Bob Livingstone is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCS 11087) in private practice for 22 years in San Francisco, California. He holds a Masters Degree
First of all it is important to mention that Rock ‘n’ Roll originated from African-American culture. Elvis Presley was deeply influenced by Big Bill Broonzy, a blues guitarist who began his career in the 1920’s. Elvis performed songs written by Big Momma Thronton, Muddy Watters, and Ray Charles to name a few of the Black artists whose songs he utilized.
The Beatles and Rolling Stones musical styles were taken directly from Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Bo Diddley. The Rolling Stones were also heavily influenced by the blues of Howling Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Robert Johnson.
Rock ‘n’ Roll can tell a detailed story in two and a half minutes. This music can bring up happy and tragic childhood memories. It can lift your spirits and can connect with feelings of heartbreak. It allows you to remember being in love for the first time. It can make you feel young of spirit and capture warmth not known previously.
The first Rock ‘n’ Roll song I heard was when my family was on vacation in Maine. It was the summer of 1961 and I was ten years old. My friend Kenny put this plastic disc with a big hole in the middle on his 45 rpm record player called Travelin’Man by Ricky Nelson. I never heard anything like this before. It was like I found a new universe that was speaking only to me. The merging of the exciting and longing lyrics; with the back ground singers guttural sounds- made goose bumps rise. I imagined myself being a person traveling all over the world and having girls desire me whatever town or city I ended up in. The next song that I remember being in love with was the Marvelettes Please Mr. Postman which was also released in 1961. This was back in the days when AM radio was king of the airwaves especially for kids and teens. I was listening to my small transistor radio that had a dial to line up the stations and mine was set for 77 WABC out of New York City.
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Please Mr. Postman blasted out of the radio like a New Jersey summer thunder storm. It was tense with humidity and Gladys Horton’s(the lead singer of The Marvelettes) voice sounded like beauty had been mixed with hot gravel. The beginning hand claps led to voices of desperation and loneliness. I felt like this song echoed my intense need to be wanted and my fear of being left alone. The beat of the record knocked me out of the bed as the intensity arouse with each measure. Alas the postman did not deliver a letter from her boyfriend that was now living far away. The song ended on a sad and pleading note.
Dion’s The Wanderer also came out in 1961, the year I was introduced to Rock ‘n’ Roll. This song had this macho bravado steaming with this bad ass attitude. I remember listening to it and connecting with the feeling that I was above it all and could do whatever I wanted without ever having to face any consequences. The Wanderer is certainly a sexist song that boosts of conquests and Dion not allowing himself to get too close to any girl; but in those times I was caught up in his sense of freedom. He wasn’t accountable to anyone, not even himself.
Rock ‘n’ Roll is the music that best expresses teenage angst and isolation. This music also expresses rage through its driving beat and piercing lyrics. One of those songs is Ohio by Crosby Stills Nash and Young. This song was written by Neil Young in 1970 as a protest against the killing of four college students at Kent State by the Ohio National Guard. It was rushed released, something that probably never happens today. It reflected the anger, sadness, disillusion of a generation that was standing up against the Vietnam War, racism, homophobia and sexism.
Rock ‘n’ Roll can also get you in touch with deep feelings of hurt, loss and regret. The music can be instrumental in emotional healing through the grief process. My personal example is Luther Vandross’s Dance with my Father which was released in 2005. My father died in 1966 and I remember the first time I heard this song, tears immediately fell down my face. The song’s melody was dirge like, yet bright. Luther was singing about wanting just one more chance to be with his father again; a longing I had shared for many years.
Listening to this song took me from a raw, intense, in your face sense of loss to really understanding and being with the fact that my dad was never coming back. I was going to be alright and thrive despite that daunting reality.
Listening to Rock ‘n’ Roll allows you to break through the numbness that overtakes you when you feel hopeless. It teaches you that this hopelessness is a temporary state and can be overcome with a two and a half minute rhapsody.
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