Pop Tunes Meaningless to Jeanette MacDonald
L.A. Times 8-31-55
By Mary Ann Callan
Millions of records spin to millions of pairs of ears in the United States
each day but, asks one great, popular woman singer of not-so-long ago: Is it
music? Does it have either rhyme or reason to be loved and whistled and hummed?
And, more important, is it giving the younger generation a heritage rich in
romance from the heartbeat of America?
Jeanette MacDonald, the beautiful redhead who made movie history in a
successful series of musicals on the screen and one of the few women to fill the
Hollywood Bowl as a feature concert artist says no.
Sitting with unstudied majesty in the patio of her charming Bel-Air home,
Miss MacDonald's eyes floated thoughtfully over the distant vista below her
mountain blew, and only her hands drumming emphatically on the table expressed the
vehemence with which she gave her opinion.
FINDS NOTHING SUSTAINING
"I find nothing sustaining or beautiful in much of the so-called popular
music of today," she said. "You can't tell the melody, you can't tell the singer.
Everything has a gimmick--everybody is trying to be different. It takes more
courage now NOT to be different."
Its the young people she's worried about, she said. "There's the
in-between generation, brought up during the war, that has had absolutely no
exposure, except in rare cases, to the great music of Victor Herbert, Rudolf
Friml, Romberg and Strauss.
"With them, this kind of semi classical music is a dead language. All they
get is a nervous beat--the rock and roll--and the words and meaning of the
melody are left out. There's just nothing sustaining in the current popular music,"
CALLS IT 'DISHONEST'
She termed it "dishonest" the way present bands change the tune and rhythm of
old popular classics. You have to search, she said, to find a strain that's
familiar, and it's heresy.
The cause, she feels, of lack of taste in popular music is because the public
is fed, not what they went, but what the salesmen think they want.
"Constant repetition," she said, "seems to be the way to make a hit--not its
qualification as a melody with lyrics that have real meaning for the listener.
"And for the singer, crooner or what have you, it's the catch in their voice
or their off-key delivery or their rantings, not their voice that qualifies
She looked at what is happening to serious music students who want to sing
great music. "They have no opportunity," she shrugged. "They too, have to have
a gimmick, not a voice. Where is the trend going to take us?"
Then she smiled, hopefully and said, "Someday, and I think soon, there is
going to be an American composer with courage, and a record company with courage,
and a singer with courage who will come up with some good, solid music that
will express what modern America is feeling." She hesitated. "And I think the
public will take it and understand that this is what they have wanted for a
long, long time."
There are many young girls, she went on, who has hopes of presenting what she
was once--who want to sing for the enjoyment of Americans, who can sing
lyrics that the listener can identify with, who are bewildered as who they can
follow any serious aspirations.
Said she: "They end up modeling or doing TV commercials, which is a
prostitution of talent, but at least they eat."
She said, also, that part of any young person's growing up is to hero
worship, but she feels that the current trend is robbing youth of celebrities that
are solid, who can be guiding lights for the artists of the future. When youth
discovers they are phonies with clay feet, they will lose hope and American
will be robbed of a continuing talent in music.
A STARVATION DIET
In the Interview, she called for a public conscience that will help produce
more "arenas for music," such as the Hollywood Bowl and the Los Angeles Music
Center, now in the planning stage.
"Without these," she said, "our musical diet is the juke box and it leads
only to starvation for the future."
Miss MacDonald, wife of actor and TV Host Gene Raymond, is still appearing in
concerts, her current one being at the Sacramento State Fair next week,
singing Hammerstein and Kern favorites.