Editor’s Pick
SEPTEMBER 28, 2011 8:16AM

Mom Liked Elvis; Dad Liked Perry Como

Rate: 21 Flag

Mom bought every Elvis 45 available at the local record shop.  Dad rarely bought records, but, when he did, he purchased Perry Como exclusively.  I think Mom liked the raucous energy of Elvis’s straight-up rock ‘n roll, and the sentimental sadness or the fervent affirmations of the ballads.  I think she liked Elvis’s gyrating hips, those howitzer blasts against the fortress of 1950s conformity.  I’m pretty sure she liked that Elvis bought a pink (mom’s favorite color) Cadillac for his mother, and that he wasn’t shy about his affection for her.  I’d guess she liked that he was “nice boy,” born into poverty and obscurity and an ethos of Southern prejudice, and became wealthy, famous, and, by bringing black music into the mainstream, a force for racial integration.  I’d conjecture she liked playing Elvis records while she went about her daily homemaking tasks. 

 

I’m forced to qualify all these statements.  Mom never explained her Elvis affinity.  Dad was different.  He liked Perry Como, and he gave reasons, and, later, when I quite loitering in the foyer of maturity and actually passed through its main room door, I saw reasons beneath the reasons.

 

Dad liked Perry Como because he projected an unruffled personality, and his music was soothing—“he’s smooooth,” Dad said.  Dad liked smooth.  Perry Como’s hips did not gyrate.  Dad liked that Perry Como was Italian—“you know, his real first name is Pierno,” Dad informed me--; was born poor of immigrant parents from Italy—as Dad had been--;worked as a barber and later ran his own barbershop; gained local recognition performing at wedding receptions and the like—as Dad’s dad, a shoemaker by trade, had--; and went on to become the most popular and successful singer of his generation.  Dad liked success stories, especially ones that in some way mirrored his own rise from scrawny Depression-era kid to secure middle class status.  Dad knew that Perry Como’s imperturbable, cardigan-sweatered cool masked a competitive nature, and Dad liked competition.  Dad also liked romantic ballads, though he would never admit it.  He was a stealth romantic.

 

Dad did not like Elvis—too androgynous, too much grease in his hair, too unconventional—and could not understand why Mom did.  “What’s the fascination with that Presley guy,” Dad once asked her.  “I like him,” Mom said.  Dad wanted a reason, though: “Well, yeah, but why?”  “Because he’s Elvis,” Mom said, and that was that.  Dad never asked again.  Unlike Dad, a systems analyst, Mom felt no compulsion to provide reasons for something she considered blindingly obvious .  She thought or believed or felt something, and accepted it as perfectly legitimate, an experience that did not require explanation but that was nonetheless adequate to any query.

 

I came home from school one day to find the living room furniture rearranged.  “Why’d you change the furniture,” I asked.  “Oh, I just thought it was time,” she said.  “But why,” I persisted.  “It needed to be rearranged,” she replied, in a how-can-you-be-so-dense tone.   Once, after a particularly lengthy and intense session of pestering of my younger brother Dennis, Mom intervened and told me in no uncertain terms to stop.  “Why should I,” I smartalecked.  I expected she’d say “because I’ll give you a smack if you don’t,” or “because if you don’t stop you won’t be allowed to watch The Mickey Mouse Club,” or “because if you don’t I’ll tell your father.”  Instead, she said, “Because he’s your brother.”  And she emphasized that last word.

 

It was only later, much later, that I understood what she meant, understood the sheer power of that word, its complexities, understood that its meaning lay in its connotations and implications, that it contained within it a self-evident sovereignty of meaning, that it carried a blood-deep, biology-deep cargo of empathy, of sympathetic imagination, of simple kindness, of the best of all rules, the Golden Rule.  For Mom such things needed no logical analysis, no dictionaried explanation.  Mom liked Elvis because he was Elvis; she rearranged furniture because it needed it; my brother deserved attentive care and kindness because he was my brother.  For her that was enough.  Sometimes things, or the idea of things, capture us, and we need to accept being taken.  That was her lesson for me.  Mom’s replies demanded imagination, and I learned never to mistake a deficiency of imagination on my part with a lack of meaning in her way of knowing. 

 

Dad’s lesson was the necessity of strong claims supported by reasons, a lesson forged over two millennia ago in the Greek agorae, those public assembly places where citizens debated issues of community significance, a lesson that today goes by the name of public discourse, of truth-seeking, reasoned disputation, a lesson that today we seem to have forgotten.  “Always give reasons, Jerry,” Dad told me more than once; “people will respect you.  They’ll consider you a person who can be trusted.”  He was right, of course, and there have been many occasions when I have put his counsel to good use, though I often find myself given more to Mom’s lesson.  There is an uncurtained honesty in a simple statement of  this-is-what-it-is-to-me that carries its own credibility, as much, perhaps, as a statement of this-is why-it-is-to-me.

 

Once, I eavesdropped on a conversation between Dad and his brother Carmen about a mutual acquaintance.  “He’s an asshole,” Dad declared.  “How come,” Carmen asked.  “He just is,” Dad said.  I smiled.  Dad, it would seem, was no more immune to Mom’s lesson than I was.  Though, like his Perry Como-ed romanticism, he’d never admit it.

 

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I was thinking about the Myers-Briggs temperment sorter as I read this and concluded that your mother is a P (perceptor) and your dad is a J (judge). Your mom is right; some things need no explanation. Still I am J. Thoughful post here.
In the book "Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind" by Guy Claxton, it is noted that intuition is no less valuable than research and reasoning. I never realized that, as I grew up in a show-your-facts, show-no-emotion household. Your very well-written post really drives home the fascinating concept of "just knowing." Those who trust their intuitions are powerful people indeed. Rated with admiration.
those howitzer blasts against the fortress of 1950s conformity.

A great piece, Jerry, I especially loved the phrase above. My parents liked Pat Boone and Connie Francis. None of those evil hip shaking rock and rollers.
I am more a why-I-say-it-is sort, and I find it nearly impossible to endure the I-say-it-therefore-it-is crowd. In a way, the latter seems to be the leading model among the Tea Party members. Perfectly written, as usual, Jerry.

Lezlie
It just is. Simple. Thank you.
It sounds like your parents complemented each other in just the right amount. They sound like good people with equally good attitudes toward life and you've been the lucky beneficiary; it doesn't sound like either one tried to force their opinions on you musically or otherwise. Elvis and Perry may not have had much in common but both had beautiful voices and knew their way around a song, as you do a lovely essay.
This is some terrific tribute, Jerry...to all four! r.
Brother, where did you learn to write like this? Leave me this skill
in your will
if you pass on before me.
I shall sprinkle my commentary with some of your phrases,
which I find to be beautiful.
And I am not a feeble reader…



I pushed further against this
“ self-evident sovereignty of meaning” my own mother deployed against my ratiocinative mind, to the point of torture and a kind of “white noise” in my head when I tried to argue. Yet I marshaled my considerable forces of a) perverse persistence , b)regression to 3 yr old “why?why?why?” stage, and c) manly Reason to squeeze a few answers out of her, to tell me the nature of these “ things, or the idea of things,(which) capture us, and we need to accept being taken. “

“YOU WILL UNDERSTAND WHEN YOU GROW UP, JAMES MARK” was her weapon of mass destruction of dumboundation. After dismissive self-satisfied (it seemed) shaking of head and flitting of hand.

Mom felt no compulsion to provide reasons for something she considered blindingly obvious . She thought or believed or felt something, and accepted it as perfectly legitimate

Indeed, “Mom felt no compulsion to provide reasons for something she considered blindingly obvious . She thought or believed or felt something, and accepted it as perfectly legitimate.”

One of the things she believed was that I was special.

So how can you tear apart an illegitimate logical system built upon this premise?

She loved the beatles by the way. In the end, after much shrieking and howling and screaming, she accepted Bob Dylan. The shrieking, etc, was on both ends, Bob and her, of course. I played her favorite Dylan song at her funeral---“the man in the long black coat”.
Beautiful piece as always. Who knew a taste for Perry Como was subject to logical justification? It sounds like you learned valuable lessons from both your parents.
When you wring all the water out of a washcloth then it's just a washcloth. You don't have to waste time calling it a wet washcloth.
Momma loves mambo! ... Papa loves mambo!
I find the underlying complexities of your pieces interesting as in thought-provoking. On another note, did you ever hear Perry Como's "Oh My Papa?"
I remember Perry Como well. He was popular at our home. I even liked Seattle--one of his last hits. That generation enjoyed music and they could all dance and dance well when the occasion arose. Enjoyed this memory, Jerry.
Your mother is right, of course.
It's Elvis by a landslide.
I love that your Mom’s replies demanded imagination enhanced by meaning, while those of your Dad's taught you always to give reasons to be trusted. A sound combination more children should be exposed to instead of, ". . because I said so!" Wonderful post, Jerry.
♥R
I liked this a lot - the contrasts between your mother and father, between Elvis and Perry, between a logical and an emotional reaction. Like your father, I can sometimes explain why I like or dislike something. Just as often, I'm like your mother, liking or disliking something just because.
Interesting look at the mode of expression Jerry. Your explanations and examples make the point clearly. There's also a little of Women/Venus Men/Mars in this. But I can't share your dad's affinity for Como. And as for Elvis, well, I'm of the Beatles generation.
You were lucky, Jerry - I got Guy Lombardo & Vera Lynn, & no explanation from anyone.
"Because he's your brother" That's perfect, and so is this post. -R-
"Because he's your brother" That's perfect, and so is this post. -R-
Love so much about this, as I do all of your musings, that I could get carried away in my raving. So I'll boil it down to the two things you said that made the most dramatic impression on me. This:

...when I quit loitering in the foyer of maturity and actually passed through its main room door...

And this, of your mom's emphasis on the word "brother": ...the sheer power of that word, its complexities, understood that its meaning lay in its connotations and implications, that it contained within it a self-evident sovereignty of meaning, that it carried a blood-deep, biology-deep cargo of empathy, of sympathetic imagination, of simple kindness, of the best of all rules, the Golden Rule.

You have those two strong qualities of both parents. Your mom's poetic sense and your dad's understanding of the importance of "why."

I'd give you a rating but I wouldn't want you to take me for granted.
Sweet post of your parents. I enjoyed it. Does "It is what it is" fit into this category? Rated with a Jali Smile. :-)
You appear to have arrived at a glorious synthesis of two compelling manifesteations of taste and temperament--and you express it all so aptly.
I took a moment and thought how ecclectic my own listening habits were and sent a silent thank you to my own parents. thank you for the reminder.
A wonderful warm insight into family moments, it’s always a treat to gain a glimpse, thank you for sharing with us. I agree with your mom, some things require no further explanation. I also agree that Elvis rules!

Cheers,

Mary
Great genes and a great listening environment. Jerry, that is what makes you one of the best writers on this rockin' planet!