I try to listen to Christmas music at least once each year before the big day arrives. Sometimes I forget until Christmas Eve -- because I'm not a holiday music fanatic who tunes my car radio to the local oldies station on Thanksgiving in order to experience thirty days of Christmas tunes. Face it, even though a few great Christmas recordings exist, they're best doled out in small bytes. I'm not humming along to Holly Jolly Christmas in the dawning days of May.
And truth be told, Christmas tunes make me melancholy -- for days long gone, souls long gone. For a home that no longer exists except in winter-churned memories. Why do I want to remember? I can't recapture those days. I cry at least once every year when I push play on those tracks.
So as I am wont to do, I search out holiday tunes that are either quirky or cheesy. Those make me feel better.
I also don't want to hear how certain songs are "overplayed". They're played once a year! How sick of them could anyone be? "Oh, I heard that last December. I'm so over it." Buck up! I've played Brenda Lee's "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" every December for fifty years and I still like it.
Christmas gets special dispensation.
As a matter of fact, I've discovered Christmas songs that've become favorites only in the past few years. So it's all new to me.
Like this one:
And a different take on a classic:
And if you don't like these, may the lord have pity on you:
And speaking of cheesy, there's nothing like a sweaty Elvis in the middle of June hunka-hunka bumping out Blue Christmas:
To clean your palate:
For country flavor: I try to keep my Christmas music light. It's really for the best. But if I'm gonna cry, there's no better song to cry over than this: As you can tell, I'm ambivalent about Christmas. I'm always happy, or relieved, when the new year comes. That doesn't negate the fact that the day comes around every December 25, and the music featured here makes it mostly "jolly".
Everyone has a favorite Christmas song. If you're the traditional sort, you gravitate to the classic hymns sung (badly) at church services. If you are a baby boomer, The Beach Boys might be more to your liking. I'm a hybrid ~ I'll take one from Column A, a couple from Column B, and one or two from C.
Remakes (and they mainly are, after all) had better offer either a superb singer or a novel take. Originals are rare. It's hard to write a new Christmas song; trust me, I've tried.
A long, long time ago, I wrote this:
I been thinkin' 'bout a Christmas tree I want one forty feet high Is that unreasonable? Well, so am I I been thinkin' 'bout packages With blue and silver bows And I been thinkin' A lot about mistletoe Don't get me started I'll drive you to tears With my reminiscences Through the years About Christmas By a roarin' fire If you're gonna do it right You gotta do it big My philosophy of life Pull all the stops out And make a silent night No indiscriminate songs of cheer Nat King Cole is Who I need to hear Cuz it's Christmas And it's a heady time The folks who know How to do it well Always cry at the sound Of a peelin' bell They remember The child inside I been thinkin' 'bout a Christmas tree I want one forty feet high If that's unreasonable Well, so am I
The problem with only being able to get one's music from AM radio was that once a song became a hit, the disc jockey played it at least once an hour. This is the primary reason why baby boomers hate certain songs with a passion (Take "Ode To Billy Joe", for instance. Plus Bobbie Gentry never once said what was being thrown off the bridge, and it probably wasn't even anything interesting anyway.) Conversely, if there happened to be a song you really liked but wasn't in the top ten, good luck catching it on the airwaves. If I did happen to catch it, I'd be in the backseat of the car and my dad wouldn't stop yapping long enough for me to actually hear it.
Plus I didn't know what most of these artists looked like. There were some fan magazines with tiny black and white photos of the top groups, and sometimes network variety shows would feature a pop act "for all you kids out there". I always felt sorry for the bands who were just looking for a little promotion and had to endure the mocking of the eighty-year-old host who'd made his name in the vaudeville days.
On a Wednesday night in the fall of 1964, however, a wondrous thing happened ~ and that thing was called "Shindig". Suddenly I could see all the artists who had previously only existed in my brain as breathtaking sounds emitting from a tinny speaker and tiny one-by-two-inch black and white promotional snapshots in celebrity mags. Yes, the show was in black and white, too, but why quibble? Sometime during the show's run, I switched music teachers and had accordion lessons (yes) on Wednesday nights. By the skin of my teeth I made it home by 7:00 p.m. each week, but it was incredibly stressful.
Shindig had its go-go dancers in white-fringe mini-skirts doing the jerk and...well, that's the only dance I remember...but it wasn't overly distracting, and far superior to a geriatric comedian chewing on a fat cigar and spouting, "Take my wife....please." Everyone who was anyone appeared on Shindig ~ The Beach Boys, The Beau Brummels, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Sir Douglas Quintet, The Dave Clark Five, The Supremes, Roy Orbison; even The Beatles. However, the act that still resonates with me from Shindig all these years later is The Righteous Brothers.
I'm guessing The Righteous Brothers probably made more appearances on the show than anyone aside from Bobby Sherman (I guess you had to be there.) Watching Shindig, I was in heaven.
I still had my 45's, too; and my brother's. In retrospect, the singles I liked the best had a couple of requirements ~ an awesome beat was a given. Then either a great production (yea, even at age nine I recognized the great ones) or something a little off-kilter.
These are the ones I loved then:
I have no explanation as to why that song grabbed me, but it most certainly did. I really didn't know anything about Motown. I didn't know about The Temptations or Smokey Robinson and The Miracles. I did know The Supremes, but I had no inkling that this was a huge Detroit conglomerate. I just liked the song.
This one is (and always will be) a marvel. It's the intro. How was I to know that the creator of this song was a musical genius? I didn't know who Brian Wilson was. I didn't even know that most of the guys in the group were named Wilson. I did know that they all wore red and white striped shirts. I loved this song so much that I wrote my own version, called "English Boys" (it was the British Invasion era, after all.) Just like with the album "Help!", ripping off someone else's creation is the sincerest form of flattery:
This is a mostly forgotten song that is amazing. I love, love this song. And it meets my requirement of being a little off-kilter. The lead singer's voice is quirky, almost artificial; the beat (laid down by Honey Lantree) is magnificent, and the rest of the group was instructed to stomp on the floor to enhance the rhythm during the recording process. The Honeycombs only had one hit, but oh, what a hit it was:
The British Invasion was rife in the mid-sixties. The Animals, Freddy and The Dreamers, Gerry and The Pacemakers, Herman's Hermits, The Yardbirds, The Kinks, The Hollies, Manfred Mann. People think that The Stones were the natural rivals to The Beatles, but that's not how it went down in '64. Everybody was saying it was this group that offered The Beatles the most competition. Creatively, no; but one must remember the times and the songs The Beatles were releasing. The Dave Clark Five weren't that far off the mark. And I liked them. And Mike Smith (rest his soul) was a cutie.
Some artists are flashes in the pan; some stand the test of time. The Beatles (naturally) stood the test of time. The Beach Boys, too. The Honeycombs ~ not so much.
Then there are the masters. In a time capsule a hundred years from now, somebody smart will include this guy:
I don't take lightly the fact that I was present for the dawn of a new age of music. I'm lucky. Generally I'm not a lucky person, but on this one I hit the jackpot. I'll always have that.
There was a time when I watched award shows religiously. I'm not sure why ~ perhaps to confirm that my favorites had the proper cachet and to bitch about the wrong choices the so-called judges made. Of course, that was long before I understood that awards are bought and paid for and perpetually political (I actually prefer the naive me.)
I generally was lost with the Oscars, since I'd managed to see approximately one of the nominated films, and the flick I caught never won anything. The Grammys were kind of a high-brow joke (even to the naive me) because inevitably the winners would be the industry-coronated choices (as opposed to anything any sane person would actually listen to.) "The Girl From Ipanema" beat out "I Want To Hold Your Hand" for record of the year; and you know how often we hum the melody of "Girl From Ipanema".
The Emmys were more my speed because I definitely knew how to watch TV and I was familiar with most of the nominees. The CMA Awards, however, was my show of choice. I did know my country music and frankly, my taste was eminently superior to most. Plus I was a Country Music Association member and thus got to pencil in my choices on the paper ballot.
I like to flip on the TV at night before bedtime because the hypnotic rays tend to lull me to sleep, so I tuned into the first five minutes of the Grammys last Sunday night. I will admit, I was confused. Some gal was inhabiting different rooms of a home and brushing her hair and bouncing on the bed with a stuffed bunny; and then someone I thought was Justin Timberlake (who I later learned was Ricky Martin ~ I wasn't wearing my glasses) joined her in the number and someone I was supposed to know played the trumpet. And then some other guy piped in.
Nevertheless I kept watching. The evening's host, Alicia Keys, soon showed up with four gals, only one of whom I recognized (granted, Jennifer Lopez was hidden behind a humongous broad-brimmed hat). The one I knew was Michelle Obama, and I thought, okay ~ she's a music icon. I did see Dolly Parton in the audience; the only person I actually recognized. And then I flipped the TV off.
So I can now say I watched the 2019 Grammys.
I've now decided to create my own awards, The Shellys. The categories are completely capricious, based on whatever the hell I feel like bestowing.
Best Roots Recording
Buddy Holly ~ Rave On
Jerry Lee Lewis ~ Breathless
Eddie Cochran ~ Summertime Blues
Chuck Berry ~ Roll Over Beethoven
The Everly Brothers ~ Bye Bye Love
Best Rock Song From the Year I Graduated High School:
Drift Away ~ Dobie Gray
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road ~ Elton John
Stuck In The Middle With You ~ Stealers Wheel
Loves Me Like A Rock ~ Paul Simon
Reelin' In The Years ~ Steely Dan
Best Song My Big Brother Told Me I Should Like:
The Rain, The Park, and Other Things ~ Cowsills Rainy Day Woman #12 and 35 ~ Bob Dylan Another Saturday Night ~ Sam Cooke Telstar ~ The Tornados Where Have All The Flowers Gone ~ Johnny Rivers
And the award goes to:
Best Beatles Song:
The Nominees: I'm Only Sleeping You Won't See Me You're Gonna Lose That Girl Good Day Sunshine We Can Work It Out There is no live video to be found of the winner. However, the first runner-up (Ringo) will accept the award (I have a sneaking suspicion all the Beatles videos have been removed from YouTube. Thanks. Paul.):
Best Hit From 1965:
California Girls ~ The Beach Boys
I Can't Help Myself ~ The Four Tops
Ticket To Ride ~ The Beatles
Baby, The Rain Must Fall ~ Glenn Yarbrough
My Girl ~ The Temptations
The winner (not even close):
Best Music Video of the '80's:
Raspberry Beret ~ Prince Take On Me ~ a-ha Sledgehammer ~ Peter Gabriel Money For Nothing ~ Dire Straits Nothing Compares 2U ~ Sinead O'Connor The Shelly goes to:
My Favorite '80's Act:
Hall and Oates Huey Lewis and The News Prince Phil Collins Elton John This was so close:
Best Upbeat Song:
Walkin' On Sunshine ~ Katrina and The Waves
Morning Train ~ Sheena Easton
Happy Together ~ The Turtles
Beautiful Day ~ U2
I Wanna Dance With Somebody ~ Whitney Houston
Of course, the winner is this:
Song That Scared The Crap Out Of Me (or at least befuddled me) As A Kid:
They're Coming To Take Me Away ~ Napoleon XIV
Fire ~ The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
Running Bear ~ Johnny Preston
Last Kiss ~ J Frank Wilson
Devil Or Angel ~ Bobby Vee
Best Dion and The Belmonts Song:
I Wonder Why
Lovers Who Wander
Again, a tight competition, but Dion DiMucci doesn't care, because he's a winner, regardless:
Best Hair Band:
Guns 'n Roses
I'm not a big fan of hair, except for:
Cheesiest '70's Song:
Loving You ~ Minnie Riperton
Billy, Don't Be A Hero ~ Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods
Seasons In The Sun ~ Terry Jacks
Muskrat Love ~ The Captain and Tenille
Havin' My Baby ~ Paul Anka
You Light Up My Life ~ Debby Boone
Afternoon Delight ~ Starland Vocal Band
Yes, there are seven nominees, because it's impossible to narrow this category down to five.
This one wins only because I can't bear to post any of the others:
Hey, look at the time! Well, the show has run far over its designated time, so tune in again next year for more Shelly Awards!
And all you forgotten acts, you're welcome! It's time you got your due!
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.
I've been watching the CNN series, "1968" (trust me; the only thing I watch on CNN), which was co-created by Tom Hanks, who I like a lot, as long as he keeps his politics to himself.
Need I say, fifty years ago??
Every individual's reality is their own. The series is somebody's reminiscences about that year. Minenaturally differ.
I was thirteen that year. I'd just completed seventh grade with its attendant awkwardness. I was a mess in '68 and I knew it. I just kept hoping that life would get better, or at least I would get better, but all signs pointed to no. In the realm of supreme ineptitude, I excelled. I had zero social skills. I had pimples that I tried to mask with a heavy application of Cover Girl ivory foundation, which resulted in a freakish zombie-like appearance. Nobody advised me on my hair, so I let it do whatever it wanted, and it wanted to cling greasily to my scalp.
I was skinny as hell, but I convinced myself I was fat. I stood sideways in front of my bathroom mirror and detected a "stomach bump". This made me despondent and determined to stop eating all together.
Needless to say, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were not foremost in my mind.
1968 was the year that pop culture left me behind. It's been fifty years and it's still not reconciled itself with me. And it won't, ever. We who lived in the heartland had differing priorities, different realities. I was just trying to get by, with what is now politely called a "dysfunctional family", so anti-war protests and fire hoses and things were just images on the TV screen. The Viet Nam world only touched me in the sense that my big brother enlisted in the National Guard to thwart his number from being culled from the bingo jar that determined who would potentially die in the stultifying jungle.
Side note: In May of 1969, my state became infamous for the "Zip To Zap", which was, I guess, the (really) poor man's Woodstock. Zap was a hamlet in western North Dakota, populated by approximately 300 souls. It had two local bars and not much else. Some kids from North Dakota State University apparently scoured the map and pinpointed a town name they could build a slogan around. The AP picked up the story and soon thousands of bored beer-seeking kids from parts unknown began arriving in the hapless town that had initially embraced the off-the-cuff notion as a potential tourism enticement. When the pair of taverns ran out of beer and the temperature plummeted, things turned ugly. Kids ripped timbers from the skeleton of an abandoned building and blazed a bonfire in the middle of Zap's lone street. Town residents, petrified and no longer civic-minded, shoved bureaus up against doors and cocked their shotguns; peered from behind lace curtains at the vomit-spewing, wantonly urinating revelers. Before daybreak, the governor called in the National Guard to disperse the loopy mercenaries. Our local paper, that evening, featured a jumbo photo of jeeps heading down the highway, packed with baffled gun-toting military men. And my brother got to go!
They tell me 1968 was a turbulent year, and I don't dispute that.However,thenumber one hit on June 1 was this:
So, how turbulent was it...really?
I was ensconced for the week at my brother and sister-in-law's apartment while Big Bro was away at Guard camp, and this song playing on the clock radio lulled me to sleep (and why wouldn't it?):
...when my sister-in-law shook me awake to tell me they were talking about "Kennedy getting shot" on the radio. "I don't know if they're talking about John Kennedy or what," she said. We propped ourselves up on pillows and listened as the announcer described the scene in Los Angeles in the aftermath of yet another Kennedy assassination. My thought in the middle of the night was, you gotta watch out if you're running for anything, because someone will pull out a pistol and kill you.
I don't remember if I started walking down to the local Catholic church before or after that, but I essentially spent that week in town genuflecting before the out-sized crucifix in the church's sacristy. I understood that the world was essentially insane, but I still thought it was only my world. I was disconnected from the planet at large. Bobby Kennedy's murder was just one more peg in the corkboard of my gloom.
By August, I felt a bit better, until I watched the anarchy of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago unfold on CBS news. I wasn't on anybody's side; but I was (and still am) a fan of order, and I didn't appreciate the messiness. On the one hand, I was not in favor of people getting beaten with clubs; but on the other hand, I thought these people were a bit too melodramatic. Fake outrage was born in 1968, and fifty years later, it's alive and kicking. Theater. I'm a big fan of honesty.
Meanwhile, this song was number one:
I knew, at thirteen, that whomever the Democrats nominated wouldn't matter. They'd already committed suicide.
By fall I was enrolled in eighth grade; still in the turn of the century fat brick building that resembled a prison.
My US History teacher was the same asshat who'd student-taught Mr. Reisenauer's geography class the year before. We'd all hated him because he was stuffy and joyless and grew miffed when we giggled at the filmstrip unwinding from the projector, coiling onto the floor. I strolled into his classroom the day after Labor Day unwilling to tolerate any supercilious bullshit. I had enough to deal with at home, thanks.
The second week of September, Mr. Hamann assigned us to create presidential campaign signs. Pissed at my dad and not yet realizing it, my fresh brain synopses suddenly firing, I went home and pasted felt letters to a sticky foam board. My finished project read, "This time, vote like your whole world depended on it. Nixon/Agnew." Before I toted my completed product to school, I tacked it up on the garage wall just outside the kitchen door where Dad couldn't miss it. I hovered in the background and watched him alight the two steps to the doorway, stop, scan the words, then shake his head in disappointment. I felt only a tiny tinge of guilt. Mr. Hamann, on the other hand, spying my poster Monday morning, smiled faintly and said, "That's plagiarism, isn't it?" I didn't know what "plagiarism" meant, but I knew I'd met a kindred spirit. From that moment on, Mr. Hamann and I were fast pals.
It was a little thing, but I found an inkling of an identity in eighth grade. My home life didn't get better and it wouldn't get better for the rest of my teen years, but I realized it was okay to be "me" and not a little clone of two people whose demeanor I abhorred.
So I guess 1968 was a rather momentous year after all. Even for me.
My sisters could tell you more about 1962 than I am able to. It's not that I wasn't around -- I was -- I was seven, which is an age when one is barely conscious of the world around them. I was confused, trying to feel my way in the vast universe that primarily consisted of my school bus, home, and Valley Elementary School.
In second grade my school caught on fire. That was something different. It was mid-winter, and all of us kids were stuffed into waiting buses, and then the teachers exited the school carrying boxes of snow boots and pressed them into our confused hands. I went home with one boot that fit and another red rubber boot that was two sizes too big. I don't recall being traumatized. Little kids tend to accept whatever happens to pop up. I had to go to a different school while mine was being rehabilitated. There were only three elementary schools in my town -- Riverside, Valley, and Crestwood. My class got bused to Crestwood, where my teacher commenced to instruct us in the hallway. Again, I was not unnerved by having to squat on the hard linoleum floor for six hours a day as the regular Crestwood kids stomped past on their way to the lunch room and stared at us.
This went on for approximately six-to-twelve weeks, and then we returned to Valley, which looked brand-spankin'-fine, like a blazing inferno had never engulfed the furnace room. I tend to think everyone over-reacted. I had a boyfriend, who I liked but didn't like, Jon Bush, and I got mixed up the day we moved back to Valley, and pushed him away. I thought my teacher had only wanted me to correct one classmate's paper, but she had meant for me to correct everybody's. She got mad when she saw me give Jon a shove and she reprimanded me sternly. Last time in my life I ever shoved anyone.
The big event in my seven-year-old life was Valentine's Day. We crafted our Valentine receptacles out of shoe boxes; decorated them with bric-a-brac from Mom's sewing box and festooned them with red Crayola hearts. Everybody had to give everybody a valentine. There was no quibbling. Mom chose the valentine pack based upon the number of students in my class. It was a difficult decision, however, determining which valentine to bestow upon whom. If a girl was a good friend, I gave her the prettiest sparkly heart. For Jon, I didn't really want to lead him on, but I did need to distinguish him from the other boys in my class. The sentiments printed on the cards contained subtle differences. For example, "You've Roped My Heart Podner" was far more meaningful than "Hi Cookie!" Choosing the appropriate valentine for each person in my class was a very serious undertaking. In retrospect, perhaps I placed too much significance on the process.
On Valentine's Day, when I got home with my shoe box stuffed full of hand-printed hearts, I perched on the top of the stairs and sorted and categorized my cards and created little songs to accompany them as I danced them about. I was a bit too invested in Valentine's Day.
That, in a nutshell, is my memory of 1962.
Music was haphazard. Granted, music was filtered through my sisters' tastes. My oldest sister was kind of flighty -- one could never pin her down as far as what she truly liked. My second oldest sister was damn moody. I didn't dare ask her what music she preferred, or anything, really; because she might just fly off the handle. I was her mangy mutt -- someone she was forced to tolerate, but really a giant pain in the ass.
I'm guessing my sisters didn't really like this song, but it was a giant hit. This is because radio in 1962 wasn't radio as we know it today (if anyone actually listens to radio today). Singles weren't slotted into crisp categories. There wasn't rock ('n roll) and country (western) and easy listening. The DJ played them all! And mixed them up! Right after Jay and the Americans came Frank Sinatra! Yes, disc jockeys didn't just stab a button and up came a whole pre-fab playlist. DJ's actually played real records and they picked them out themselves. They also gauged local hits by how many call-in requests they received -- yes. Ahh, so antiquated. Anyway, this single, I'm guessing, was for the "old folks", because we all listened to the same radio station (in my case, KRAD), be we seven or seventy-seven.
Much like this:
Yes, there was a common thread running through the old folks' songs. Lots of violins and a rhythm that was sort of a "slow gait". Connie Francis was a mega-star in 1962. I remember playing at my cousin's house when one of those "be the first caller to guess this singer" blurbs came on the radio. My aunt hollered to my cousin, "Connie Francis!" and my cousin dialed the radio station's number. "Is it Connie Francis?" she asked. "You're our winner!" My cousin won the black MGM single and all she had to do was have her mom drive her to the station to pick it up. I played that game, too, except all the songs I knew were records I already owned, and I did my own guessing without my mom's help. I often ended up with double copies of the same '45, but it was the notoriety that counted.
To be frank, there were only two renowned female singers in '62 -- Connie Francis and Brenda Lee -- so there was a fifty-fifty chance my cousin aunt would get it right. Sadly, I can find no live performance videos of this song (Connie is shy):
You can see why I had such a laissez-faire attitude toward music. Well, toward everything, really, but that's kind of a seven-year-old thing.
There were a few more rockin' hits in 1962; songs that my sisters much preferred. Face it, it was a new world. JFK was president and he was young. Ike probably liked Nat King Cole, but it was time to rocket into the second half of the twentieth century. Sputnik was being launched into space, whatever Sputnik was, and John Glenn had climbed inside a "capsule" and putted across the sky.
Yep, this was more like it:
Dang it, I loved this song in '62. I danced and sang in front of the upstairs bedroom mirror to it. It had a nonsense intro and harmony and a good beat (you could dance to it). What's not to love for a little kid?
In 1962 "twisting" was of supreme importance. My sisters did a masterful rendition of the dance in our kitchen one winter evening, to the family's delight and consternation. I've featured Chubby Checker's version here too many times, so here is a variation:
The "peppermint" twist was what all the cool cats did, especially in New York. You know, people like Truman Capote and Lee Radziwell. And their martinis.
The twist was by far not the only dance craze of the time. No. There was any stupid dance that any dunce could do, even if just by accident. The twist was really good exercise, but if one was tired, they could always do the mashed potato, which essentially involved simply contorting one's feet in and out. The remainder of the body could rest. Hey, I'm not a snob when it comes to dances. My generation had the jerk, which was ordinary arm exertion, as opposed to foot movement, but the result was the same. One could be their regular lazy self and still "dance".
Believe it or not, this single hit number five on the charts. You may think this is a tired old saw; the song that pops up every time a movie scene demands it, but there was a time when this was new. Of course, at seven I didn't know what a "stripper" was. My big brother knew. You gotta admit, it had a good beat.
Aside from the kitsch, music was beginning to show signs of what was to come.
There was this new group that not many people paid attention to. They wore matching plaid shirts. So hokey. I don't know whatever happened to them. Maybe I should do a Google search.
I'm including this simply because it's good:
Gene Pitney was a rock star in the days before there was such a thing as rock stars. I suspect he probably really wanted to be on Broadway, but nevertheless. This guy could sing. And he had the look -- the early sixties Anthony Perkins look.
Yea, goofball was around. Sorry, I mean Elvis Presley. My sisters liked him a lot. I almost wish I liked him, but I'm not sure why. In '62 I frankly thought Ricky Nelson was better. Aside from being a caricature, it struck me that Elvis tried too hard.
My sisters had this album. I wonder if they remember. It seems, in my recollection, that my two sisters shared singles and albums. I'm averse to that. I think music should be the possession of one person. The reason I like this song is because it foreshadowed the direction my life would go, musically. It's not rock (or rock 'n roll). It's country. They called it rock 'n roll in 1962. It wasn't:
To sum up, at age seven I was confused, befuddled. I had the beginning of an inkling of what music was -- good music and bad music. Music wasn't the sum of my existence then.
I'm not a native Minnesotan. Well, I sorta am, in a roundabout way. I lived in Minnesota for the first eleven years of my life; northern Minnesota, which is different from "Minnesota" as most people know it. Then I moved to North Dakota and resided there for around thirty years, so, yes, I'm a North Dakotan.
I moved back to Minnesota eighteen years ago, and it was strange for the longest time. I know residents of other states are conceited (see: Texas), but I've never seen such self-lauding as I've found here, and frankly, for so little reason. Guess what? Minnesota has brutal winters -- just like North Dakota. Granted, Minnesota has trees, which most of North Dakota doesn't have, but trees are hardly a reason to pat oneself on the back. I mean, they're trees. Not exactly a scant commodity.
And if I hear the term, "Minnesota nice" one more time, I'm gonna puke. Apparently, in addition to trees, Minnesotans pride themselves on being nice. What's interesting is that the people here aren't actually nice (though some are, just like everywhere). What Minnesotans are is "passive-aggressive". Just venture out on the roads.
"Nice" is a loaded term. Some people might call me "nice", but what I am is "polite". That doesn't make me nice. I'm not Mother Theresa.
My first week on the job, as everyone I encountered made a point of ignoring me, the term "Minnesota nice" kept rifling through my head, and I thought, well, no; these people aren't nice. The people in North Dakota are nice.
Once, in the mid-1990's, feeling compelled to attempt to drive in to work, even though we'd just been umbrellaed by a monster snowstorm and the snowplow drivers were too scared to venture out on the roads, I (naturally) managed to get my Ford Taurus mucked inside a snowbank somewhere between the main thoroughfare and the tiny side street I normally motored down to get to Master Insurance Office. It was six o'clock in the morning and cell phones had not yet been invented. I pushed my car door open and mushed through the snow drifts (in my heels) until I spotted a house with its lights on. I rang the bell and a stranger whipped open his front door. I explained to him that I was a complete idiot, and he offered to drive me home (I only wanted to use his phone).
I felt guilty forever for that favor. That's another component of "nice". You feel like a jerk for putting someone out.
I don't know about other states and how their residents refer to themselves. Maybe everyone is boastful (except the Dakotans -- because bragging would be...well, impertinent).
I'm not big on self-aggrandizement. If you have to tout yourself, a big lie lies beneath.
Don't get me wrong -- I like Minnesota now. Not as much as I love North Dakota, but it's okay. I had to get used to Minnesotans' worship of local TV newscasters, but I solved that by just not watching the news. And the seasons are nice; at least two of them. However, give me a rural county road any day. Much more aesthetically soothing than a battle-ram freeway.
And "nice"? That's a loaded word.
(Thank you, Zal.)
(Thank you, Brian.)
When you look at it that way, nice is kind of "nice".
I didn't begin to put it all together until I was around age nine. At nine I saw Manfred Mann and most importantly, Roy Orbison, on TV for the first time. "Oh, Pretty Woman" was the absolute, bar-none best song I'd ever heard in my whole life (to date).
And this song was profound (okay, not really), but I really, really liked it:
But I also lived in an apartment attached to a country-western bar, so I was confused. Buck Owens and Bobby Bare poured out of my uncle's juke box, while my little plastic table-side radio blasted out The Dave Clark Five and the Animals. I was warbling, "There goes my baby with someone new" as part of my little cousin trio. I had the Beatles, of course, tucked in my pocket. The Beatles were still my secret in 1964.
1964 was a Pop Rocks explosion of music. Once I moved back home to the farm, I had Shindig on ABC TV, where I saw the Righteous Brothers and Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Beach Boys. And I had my big brother -- the supreme arbiter of musical taste.
It wasn't until 1965, though, that it all became clear to me. In addition to my brother, I had a best friend who I discovered music with. I can't emphasize enough how important it is to discover music with somebody who shares your sensibilities. My brother was an expert, but my friend Cathy heard the same songs at the exact same time I did, and we reveled in our shared awe.
Music was joyous in 1965. Maybe it was partly me, but I really think the music was buoyant. It was a musical renaissance. Sort of like today's sensibilities, the music before '65 had been all message-driven. It wanted us to think (think!) about things. I blame Bob Dylan. I was too young to think! Think about what? I didn't even know what the heck the folkies were complaining about. But they sure were bitchy. That wasn't music to me. Music was supposed to be fun. That's why they were called "songs"; not "dissertations". Even today, I hate, hate when people try to preach to me. "The answer is blowin' in the wind". Okay, well, blow away, dammit! Leave me the F alone!
Even the sad, morose, songs in 1965 at least had a catchy beat.
And there were the songs that made no sense, and that was the point, A guy from Dallas, Texas, named Domingo Samudio could dress as an Arab sheik and do something like this:
I frankly thought "Sloopy" was an unattractive name for a girl. It sounded like "Sloppy", or like someone who dribbled a lot.
I wonder whatever happened to the McCoys. (I used to do The Jerk, too. Didn't everybody?)
I never could figure out why Sonny Bono dressed like Fred Flintstone. It was a fashion choice, yes, but not necessarily a wise one. I half-expected him to scuttle away in a car that was powered by his fat bare toes. Nevertheless, who hasn't attempted this song on karaoke night?
I never could quite get into the Rolling Stones. That still holds true today. I have honestly tried -- honestly. I want to like them. My husband reveres them. They just don't do it for me.
My recollection of this song is me standing outside in my circular driveway, holding my tiny transistor to my ear, and hearing a guy talking about someone smoking cigarettes, which I could relate to, because my dad smoked cigarettes. But other than that, ehh.
Shindig loved the Righteous Brothers. I
loved the Righteous Brothers. This track was produced by an insane
killer, which unfortunately colors my memories of the song, but geez,
it's Bill Medley:
The Beach Boys were gods. Still are. I didn't know which one was Brian, or which one was Carl or Dennis, and it didn't matter. What mattered were those overly-tight white pants (just kidding! But not a wise fashion choice.) This track is notable due to the fact that they finally let Al Jardine sing lead. Of course, I didn't know that then. To me, the Beach Boys were the Beach Boys. I was not obsessed with who sang what. I still liked Little Deuce Coupe the best, although that was like a foreign language to me. I thought they were singing, "little do scoop". Which has nothing to do with this song:
Back to my brother: He liked this song. I'd never heard the term "boondocks" before (or frankly, since). I remember pondering that word. I finally settled on "boondocks" equals "woods". I think that's wrong. But at ten, I pictured Billy Joe Royal singing about his life living inside a grove of trees. You be the judge:
My brother also had this single. He informed me that Gary Lewis was Jerry Lewis's son, like that was supposed to be a big selling point. I thought Jerry Lewis was a whiny overgrown child who was definitely not funny. There was an actual child in my household who was three years old and he was funnier than Jerry Lewis. I didn't actually mind Gary Lewis, but his entire recording was a fake, recorded by the Wrecking Crew, with even someone in the studio "helping" Gary with his vocals.
Of course, I didn't know that in 1965. I didn't even know, or think about, how records were made. I thought they appeared by magic. I had absolutely no conception of someone standing behind a mic in a studio. In my ten-year-old mind, a bunch of guys got together and sang. That was the entire process. It was like Elvis breaking into song on the beach -- no instruments; yet I heard them. No microphone -- his voice carried across the rolling waves with nothing but a trio of dancing "friends" behind him in the sand. It's sort of how food appears on one's plate. Somebody disappears behind a door and comes out with a platter. I love magic.
People's memories are selective. Sure, when we think about '65, we know about the Beach Boys and Bob Dylan and Blah-Blah and the Blah-Blahs. But do we remember the Beau Brummels? Well, we should, because they were on the radio all the time. You couldn't click on your transistor or flip on the car radio without hearing this song:
Speaking of Dylan, here's the deal: I didn't know who this guy was in '65. I liked Rainy Day Woman #12 and 35, because I found it weird, and weird was good at ten years old. My brother told me the guy's real name was Robert Zimmerman and that he was from Hibbing, Minnesota. Okay. Well, good. My brother bestowed this knowledge upon me like it was very important. That's why I remember it to this day. I guess you had to be nineteen to "get" Bob Dylan; not ten.
I still think he is a bad singer -- I mean, come on. Nevertheless, the man can write. This became clear to me when I was watching a documentary about Duluth, Minnesota, and the narrator recited a line about the city that I thought, "Wow; great line!" and then she said, "This was written by Bob Dylan." That's when I finally got it.
This song is preternaturally long. The Beatles' tracks were 2:30, tops. It's not as long as "American Pie", which is like comparing "Achy Breaky Heart" to "Amarillo By Morning". Apples and putrefied oranges. But it's still long. Again, I did not understand at age ten that DJ's needed bathroom breaks. I thought they just sat there and listened to the records like I did. And every once in a while, they shouted out the station's call letters and the current temperature. But disc jockeys, just like real people, had to heed nature's call, so they really (really) liked this song:
I was fascinated by Roy Head when I saw him on Shindig. This was the most rubbery performer I'd ever seen! I remember worrying that his tight pants would split, but that could be just a false memory. Still, this guy was limber!
My boys were everywhere in '65. There was the Saturday morning cartoon, which was awful, but they played the songs, so, of course, I watched it. There were Beatles figurines. My mom bought me Ringo (thanks, Mom).
(notice that they all look basically the same)
Of course, if I still had that figurine today, I would be a multi-millionaire! (Okay, maybe not.)
My boys had three records in the Billboard 100 in 1965. Here's one that doesn't get played a lot:
Another artist who's mostly forgotten, but shouldn't be, is Johnny Rivers. "Live At The Whisky A Go Go" was monumental. Never mind that they apparently didn't know how to spell "whiskey". In the early two thousands, I had the opportunity to see Johnny Rivers live, and he was still phenomenal. And everything that Jimmy Webb wrote in his awful book about Johnny means absolutely nothing to me. Mister Balloon Man.
Johnny hit the charts in 1965 with this:
Let me tell you about joyous music. The first time I heard The Lovin' Spoonful was when "Daydream" wafted out of my transistor's speaker. What a day for a daydream. My best friend, Cathy, and I skipped along the streets of downtown Grand Forks with our radios pasted to our ears, warbling "I'm lost in a daydream, dreamin' 'bout my bundle of joy".
Then there was Zal Yankovsky. Zal knew that music was joyous. I don't even have to point him out to you in this video -- you'll know him. That's how music is to me.