Good story, then and now

They handed out the Pulitzer Prizes today, honoring the year’s best work in journalism.

You may be familiar with the Pulitzer-winning feature story. I wrote about it a year ago. It’s worth revisiting:

(The April 4, 2007) Washington Post Magazine had this remarkable story: They got concert violinist Joshua Bell to be a street musician at a Washington, D.C., subway station so they could gauge the reaction of passersby.

I hadn’t heard of Joshua Bell, but he’s one of the world’s top violinists, and has a little rock star in him. He was up for the challenge. He played six pieces in 43 minutes at the L’Enfant Plaza station. He played a violin made by Antonio Stradivari almost 300 years ago.

Of the 1,097 people who walked past that Friday morning in January, seven stopped. Passersby dropped $32.17 into Bell’s violin case.

Of one gent who walked right past, Gene Weingarten wrote:

“There’s nothing wrong with (the man’s) hearing. He had buds in his ear. He was listening to his iPod.

“For many of us, the explosion in technology has perversely limited, not expanded, our exposure to new experiences. Increasingly, we get our news from sources that think as we already do. And with iPods, we hear what we already know; we program our own playlists.”

Amen, brother.

That is why I so enjoy the music blogs, and why I started this one. How can we learn about new music (or new-to-us music) if you don’t share it with me, or if I don’t share it with you?

I’m not putting down iPods or the people who love them. Both are here to stay.

But there is something to be said for blasting tunes so that all can hear. You might hear something you dig. You might meet someone cool. You might make a lifelong friend. You might have a revelation.

John Picarello did. He stopped to listen to Joshua Bell that morning in the subway station. He stopped and listened, astonished, for nine minutes.

I had that same feeling when I first heard the strings on today’s song. I stopped and listened, astonished, at Wilfrid Gibson on violin and Mike Edwards and Colin Walker on cello.

“Roll Over Beethoven,” Electric Light Orchestra, from “ELO II,” 1973.

I liked it when I heard it … wow, 35 years ago already? I liked it again today. Turn it up. I intend to. Someone else — perhaps our 13-year-old son — might hear it for the first time and dig it.



Filed under April 2008, Sounds

6 responses to “Good story, then and now

  1. Sean McGee

    Great post. I’m 28 so I don’t really remember when this song came out.

    However, when I was 2 it was my favorite of all the 45s we had. My dad was a top 40 DJ and got tons of promo singles and so I grew up listening to everything from ELO to Zeppelin, from Kansas to Billy Joel.

    This song really takes me back.

  2. ben

    so, I have the ELO greatest hits on my computer and I’m the only 19 year old I know who listens to them consistently. Anyway, thanks much for this song, it is killer.

  3. Points well taken and well-written, Jeff. If my head had been compressed between 2 earphones as a kid, I’d have missed my older brother practicing the piano (hence, my love of Chopin), my father singing (badly) along with Bing Crosby (the only one he could mimic without hurting himself) and, of course, all the hours of radio my Mom and I shared (she who, at 82, still thinks Bob Marley is the best pop she’s ever heard). Don’t get me wrong — I love my iPod and I’ll buy the terrabyte-capacity model as soon as they make — but I have times and places where it fits (like when mowing the lawn) and times when it doesn’t (during sex is the first instance that comes to mind). As for ELO, I still have my original copy of ‘Face The Music’ and the scratchy version of ‘Fire On High’ still sounds better than the digital. And, to put a period on the topic: the opening riff of ‘Supernatural Superserious,’ while not being an exact copy, still reminds me of the opening riff to ‘Do Ya’. The wheel keeps turning!

  4. Alan

    I have grown to love elo and they are now my fav band. I’m 19 so that says something for their music, super! I listen to their tracks all the time and have just about exhausted their entire collection after buying their albums.

  5. what goes around comes around. the 50’s brought us a treasure trove of singles from artists. the 60’s began ushered in the long-play which came into full bloom in the 70’s.

    things began to fall apart in the 80’s with a train wreck in the 90’s. now it seems bands can create one or two really great gems with a residual of filler and forgettable songs.

    voila’ – here’s comes the iPod and the return of the singles.

  6. Pingback: Friends of Fusion 45 : Fusion 45

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