One Voice

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I’ve always been good at remembering silly trivia

For the life of me, there have been subjects involving a great deal of memorization — like foreign languages — that I have never been able to learn.

Maybe that’s because an incredible amount of the space in my brain has been devoted to remembering things I never wanted to remember, like titles, artists and even lyrics to nearly every song I heard of the radio between about 1965 and 1975.

Around 1972 or ’73, my friends and I used to go to the Campus Club, a basement beer joint at George Washington University. They rarely had a band, usually just a soundtrack of oldies. One of the games we played was seeing who could identify a new song first. I usually won, and my most shining moment — I can name that tune in one note — came when I got “Light My Fire” by the doors just as it started.

It’s funny how we remember the tiniest of triumphs when we don’t have major ones to remember. It sort of reminds me of the person who said the reason faculty politics are so vicious is that there is so little at stake.

I haven’t played that game it at least 30 years, other than listening to the radio when I’m in the car alone by myself and I have an oldies station on. It might surprise some people who know me, but I listen to Sixties music a lot less than I once did. I almost always still know the song, but there are more times than there once were that the name of the group doesn’t come to mind at all.

The other afternoon I was in the car, and a song with a fairly extensive instrumental lead-in started playing. It didn’t register at first. It certainly wasn’t a major hit by a major group. But all of a sudden, I found myself thinking … “Alice Long,” by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, from ’68 or ’69?

That’s exactly what it was. A song that only got to No. 27 on the Billboard survey in the summer of 1968. A song I never really liked, a song I never really thought much about.

Damn.

I’ve still got it.

And I still speak only one language.

 

posted by Mike in baby boom,Happiness,memories,Music and have No Comments

Just a song on the radio, but it lasts forever

When I was in high school in the mid ’60s, I didn’t watch much television.

I listened to the radio nearly all the time, especially in the evening when I was trying to fall asleep. My clock radio only got AM, and with directional broadcasting at night, I wasn’t able to get either of the two big rock ‘n’ roll stations in the Washington, D.C., area — WEAM/1390 or WPGC/1580.

That forced me to pick up stations from hundreds of miles away, some of which came in pretty well all the time and others that I had to struggle to get. I listened to WKBW out of Buffalo, WCFL (“The voice of labor”) out of Chicago and CKLW from Windsor, Ontario, across the river from Detroit. On occasion I was able to get a good signal for WLS in Chicago or WABC in New York, which featured the legendary Cousin Brucie.

Those stations were all pretty much Top 40, but eventually I discovered WBZ in Boston. It had one of the most powerful signals of all the East Coast stations, and rumor had it that when the atmospherics were right, it could even be heard in England.

WBZ was much more eclectic, playing a lot more British Invasion stuff and also a lot of what would be called folk music now. I first heard Tom Rush on WBZ, and his performance of Joni Mitchell’s “Urge for Going” puts me back into that time and place in a way few songs of that period do.

Those were the days, when Rush didn’t mean Limbaugh, and when I heard him do “Ladies Love Outlaws” in 1974, I knew it was another song I would never forget. It’s on my iPod now, and on several of my playlists.

In Stephen King’s wonderful “Hearts in Atlantis,” the closest he ever came to writing about the ’60s, he refers to the music we grew up with as “the fabled automatic,” for the good feeling it always gives us to hear it. And while there are too many songs from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s that I have heard too many times to ever enjoy them again, there are dozens of others that put me directly into the place and time where I heard them.

And when you’re coming up on your Social Security years, it’s nice to be able to do that once in a while.

 

 

 

posted by Mike in Americana,baby boom,Happiness,memories,Music and have No Comments

What was that about the best-laid plans …

I was working my way through “War and Remembrance” tonight when I came across a scene that was particularly poignant, even though it didn’t have a lot to do with the main plot.

Rhoda Henry, the long-time wife of the main character, is having trouble sleeping, so she goes downstairs and puts a record on the phonograph. While she smokes a cigarette and looks at faded pictures from when she was a young wife, she listens to a scratchy recording of a song she loved when she was still young and full of dreams. At this point in the story, she has lost one of her two sons in the war and her marriage is falling apart.

You can almost see her thinking that things really didn’t turn out the way she always thought they would.

Rhoda with Palmer Kirby

Do they for anyone?

Does anyone reach 50 anymore and look back to see the steps of their life lined up exactly the way they planned them when they were 17?

When I look at the lives of my closest friends, I’m pretty certain that most of them didn’t quite wind up with what they planned.

I have one friend who may be the most talented person I know. He works as hard as anyone I know, but he hasn’t had a full-time job with benefits for more than 10 years. I have written this before, but I’ll say it again. Three of my four closest friends have gone through personal bankruptcies. Nobody plans for that.

Two of my closest friends never had children, and I can only imagine how much less wonderful my life would have been without Pauline and Virgile.

At least none of my friends are alone in the world. All either have wives or are living with women in committed relationships. I certainly can’t even imagine at this point what it would be like to be alone at age 61 and beyond.

I was certainly disappointed that after about 20 good years, my career as a journalist suffered through setbacks and then termination because I wound up working for people who weren’t competent.I was out of work at 58, right at the worst time possible to be out of work. I became one of the 99ers, the folks who collected unemployment for nearly two years but couldn’t find work.

Go figure.

But it’s still too early for a retrospective. There are still things I hope to accomplish, people I want to meet, places I want to go.

Just because little of it was what I planned when I was young, that doesn’t make it worse.

It just means maybe I didn’t have the best plan back then.

Hey, who does?

 

 

posted by Mike in Family,Friends,Future,Happiness,memories and have Comment (1)

YouTube comes through again with another memory

I don’t know if I could explain to my children what things were like in the days before VCRs, DVD players and the Internet, especially YouTube.

You might see something on television that you really enjoyed, and the only way you could remember it was, well, in your memory. You couldn’t tape it, or burn a disc with it, or save it to your hard drive. In fact, you might never see it again. I remember seeing Sarah Brightman on the Tonight Show in 1991, singing a very cute little song about visiting Beverly Hills, and although I bought numerous albums by her over the years, I never found that song until I looked for it on YouTube two or three years ago.

Just last night, I was listening to Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.,” and it brought to mind a parody of the song that was being played on the Denver television stations when I moved there in the fall of 1986. “I Love Elway” was a tribute to the Broncos’ great quarterback, and it featured local folks saying, “We love him,” including the mayor of Denver and the governor of Colorado.

I don’t think I saw the video more than once or twice, and then it slipped from my mind until yesterday. I checked YouTube, and although the video I found was of really poor quality, it was that great song that I remembered. I know I have said before that John Elway was the best athlete I ever saw in person — and yes, I saw Michael Jordan several times — but I don’t think I’ve said that I never enjoyed my job as much as I did on those autumn Sundays or Monday nights at Mile High Stadium.

Being in the middle of 76,000 screaming fans, nearly all of them living and dying with the success or failure of the Broncos, I’m not sure it was ever any better than that.

It has been a long time since I cared about the National Football League, and at least part of that is that the two teams I always cared about — the Broncos and the Washington Redskins — haven’t been good for a long time.

I stopped covering sports in 1996, and after that I allowed myself to become more of a fan. I never asked for autographs when I was a sportswriter, and there are several great athletes I met that I really wish I had been a little less professional and gotten them to sign for me. As it is, I’ve got my case of a dozen baseballs, I’ve got a photograph of Secretariat winning thew 1973 Belmont Stakes signed by jockey Ron Turcotte, and I’ve got my orange Elway jersey on the wall.

"I Love Elway"

It’s funny. About five years back, when I was working as a business editor at my last newspaper, I had the chance to meet Elway again at the opening of John Elway Toyota in Ontario, Calif. I didn’t ask him for an autograph, but I did get the chance to tell him how much I had enjoyed watching him play.

He had been retired for some years, and it had been 20 years since I had seen him in Mile High Stadium.

But it’s nice to know that good memories last.

Yes, they last.

posted by Mike in Colorado,Denver Broncos,football,John Elway and have No Comments

Something very special about ’66-67 music

The fabled automatic

In Stephen King’s book “Hearts in Atlantis,” he wrote about the feeling baby boomers of a certain age get from listening to music from the ’50s and ’60s. He called it “the fabled automatic,” since it never fails to bring back the feelings associated with the time it was first heard.

During the years I spent in high school, from the fall of 1963 to the summer of 1967, I was pretty well obsessed with the music. I remember during my sophomore year, my friend John McIntyre and I made top forty lists every week based on the music we heard at night from far-off WBZ in Boston, WKBW in Buffalo or occasionally — when the atmospherics were right — WLS in Chicago.

On Tuesday nights we listened to Cousin Brucie’s countdown on WABC in New York, and I remember picking up WCFL (“The Voice of Labor”) out of Chicago and CKLW from Windsor, Ontario.

By 12th grade I wasn’t listening quite as much, but for some reason, songs from that year — 1966-67 — resonate with me in a really special way.

That was the year I was finally 16 — I had skipped a grade in elementary school — and I was getting out of the house a little more than in the past. During the winter, I was playing in the band for the Extravaganza and then in the pit band for the senior class play, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”

We would rehearse in the evenings and then some of the time, before heading home, some of us would stop off at Cleve’s Pizza at Fairfax Circle for pizza or steak sandwiches. The juke box would always be on, and the two songs that seemed to be playing all the time were Tommy James and the Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now” and Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music.”

For some reason, the line we always perked up at was “Spotlight on James Brown.”

It still makes me smile every time I hear it, and I downloaded it from iTunes tonight to put it on my super-eclectic iPod.

But that’s not the purpose of this post. This post is about the way songs from that year resonate with me, in an almost mystical way. When I hear certain songs from that time, songs like the Happenings’ “I’ve Got Rhythm” or Lou Christie’s “Rhapsody in the Rain,” I swear I can close my eyes and almost believe it is that time and that I’m 16 or 17 years old again. I almost believe that if I closed my eyes long enough and concentrated hard enough, I could open them and be sitting in my bedroom in Mosby Woods or in a booth at Cleve’s Pizza waiting for my steak sandwich.

It is odd. There’s no other time that can make me feel this way. I don’t hear “My Baby Loves Lovin’” and feel I could step into 1970 with Shelley Marcus or hear “Heartache Tonight” and feel I could step into the 1980 GMU dance marathon with Lisa McGrady. Those are memories and good ones, but they don’t have the same, oh, texture as the music of ’66-’67.

I’m getting weird in my old age.

posted by Mike in baby boom,Happiness,memories,Music and have No Comments

Of life’s best memories, tough to pick just one

Some years back, I took my wife to see what turned out to be a really fascinating movie.

It was a Japanese film, which sort of meant it had to be something special for me to give it a go. I don’t mind foreign language films, but generally I prefer languages with which I have some familiarity, languages that don’t sound “wrong” to my ear. German, French, Spanish and Italian are fine, because I can recognize words from time to time. There’s no chance of that happening with Asian languages, but I had heard that “After Life” was good and I wanted to see it.

After Life

The movie was based on an interesting premise of what heaven is.

The idea is that when you die, you go to a way station and speak with a counselor to pick the single best memory of your life. Once you decide, that ends up being the one thing you live over and over again until the end of time.

I can tell you that it would be a difficult choice, although I can say without hesitation that I would want it to be something that included my wife and my two children. It might be something as simple as Christmas Day 2009, a day that I spent with Nicole, with Pauline and Virgile and with their two spouses and my lovely little granddaughter Maddie.

It’s tough to come up with many days that include all those people. The only other significant one I can remember is Virgile’s wedding day, which was a lovely day also.

But I remember the scene in “Our Town,” when Emily — who has died — goes back to see one day from her life. She is urged to pick a day that isn’t particularly special, and she picks a winter morning in high school.

She is overwhelmed by it all and asks if any living people actually know how wonderful life is while they’re living it. The answer comes to her. “A few of the saints, maybe.”

Virgile and Maddie, Christmas 2009

I have had so many wonderful things happen to me in my life, and I know some of them slipped by without my knowing just how special they were.

But I do understand, like Emily, that the truly memorable times aren’t the big events. I’ve been to the Super Bowl, to the World Series and to two NCAA Final Fours. I’ve seen the Rolling Stones, Crosby Stills Nash & Young and Bob Dylan in concert, among others.

I have been blessed with the love of an amazing woman and two incredible children, and it’s those two children who fill me with more pride than I could ever have imagined feeling.

I have had wonderful friends, lifelong friends who have been better friends to me than I have been to them.

I have experienced an abundance of God’s grace, and if I haven’t always gotten everything I wanted, I have gotten far more than I deserve.

Life really is truly wonderful.

posted by Mike in Family,Friends,Happiness,love,Movies and have Comment (1)

Christmas always seems to make me feel nostalgic

For some reason, Christmas is the time of year when I become the most nostalgic about the past. And Christmas nostalgia almost always means one thing to me.

Crestline.

My Christmases were never whiter, the air never colder and crisper and the Christmas cookies never better tasting than they were in the small town in north central Ohio where my grandparents lived and where my mother was born. My earliest Christmas memory is of 1953 — I think — when I found a Lionel electric train set waiting for me under the tree, but I also remember going to Christmas Eve services at the old church my grandmother attended and riding out to the newer homes on the west end of town to see the Christmas lights.

Crestline was one of those wonderful little railroad towns that did so much for the troops during World War II. Bob Greene wrote a book about North Platte, Neb., and the canteen for soldiers who were passing through on their way to combat, but there were a lot more towns than North Platte doing the same thing. Crestline served food and drinks to more than 1.2 million soldiers from 1942-46, and just like the other canteens, all the food was donated and given away for free.

The Crestline canteen

It makes me sad to think that I both loved and ridiculed Crestline so much when I was younger. I treasure the memories of the times I spent there, but I remember thinking how horrible it would be to live in a town that was too small even to have a fast-food restaurant until the 1970s.

I usually spent two weeks there each summer, and I spent most of that time reading books I checked out of the small library and playing ball in the park. Crestline was small enough that I was able to walk everywhere I went, and I walked all the time. I remember picking up pop bottles and turning them in to get money to buy comic books and baseball cards. I wonder what happened to all those late ’50s and early ’60s comic books and baseball cards. They’d probably be worth quite a bit now.

There’s a great irony in the fact that all those times in Crestline, I dreamed of living in big cities, but after 20 years in one of the biggest — Los Angeles — my choice in retiring was to move to a small city in the South.

Griffin is four times the size of Crestline, and it’s just 10-15 minutes outside the Atlanta metropolitan area, but it has a lot more in common with Crestline than it does with Atlanta or Los Angeles.

I wonder if that’s why it feels like home to me.

posted by Mike in Americana,Family,Happiness,Holidays,retirement and have No Comments

Lovely Belafonte songs bring back some memories

I was listening to a Genius mix on iTunes, which I find fascinating. I pick a song and then iTunes puts together a playlist from my other music of 24 other songs that somehow relate to it.

Harry Belafonte

I’ve got more than 5,000 songs on my computer, so there are some fascinating choices. The particular playlist I had, which started with a Pete Seeger song, also included a couple of Harry Belafonte classics from the ’50s — “Jamaica Farewell” and “Island in the Sun.”

I was surprised at my reaction to them. They’re both songs I have always loved, but for some reason tonight I got tears in my eyes and started thinking about my dad.

It has been 2 1/2 years since my father died at the age of 82, and I find myself thinking about him more and more as I get older. It is one of the tragedies of my life that I never really connected with him during my childhood, that I rarely appreciated him for what he was and seemed far too willing to criticize him for what he wasn’t.

One thing I still remember — more than 50 years later — was how our house was always full of good music. I heard all the Harry Belafonte songs I love now when I was 6 or 7 years old. My dad played them, along with Pete Seeger and all sorts of other wonderful stuff I’m sure I have long since forgotten.

When I hear “Jamaica Farewell,” it’s almost like I’m back in our little house on Harshmanville Road in Huber Heights, Ohio, the first house my parents owned. I remember the art on the walls and the music from the hi-fi. I never heard much ’50s rock ‘n’ roll during the 1950s, although for some reason I do remember “The Purple People Eater.”

The first year I remember listening to rock music was 1962, when I was 12 and I had won a small table radio by selling a lot of band candy. By then I was 12 and having all sorts of problems. I think it was a lot simpler when I was 7 and listening to my dad’s music.

posted by Mike in baby boom,Family,Happiness and have No Comments

California beaches make life special.

A lot of people probably think that if you live in Southern California, you spend a lot of your spare time at the beach. After all,a very large majority of folks in our state live within 100 miles of the Pacific Ocean, and more than 10 millions in the Los Angeles area are within 50 miles of the coast.

Through the hills to Malibu

Through the hills to Malibu

I’m trying to think right now of the last time I got sand in my shoes or got my swimsuit soakedĀ  with salt water, and I’m pretty sure it hasn’t been this year. You see, the part of L.A. that people think of as L.A. is only a small part of the nation’s second largest metropolitan area.

I worked in San Bernardino County — about 60 miles inland — for nearly 18 years, and if you were to take the palm trees away from cities like Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga or San Bernardino itself, you might as well be somewhere in the Midwest or the South.

Going to the beach is more a road trip than it is a way of life.

As far as road trips go, though, heading to the beach isn’t a bad one, as these slides from YouTube show.

I don’t know if I could pick a favorite beach, although there are several that will live in my memories long after California is in my rear-view mirror. The ones around Malibu are wonderful, clean and not too crowded most of the time. Manhattan Beach and Santa Monica Beach are two that I have enjoyed walking with my lovely wife time and again.

I do suppose I have a soft spot for Huntington Beach, which was only about eight miles from my first apartment when I came to Los Angeles. Huntington Beach is the “Surf City” of which Jan and Dean sang. I haven’t fulfilled my promise to myself of learning to surf yet, but I think we’ll still be here next summer and I’ll get another chance.

We here in the Southland may not spend all our time in the sunny surf, but we’re not stupid. We know that without the ocean and all those lovely beaches, heck, we might as well be Texas.

posted by Mike in California,Happiness,Hobbies and have No Comments
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