Words Are For the Vacant

I was playing hockey the other day. Thursday: my ladies’ skate with the ladies. We play on the small ice opposite a larger ice surface, and on that surface are usually figure skaters of all ages: kids, grammas, boys, a few dudes. Their sessions begin with no music– we’re usually well into our game when they take to the ice– but, after a moment, someone skates to the penalty box and plugs in their Ipod or CD and presses GO. It’s been One Direction for awhile, Daft Punk for awhile after that, and, naturally, lots of the “Frozen” soundtrack, which I’ll evermore associate with getting hit with pucks and trying to climb out of my awkward butterfly. A few days ago, the music changed– it changed once– to “The Entertainer” by Marvin Hamlisch, whom I remember Mad magazine once calling “Marvin Hamsandwich.” Right there in the fine lonesomeness of my crease, I was returned to drive ins with my parents watching “The Sting” and eating gooey-buttered popcorn out of enormous square boxes draining enormous square Cokes filling my hands with M&Ms and whatever else I’d talked my parents into getting me. These thoughts spooled even further– “The Sting” made me feel clever because I understood its cleverness, maybe the first time that had ever happened in an adult film– and because “The Entertainer” doesn’t have any words– it’s just filigree’ed piano figures sewn one into another; a sortof outlet mall version of the Scott Joplin piece– it was easy to let the mind wander as far as it needed to go. I battled through the next few moments of my game– kicking out a skate, throwing out a hand, and dropping to the ice to see between a thicket of legs– wondering when the last time an instrumental song had been a hit.  Instrumentation– long jamming electro-sections and Kanye West musical heads and self-involved intros and outros– is still big, but instrumentals are not, maybe because you can’t sell enough through simply a sound or a melody. There was a time when songs by Hot Butter, The Ventures, Frank Mills and Marvin Hamsandwich were as popular as any. No words were better than bad words, and, for some, those are words to live by.

One thought on “Words Are For the Vacant

  1. we were in grade 7, a year of total french immersion for grade 7 kids across montreal, all filling one school in st. laurent for a year. imagine a school full of nothing but grade 7s. at recess and lunch the ping pong tables were wheeled into the hallways and epic hold-the-table tournaments ensued. someone had a transistor radio, fixed on CKGM montreal’s top 40 station. The Entertainer came on and we went kablooie! nuts! we were bonkers for that tune! can you imagine? a ragtime instrumental being a hit with kids?? only in the 1970s. greatest decade for radio.


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