As a teen, the sixties rock band–The Cyrkle wasn’t a favorite. They were contemporaries of the Beatles–never as popular.
“Turn Down Day” struck a chord as an anthem to nonconformity. Perhaps an ode to late night revelers that slept till noon the next day? “Red Rubber Ball,” shall I compare thee to the bright summer sun? No way–it wasn’t my groove.
I like to think remembering details from childhood is more a sign of my OCD tendencies, than senility. There were several “hometowns” during these early years, as my father changed careers.
There were kids that stood out from the crowd–remembered because they seemed world-wise beyond their years; were bullies or neighborhood troublemakers. Johnny Farkas, from Miss Kramer’s, Garfield School first grade class, in Canton, Ohio–why did I remember your name?
In Greenville, it was the Graves brothers. During the early fifties, they terrorized my older brother with tales of Russian invasions. They took advantage, hogtied him to a tree, with the warning, “When the noon fire siren blew, the Russians were coming to get him.”
The McNamara brothers lived next door in southwest Canton, Ohio. They had things we didn’t have–a television, and BB guns. The father, apparently had, had some run ins with the law.
In tiny Medora, IL there was a family at the end of the block with a brood of feral, firebrand children. The youngest boy was three, roamed the neighborhood in his diaper–if he wore clothes at all. He could typically be found on their front porch smoking smelly cigars.
Why did some of these little geniuses have all the answers about birds-and-bees? Not that the information given was accurate. Repeating their risqué jokes risked being overheard, and subsequent punishment. Were you one of those guys–Johnny Farkas?
What sort of music was played in your house when you were growing up? What effect did it have on your musical tastes?
“Everything But the Kitchen Sink”
My mother played piano and was a talented vocalist. All, of us four children, had the opportunity to take music lessons. Consequently, I was surrounded by an eclectic mixture of musical genres. Piano lessons with Mrs. Ryan didn’t work out for me. My attention span was too short.
Mom and Dad were active in the church. Mom practiced gospel songs on our spinet piano in the living room. My two brothers and sister, practiced piano lessons. Later, came band instruments–clarinet, flute, and trombone. The air was filled with endless clumsy renditions of “Chopsticks” along with screeching sounds from wind instruments in the hands of neophyte musicians.
Father watched the “Lawrence Welk Show” every Saturday night. They had an ensemble group called the “Hotsy-Totsy Boys.” As a teen, that was the epitome of weirdness. Perhaps, my father relived memories of playing baritone saxophone in high school dance band. When “Hee-Haw” was popular, Dad became a fan of corny humor and country music.
Just about every type of music was played in our house. Mom chose from a vast collection of sheet music–ragtime, jazz, show tunes, movie theme songs, gospel, classical, polka, folk, rock–and I’m probably leaving something out. My father hated rock music. Mother liked some of the tamer rock tunes–especially ballads.
There was a local rock DJ in the fifties, that played “Hot Rod Lincoln” all night and locked himself in the studio as a publicity stunt. Of course my brothers and I couldn’t resist listening to this madness. My father almost came unglued, as he shouted for us to “Turn off that racket and go to sleep!” for the umpteenth time.
Dad liked big bands. Good music, and musicianship, transcends generations. And, doggone it, the Lennon Sisters were cool. I liked Myron Floren, and others on “The Lawrence Welk Show”–just couldn’t admit it to my friends.
My playlists, now include a little bit of everything, from–“Swinging On a Star,” by Bing Crosby, to Buck Owens,’ “Loves Gonna’ Live Here Again,” to, “When nothing else could help, Love Lifted Me,” to, “Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie.” I’ll be lulled to sleep tonight, by Beethoven’s, “Moonlight Sonata.”
That’s all servicemen and women wanted–respite from harsh realities of war. Reminders of home came in different forms–movies, USO shows, books, and music. Music, sweet big-band music, assured that all was well. There was still a place called home and someday this madness would end.
Nino Temple and April Stevens did a sixties cover version of “Deep Purple.” Like, just about every aspiring guitar player, I aspired to master Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.” Coincidentally, the rock group adopted “Deep Purple” as their name. My mother didn’t particularly like top-forty rock music–mostly ignored it. Dad simply dismissed all rock music as “noise.”
It wasn’t cool for rebellious teenagers to like their parent’s music and vice versa. Big bands and swing music characterized the previous generation just as rock did for my generation. Mom mentioned that “Deep Purple”–as sung by Helen Forrest to the accompaniment of the Artie Shaw Band, was one of her favorites. Then, she sang along with the April Stevens and Nino Temple version playing on my transistor radio. She remembered every word–I was stunned! This would remain our little secret.
“Deep Purple,” by Helen Forrest album cover
Lest my nostalgic bent get the better of me–I’ll get to the point. What songs brought back memories for my parents? Was “Deep Purple” their song? Had my mother and father slow danced to the big band version of this song? In my mind’s eye, I could picture the two of them, as they danced–gazed into each other’s eyes. Promised their love would last forever.
Popular music of the forties wasn’t always about sweetness and romance. Several popular tunes had darker meanings. For example: “Flat Foot Floogie” and “Minnie the Moocher” were about unsavory characters. The original title “Flat Foot Floozy” was changed to something deemed more appropriate. There were several wonderful novelty songs, among them, “Three Little Fishes,” “Cement Mixer,” “Swinging on a Star.” The latter, my mother sang to me as a child.
My mother sang and played piano. At family singalongs voice quality was secondary to enthusiastic participation. It’s funny how music brings back memories–of people, places, events, moods–even smells. “That’s What Friends Are For,” was written by Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager, for the Disney movie “Fox and Hound.” The song is perhaps best remembered in a benefit performance by Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder during the mid-eighties.
–Keep smiling, keep shining Knowing you can always Count on me For sure That’s what friends are for For good times and bad times I’ll be on your side forever more That’s what friends are for–
“For good times and bad times–I’ll be on your side forever more.” Those words, described my mother’s giving spirit–she’d been a war bride, teacher, mother to four children, and a good friend. These words comforted me, after her death in January of 1986–and applied to the greatest generation. Through good times and bad times they pulled through. Most importantly, they left the world a better place for having been here.
Write whatever you normally write about, and weave in a book quote, film quote, or song lyric that’s been sticking with you this week.
I may, yet, be committed to the “Home for the Terminally Nostalgic.” Until that day happens, I can’t help but think, that in several ways, personal electronic devices enslave us, make us work more, and communicate less interpersonally.
Before the internet, there were movies, television and radio–all served to mass-culturize and make the world a little smaller. In the not-too-distant future there won’t be anyone that remembers what pre-internet days were like. Some days, I could do without the excessive drama, in my hectic, twenty-first century, day-to-day life.
Would the world go on without an internet? For some people it already does. From today’s “New York Times” the
“Quote of the Day,” “For me, internet doesn’t exist. I’ve never seen it. I don’t know what it does.” From Ana Marie Hernandez, a retired nurse in Cuba, where web access is rare and costly.
Maturity is not always what it’s cracked up to be, either. When I was addressed as “Sir” on a regular basis, I knew the express train to Geezerville had left the station. There’s a finiteness about being sixty-something. It calls for savoring every day–finding things to be grateful for. I would like to go back to a simpler time–especially when my gadgets go kaput and I can’t fix them. There’s no way, I now, could handle teenage angst. Maybe that’s why it’s visited on the young? When did it happen? When did I become predictable, dependable, responsible, and logical? The lyrics, steadfastly sticking with me, are from “Supertramp’s” “Breakfast in America” album.
“THE LOGICAL SONG”
When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful A miracle, it was beautiful, magical And all the birds in the trees Well they’d be singing so happily, joyfully, playfully Watching me, but then they sent me away To teach me how to be sensible, logical, responsible, practical And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable Clinical, intellectual, cynical There are times when all the world’s asleep The questions run too deep for such a simple man Won’t you please tell me what we’ve learned I know it sounds absurd, but please tell me who I am
I said now, watch what you say, now we’re calling you a radical A liberal, fanatical, criminal Won’t you sign up your name, we’d like to feel you’re acceptable Respectable, presentable…