Discovering a Normal Cultural Life in Support of Our Religious Music Experience

Everyone used to sing. Today, we are in a culturally crippled condition, dependent on technologic devices to the point of debilitation. But worse, we are almost completely unaware of the problem.

In the 1960s, it resulted in an associate of Monsignor Anabele Bugnini, Dominican Arch-Abbott and later Archbishop of Minneapolis-St. Paul, the benighted Rembert Weakland, initiating the “Hootenanny Mass” movement, though he himself was highly trained both in modern art music (it can be argued, “classical” only covers one period in the range), and also Gregorian Plainchant.

The young people who were corrupted by this development, were rendered culturally defenseless by having lost their direct experience making music themselves–not necessarily as specialist, instrumentalists, but just as ordinary, casual, folk and popular music singers–the condition that two generations prior, had been the norm, stretching back into the dawn of folk-music history–in all cultures, worldwide.

We are actually worse-off than the residents of Sanliurfa, Turkey, who have the advantage unknown to us, that they can at least see a mysterious mound, Gobekli Tepe, which upon some archeological chance was revealed to be site of the oldest civilization known in human history, 9,000 B.C. The excavations are revealing a completely unknown culture, because there is apparently no reference to the site on any ancient monuments or in the Bible.

Our more ignorant condition, about our own cultural ancestry and heritage, is worse, because we lack even a view of the ruins; and yet the people who lived that culture, may perhaps have been known by name, to our grandparents. The cultural snow-blindness, of cell-phones, computers, t.v. and broadcast music, completely obliviates any understanding of a past only 100 years old.

“Everyone knew how to sing 200 songs”. – John Senior

In the video, cheap-crook Richard Widmark assumes that a bartender knows, to be able to sing extemporaneously, any random, popular song, in this case, “Camptown Races”. There was nothing exceptional about this portrayal; everyone liked music, there was no radio or talkies, everyone casually sang songs as part of their normal cultural lives. It was never remarked upon, as merely a normal part of life, and so, that cultural milieu has gone into a kind of social archeology, ruins in time as mysterious and unknown as unidentified mounds on the Anatolian plains.

Synopsis of the `Clarion Call' episode, in O. Henry's 'Full House', 1952 (Click/Expand)

Detective Dale Robertson finds a pencil holder at the scene of the murder-robbery of a somewhat wealthy hotel resident.

(From a time before the invention of the ball-point pen, it wasn’t practical to carry fountain pens on one’s person, they would leak and ruin your suite. Lead pencils were routinely carried in one’s suit jacket; it was common to observe someone licking the lead before writing, because the natural, metallic lead was too hard and smooth, it was difficult to get traction to get the pencil to write darkly enough. As a pencil would get worn down through use and sharpening down, the pocket of the common man would be liable to contain a metal tube-extender/container for the pencil stub: a pencil holder.)

The pencil holder Detective Robertson finds, at the site of the hotel murder, is inscribed with the legend “Camptown Races”. As he holds the crucial evidence, identifying the murderer, he takes an identical pencil holder, inscribed with the same motto, out of his own pocket.

The inscribed pencil holders were part of a set of four, won by participants in a singing competition at a county fair. The cop, Robertson, had one of the four, matching prizes; the murderer, Widmark, part of the same, prize-winning, informal song contest ensemble, had another, having left it at the scene of the crime.

Robertson having been at one time an employee of a private business, had taken some money, in what is called embezzlement or larceny, with the intention of making a quick profit, and putting back the original capital, $1,000.

When he lost the money, he had to go to his cheap-crook friend, Richard Widmark, who would be revealed, years later, as the murderer. Widmark habitually insults people in public; one of his unfortunate choice of victims, turns out to be a newspaper publisher.

As Robertson tries to collar Widmark, he is prevented, in honor, by the favor that Widmark had done to him when he, now the detective, had then been the civilian employee afoul of the law. Robertson can’t arrest Widmark, because he owes him in exchange for the $1,000 Widmark gave Robertson, to get him out of trouble for his larceny/embezzlement.

The cop, Robertson, figures out how to escape his moral compromise: he goes to the publisher whom the crook had insulted, asks for an advance on reward money for the murder, it is granted, because the publisher is willing to risk that much to put away the man who insulted him.

Robertson, relieved of the moral compromise, now makes the arrest, after a desperate fight scene on a train about to depart for Chicago.

In the bar scene, as Widmark insults the bartender into joining in a trio of the title song, “Camptown Races”, the movie gives corroboration of John Senior’s assertion, that everyone knew how to sing 200 songs. Widmark is able to assume that the bartender can sing Camptown Races, without any preparation; the improvisatory result is ample evidence, that people once sang.