The River's Badge

Saturday, November 17, 2018

1979 ~ Back To Real Life

I had no misconceptions regarding what work would be ~ a series of dead-end jobs; maybe I'd eventually land one with tenure and I could coast my way to retirement. I really didn't want a job. I wanted to be a mom, but President Jimmy saw things differently. Being poor wasn't all that bad, but I hated having to charge basic needs, plus the hospital let me know my five dollar-a-month payment for my new son's delivery just wasn't going to cut it. That telephone conversation convinced me I needed to find a job. Before I became a mom my work life was scattershot at best. I'd tried the real world and didn't like it. Being a clerk-typist for the state, I found, didn't mean sitting in a cubbyhole and typing all day. I had to interact with customers, which I guess was the "clerk" part. I didn't know what it was called then, but it turned out I had social phobia, which is in essence a fear of making an utter fool of oneself. Whenever I heard the front door of the State Health Department creak open, I had to steel myself for the inevitable person-to-person interaction. In retrospect, I am convinced I didn't instill confidence in my customer. I would toddle off and retrieve a copy of their birth certificate and mumble, "two dollars". I think I also said, "thank you", because while I was a near-mute, I was perpetually polite. After little more than a year I'd scurried back home to work for my parents. I quit working all together in November of 1976 and nested.

By the summer of '79, the fiscal writing was on the wall. As we pedaled down the expressway in our tin-can Chevy Malibu, I gazed at the building being erected, with a big sign out front that announced, "Future Home of LaBelle's". I said, I'm going to work there. I don't know why; maybe it was the close proximity to home, basically a zip up one street and one zip down another. Possibly it was because the one skill I was confident I possessed was ringing up a cash register. Plus I still retained the naive certainty that this place would be all my hopes and dreams tied up in an azure package; a retail nirvana. And it was part-time.

1979 began nine years of inhabiting second shift, forgoing toddler's bedtime baths, snuggling with little towheads, missing all my favorite TV shows, But life is a series of have-to's. I couldn't place Lego sets and Fisher-Price parking garages under the Christmas tree without the money to buy them and without my ten per-cent employee discount.

LaBelle's was a catalog store, which no longer exists in today's Amazon world. Customers would wander about with a stubby pencil and a pad and write down the number of the item they wanted to purchase; then hand their paper to an associate who'd punch it into a "computer" and the bored guys back in the warehouse would fetch the item from an eight-foot high wobbly shelf and dump it onto the conveyor belt. My job was to grab a hand mic and announce, "Johnny Jamsicle, your order is ready at Register Three. Johnny Jamsicle, Register Three." Johnny would step up to Register Three and I'd ring him up.

Some nights were excruciatingly quiet. Especially Tuesdays. Nobody ever seemed to shop on Tuesdays. So I'd stand behind the counter in my high heels and eye the one person in the store longingly, willing them to order something. Truthfully, LaBelle's was quiet most of the time, except during Christmas season. I would, of course, be scheduled to work Saturday days, and Christmas was the only time the hours whizzed by.

When I had my yearly review, my manager docked me for not coming up with a product display, which I didn't even know was a requirement! I subsequently visited a travel office and gave the girl behind the desk a line about a school project, and talked her out of a vacation poster, which I pasted in the luggage department, along with the words, "Flights of Fancy". Casey, my manager, didn't understand the saying and argued that my word choice was wrong. "It should be flights of fantasy," she proclaimed. I tried to explain to her what a flight of fancy meant. She finally gave up the ghost and let me keep my display. I didn't even get a five-cent raise for all my effort. I did, however, learn a valuable lesson about dealing with morons.

I frankly didn't have much free time to devote to music listening, but I couldn't escape the fact that Kenny Rogers was everywhere. This dude who'd had a minor career with The First Edition in the sixties had reinvented himself as a precursor to Lionel Richie.

The number one song of 1979:

Kenny had five, count 'em, top twenty hits in '79. And that wasn't even his best year. I'm not sure why, but I rolled with the flow. I even saw him in concert once, sitting in the nosebleed seats in Duluth, Minnesota. It was a spur-of-the-moment impulse on my mom's part. We were there; he was there ~ why not?

There were better country songs in 1979; for instance, Eddie Rabbitt:

The Dirt Band:

Don Williams:


T. G. Sheppard:

The Oaks:

I had my Bang and Olufson component stereo I'd bought on credit and a stack of country albums. Sometimes I'd come home from LaBelle's in the dark and slip the needle on one of those LP's, quietly, as to not awaken the kids snug in their beds, and relax with a cup of instant Sanka. 

And think about the pitiful state of my "career".

A Word About Roy Clark

I knew of Roy Clark, of course, since I was a teeny kid. I think I saw him perform on the Jimmy Dean Show (on ABC Television), which was, trust me, the only country music show on national TV in the early nineteen sixties. My mom liked the show, so we watched it. My dad was generally working in the fields until way past dark, so it was just me and my mom. This was long before Jimmy invented sausages. I learned from reading Roy's obituary that he had started out as a member of Jimmy Dean's band, but had been fired for tardiness. Nevertheless, Jimmy still brought him onto his network show as a guest. Who could shun such a natural entertainer?

Roy was a happy guy, or at least he seemed to be. He surely loved being onstage. He was a consummate musician; guitar, of course, but he also picked a mean banjo and strung a bow across the strings of a country fiddle.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your outlook) Roy's main claim to fame was starring on Hee Haw. I am amazed that Hee Haw only ran on CBS from 1969 to 1971. It seemed like it was always there. To be clear, there was no way to see country artists on TV in the late sixties except for Hee Haw. So I watched the show and fidgeted through the corn pone skits until the week's featured artist would finally appear. I once went somewhere on vacation with my family and holed up in the motel room to watch Faron Young perform on the show; that's how desperate I was to see some authentic country music.

Roy played his part and played it with gusto. I don't think he viewed the show with as jaundiced an eye as I did. It was entertainment. Sure, it was corny as hell, but he did get to pick a banjo and mug for the camera.

The weird thing about Roy Clark was that he never had many hits. Maybe making hit records wasn't his niche.

To me, his greatest hit will always be his version of a Bill Anderson song, The Tips Of My Fingers:

Here he is performing on the Porter Wagoner Show:

I'd forgotten about this one:

Roy had a novelty hit in 1970, which unfortunately will be remembered more than Tips Of My Fingers:

Roy Clark was a superb musician who buried his talent in eye rolls and an arched brow, probably because he knew how good he was, but thought it'd be bragging to show it.

I didn't even know I'd miss him, but I do.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

1988 ~ A Year

1988 was a strange year as far as my "career" was concerned. Life outside of work was good ~ I had two pre-teens at home who were exceptionally good kids. I had an actual house with a foundation; not a tin can on four wheels. I'd settled into a routine. I worked second shift at the hospital, but I had a trusty VCR to record "St. Elsewhere" on Wednesday nights. I liked my job. Until I didn't.

I'd been at the hospital for eight years and I knew my stuff. I could juggle new admits with nary a second thought. That was essentially my job ~ slotting new patients into various rooms. The medical floor had three wings. One was a telemetry unit, but if we needed a bed for a medical patient, I had to put them there if no other accommodations were available. The central wing was staffed with two RN's and two LPN's. Telemetry was also fully staffed. Monitoring heart patients was fraught with potential emergencies. The west wing. while the nicest of the three, was the forlorn forgotten stepchild. Only one RN and one LPN were generally assigned to that unit. Monday evenings were the busiest. Seniors who had toughed it out through the interminable weekend finally went to see their doctor on Monday and were thus in a state of deterioration that required immediate hospitalization. I always endeavored to not overload the nurses with new patients, but sometimes it was unavoidable. If the downstairs admission office was ringing my number incessantly, I had to make judgment calls. At a certain point, all the spare beds rested in the west wing. An RN I liked a lot was manning that station, and she finally, after I'd given her four new admissions, expressed her frustration (in hindsight, understandably) sarcastically. I took it as a rebuke and was hurt.

After a sleepless night, I decided to post out to a different position. The only job in the hospital I was minimally qualified for was in the admissions office. I interviewed and secured the transfer. I hated it from the start. It was too, too quiet. And dark. Between new patients, who I would interview and ask what religion they were affiliated with, I filed three-by-five cards. I think I also trained as a substitute phone operator, which terrified me. I didn't want to have to call codes. I was afraid I'd mess it up and forget which buttons to push and someone would perish due to my incompetence. On the medical floor, I'd felt in command. If there was a Code Blue, I knew exactly what to do to summon the crash cart.

I lasted approximately two weeks in the admissions department before I quit.I couldn't understand how working for the same company I'd been with for eight years could feel so foreign, so like Azerbaijan. I had no fallback. I was in the wilderness. My small-town newspaper contained approximately two square inches of clerical classified ads. The most promising was a position as a medical transcriptionist, for which I had no qualifications other than the medical terminology I'd picked up at the hospital and an innate ability to type. I applied and got it. I was wary from the start. This was a five-person office; supposedly a franchise. They had two transcriptionists already and were awaiting their third "machine" to be delivered. In the meantime, I could sort mail and otherwise act busy. I've always hated pretending to be busy. Time ticks so slowly. The franchisee was the wife of the absolute worst doctor in town. I wonder if the company's only client was her husband. Hospitals, after all, employed their own transcriptionists. Nevertheless, the two gals ensconced in front of the two machines seemed to keep busy, so I was hopeful and anticipatory.

In between marking incoming mail with a red rubber stamp and neatening up the desk, I did get a half hour to drive through the McDonald's queue and feast on a hamburger and small fry in the front seat of my car. I hung on long enough to attend the company's annual pow-wow in Kansas City, although I had no earthly idea what I was doing there. Periodically I inquired when the "machine" would be delivered and received evasive answers. I began to think the whole thing was a scam. Did they actually intend to murder me and hide my body? Why? They barely knew me!

The two transcriptionists, I learned, absolutely hated the blue-haired owner. I bonded with the typists, because who else was I going to bond with? One of them had a plan to corner the corporate owner during our Kansas City convention and "spill the beans". She recruited me as her wing man and I had nothing to lose, plus I was tipsy on the free wine. Upon our return from Missouri, Mrs. Fortman called each of us into her office for a private conference. When it was my turn, she asked me if I really wanted to work there. I reiterated my inquiry as to when the "machine" would arrive. "I told you it's on its way!", she yelped defensively. I said that I guessed I really didn't want to work there, and I left.

I was once again adrift.

The only classified I could find was for a part-time receptionist at the State Teachers Retirement Fund. I had either learned how to interview really well or my 80-WPM typing scores bowled them over. Whatever the rationale, I was hired. Granted, the 8:00 to 12:00 schedule was awesome, but the requisite cut in pay hurt. And, once again, I had to find ways to fill the time. I typed "Wacker Drive, Chicago, Illinois" on endless business-size envelopes and delivered incoming mail to various offices. In between, I tried to master the workings of the correction-tape typewriter. I had, generously, one hour's worth of work and three hours of time-filling. Plus I was seated at a cold receptionist desk with no one to talk to. Rarely did anyone stop in to see one of the execs and the phone never rang. I could have not shown up for work and nobody would be the wiser. I needed to find something better or I would slit my wrists. When I finally gave my notice, the woman in charge said, "Oh, I was hoping to offer you a full-time position". What? They, in actuality, needed no one, yet they were willing to pay me to work eight hours a day? Now they told me!

I'd found a secretarial position at Farm Credit Services. On the plus side, it was full-time. But there were negatives. Firstly, my hourly wage had not risen. I was still making $5.75 an hour, plus the drive was massive in winter. The financial company was located on the far western outskirts of another town. The only scenery was I-94 whipping off toward tiny farm hamlets. The woman who hired me, Mrs. Park, would have had to pay a headhunter to find her a personality. Another minus was that I was a secretary. No offense to secretaries (or administrative assistants, as they are now called to hide the fact that they are glorified indentured servants), but the constraints inherent to the job are scratchily chafing. I don't like anyone hovering over me as if I am an imbecile. For the record, I'm not one. At least Mrs. Park didn't expect me to bring her coffee. The previous secretary had been promoted to a tax "specialist". That would never, ever be my lot. I don't like numbers and they don't like me. In her free time, the former secretary trained me, and she was impatient and brusque. I hated her. Funny thing, though, in the months to come she would become a cherished friend. First impressions are not always prescient. Generally they are, but not always.

I eventually settled into my new position. I did a lot of filing -- big burgundy binders of tax returns. I spent infinite hours in front of the Xerox machine. I answered the phone and I tried to decipher Mrs. Park's Oklahoma drawl on the dictaphone and type letters the way she intended. The tax office was in the basement (it had its own entry), so I rarely ventured to the first or second floors and struggled to get to know my fellow employees. The person I came to know best was the IT guy, Noel, because every conceivable office machine went on strike every other day. Breaks were expected to be taken in the tiny alcove off the basement entry. Mrs. Park, a couple of tax preparers, and me. Every single day. I'd recently quit smoking, but I fell back into the habit, I think simply to have an excuse to escape the stultifying discussion of which Stephen King book my boss was currently reading.

My one lifeline was the FM radio I kept on my desk. Bob Beck did the morning drive show on Y93. He was our town's one true celebrity, except few people actually knew what he looked like. Bob endlessly entertained me, stuck out in the hinterlands. Music was almost beside the point, but not completely.

The songs I remember most from 1988 and my life in purgatory:

Of course, the geekiest pop star with the most everlasting song:

I wonder whatever happened to Richard Marx. Ballads were a huge component of the eighties. We rather anticipated them. 

Eric Carmen is not a name one hears every day:


What have I, what have I, what have I:

I lasted almost two years at FCS. I rapidly became desperate to get out. When a health insurance company decided to open an auxiliary branch in my hometown, I was determined to be one of the forty hired. I sat in my garage and smoked and practiced my interview, day after day after day. I didn't even know what a "claim" was. I knew medical terminology; my only saving grace. I was crushed when I didn't get the phone call ~ my lot was to be a farm records secretary and report to a priggish schoolmarm until one or the other of us ultimately keeled over. 

Then, out of the blue, my phone rang. I learned later that someone had dropped out and I was first runner-up. I'd take that!

And thus, after all the piddly-assed desperation jobs, I, unbeknownst to me, began an actual career.


Saturday, November 3, 2018

1974 ~ Music and Ineptitude

Hindsight is essentially useless, other than reminding us that we're (unfortunately) human, and therefore dumb.

In 1974 I was nineteen and ignorantly immature. In hindsight (see?) I realize just how green I really was. I, for instance, had no business pretending to be an adult. Society, however, deemed that a girl needed to be married by at least age nineteen or twenty. Every girl didn't do that, but most of us did. Our life's goal was to become betrothed. I remember when I told my parents that I was engaged, they were delighted. They almost clapped their hands together in glee, and muttered under their breath, "It's about time." I was still a few months shy of nineteen. My concept of marriage was having a sofa and a TV, and maybe a microwave oven. Life wouldn't change much, except that I could escape home. Truly, my primary motivation was escaping, as if that would make life better. Living a dysfunctional existence no doubt played a role. I had to get away from the craziness I'd lived with for the past seven or eight years. I was desperate. Additionally, my self-esteem was so minuscule that I couldn't pass up the only chance I'd ever have to snag a husband. (Happy ending: both of us have since found our true soulmates.)

I now think a good age to marry would be thirty ~ young enough to still have children; mature enough to know oneself.

I had a "starter" job ~ I could definitely type, so what better fit than a job as a clerk-typist? Living in the state capitol opened up a plethora of possibilities. There was never a dearth of job openings. One only needed to pass a test in order to qualify. The exam consisted of alphabetizing and vocabulary...and typing. All things that were well within in my wheelhouse. I didn't care or know how much I was getting paid for my position within the State Health Department. I did notice that my paycheck seemed to deduct a bunch of dollars for this and that; something called "Social Security" and other things I didn't understand, but that was neither here nor there. Shoot, I was still living at home, which was free, so all I needed was some clothes and new records.

All I knew about "credit" was my JC Penney charge card. Securing a place to live, in anticipation of my marriage, was contingent on what I liked; cost be damned. Payments? No problem. We perused the mobile homes on the sales lot. I was particularly enamored by the one with the black-and-white geometric kitchen linoleum and the harvest gold appliances. That's the one we got. Our mortgage, with zero down payment, figured out to be $149.00 a month. Everything else we came to own was secured through wedding gifts and hand-me-downs, including my console stereo. I did bring to the marriage a transistor radio.

I certainly didn't know how to cook, and was offended by the unreasonable expectation that I should. It was only after a fortnight of Kraft macaroni and cheese that I was informed a dinner of boxed dinners and toast would not suffice. I subsequently purchased the Betty Crocker cookbook, in a show of "cooperation". Thus began my too-brief immersion in cooking.

I soon quit my State job ~ I didn't even last there a full year. There was something (okay, someone) I didn't like. My pay was so low, one job was indistinguishable from another. Unfortunately, interviewing petrified me, so I nestled back in the bosom of my parents. They let me work for them again, not that I actually asked. I believe I just announced it. I panicked when faced with a new environment; I tended to not even give it a middling chance. Home was home. I knew the lay of the land, the arrangement of the furniture. I'd checked guests into our motel from the time I was far too young to be manning a cash register. Plus there was a lot of down time. I could read magazines, snatched from the rack. Mom had a fully-stocked refrigerator and I helped myself when I was hungry. And the motel office had a TV. It was like leisure time occasionally interrupted by work. I'd get up early, 5:30-ish, throw on some jeans, and scoot my blue '66 Chevy Impala across the Memorial Bridge, with nary another vehicle crossing my sight line. And back home by 2:30 in the afternoon, just in time for a nap.

Life, to me, at nineteen, still consisted of music. Music was number one, and if my new husband didn't get it, then that was unfortunate. I was more bonded to my little sister than I was to my husband, because she, at least, "got it".

I'd been a country music gal for so long, it was embedded in my bone marrow, but strangely, the songs I remember from 1974 are firmly Top Forty. One's exposure to music consisted of AM radio and television. There were still enough variety shows on TV that musical guests were de rigeur. I would sit through interminable comedy skits simply to see the hokey setup the show's producer had envisioned for the night's rock act, because he didn't trust that people would actually enjoy the music. Twenty-three minutes of torture simply to catch a two-and-a-half minute song. Truly, network television was awful. I guess people watched because they had no other choice but the Big Three, and the cathode rays hypnotized them.

There were tons of one-hit wonders in the seventies, and more power to them. Don't knock one-hit wonders. Do you think, I really enjoy the Dave Matthews catalog, or do you surreptitiously boogie out to the Hues Corporation?

I know what I do:

This was one of my little brother's favorites:

Grand Funk:

Some new girl singer, who'd, I guess, go on to make a movie, appeared on the scene in '74. She had a hyphenated name and was Australian, which was odd, because I only thought Americans made music:

 A song that will always scream "tornado!" to me (but that's a story for another time) was a hit in 1974:

Paper Lace had a big hit (and I didn't know there wasn't an east side of Chicago ~ geography was not my strong suit):

The biggest phenomenon of 1974 was ABBA; no question. '74 will always shout ABBA. 

'74 was a watershed year for me. Maybe it's because I was nineteen, embarking on adulthood. I'm not sure. I could include twenty more songs from that year. These will suffice. For now.

These tracks take me back to that black tile and to a time of utter obliviousness. 

We all have to grow up. I think it just took me longer than most.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Yay For Women Artists?

So CMT (which used to be a network), in a shameless publicity grab, decided to anoint all women as "artists of the year". First of all, if you've got about twenty of them, that kinda dilutes the artist of the year moniker. Secondly, who is CMT to decide anything? The only admirable thing CMT has done in the past thirty years is pick up the series Nashville after ABC canceled it.

I remember CMT when it was actually watchable. That's when the great Ralph Emery had a nightly talk show that featured real country artists, and when videos were broadcast that one could distinguish from crappy pop. Everything doesn't get better with age.

Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris, Kelsea Ballerini, Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum, and Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman of Little Big Town were the honorees. I know what you're thinking ~ who now? I know Carrie Underwood from watching American Idol all those years ago, and I know Miranda from the tabloids. I didn't watch the telecast, but it seems that the gals honored those time-honored country artists Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight.

I understand that Carrie is a true country girl at heart, but she's a slave to radio and has to record the stuff that people (apparently) buy, but I don't really admire an artist who sells out. Doesn't she have enough cache now to record whatever the hell she wants? The gals paid lip service to Loretta Lynn and...apparently that's it....and sang a bunch of songs written by guys, which rather undermines the whole #women rule meme.

The problem I have with women who claim they're all powerful is that they seem desperate to prove it by whining a whole lot. That's not powerful; that's pitiful.

For those "artists of the year" who don't know country history (which seems to be all of them), here are some women who didn't whine:

The number one non-whiner was a broad who didn't give a damn that Roy Acuff and Faron Young were on the same bill. She knew she commanded the stage, and she didn't need a hashtag to tell the world she had arrived.

So, for all you Aretha and Gladys fans out there, here is some real country music:

But just keep thinking you're "all that". Those who don't know better will believe you. 

I am one who knows better.



Friday, October 12, 2018

A First-Grader's Music

(Who are these kids??)

I had two birthday parties in my life. Two. Not that I especially cared that much. Birthday parties weren't a "thing" then. Sometimes kids had them; mostly they didn't. We weren't exactly the center of the universe. 

I don't know why my mom decided I should have one when I turned five. I was too young to have actual friends. I had cousins and neighbors. I really only liked one of my cousins, and my neighbors I knew as much as one could know fellow school bus riders. In the country we didn't have "next door neighbors". We had neighbors whose houses we drove past on the country road on the way home. But I guess they were the same age as me, so voila! Another aspect of birthday parties was that we all (most of us) wore dresses. It wasn't a big deal -- we had to wear dresses to school, so it's not as if we dressed up in our birthday party finest. Half the kids at my party lived in town, so there was a lot of whining when we went outside to do things that involved "nature". Actual open air was "icky" to some...grass and mud (!) and non-paved walks. I wonder if these girls ever managed to maneuver through life. 

In addition to our school dresses, we had (apparently) little tiny party hats, like the kind a trick monkey would wear. Granted, there was no such thing as a party store; only the local confectionery, so my mom managed to find festive paper plates and candles and....excruciatingly puny hats. 

I was soon to enter first grade at haunted Lincoln School, which was seemingly erected in the Revolutionary War period, and was slated for demolition. I believe my class was the last to inhabit the building before it was mercifully "put down". It was an imposing and scary red brick building -- a long concrete staircase to clamber up to reach the Gothic barricades. I'm shocked there weren't clanky iron knockers affixed to the door's facade. Once inside, however, it was as cheery as a medieval asylum could be. My teacher, Mrs. Fisher, did her best to obscure the mammoth green chalkboard with kid-appropriate primary-colored placards and assure us that the creaking floor absolutely did not mean that the floor was about to give way beneath us.

I'd had my run of showing off in kindergarten, but had since absorbed the rules of polite society, so I now kept my head down and concentrated on being a good girl. "Good girl" was the new coat I wore. It served me well for a decade.

Musically, not much was shaking. I was still influenced mostly by my dad and by our wondrous TV. Any tune that was featured on a television show was a sure-fire hit because we had nothing else, really. I was still a couple years away from obtaining my very own pink transistor radio. So, I plopped on my belly in front of the big screen and absorbed anything anyone wanted to tell me, in black and white.

Like this:

And this movie that played out on our black-and-white. The movie was oh-so-melodramatic, and I didn't understand most of it. It did, however, star Jim Hutton (Timothy's dad) and a girl who called herself  "Tuesday" and an actress who went on to become a nun (!), and good old Paula Prentiss, who was omnipresent in every sixties movie.

This song, by a duo who called themselves Dick and Dee Dee, was a paean to falsetto, later memorialized by Lou Christie:

Another dude who had his own TV show, on ABC, was that old sausage-maker, Jimmy Dean. Jimmy's was a variety show that featured a dog (?) puppet named Rowlf, who turned out to be the patriarch of The Muppets, and who would'a thought?

Jimmy Dean could ostensibly sing, but he did a lot of narrative songs. That was apparently his niche. This one was huge (for some reason):

My older sisters thought this song was fab. Really fab. They played the 45 a lot. If I was to pinpoint a musical memory from 1961, I'd had to give the prize to this:

I liked this one and I'll tell you why -- when you're six years old, you latch onto stuff that makes sense, like lists. This was the ultimate "list" song:

There were actually two classic tracks released in 1961, but I'll just keep them a secret, because I didn't know they were classics when I was six. And frankly, they didn't even register with me then. I had other stuff to do, like watching TV and skipping through the (icky) woods behind my house. 

I will say that I learned how to not be a snob in 1961 by observing silly girls freak out over muck on the bottom of their shoes. And I conquered my fear of decrepit buildings. 

1961 was wondrous.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Rockin' The Cradle

How far back does memory travel? I was born in 1955 and I readily admit I don't remember snoozing in my crib. I don't remember being bald, but I apparently was. I've always had hair problems. By the time I entered elementary school, my mom had obviously thrown up her hands. Photos of me from around that time tend to feature the high-bangs look. The remainder of my hair just lay in an unformed clump around my skull. I think moms in the early sixties were required to scissor bangs as close to their kids' scalps as possible.

Worse were the Toni home permanents. My mother, I'll admit, was not handy with hair, which is even more reason not to try to give her kid a perm. My philosophy of hair, then and now, is just leave me the hell alone. But I digress.

I think my earliest memory was of the time I almost drowned. I either remember it or the story was told so many times that I've simply imagined myself in that perilous situation. I think it's a memory. There was a coulee across the road from our farm, and I liked water. I really liked water. Today I can't imagine myself slashing through grassy, slimy weeds taller than me to reach a "pool", but I guess I was determined. My flashback is of lying on my back in water that was oddly warm and my entire family bending over from the bank, reaching for me. Five people. I can clearly see my eleven-year-old brother's face, and my dad's. My sisters and my mom were there, too. They all seemed peculiarly concerned. I was not. I definitely was not panicked. I frankly did not see what the big deal was. Didn't they know that I needed to do things? My nosy family assuredly killed my buzz. And, I guess, saved my life.

Musically, the charts chugged slowly. Songs hung around, a couple of years, generally. Perhaps it was because fewer records were released or simply that life moved at a slower pace. We had the opportunity to savor songs and imprint them upon our brains, which was not always optimal. We always think we remember the good songs, but we actually don't. We remember the annoying ones. The Buddy Holly tracks we only caught much later. I don't remember being cognizant of "That'll Be The Day" until sometime in the early seventies, when I purchased one of those compilation LP's, K-Tel's "Best Hits of Any Damn Era We Choose To Glom Together".

No, the songs I remember are essentially thanks to my dad and his infernal Magnavox kitchen radio.

Songs like this:

No wonder I wanted to drown myself.

By the time I entered kindergarten in 1960 and discovered that there was such a thing as "showing off" (or "show and tell", as my teacher called it), I was keen to bring records to class that I could perform to. My fellow students were mere onlookers as I executed my best dance moves. I'm guessing some of them pulled their cotton rugs from their cubbies and settled in for nap time as I sang about "making love to you".

My awareness of 1957 songs seems to have gelled about three years later (again, attributed to the slow gait of life).

My mom took me to my very first concert around that time, at the Grand Forks Armory. I don't know why she took me -- maybe my dad was busy -- because, frankly, Mom didn't like taking me places due to blushing embarrassment. We saw Marty Robbins and his band...the..."guys in the band"...(I have no idea what Marty's band was called). Mom and I sat in the third row and saw Marty perform this song:

When the show ended, Mom nudged me in the ribs and prodded me to go up and get Marty's autograph. I flatly refused. My thinking was, what if he speaks to me? I have never been a good talker. And, by the by, why didn't she queue up to get his signature? Don't be pushin' a five-year-old to do something you're scared to do for yourself. On the plus side, I did get a chance to see Marty Robbins again in concert, when I was in my twenties and had tow-heads of my own. Yes, Mom was there, too. I still didn't get his autograph. I will point out that she didn't, either.

I never liked this song, nor did I like Sonny James. I don't think Dad liked him much, either, but I definitely remember this track from '57:

And seriously? Five background singers? That's just egomaniacal.

You might only know Pat Boone from shilling for Relief Factor, and the obvious question is, Pat Boone is still alive? But he was using a sharp stick to scribble stuff in the grit in 1957:

I don't remember Elvis. I remember Rick(y) Nelson because he was on a TV show. I have a faint consciousness of Fats Domino and, most likely, the Everly Brothers.

This I remember, because who could ever forget?

My sisters could fill in the blanks better than I. They were older -- twelve and thirteen -- and at an age when music sheared like a knife. I was just a dumb toddler who took what was presented to me and called it "music".

Oh, and I remember some guy who people say "created" rock 'n roll:

I don't know about that. I guess I'd have to ask my dad.