Every generation throws a hero up the pet charts
A piece of music has the uncanny power to transport its listener to another place, another time — when the listener themselves was someone else — and activate memories stored for safe keeping in the time capsules of our minds.
Getting from those notes, or lyrics, to the memory that compels itself forward is a Rube Goldberg trail of this, then that ... then the other thing.
For example ...
The death this week of Joseph Shabalala, the creator and lead singer of the South African choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, set my wheels spinning along such a road to a destination that then spread out like ripples in a pond.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo, of course, is best known to middle-of-the-road American music fans for its historic — and, at the time, controversial — collaboration with Paul Simon on his landmark 1986 album, “Graceland.”
When I read of Shabalala’s passing, the instinct was to reach for the Simon CD and hear his voice in the cuts “Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes” and, most memorably, the haunting “Homeless.”
But it was not to be. The CD was not in its case. It was among those in rotation in the car of my life’s co-conspirator.
Of course it would be there.
For therein lies a tale ...
When we put “Graceland” into rotation at home, the instinct was to drop it directly into what we-old-folks called a “CD player.”
It was not Shabalala, or Ladysmith Black Mambazo — or even Paul Simon — who opens the album. It is another South African musician, Forere Motloheloa of the famo group Tau ea Matekha, who we first hear.
Motloheloa begins the opening track, “The Boy in the Bubble,” with an unmistakable pulsing accordion, which is followed by concussive drumbeats.
We knew that we were worlds away from the land of “The Sounds of Silence” or “Kodachrome.” What we didn’t know was the effect this album would have on an eventual third member of our family.
Kira was a calico named after an ornery Bajoran military officer. She was an exceptionally bright cat, easily the smartest creature in our home, and made no bones about what she would, and would not, allow in her presence.
We’d been playing “Graceland” for well past a decade before Kira came into our lives. The first time she heard Motloheloa’s accordion, however, she reacted as many a parent would after hearing The Beatles or Nirvana or Rum DMC for the first time.
She pitched a hissing fit.
We thought something else might be bothering her, so we stopped the CD and waited until later the same evening — and got the same reaction.
Remember that I mentioned that she was the smartest sentient being in our abode? Yep ... the next day we tried a third time, expecting a different result, and realized we were on our way to insanity.
And so, since that time, “Graceland” has been heard in the Bajoran-free confines of one of our cars.
Would that we had Spotify back in Kira’s day. The Luxembourg-based, audio-streaming platform (words, I assure you, I never thought I’d string together in a sentence) has created a Goldbergian system for identifying and creating a playlist for your pets based on their personalities.
(I really need to get out of the house more.)
For fun, I was going to see what pieces of music would have soothed the savage beast within Kira, whose musical talent was restricted to using the covers of heating vents as a harp, but passed when the good Luxemburgers at Spotify requested I do so through my Facebook account ... which doesn’t exist.
The current third member of our family is ambivalent toward music — something of a surprise, given how there is a cottage industry of music available written precisely for whatever animal happens to call your house its home.
Spotify (oh no, not them again) discovered in a survey commissioned last month that humanoids love to share our love of music with our pets.
It found that 80% of us believe our pets like music — classical and reggae top the list — and 71% have played music specifically for their enjoyment.
The survey also determined that 69% of respondents have sung to their pets — perhaps proving that household animals might indeed like music, but they might not be the best judges of quality.
Finally, the Spotify survey said that despite our belief in our pets’ music appreciation, only 53% of us think they have a similar taste in music — which accounts for Kira’s two-paws-down review of “The Boy in the Bubble.”
If you’re so inclined, meanwhile, you can spend about 100 bucks on the iCalmDog 5.0 — which will play five hours of “clinically tested bio-acoustically re-arranged music” for Fluffy or Fido while you’re away.
Who would spend a C-note on such a device? Did you miss the part where I said this was version 5.0?
Back at home, and unable to play “Graceland,” my mind brought forth another blast from the past.
The cat who preceded Kira, Bogey (named for an ornery movie star) had no problem listening to “Graceland.” He was a bit of a music aficionado — though his tastes traveled more in the folk-bluegrass lane.
With one exception.
Bogey had what almost could be called a fanaticism for the ethereal sounds of Eithne Pádraigín Ní Bhraonáin — the Irish singer and musician known professionally as Enya.
“Shepherd Moons,” her 1991 release, was a siren’s call. Put in the cassette (that’s a tape recording, for you young’uns) and Bogey would enter the room and stretch out on the floor.
And so, without “Graceland” at my disposal, I played the “Shepherd Moons” CD. I would have played the cassette, but we no longer have it. The tape went with Bogey to his grave.
But that’s another story.
Mail Tribune copy desk chief Robert Galvin, poor boys and pilgrims are going to firstname.lastname@example.org.