Originally created 01/18/98

Political measure classical



Music is love in search of a word. -- Sidney Lanier

My sister called last week from this side of Cleveland to ask a question:

"Zell did what?"

I knew she was talking about the latest proposal from my old pal, the governor of Georgia.

"He asked the Legislature to appropriate money so all newborns could take home a classical music cassette or CD," I said, stirring my coffee and rereading the newspaper article on my desk. "There's a theory that listening to classical music at early ages makes children smarter.

"As an example," I added, "he played some from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony for the General Assembly."

"They think it's pretty funny up here," she said.

"Just jealous," I answered, "their governor's name is Ed."

"But is this music theory stuff for real?" she asked.

"I don't know," I answered. "Some people blame the Vietnam War on the Beatles."

"You mean other than Daddy?" she asked.

"Oh yes," I said confidently, "real experts. Musical sociologists, rhythm historians and any number of well-dressed talk-show guests have pegged social change to music."

"You're serious?" she asked again.

"Of course," I answered. "I wouldn't be surprised if Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman didn't set off World War II."

She paused to make sure I was teasing.

"OK, what about Watergate?" she said, interrupting me abruptly.

"Elton John," I answered quickly.

"Jimmy Carter's election?" she shot back.

"Sonny and Cher," I said.

"Jimmy Carter's defeat?" she asked.

"Cher," I answered.

"OK ... " she said slowly, as if leading me into a trap, "Bill Clinton?"

I paused a moment, then said, "Rap music."

"Did Elvis cause anything?" she wondered.

"Cheap gasoline, color TV and air conditioning," I suggested. "But he didn't start any wars; he was in the Army, you know."

"Sounds like pretty powerful stuff," she said. "By the way, do you happen to remember what we listened to when we were infants?"

"Must have been Tennessee Ernie Ford," I said, quietly humming the refrain from Sixteen Tons.

"But this is really about classical music, isn't it?" she asked.

"Yeah," I admitted. "They think there is just something unique in the harmony and rhythms of 18th-century music that improves brain power. It's also supposed to make children more patient and more coordinated."

"If this works, then your buddy Zell's a genius," she said.

"No," I answered, "Beethoven was the genius. Zell's just a politician who has an uncanny knack of getting people to talk about him."

"Smart guy, then," she said before hanging up.

"You're right," I answered. "I think he's listened to a lot of classical music."