By Terry walstrom
10 February 2011
The year is 1963 and I'm being dragged kicking and screaming to a film I don't want to see titled Dr.No.
My best friend, Johnny, has told me it is about a secret agent with a license to kill. Jeezus! It is going to be crap.
What is this music? No, not the awful Three Blind Mice.....this other thing...with the guitar and bebop. What in the bloody hell kind of style is this?
I LOVE IT!! Sean Connery is galvanizing and the weird theme music simply riveting.
Thus began a lifelong infatuation with a sound and a style and a mysterious emotion being wrenched out of me like no other in the music of a mysterious Englishman named John Barry.
Now, I can read very clearly the so-called James Bond theme has been "composed by" Monty Norman. I also can see that it is being played by John Barry's orchestra. For some peculiar reason I pay no attention to the name Monty Norman at all. I fix on Barry. I mark it for later. It will become a habit.
My 2nd encounter with they elusive John Barry occurs, once again, with my friend Johnny at a film title ZULU.
From the very first thundering strikes of the timpani and inexorable swell of horns my attention ratcheted up to a state of mind quite beyond reason! Why certainly! There is that name again: John Barry. No mention of Norman on this one.
Whoever this Englishman is--this composer with the arresting style and lovely way with a melody--he's got Mojo and a half!
What is it? Why does it make me feel like this?
Some people just accept things as they are and go about their business. Others, such as myself, have to know "why?".
Take falling in love, for example. Who would ever shrug their shoulders and toss it off with a casual "so what!"
Whomever had snatched your heart from you and stopped your world would instantly become the center of your attention and focus. This is what Barry's music created in me: a world-stopping event that demanded my attention.
The first opportunity to buy an album arrived one day at a small five and ten cent store in the bargain bin. It was the soundtrack to a new James Bond film: From Russia with Love. Great cover! Connery and Bianchi in a Turkish church shrouded in dramatic shadows. Walther PPK 7.65 mm pistol at the ready! Orange border with that name again!
Music composed and conducted by JOHN BARRY!
It sounds rather vapid to say this out loud but it is true: my heart skipped a beat. I was enthralled at the prospect of owning some of this potent drug: BARRY MUSIC!!
I played the album until my family threatened to send me to a monastery. I was mainlining!
The Bond films stepped up the excitement while the art films flummoxed my brain with beauteous encounters both ingenious and exotic. The creativity was astonishing. WHO WAS THIS GUY?
Living stateside across the pond from all things England I was without a clue save the few liner notes gleaned album by album. Tiny black and white photos provided a glimpse of a slim, serious face.
Like pieces of an arcane puzzle I began assembling the picture of who this young Yorkshire maestro was. Apparently there was some sort of Rock and Roll career. Odd that. The music I had heard so far didn't come close to the silly pop music blaring from my radio with the "Bop shoo bop" "Doo wah" "Bomp oompa Bomp a Bomp" and "Dip ti Dip ti Dips".
Every musician I had encountered in my life had ONE STYLE and one style only. That one way of doing things made them famous and they stuck with it. Glenn Miller sounded like Glenn Miller, Bill Hailey and the Comets sounded the same on every 45 r.p.m. and Mitch Miller was always Mitch Miller. This John Barry person sounded like three or four completely unique people who severally were pure genius at concocting a Brand New sound styling unlike any other. What gives?
As the Swinging Sixties swelled into a tidal wave of furious British Invasion estalt the page was torn from the book of Top 40 culture. America was drowning in an odd funk of soup tasting like whatever tidbit was tossed into the pot.
Above all that cacophony on a cloud of rarefied wisdom and craft soared this New Voice alone and apart: John Barry!
Birds of a Feather may flock together but I peeled off like a Blue Angel from my generation's squadron of droning screamers and twangers into a solo flight of film music devotion. There was a siren song to be followed and I was loosed from the mast. I came of age to the splendor of cymbaloms and kantala, moogs and French Horn choirs replete with syncopated eighth notes in a 3-3-2 rhythm preening away beneath gorgeously seductive melodies from the pencil and staff of Mr. Barry.
The Orchestral tour de force bonded with my DNA.
I created seduction tapes on my reel to reel to stupefy the lissome lasses and fell them sonically into surrender to the waving baton of a maestro who could awe and tame as adroit as any liquor.
My honeymoon, the birth of my children, the evenings of after work unwinding, the highs and lows of wretched life on planet Earth with Viet Nam raging outside: each and all were made sense of by Barry's music. His unique sound was the common denominator for crying babies and moonlandings; the yin and yang of presidential assassins and Hollywood decollete. The music of my life: the sideburned staffsman's uncanny concoctions.
Some men collect fast cars, great art or fine wine. I collected movie music albums in a burgeoning array of LP stacks replete with John Barry's latest, greatest incantations along with the Jerry Goldsmiths, Elmer Bernsteins and Lalo Schifrins galore. The crates proliferated and soon I was more owned by them than they by me!
Life, it is said, is what happens while you are busy making other plans.
I never planned to be a 64 year old man living in a bedsitter room with most of my children grown and a chilling obituary notice flashing on my laptop screen notifying me that the man with the greatest gift I'd ever witnessed was no longer alive: John Barry had died.
I remained numb for days as snow fell and the world seemed cold and silent outside. The silence bespoke an emptiness I'd never known. Then, I began reading the words of others; hundreds...thousands around the planet spoke up and gave voice to the same confraternity of worship I'd been unable to define my lifelong. The music of John Barry had really MEANT SOMETHING WONDERFUL without which life would have not been as full, enriched or meaningful.
Finally it sinks in.
Art fills us as light fills a darkened room. John Barry's art was the music of our soul extending the reach of our grasp.
If I have loved, I've done so more knowingly having been taught what beauty can be felt.
Whatever is noble, heroic, seductive, visceral and majestic was enlivened on his canvas of sound.
Thank God I can reach for those gifts and replay the music of my life preserved in the amber of recorded sound.
The Knack is my 18 year old self fresh out of school; alive to a world full of beautiful women.
The Lion in Winter is my encounter with God.
The Dove is my journey to a new life in California far from a cowtown in Texas.
Somewhere in Time is the death of my first wife as I rear three children alone.
Thank you John for being the ink of emotion upon the pages in the book of my life.
February 7, 2011
48 years after hearing the James Bond theme in the Poly theater in Fort Worth, Texas at the age of 16