Finally, my rose-colored glasses have vanished

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Music has a remarkable ability to connect a person to memories and emotions. Hearing tunes probably is good for us. Studies say listening to music engages broad neural networks in the brain. Recently I plugged in a CD (yes, I still listen to those) and popped in a Dylan album. I was immediately plunged into a sentimental voyage back to days when wild parties were fun and people’s politics were more important than the size of their bank accounts.

As the CD rolled on, I first became uneasy, then upset. Instead of a shimmery, warm blanket of nostalgia, anxiety welled up. The words were replete with messages, cautions, insights. The memories they resurrected were of marches, demonstrations, agitated arguments. “The Times They Are A-Changing” was the most poignant to me.

The order is rapidly fadin’

And the first one now

Will later be last

For the times they are a-changin’.

Did Dylan really believe his lyrics? Did I? I certainly claimed I did not; even then I was posing as a cynic. But as I hear the song again, and anguish wells up in me, I realize that I never acknowledged I’d been silently hoping all those years ago the times were changing. Now at the distance of decades, I shake my head at my own naiveté.

If anything, we seem to be regressing to much worse earlier times, in which people felt free to say anything they wanted and threaten anyone who didn’t agree with them. In which leaders bragged for taking advantage of those poorer, weaker, more disadvantaged. A period when evil could be implemented with impunity because it was the law, and no one questioned whether the law was good or bad. Robber baron industrialists were touted as heroes. Native American children were exiled to schools that only taught the white man’s history, and many groups of immigrants or ethnicities could only hope for the lowest, most degrading employment.

I thought about the advances I believed our country was making all that long time ago in the 60s and 70s— reducing discrimination based on race, religion, gender, and income; improving the education and health of the general populace; speaking out loud and clear about malevolent practices as we identified them be those environmental, legal, or social. Many of these were driven by Dylan’s insights and expression.

Nowadays, not only are we not treading water or staying even with social change, we’re sinking swiftly into a morass of inhumanity, ineptitude, and immorality, as children die on our borders, families are ejected from homes and jobs, talented students can’t afford to get advanced education, and the grossest tirades and accusations are leveled irrationally by our leaders.

Dylan may be a musical and literary genius. Makes no difference to the validity of his works. It’s time to return to yesteryear, and strengthen our consciences and wills. It’s past time to crack out these protest songs by Bob Dylan and others once again to inspire, enrage, and toughen our resolve. The least we’re required by good sense and conscience to do is be aware of what we’re losing. Perhaps we can resuscitate our collective integrity, pester ourselves to action. Once we do, I’ll decide if I should hunt down another pair of rose-colored glasses so I finally can convert to a full-fledged optimist.

 

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CHESTNUTS ROASTING, JACK FROST NIPPING, YULETIDE CAROLS KAZOOING

 

Most families have holiday traditions, enjoyed to a greater or lesser degree depending on the people and paraphernalia involved. These can develop unintentionally. For example one friend’s father-in-law-in-law (meaning he’s her son’s connection, not her own) has established a practice of spending the entire day bad-mouthing and swearing over national Democratic politics. Hardly conducive to pleasant conversations, let alone good will. My father’s was to give my mother a pair of flannel pajamas. Hardly romantic.

Whatever yours includes–midnight church service, caroling, roast beef for dinner instead of turkey, opening one gift on Christmas Eve, decorating with ugly candles passed along from grandmother–the list goes on endlessly. You can get sabotaged by rituals if you allow them to become dictates. One friend was so turned off by her partner’s insistence on perfect decorations that she gave up all holiday signs after she lost him.

For years my family’s tradition was tootling on kazoos. I can’t say enough good things about kazoos. Anyone could play one almost immediately. Even my tone-deaf husband joined in with no embarrassment. Laughter abounded, overflowed, and made our stomachs ache.

Seems to me the birth of the practice was the radio or record player booming after the holiday dinner, and guests began humming and singing along. Lacking a piano, organ, or guitars, I longed for some method to increase our volume and coordinate the melody. I can’t recall why I had a stock of several dozens of kazoos many Decembers ago, but I pulled them out and distributed to anyone who’d take one. The music from electrical equipment quickly became overpowered by the strength of the live performers in my living room.

Easy to play were the oldies “Jingle Bells” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” However, we quickly mastered playing parts and playing in rounds. I don’t know how we had the breath to keep the concert going. We seemed to break down in hysterical laughter as much as we made music. Each person tried to toot louder or more dramatically than his neighbor.

“If you can hum, you can play” is the advice of kazoo aficionados to novices. The mistake of most newcomers is to blow like you would a trumpet, but the player’s voice needs to vibrate in order to make the membrane inside the kazoo, which amplifies the notes, quiver. This membrane can tear or stretch, but if you’re as dedicated as I am, you’ll learn you can replace it with tissue paper or even plastic wrap cut to the correct size. YouTube has videos that offer instruction if you’re a rule klutz.

The highlight of our holiday performances? Nothing can match the musical thrill of the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah played in parts on a dozen kazoos. It beats a production from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir because you and your family and friends are playing it. Those who prefer can sing the tune in parts of harmony.

Kazoos appeared on the American scene in the mid- to late-1800s. However, they’re related to a number of membranophones, instruments that modify the player’s voice through vibrations. They have waxed and waned in popularity and still sell in the millions. I personally prefer the timbre of the traditional metal variety, but plastic versions appear in most toy stores.

Prepare yourself for the holidays. But if you miss your opportunity, don’t wait until next year. National Kazoo Day is January 28. The perfect time for you to become active in politics as well as music. You can join the continuing campaign to have the kazoo declared the USA’s national instrument, a well deserved honor because it’s certainly the most democratic