Hip to Be Square

by Michael Potemra

Over at the website Dangerous Minds, they’ve unearthed a wonderful cultural moment from the Seventies: the legendary Frank Zappa performing on the Mike Douglas show and discussing music with Douglas, comedian/actor Jimmie “J.J.” Walker, and country legend Kenny Rogers. A central point of their conversation is how the love of music transcends genres: I knew that Zappa loved Anton Webern and other tough modern-classical composers, but I was unaware that Kenny Rogers — who is still going strong — is a Bach fan. (Rogers puts in a plug for the Swingle Singers’ modern-pop interpretation of Bach. I love pretty much all interpretations of Bach, whether they involve original instruments, or the heavily Romanticized treatments that have fallen out of fashion in recent decades; the Swingles’ pop version, too, captures some of the joy at the heart of the man’s work. If you’re interested in a Mad Men-era approach to the world’s greatest composer, give this a try.)

Mike Douglas died in 2006; I, like many other Seventies children, would watch his show after school, along with the retirees who were probably his main target audience. His appeal was intergenerational; and he deserves a lot of credit for his work in integrating American culture, at a time when the tribes seemed to be most insistent on flying apart.