The Comfort of the Cover Song

June 1, 2013

My latest blog for Ploughshares:

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We all do “do, re, mi,” but you have got to find the other notes yourself.
—Louis Armstrong

A teacher hands out tools—pencils or paintbrushes or musical instruments—and immediately begins instructing students in the art of imitation. Children copy letters and paint by numbers and squeak out Beethoven’s Ninth  on cheap plastic recorders, and through these acts of reproduction the growth of the artist begins.Unknown

Every artist essentially begins as a cover artist. We learn the rules of the color wheel, the narrative arc, how to count in 4/4 time—and then we take what we’ve learned and create, convincing ourselves that despite all the artists who’ve come before we’re making something fresh.

The first song I remember hearing on the radio—I must have been three or four—was “Please Mister Postman.” The song remains a favorite, reminding me of the good ole days of grilled cheese sandwiches and hanging with mom at home listening to AM radio, yet I’m not sure which version of the song I first heard. Was it the Marvelettes? The Supremes? The Beatles? I only know it couldn’t be The Carpenters because their version didn’t come out ‘til I was seven, by which point I’d been listening to the radio for ages.

Click here to read the rest . . . 

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