Monday, June 13, 2011

Tom Monroe: An Appreciation

Tom Monroe: An Appreciation

Turn on the radio today and listen, if you can, to the so called "music." Like what you hear? Yeah, didn't think so. It either sounds like screeching owls fighting in a car wash or it's banal teen girls suggestively singing about their "booty." Are they pirates? Either way, who wants to hear this stuff? Certainly, not people with taste and class. For you, gentle listener, I have the answer; the sadly forgotten genius of Tom Monroe.

For those unfamiliar with "the Master of Smooth," allow me to enlighten. Hearing Mr. Monroe sing is like gliding on a rainbow, a cool, crisp breeze blowing at your back, soft and refreshing, never harsh. It's that feeling you get when you take a sip of lemonade on a hot, muggy summer day; it cools you, body and soul. That, my friend, is Tom Monroe.

Tom got his start like any great artist; working hard, honing his craft, paying dues. He charmed audiences with his silky smooth vocals; as soft as the velvet walls of lounges he worked.  Unlike all the noise that went for popular music, this cat actually sang. His big break came in 1981. He had cut an album called: Tom Monroe On a Different Wave Length, full of 'popular' songs of the day, but done the Tom Monroe way. To say this album was monumental would be to say the Mona Lisa is just a painting of some dead chick. Not only was it monumental, it was a groundbreaking landmark achievement in music recording history. It was as if Tom reached to the heavens, stole some of the gods fire and etched it into vinyl for all of us mortals to enjoy.

Tragically, the album went completely unnoticed. It was as if Jesus died for nothing.

However, the album did catch the tuneful ear of one Gerry Todd, video "VJ" for the SCTV network. Gerry was always searching for new sounds. And Gerry, like you and me, was tired of the "noise," Tom Monroe was the answer. In a 1995 interview, when asked what were the greatest moments in his life, Gerry answered, "Well, I'd have have to say: 1. birth of my son, 2. discovering Tom Monroe, 3. marrying the love of my life Linda. In that order."

Gerry persuaded Tom to make a video of one of the numbers from his album. The result was magic.
"De Doo Doo Doo De Da Da Da", a song made popular by The Police, was just like any of the othermeaningless buzz. But Mr. Monroe heard something in that buzz: a song. With his velvety pipes and nimble phrasing, Mr. Monroe transformed the ugly duckling into a beautiful swan, taking flight and soaring to the heavens. The video was an instant sensation. And the nation, like a drunken man recovering from a miserable hangover, finally turned off the noise, and turned on Tom Monroe. "noise" out there;  a tuneless, vapid

Following the smash success, Tom made another video, this time it was "Turning Japanese" by one hit wonders The Vapors. To say Tom could turn a phrase is to say God could move a mountain. In this case, Tom "turned" Japanese.  This video proved, as if proof was necessary,  not only could Mr. Monroe sing , as if the Angel Gabriel had embedded himself into Mr. Monroe's Larynx and played his Golden Harp, but Tom had also mastered the visual medium. Videos of the time mirrored well the "noise" of their music with loud flashy images, usually with half dressed (or less!) women and unkempt men. Sometimes you couldn't tell the difference. But the cool, smooth confidence Tom brought to his music, he also brought to his videos. Mr. Monroe gave us clean clear images, lovely ladies, pleasing backgrounds and the handsome, smartly dressed crooner himself. Cool, smooth, refreshing; a perfect compliment to the master's music.

Unfortunately, Tom Monroe's fame was short lived. The nation, like a drunken man, returned to drink, to the "noise." Tom continued to make music, a vocal Michaelangelo crafting masterworks, but sadly no one was there to hear them, they were drowned out by the "noise."

Tom had one brief moment in the sun, a single from his album: Tom Monroe sings Petula Clark. It is a work of inspired genius, which is to say it's simply Tom being Tom. "Downtown," a song made famous by Ms. Clark, is born anew by Mr. Monroe's special brand of magic. The video for "Downtown" is here  and you might want to watch it with sunglasses on because it's brilliance is blinding. So, maybe I'll see you there. We can forget all our troubles, forget all are cares...

Will there ever be another Tom Monroe? Well, I've heard there's to be a "second coming" of a certain famous cat, and I don't see that happening anytime soon. So I think we should all count our blessings that we lived in a time when the smooth, cool, well coiffed genius of Tom Monroe graced our drab, little lives. He took our sad song and made it better.

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