Song #48: Speed the Plough – “Madeleine”

October 9, 2020
Song #48: Speed the Plough – “Madeleine”

Despite coming from a family of musicians, my father has awful taste in music. Awful.

My parents are roughly the same age; they grew up in the late 1950s through the 1960s, coming of age at a time when there was so much great music, both teenagers through the ascent of both rock and roll and bebop, young adults through the Woodstock era.

My mother had a foundation in doo-wop, and largely listened to top-40 radio even through my teenage years. My father? I don’t know what he listened to. I have no idea where he got his taste.

His father was an outstanding musician who played with many of the great jazz players who lived in or came through New Jersey in the 1960s and 1970s. Tapes exist of late-night jam sessions in my grandparents’ basement, stories of sessions involving some of the all-time greats floating around holiday dinner table discussions during my childhood. One of my father’s brothers grew up listening to fusion and another to punk. But all I can remember from the musical education I received from my father was bland, middle-of-the-road crap.

I remember asking for a tape recorder for Christmas one year, and asking for rock and roll cassettes to play on it. I got the tape recorder, but the tapes that came with it? Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall, Frank Mills’ Music Box Dancer, the first Christopher Cross album. Late that night, after everyone was resting, my mother called me over and quietly said “I forgot one of your presents that I found in the attic,” and handed me Cheap Trick’s Dream Police, knowing full well that the tapes my father bought me would be disappointing. Dream Police still gets played in my house.

On the occasional weekend after my parents separated, my father would bring me to bars in New Jersey to watch his bands play – cover bands that mostly played nostalgic songs for divorced people in their 30s, like “Suspicious Minds” and “Daybreak.” I would sit patiently and wait for “Long Train Runnin’,” the only song they played that remotely resembled music I liked – and even that was a stretch. The Doobie Brothers were his favorite rock band – maybe the only rock band he liked, though he would occasionally make a statement like “Santana, now that’s a rock band.”

In high school, we had an argument about music where he said I should be listening to jazz. I remember yelling “You don’t listen to jazz, you listen to Grand Union jazz.” a term I used to describe shitty grocery store jazz, more middle-of-the-road, boring music to put you to sleep while you get fillings or wait for your laundry.

One day, though, one of those divorced parent weekend custody pizza-and-bowling days that ended at my father’s house, he said “I want you to hear something,” and as I grimaced, he put on Dave Brubeck’s Time Out.

“My father loved this,” he said. “Listen to all the crazy time signatures.”

We were sitting in the dark, the stereo turned all the way up, listening to this music I’d never heard before. I was maybe 13 or 14, just old enough where I was starting to be able to differentiate between good music and bad (something I still haven’t perfected), and this was most definitely good.

“Listen to the drums,” he told me, during Joe Morello’s solo in “Take Five.” “They sound like fireworks. My whole life I’ve wanted to play like that.”

Brubeck toured and toured and toured, and I never saw him. The closest I got was buying tickets for Sandy and I one year, when my Christmas present to her was pairs of tickets to all sorts of live events we’d never typically spend time on – jazz shows, ballet, plays, dance – when it was time to see Brubeck, the kids were sick or something, and so I stayed home with them and she took a friend.

When Brubeck died I hadn’t spoken to my father for a long time. I sent him a text to tell him Brubeck always reminded me of him, and he responded “He was the best. Time Out was the first jazz album to sell a million copies. Take Five is my all-time favorite.”

Actually, his first response was “Who’s this?” but that’s a story not for this blog. I leave the sentence here because it’s a statement on how we make memories. I’ll never forget that day with my father, playing me the first jazz record that ever resonated with me, as we sat in the dark in his den. It was one of those weird experiences that was formative for me, opening up a whole new world of music, and he didn’t even know that it happened.

Today, I have three copies of Time Out in my collection: two I bought myself, and my father’s copy, a dusty old beater with scratches and seam rips, and when I want to listen to it, that’s the one that I play. The first time I played it for my son, when we got to the drum solo, I said “Listen to those drums. They sound like fireworks.”

When Speed the Plough sent me the final, sequenced version of the record that would become Shine, I was pleasantly surprised to hear “Madeleine,” the structure and 6/4 time signature closely approximating the 5/4 of “Take Five,” the sax solo repeating a few bars of “My Favorite Things” for good measure. It was a pleasant surprise for me because Shine was very much a family record; John and Toni had recruited their son Michael to play guitar, and original guitarist Marc Francia had recruited his sons Ian and Dan to play drums and bass. Hearing them play this song that, to me, recalled musical lineage that traced back to my grandfather and forward to my son, made it a pretty special song.

I’m sharing the song with you today, and the story, with a reminder that we’re donating all profits we make from downloads this month to Swing Left, in hopes that we set a more positive course for the country this Election Day. But I’m also dedicating it to those of us who, over the last three years, have had to make the painful decision to separate from family members and loved ones due to vast political disagreements that have seemingly created wide, insurmountable chasms between us. I hear the story over and over again, and have told it myself. It isn’t easy, and I’ve got all the love for anyone who’s had no choice but to sever those ties over principles that are too strong to ignore.

~ by Al on October 10, 2020.

One Response to “Song #48: Speed the Plough – “Madeleine””

  1. Love this story. Thanks so much. Al!

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