Thursday, February 17, 2011

Right Hand, Left Hand: Pat Boone: "Speedy Gonzales"

The world of music, as we have seen so far, can be a puzzling and wondrous thing to behold; voices, concepts and ideas get passed back and forth, noises and mistakes and casual asides become more, not less, important over time. A success for one person of a certain...persuasion can be funneled to make something else entirely different happen, without much public knowledge.

And so it is here; a song wherein the singer is upstaged by a far more interesting and charismatic cartoon character (Speedy sounds more human, weirdly, than Boone does), a song bought by and large by kids and summer-crazed parents of kids (it was number two for a good while) generated enough funds (along, to be fair, with all of Boone's other hits) to start Impulse! jazz label. To put it mildly, I do not think Boone's children had any idea - how could they? - of what their pence and ha'pennys were helping to create; but there it is.

Let me be personal for a moment here - I grew up in a jazz household, so I grew up as a little girl looking at Impulse! spines with their warm orange glow attracting me to look at their vivid covers; and even then I could sense that these were all albums worth my parents' time and mine as well, if I ever got around to them. I feel that the one area of music from this time (by August of '62 they had been married for two and a half years or so and I still wasn't a glint in either of their eyes) that simply trumps most popular music is jazz; whether it's Gil Evans & Orchestra, John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus Charlie Hayden and the Liberation Music Orchestra, Yusef Lateef, Pharoah short, if it was avant garde jazz you wanted in the 60s, Impulse! was the label to watch.

There are probably some who think that taking the money raised by Boone and starting a label (done in 1960, but by the time of "Speedy Gonzales" it was starting to make a name for itself) was simply poetic justice - this is the man who took the punctum out of "Tutti Frutti", after all; and now the yang was merely catching up with the yin, so to speak. It is also a reminder that if something - here it is the 50s and all it stands for - is waning (this is the last time I write about Boone) then something else will not exactly takeits place, but a new vehicle will be built so that those who want to escape from the bossy, square Boone and into more interesting spaces and dimensions can do so. The 60s will start to flood in soon, after the hot summer of '62 recedes; and about to enter the chart is a song (I will mention it when I get to the number two it stops) that would give even John Coltrane a sense that not all in the charts was sophomoric or dull; the future is indeed here, orbiting the globe.

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