A Trip to Ocean Grove

Back over the July 4th holiday, we found ourselves with friends Mike and Carolyn at Ocean Grove, New Jersey, where, every August for nearly 150 years, Methodists have held the largest annual camp meeting of probably anywhere in the world. By the late 1860s, the old-style exuberant camp meetings staged out on the American frontier had largely died out of favor, but the Methodists held on. The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association formed in December 1869 and carved out a large tract of land right along the ocean, next to Asbury Park, to be a permanent destination spot for evangelicals and their families to spend a wholesome summer vacation and to renew their conversion commitment. Some felt that God had ordained the land for this purpose, as it was just about the only place on the Jersey shore curiously devoid of mosquitoes.

Meagan, Rich, and Mike walking towards the auditorium at Ocean Grove. The large houses at the left and right are a mix of residences and guest lodging.

Meagan, Rich, and Mike walking towards the Auditorium at Ocean Grove. The large houses at the left and right are a mix of residences and guest lodging.

“God’s square mile” they called it—or an earthly “Beulah Land,” like the hymn that was written there in 1875. And it is indeed a remarkable place. Having seen old pictures of the grounds, we had an idea of what to expect, but we were amazed by how little seems to have changed—and not in that way that some places never change because nobody cares. Ocean Grove looks the same, if not better, because it is still a living, breathing town, hosting events, full of vacationers and sight-seers. The houses, hotels, and association buildings—many of them original—are bright and clean and well-kept. People are sitting out on their porches reading or having conversations, never too busy to say “hello” to passers-by.

The tends as depicted in a 1904 postcard.

The tents as depicted in a 1904 postcard.

A view of the tents today.

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Tribute to Darrell

Darrell Baker, in character as Fagin

Darrell Baker, in character as Fagin (Darrell Baker, via Facebook)

Last week we lost one of our best friends and staunchest supporters, Darrell Baker. In between the last e-mails we exchanged a few weeks ago and our plan to call him this weekend for his 69th birthday, pancreatic cancer intervened, and now he’s gone in a flash.

Darrell’s great early musical loves were Harry Lauder, Al Jolson, and Bert Williams. It was because of Bert that we first “met”—as people do nowadays, by e-mail—back in late 2001. He enthusiastically offered his assistance (and records) in putting together our CD volumes of Bert Williams’ records. Over time Darrell became a trusted consultant, helping us with selecting records for projects, loaning us items from his collection, reviewing our writing, connecting us with other collectors, and even helping us pitch our restorations correctly. He was funny and irreverent and kept us honest.

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It Was 48 Years Ago This Week

The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released on June 1st, 1967—or was it the 2nd? I seem to recall that it came out at midnight on the 1st, which means it was really the 2nd. Either way, it was this week, 48 years ago.

Adding in the 20 years it had been since the esteemed band leader educated his personnel, it’s actually been a total of 68 years—this week—since Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play. How McCartney was able to pin down the actual day of instruction is a mystery; I’m sure some researchers and genealogists out there would like to check his sources.

Illustration of a bandleader

Perhaps Sousa instructed Sgt. Pepper? (Edison Phonograph Monthly, January 1907)

We were talking about this subject last week at the annual conference of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) in Pittsburgh with our friend, Elijah Wald, author of How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll. If you haven’t read that book, don’t worry, it’s not a screed against the Beatles: Wald’s argument about the mop tops is that they destroyed “rock ‘n’ roll” and gave birth to “rock”—the version of popular music centered more on enjoying medicinal herbs and listening to concept albums and less on dancing.

But the book is much more: it’s a treatment of popular music through the entire 20th century. One of the most brilliant things Elijah does is to schematize the difference between a “standard” and an “oldie” (he claims not to have invented the distinction, only to have discussed it). A standard is about the song, an oldie is about the record. Unsurprisingly, we find most standards before the advent of rock and most oldies after the emergence of rock.

The other thing we find in the rock era is a turn toward artistic personalities and their craft. After Buddy Holly, a self-respecting rocker wouldn’t be caught dead singing other people’s songs (with maybe an exception here or there). You had to write and perform your own songs and create a unique, unrepeatable body of work. Somebody sings or records your song now, and it’s a lowly “cover.”

Contrast this to the beginnings of the industry, all the way through the early 1950s. If there was a hit song in the air, all the labels wanted to have their own version on the market—fast. And looking back on those songs today–the standards—we may prefer one or another but also don’t feel obliged to call one “definitive” over another. Aren’t there many great readings of “St. Louis Blues”? Which one is best? Marion Harris’ version? Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong’s? How about W. C. Handy’s version of his own composition? We don’t need to choose. Not so with “Sgt. Pepper.” Anyone other than the Beatles doing it is going to sound silly.

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It’s Grammy Time

And now for something completely different—

As you may know, our album, Happy, by the Isham Jones Rainbo Orchestra is up for two Grammy Awards: Best Historical Album and Best Album Notes. We get asked a lot by well-wishers if we are actually planning on attending the awards show. The answer is: yes, of course! It’s great fun and not to be missed.

Other questions surround the organization of the various events, so we thought we’d share with you some of what goes on “behind the curtain,” as it were. First of all, this entire week is filled with special events in Los Angeles sponsored by the Recording Academy, including the “Legacy Concert” this Thursday and the “MusiCares” celebration on Friday (honoring Bob Dylan). These events are part of the Academy’s community outreach efforts; MusiCares supports musicians in need, for instance.

Saturday is when the official nominee events begin. On Saturday afternoon, nominees attend the Special Merit Awards Ceremony, which honors recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award, the Trustees Award, and the Technical Grammy Award. This year’s Lifetime Achievement honorees include the Bee Gees, Pierre Boulez, Buddy Guy, George Harrison, Flaco Jiménez, Louvin Brothers, and Wayne Shorter. Trustees Award recipients include Richard Perry, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, and George Wein. Receiving the Technical Grammy Award is Ray Kurzweil. Short tribute films are shown, and many of the honorees and/or their families are in attendance to accept the awards. It’s a fabulous little ceremony at which you get a deep sense of history.

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