Category Archives: Remember This?

Remember This? February 9?

Last year, this date kept popping into my head and I didn’t know why. Why was February 9 such a big deal to me? It’s a day in the middle of cold, boring, depressing February, so what’s so special about February 9?

Ah-ha. Last year, February 9 marked the 50th anniversary of the Beatles first Ed Sullivan performance.

That live telecast was a benchmark event in my childhood. I’ve often wondered what the event meant to others. Did girls everywhere really scream when they saw the Beatles sing? Did adults hate them? What did boys think of the group?What do children of those who saw it that night think of the Beatles now?

Remember that night?

With just one enthusiastic yell and sweep of his arms, Ed Sullivan proclaimed, “The Beatles!”

girls scream Beatles 002A roll of screams overtook Ed’s voice, a cavalcade of shrieks that nearly obliterated Paul McCartney’s opening lines, “Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you, tomorrow I’ll miss you ….”

As the four Liverpool lads sang  “All My Loving,” a camera cut to the audience: girls jumping, some pulling their hair, one crying in abject misery.

Cutting quickly back to the stage, the world got an up close and personal view of all four Beatles, each with their first name superimposed on the TV screen. The lads wore matching dark suits, white shirts, black ties, and tight pants. Their hair, completely straight and dry – nothing like Elvis Presley’s – was combed down to their eyes and over their ears, but their handsome faces bore striking differences – John’s long nose, Paul’s pouty lips, George’s angular jaw, and Ringo’s hawkish eyes.

A few minutes later, a close-up zoomed in on Paul as he crooned, “Till There Was You.” How could one guy sing so beautifully and have such great hair? It seemed unfair. Just as any girl wanted to be alone with the Beatles in any way possible someday, this boy – sitting around the old Silvertone TV set inside the basement of his unimportant little Silver Spring, Maryland house – wanted to be them. I, too, wanted to pull my hair out, but couldn’t. Not in front of my family.

I looked behind me at Cathy, my thirteen-year-old sister, sitting on the ottoman, keeping appropriate control of her emotions while watching the cuddly mop tops perform (or was she really leaning in closer and closer with each second, about to slip off the ottoman and crash on our hard, carpet-less floor).

Next to her sat Don and Doug, my seventeen-year-old twin brothers, flopped all over the couch, as if bored by the Beatles. But deep down, what were they really feeling?

And Mom rested in her chair, completely unmoved, except for a quivering upper lip, no doubt brought on by a view of John’s tight pants and crotch area as he led the way on the next song, a rollicking “And I Saw Her Standing There.”

Then I saw Dad standing there, just behind Mom, his arms folded, flattop haircut flat as ever, with not so much as one hair rising over the Beatles’ electrifying act.

What was wrong with my family?  I wanted to jump, kick, twist, shout – anything – but wound up having to wait an hour after the show to even tap my fingers. Finally, in private, while lying in bed, I patted the pillow, but that was all. How pathetic I’d look doing something outrageous like twisting my hips or dancing on the bed.

From that night on, I knew I wanted longer hair. Until I got it, I was a nobody to girls at school. Convinced I’d have hair like Paul McCartney one day, I rocked myself to sleep, savoring images of walking to school with my long hair flying about while I sang, “Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you ….”

That was my take on the Beatles performance from the Ed Sullivan Show February 9 so many years ago. What was yours?

 

 

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The Silent Fire of Simon and Garfunkel

Simon and GarfunkelI have no idea what I did to celebrate my birthday as a young teen in 1967. It doesn’t matter. I’m celebrating now. Or will this Thursday. It marks not only my birthday but a special anniversary date.

On the evening of January 22, 1967, Simon and Garfunkel played in Philharmonic Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City. Growing up in the DC area, I was unaware the concert was happening.

However, by that year of my life, I’d already learned to play the guitar, mostly from figuring out – all by ear – the chords and finger pickings of most Simon and Garfunkel songs. Their compositions inspired me to caress music, to play it with my own two hands, even harmonize vocals with other musicians. By the time I turned twenty-one, I not only knew all the songs from their five studio albums, but recognized myself as a committed musician.

How great it must have been to see and hear Simon and Garfunkel perform live, especially that night. They’d just completed their third album and were honing their folk/rock oeuvre at a time when performers, audience and excitement truly harmonized.

As I listen to the CD of that concert now (released in 2002), the banter between Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel was sparse but sincere, often humorous.  During songs, the audience remained deadly silent, that is, until culminating every song with lively applause. The stage was lined with seats in front and behind the singers (I learned later), creating a sort of intimate theater in the round effect. So many people, such close proximity, yet still so silent: one could hear the slightest off note from Art Garfunkel, or drop of a guitar pick by Simon at any moment, neither of which occurred during a full two hour performance. From this concert and hundreds like it to follow, along with two more extremely successful albums, Simon and Garfunkel were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Not too long ago, just before they received their 2012 Grammy award, I attended an Arcade Fire concert. Like the Simon and Garfunkel event, their music performance had roughly the same size audience. And, as Simon and Garfunkel have been known for, Arcade Fire relies on ensemble singing and harmony. But times have-a-changed.

The audience I was with stood the entire night. They looked up at a six-foot high stage for hours. The speaker towers blew away any semblance of nuance. To me, the concert was one long loud note with interchangeable beats in the background as the only element to provide variety.

One raving Arcade Fire fan introduced himself to me not face to face, but butt to face, from behind, that is, from overhead, as he was passed to the front row by scores of outstretched arms of frenzied fans. Suddenly finding myself in the center of a mosh pit, it was a concert I’ll never forget! But, as a musical event, it’s one I’d like to mostly leave behind from memory.

Simon and Garfunkel vs. Arcade Fire – an unfair comparison of concerts for sure. All I can say is one blew me away; the other seduced me in.

On June 1, 1967, The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released. Later that month, the Monterey Pop Festival occurred. In December, The Graduate was released, complete with Simon and Garfunkel’s signature song and smash hit, “Mrs. Robinson.” And with Woodstock two years later, pop music was evolving very quickly, and the Folk Revival of the Sixties was pretty much dead. Perhaps with it, innocence.

Even Paul Simon knew it was inevitable. In many ways, he speaks for me, too, in his words from “Leaves That Are Green:”

I was twenty-one years when I wrote this song.
I’m twenty-three now but I won’t be for long.
Time hurries on.
And the leaves that are green turn to brown,
And they wither with the wind,
And they crumble in your hand.

Once my heart was filled with the love of a girl.
I held her close, but she faded in the night,
Like a poem I meant to write.
And the leaves that are green turn to brown.
And they wither with the wind,
And they crumble in your hand.

I threw a pebble in a brook
And watched the ripples run away.
And they never made a sound.
And the leaves that are green turn to brown.
And they wither with the wind,
And they crumble in your hand.

Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello.
Good-bye, Good-bye, Good-bye, Good-bye.
That’s all there is.
And the leaves that are green turn to brown.

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Remember This? Geritol TV Ads (and a very special “mystery person” – or two)

Hey, wait a minute.

Although the old black and white Geritol ads have long since left the airwaves (an ad highlighted below), this month’s “mystery person” is still very much around television. From the clues below, try to name this iconic television performer who:

*  became the oldest person to guest-host Saturday Night Live, a performance which was critically acclaimed and a major ratings success
*  has hosted an NBC practical-joke show that resulted in three consecutive Emmy nominations
*  has received three American Comedy Awards, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, four Golden Globes nominations, a BAFTA, a Grammy, and 23 Emmy nominations with six wins
* has a Guinness World Record for the longest television career for a female entertainer
*  is regarded as a pioneer of American television for being one of the first women to have creative control in front of and behind the camera
* holds the record for longest span between Emmy nominations for performances—her first was in 1951 and her most recent was in 2011, a span of 60 years—and has become the oldest nominee overall as of 2014
* is the oldest winner of a competitive Grammy Award, which she won at age 90 for her seventh book If You ASK Me (And of Course You Won’t)
* has been awarded American Comedy Awards, the Screen Actors Guild, the Television Critics Association and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts for her lifetime achievement awards, recognizing her contribution to television

By now you know who it is – Betty White, perhaps best known for her role as Rose on The Golden Girls sitcom. At 92 years young, she’s one of the world’s most amazing and vibrant entertainers, and is still active today.

So, what’s been Betty’s secret to success and longevity all these years?

 

 

That was Betty White in 1954. Somehow I doubt Betty White ever had iron poor blood.

But wait. “Feeling tired, run down…” “Just a tablespoon…” “And it’s good tasting…” Hm-m-m.

Is it possible Betty inspired another female performer to create this timeless skit?

 

 

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Being Benjamin: “The Graduate” – Then and Now (an ode to Mike Nichols)

At the end of the film, “The Graduate,” Benjamin Braddock and Elaine Robinson are running for their lives. Darting into a Santa Barbara municipal bus, barely escaping their parents’ contempt and wrath, Benjamin and Elaine are on their way to living their own lives. Yes! Good for them. They made it. And “The Graduate” will end on a happy note.

But wait. Their jubilant smiles have disappeared. Sitting alone together at the back of the bus, they’re not even talking to each other either. Fade out? Roll credits? The film’s over? What? And who is this Mike Nichols guy?

Mike Nichols was one of the new, young Hollywood directors springing up in the sixties. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” his directorial debut in 1966, presented controversial social issues rarely seen in Hollywood films then. The following year, “The Graduate” was released on December 21, 1967 – forty-seven years ago today. Sadly, on November 19 of this year, Mike Nichols passed away at 83.

Because of Mike Nichols and the power of “The Graduate,” I saw life through a close-up lens, one that expanded a view of the world I desperately needed at the time. Watching “The Graduate” this week brought back that same hyper-impressionable Mike Andberg, the half-person who, more than anything, wanted to be anyone but himself. Sad, but true. Such is the power of film and how it can be used as a benchmark in life, for better or for worse. I had no idea at the time how Mike Nichols – through his lead character, Benjamin Braddock – would influence me in so many ways.

About to be a freshman at Maryland University, I couldn’t wait to look like Benjamin strolling around campus in a brown corduroy sport coat (just as Benjamin did at Berkeley for what seemed like the entire second half of the film. Hmmm, not a bad way to live life – to stroll, to wander, to drift.) Sadly, I wore baby blue tee shirts under my open corduroy coat, blowing away any sex appeal the jacket may have initiated.

My next goal was finding just the right shades to look like Benjamin. Shopping all over College Park was worth the effort getting my hands on a pair of large, dark-rimmed sunglasses (that really looked nothing like Benjamin’s, nor did I look any more like Benjamin when putting the spectacles on). Wearing them at night was cool, too – perhaps the best pay-off. That’s what Benjamin did.

Since Benjamin shunned the bar scene, so would I. I, like him, preferred to spend my Saturday nights gazing for hours into space, out the window, or through an aquarium, all to the introspective sounds of Simon and Garkunkel’s “Parsely, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” playing in the background.

Being part of the So Cal beatnik scene one day could be cool for me to join, but I’d seen how Benjamin tuned out the hipster crowd at the hamburger drive-in by rolling his ragtop down so he could eat alone with Elaine. That’s what I really wanted – an Elaine. Beautiful girls, beautiful dates, beautiful never-ending campus life. Benjamin (played by Dustin Hoffman) had a big nose; so did I. Benjamin got women; so would I.

Benjamin was a master of casual, deadpan reactions. He even yawned after his big kiss with Elaine. How cool and suave that act was, as if an attitude of “not really needing it (love)” turned women on! To him, marriage was a game. To him, his parent’s marriage was a wreck; Elaine’s was a wreck; in fact, my parent’s marriage was a wreck. It’s best to play it easy with love. And whatever you do, don’t do what your parent’s did.

So, here it is, many years later, and I’ve never married. I’ve also discovered treating women in an unemotional, casual, even-headed and deadpan way never really worked. Neither did it keep me from feeling deep pain when rejected. Even though I eventually dropped use of corduroy coats by day and shades by night, I wonder now how many years I felt far too comfortable as the man who inspired the coat idea in the first place.

I also wonder what took me so long to pay attention to the positive sparks ignited by “The Graduate” – my desire to go west and get away from my native east coast security; to feel the excitement of Hollywood; to experience the warmth of Southern California; to explore the San Francisco area bridges – all images of places introduced to me in the film. Yet, I waited until my forty-third year to go to film school. Forty-fifth to see Hollywood and Southern California. It wasn’t until this September I visited San Francisco and beautiful lower northern California for the first time. In part, this is what became of me.

As for Benjamin and Elaine, one wonders what became of them. Much older and wiser now, I say they probably became just like their conventional, values-depleted, money-oriented parents. Perhaps that was Nichols’ view, too (who, like many things, was far ahead of me in seeing this scenario). Mike Nichols was a visionary and great director.

I’m a film devote and helluva DVD spinner.

I guess I can live with that Mike.

 

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Remember This? Cat Stevens’ Tea for the Tillerman album (or being miles from nowhere and back again)

50s Record Album Jackets 005November 23rd, 1970. On that day, Cat Stevens released his second album, Tea for the Tillerman. Yes, it was that long ago.

As I young teen sowing his primitive social and musical oats, I was a sponge. As I listen to the album now, drops from my musical memory bank bring back each song from this magical – often confusing – album, and with them, the angst and joy of those times.

Forty-four years ago today, sometime in the afternoon, I heard the album for the first time. Those hours resonate as if experienced today.

 

Side 1

“Where Do the Children Play?”
Instantly, I like this song. And it’s easy to play, basically all written around a D chord – my favorite one. Could I, would I, might I try to play it for friends? I bet they’d be  impressed.  But I’d only do it if they sang the lyrics. Playing the song is one thing; singing the damned thing is another.

“Hard Headed Woman”
I return the phonograph needle to the beginning of “Hard Headed Woman” three more before I get my fill. What beautiful violins. I’ve never heard classical music like this in a rock album. I’m so in the moment listening to “Woman,” although I don’t really know what he means by “hard headed.” I love how he yells out “I know!” in the line “I know … many fine feathered friends, but their friendliness depends on how you do.” I can yell it, too, but that’s about my only vocal contribution.

“Wild World”
Of course, everyone’s already heard this on the radio a million times. Because of “Wild World,” however, people will know who I’m talking about when I mention how great “the new Cat Stevens album is.”

“Sad Lisa”
Oh, God, the sad piano, and more violins – the violins. Now this is the kind of woman I know, a sad girl “with eyes like windows, tricklin’ rain.” It’s like Cat Stevens is speaking for her, for me. But the song doesn’t really work on guitar. It’s a piano song. I don’t have a piano. A man needs his guitar. Without one, I am sad. Bad sad.

“Miles From Nowhere”
Cat groans boisterously “Miles from nowhere!” And my own “nowhere” groan is pretty good, too. It’s great to sing out like this. And the chords are easy so I can strum loud like an electric guitar. “Miles from nowhere / not a soul in sight / but it’s alright / I have my freedom / I can make my own rules / The ones that I choose.” My once unflappable folk roots seem miles from nowhere, too.

Side 2

“But I Might Die Tonight”
I’m confused. It seems the words are knocking having a good job, getting ahead and all that. I mean, if Dad didn’t have a good job, wouldn’t our family be in poverty? And the song’s too short. I don’t get it.

“Longer Boats”
These lyrics are weird: “How does a flower grow?” “Longer boats?” “Mary dropped her pants by the sand and met a parson come and take her hand.” So far, Side 2 has taken me aback but, as usual, I don’t really care about lyrics. It’s the music that moves me. The guitar hook that sails from the beginning of “Boats” through to the end has landed me in musical bliss.

“Into White”
More strange lyrics, but, for some reason, I relate. Is it because I like to paint and he paints, too, like he did to create the scene on the album cover? His colors and subjects – “Brown-haired dogmouse,” “Yellow delanie,” and “Red-legged chicken” – are they all “emptying into white,” as if onto a blank white canvas? Or is Cat Stevens on drugs? It’s still a good song though.

“On the Road to Find Out”
Yes! I’ve figured out how to play the opening guitar riff. It’s hard up that high on the last two strings, but I get it. Yes,  I am Cat Stevens now! And I’m playing the song out in the woods of College Park (Maryland), simulating the woodland world depicted on the back photo of the album jacket. “On the Road to Find Out” is hard for me to sing but, being way out here, no one can hear that.

“Father and Son”
Dad’s not like the father portrayed in this song. He’s not the compassionate “I was once like you are now …” kind of father. But he’s never made me feel like yelling, “From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen [to you, Dad]” either. For this reason, even though it seems to be all my friend’s favorite song from the album, “Father and Son” has never been mine.

“Tea for the Tillerman”
Tea for the tillerman? What’s that? And this song is too short and too out there for me to get into. I can’t believe it’s the title song to the album.

Some songs on Tea for the Tillerman are not me. So why does the album grab me so hard? Why? The songs go round and round in my head. I can’t let them go. I can’t let the album go.

 

That was then. This is hindsight. Little did I know at the time how Cat Stevens’ album would speak for me, free me, both musically and personally. After inhaling his collection of tunes, I no longer felt miles from nowhere. Even if I inhaled life indirectly, I at least lived more. And from that place of experience, I moved on, matured, and learned life is a celebration – banquet, if you will – of love, people, events and beauty (and that “Tea for the Tillerman” is, after all, a good song, one all about life).

“Tea for the Tillerman”
Bring tea for the tillerman, Steak for the sun,
Wine for the woman who made the rain come
Seagulls sing your hearts away, ‘cause while
sinners sin the children play, Oh lord how they play
and play, For that happy day

50s Record Album Jackets 004

 

 

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Remember This? The Idyllic World of “To Kill a Mockingbird”


Sometimes I get the urge to house hunt. I go to open house events and savor the dream of owning my own house one day. And sometimes I wonder just what it is I’m looking for, what I’m attracted to, what I’m not, and where my preferences come from.

One of my favorite movies from childhood is “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Although a 1963 film, it’s set in Depression-era Alabama. As a young boy raised in Maryland during the sixties, for some reason, I sensed the days depicted in the film were “better” than the contemporary times I lived in. It was just my reaction to the film when I watched it.

Visiting various open houses last weekend here in Santa Fe, I walked away several times feeling empty. Where were the rose gardens in the front yards? Where were the people mingling in the street, walking to and fro? Where were the houses adorned with porches and stoops and sidewalks welcoming visitors to the front door?

Cue: “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Oh my God, the image of my perfect house is exactly what I viewed in “Mockingbird.” Could I have held on to this image of hallowed house and home for so long?

Yes. That’s exactly the image I still yearn to see. After watching a DVD of the movie later that house-hunting day, I realized I wanted not just the houses, but the streets, the people, the neighborhood, the community – even cranky old Mrs. Dubose. Call me corny, but I still crave the Maycomb, Alabama, I saw in “Mockingbird” with its white, wooden houses and green grass lawns, and apparently have all my life.

Cue: the documentary on “To Kill a Mockingbird” enclosed inside the DVD case. No, the Maycomb in “Mockingbird” was not filmed in Maycomb. It was not even filmed in the South. In fact, it wasn’t a real town, but a movie set. Every house was constructed from scratch and the street built on a Hollywood back lot. What? My entire image of house and home is –  and was – built upon the foundation of a movie set, flats and scene designers handy work?

I viewed “Mockingbird” one more time. Yep – a suspicion come true. Upon closer inspection, beyond the beautiful hickory trees adorning Maycomb’s main street where Scout, Jem and Atticus lived was the beautiful Alabama Mountain Range (er, the San Gabriel Mountains just outside Hollywood). Boy, had I been duped. As a child, even an adult, I never thought to question whether Alabama had big mountains. Or I consciously didn’t want to.

And that’s the power of film, and specifically “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It took us to a quieter time in America. It also took us to a period where discrimination and ignorance were far more prevalent. In teaching his children to face prejudice in the eye, Atticus Finch tried to construct an uplifted community, not just one surrounded by the idyllic trappings of a world surrounded by white picket fences. For all these reasons, they made an irresistible world to me.

Cue: a sense of reality. I guess I can abandon the idea of house hunting in rural Alabama some day. And what have I been thinking here in Santa Fe: rose bushes, pitched roofs, green grass – in New Mexico?

I’ll just have to return to the movie and the Alabama of my mind for that house (and all the nostalgia that went with it).

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Remember This? New Math and the Old Wooden Desk

image032wooden classroom deskLet’s see. Let me figure this out.

How long have I sat in a chair-desk combo contraption like this one throughout my years of sixties public school education? (The answer, of course, is probably infinity, or something ethereal or endlessly mathematical like that.)

But to be sure, let’s try answering  the question by looking at one classroom subject – math. Based on the average 183-day academic year, and assuming I had a math class every day since first grade all the way through high school, that comes to an average of 183 hours times twelve years, or 2,196 hours end to end, or ninety-one and a half days without stop, or – worse yet – three months straight of summer vacation. Then, assuming there were six other periods a day I was strapped into one of these chairs – and I have no reason to doubt I wasn’t – that adds up to a total of 13,176 hours, or 550 days in a row, or an entire year and a half. My back hurts just thinking of all the hours spent in one of these straight back electric chairs.

But maybe it was worth it. As you can see, this baby boomer learned some pretty good math skills. Math came much easier than learning English, a subject I needed a whopping 2,214 hours to get me to read and write (2,196 hours of regular English class plus 18 extra hours of various after school remedial help). There’s no doubt reading was my biggest hurdle. For every hour teachers asked me to “Read quietly at your desk,” there was another wasted hour re-reading material, discovering I’d read passages three times already, or nodding off (attesting to reading’s serious narcotic effect if I nodded off in one of those hard chairs). In fact, even though libraries have far better chairs to sit in – even sofas! – I continue to get chills just walking into a library. Read more about my bibliophobia in the excerpt from chapter 6, “Reading,” from my memoir, “Maybe Boomer.”

 

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