Monday, February 11, 2008

One Toke Over The Generation Gap

A good friend from the Chicago area sent me this YouTube link to a Lawrence Welk Show performance.

What is funny about this, obviously, is not the music but the cluelessness of Welk and his people about the song's content. Depending on who you believe the song's writers didn't mean "One Toke Over The Line" to be a drug song, but like "Eight Miles High," which is literally about flying, it is the double entendre that made the lyric work for a lot of listeners.

After having a good laugh when I first watched the video I tried harder to put myself in Welk's shoes. Here he is with a reasonably successful TV show and a crew of very skilled, if deathly uncool, musicians at his disposal. Why do this song?

The reason is that "One Toke Over The Line" is a particularly good song. Not only is it good but it is one of those rare pieces of music that can survive transliteration into multiple different styles. Once I was done laughing at Welk's clueless statement that the song was a "spiritual" I almost wanted to tip my hat to him. Good for him for recognizing this song for what it was musically, even though it is pretty clear that at least some of the lyric was lost on him.

I don't believe that music is a "universal language." I do think this particular performance, which glaringly displays the gap between the boomers and the WWII generation, shows than great melodies and song craft does sometimes work as a bridge of sorts.

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