t remember the specific acts that performed that night. (More later about that.) But what I do remember is how it affected me, because I can still remember the way the theater rocked. Even though we were a bunch of conservative Midwestern kids and didn’t dance in the aisles or leap on the stage, we were really into it — and from that time on I was way more interested in rock and roll.
Now here’s where we get to the stretching point. As I said, I honestly don’t remember the specific performers in that show, but a year or two later – specifically in February of 1959 – that same friend who’d talked me into going to the show came up to me and asked if I’d heard about Buddy Holly dying in a plane crash. I had, and of course I knew of him and his music, but then the friend said, “Wasn’t he in the rock and roll show that night? You know, weren’t the Crickets there?”
Buddy toured (and recorded) under various names – as a solo, or as Buddy Holly and The Crickets, or just as The Crickets – but the group would have been less well-known at the time of the show, and besides that I didn’t remember the names of most of the acts. There had been no printed programs and I probably wasn’t paying that much attention to the names, anyway. But unless someone knows for sure that the Crickets were not touring the Midwest around 1957, I guess I’ll always think that I might have seen them in person, and can almost even remember them singing “Oh, Boy” — or maybe not. Either way though, that night at the show was a musical eye-opener for me.
The second time occurred almost thirty years later. By then, the big theater had deteriorated, closed, and then been reopened as a bargain movie house. The old lady was still pretty elegant even if a little run down and showing her age, with chips in the sculptures and peeling paint on the walls, and it was said that sometimes you could see bats flying around way up near the ceiling. I kind of liked it though, and one day I decided to go see Amadeus, which had already made the rounds of the regular theaters. I hadn’t bothered to see it before because at that time my interest in classical music was minimal, mostly just enjoying a little of the lighter stuff from the Boston Pops or even Ferrante and Teicher. I figured a movie about Mozart would be boring to the extreme, but I had nothing better to do so decided to risk a dollar.
Maybe the huge old theater with it massive screen and booming sound system (which still worked fine) had something to do with it, but when I sat there watching and then heard the opening of Mozart’s “Symphony No.25 In G Minor”, I was transported to another world. Drama, comedy, a plot that featured convoluted characters involved in delicious intrigue, and above all, the most sublime music I’d ever heard in that old theater. I even enjoyed the opera singers, and I had never wanted anything to do with opera. Since then, I’ve become much more a fan of classical music and yes, even of opera…sometimes.
Two eye-opening musical moments, same place, thirty years apart. And by the way, that old theater is still in operation as a bargain movie house. It’s now well over 85 years old.