What Rock Music Means to Me
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
What Rock Music Means to Me
Charles F. Ogren
For me music had its beginnings when I was about six years old during cross-country road trips with my family. My two older sisters, while singing 1950s "Doo-Wop" music, grew tired of singing two-part harmony. They rightly decided that if two parts were good, three parts would be incredible. When my older brother said no, they came looking for their baby brother. To everyone's surprise they successfully taught me to sing the third and final harmony. I was introduced to three songs: "How Much is That Doggie in the Window?," the unforgettable "Hot Diggity, Dog Ziggity, Boom," and the folk classic "Michael Row Your Boat Ashore." I was taught that harmony was the ultimate in team dynamics. The goal was to hit notes that, while different than the other two, invoked resonance, richness, and the vibration of every overtone that the atmosphere could muster. The only way true harmony could be accomplished was for all three singers to listen to each other and to move together or in contrast, whichever was appropriate. I have to say, my sisters may not have agreed, but after about 100 miles, I felt that I had moved past them, artistically speaking, and began to ad lib melody lines just to demonstrate the depth of my talent. It will always be my considered opinion that sisters really have no sense of humor. Did I mention that I was 6 years old? It was not possible to know then, but the very act of simply singing songs would send me on a journey that would shake me to the very depths of my soul. Then, I learned about rock 'n' roll.
You might say that rock educated me in ways that spoke just to me; it instilled me with a passion for music, which is still one of my greatest motivators. I knew that I had uncovered a special connection, to "forces" in the universe that understood how I thought, how I felt. This was music that I was meant to play, and to sing! How was that possible? I wasn't your stereotypical "Bad Boy" like Jim Morrison; I didn't do drugs or have much of anything to protest. Rock 'n' roll, it is said, has to bleed; it has to cry the blues, so why then did it seem so right? It began to dawn on me that rock spoke to all people; it wasn't just for those who sought to protest against political practices they disagreed with. It wasn't only for those who sought to "drop out" of society with the help of some "chemical" inducement. It was also for those who just wanted to scream, "I am young and alive!" In fact, all the usual stereotypes regarding rock and its culture were both true and yet not true at the same time. What drew us all together, regardless of what part of rock 'n' roll's culture we came from, was that it was our music: we had ownership, and it told our story. It was universally accepted that this was the dawning of a new day, and this music heralded its coming.
I studied popular music and the musicians themselves, took a little from all those whose talents I respected. I listened as the songwriters divulged my innermost thoughts. In 1973, Roberta Flack's Grammy award winning hit "Killing Me Softly with His Song" said it best, "strumming my pain with his fingers, singing my life with his words. . . . Telling my whole life with his words." I think that all of us at one time have felt that a songwriter understood us completely. Lyricists, like all artists, understand the reality of life, yet they write about the world they wish to see, that they wish to be a part of. The music itself, because of its ever present "beat," helped me to visualize the rhythm and flow of the poetry within the lyrics that I wrote. As a result, I could write in perfect iambic pentameter.
For myself, I started a band, had opportunities to play in clubs, record, travel, do concerts, and even sing solo in front of ten thousand people. But, all that aside, the greatest gift that rock ever gave me was the chance to share my thoughts, my feelings, and my world views through the lyrics of the songs that I wrote.
Rock music cannot be defined by one style, nor can it trace its beginnings from a single source. In the same way, its writers, musicians, and fans, cannot be categorized by any narrow exclusionary definitions. We have to remember that many of the trappings that we have come to believe are indelibly linked to the music were labels from its detractors not its supporters. Rock music is for everyone. But we must pay our dues and find our own place within it, and in so doing make it our own. Rock will always be an "open-ended" genre, ever changing, always seeking to push out walls and expand its boundaries. And that is why my children's rock will be as different as my father's was from mine. Rock music still lives and it still breathes through the contributions of artists from B.B. King to the King himself, from The Platters to the Beatles, from Richie Valens to Eddie Van Halen, and from Michael Jackson to P. Diddy. But it is at its most powerful when it regenerates itself through the experiences of those kids playing rock in their garage, and bringing to us new talent and new perspectives.