My wife Glenyce and I were watching a TV show which involved a personal parting under war-time pressure. The background tune was “There’s a long, long trail a-winding”, and I very, very often heard this in my early childhood. It triggered almost uncontrollable sadness, and I smothered a sob – not very successfully, and from the corner of my eye I saw Glenyce glance in my direction.
During a TV break she spoke in a very caring way, which is a little unusual. She asked me what was troubling me, and I couldn’t reply, and escaped into the toilet. When I came back, sitting in a different room, she came up to me and caressed me, which is unusual, asking me again what was going on because I was still tearful. I couldn’t put it all together and give an explanation then, but over the week I’ve figured it out, more or less, and in bed last night I raised the topic.
It’s to do with my feelings that I belong to a generation which is dying out, and, of course, some time my turn will come. That doesn’t concern me at all, but I want to leave a written record of what it has been like being Bill Leithhead, with my childhood experiences, career, marriage, children and grand-children. I’ve had some unique experiences, – nothing dramatic, but a wartime small boy, exposed to a social stratum and milieu which are passing away.
My mother was a dance-band pianist, and I grew up in the Western Australian town of Kalgoorlie with the WW2 going on. An only child, I was often taken along to musical events in which Mum played, most often with a drummer and saxophone. Other times she just played the piano or her piano accordion alone, surrounded by people singing the old songs, especially from the First Word War, but including popular music of those wartime days. These have been imprinted into my brain.
I was often tucked up in the parked car, listening to the tunes. Many of these were very sentimental, dwelling on parting, loss and destruction and the ever-present figure of death in the shadows. The local newspaper was always full of maps with arrows and symbols such as the Swastika and the Rising Sun, as well as the US and English flags – and others, of course.
A week later I opened up on this topic in a chat in bed with dear Glenyce just before we were going to sleep. That’s because I had had enough time to work out what was going on in me. I’m still not sure, but it’s to do with the feeling that knowledge of the reality of those past times is painfully nostalgic for me. My generation is dying out – I see friends die out each year.
And another major factor is the music of today, or rather the general type of popular music played ever since the rock-n/roll revolution, coming down to just rock and metal, and such-like, brought in by the advent of the electric guitar. Most popular tunes up to the late sixties at least had a melody, and were not so monotonous. But now, all I hear is rather simplistic music with only a few notes in the “melodies”, and a lot of repetition. That’s in general – there are exceptions of course.
But this stuff is churned out in the thousands by talentless dolts who don’t sing, but just “say it”, approximately somewhere near the notes, and often don’t sing but they “yell”. Of course, I’m sounding like the stereotypical old buffer who is resistant to change. I’m in my late 70s, but can play pretty good jazz on the piano – and do the same on the drums, if necessary.
Another thing that’s gone is the idea of singing around a piano, as a family, or friends, or in pubs or clubs. That’s gone, as far as I can see, and that sort of thing was so formative about my whole being, that I absolutely mourn for the cultural loss that I’m experiencing. People just don’t seem to sing together in the way I grew up with – or at least not among my family and friends.
And that, dear readers, is what can render me to tears or a sob, when the triggers happen to be in some TV show or other. I’m stuck with it, but at least I understand it now.