The recent passing of Andy Williams made me realize how much of my own past has disappeared. Not that he was my musical idol or anything like that. In fact, I never paid much attention to his particular music, and I tired of "Moon River" about half a lifetime ago. But he was one of that group of entertainers called "crooners," who sang mostly love songs and mostly with smooth voices and clearly enunciated lyrics.
The crooners I grew up listening to were guys like Bing Crosby, Perry Como and Dean Martin. They were females like Judy Garland, Patty Paige, and Jo Stafford. They almost never shouted, screamed, or raged.
When I was in college, a late-night radio show called "Our Best to You" originated just 16 miles away at WPTF in Raleigh, N.C. It ran from 10 p.m. until midnight every night, and was hosted by its founder, announcer Jimmy Capps. He was rated one of the 10 best announcers in the business, and if you were a student at Wake Forest, Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, Women's College (Greensboro), Meredith, Peace, Saint Mary's, N.C. State, or others I no longer remember, you could understand why.
I studied many nights to the rich sounds of Jimmy Capps' voice coming from my old vacuum tube radio, sans cabinet, as he announced each new number with something like, "And now, from Joe at Duke to Nancy at Meredith, from Alton at N.C. State to Rebecca at Carolina, and from Jill at Peace to Anthony at Wake Forest " and then segued into the sweet sounds of a romantic melody. With words you could understand.
You might be one of the lucky ones with someone who cared enough to call in for a song to be played for you. Or you might recognize classmates among the names called. But, no matter. Just listening in made you part of a family drawn close by the romantic, peaceful, often melancholy music. With words you could understand.
We thought Jimmy Capps and "Our Best to You" belonged just to us, there in that college and university cluster that was known as "the Athens of the South." Only recently would I learn that the program was actually retransmitted throughout the Southeast over 28 different radio stations.
Jimmy Capps died of liver cancer at the age of 47. Had he lived a normal life span, I fear he would have been swamped by the flood of what passes for popular music today. No way "the singing rage, Miss Patty Paige" could stand up to the shrieks and howls that pour forth now from speakers in every available spot.
This unnecessary and unwelcome bombardment is as big a headache as the material that comprises it. I walked through Publix today hoping I could somehow maintain my concentration sufficiently to locate and leave with the five items I needed. That's no easy task when ceiling speakers are blasting out what sounds like whines of pain set to a pounding rhythm.
Volume seems to be the standard by which this stuff is measured. Loud is good. Excruciating is even better. Want to have a pleasant meal in a restaurant, enhanced by good conversation? Don't count on it.
Occasionally I've paused to watch young singers competing on "American Idol." Many have excellent voices. But, time after time, I've been amazed to see the judges go crazy over the one who has volume. Voice is good, but volume is better. Understandable lyrics? Not a factor.
I realize my attitude is largely a generational thing. I'm in the cohort that's on its way out. But when I make my final exit and the angels are calling to me from the other side, I sure hope I can hear them over the noise on this side.
Robert B. Simpson, a 28-year Infantry veteran who retired as a colonel at Fort Benning, is the author of "Through the Dark Waters: Searching for Hope and Courage."