Archive for The Way We Were

It seemed funny at the time

And then I ordered a couple of sheets of them, which diminished the humor factor by about 13 percent:

US postage stamp - Repeal of the Stamp Act

Of course, this had nothing to do with postage, or, for that matter, the United States of America, which did not exist as such in 1766. The Act itself — well, this was its title in Parliament:

An act for granting and applying certain stamp duties, and other duties, in the British colonies and plantations in America, towards further defraying the expenses of defending, protecting, and securing the same; and for amending such parts of the several acts of parliament relating to the trade and revenues of the said colonies and plantations, as direct the manner of determining and recovering the penalties and forfeitures therein mentioned.

Passed on the 22nd of March 1765, the Act went into effect in November and set the standard for Unpopular Legislation in the colonies. In February 1766 Parliament voted to repeal the tax; George III gave his assent the following month. Imagine that: getting rid of an unpopular law.

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Life during wartime, sort of

A lot of things changed in World War II, and a lot more didn’t. Consider this 1943 advertisement for Claussner hosiery:

Claussner Hosiery ad 1943

At this point in time, all the good fabrics are being used for parachutes and such, leaving our Fashionable Woman making some compromises:

“Ration fashion, and the war-time woman emerges slim and effective as a magic wand! She accepts regulation as a challenge to her chic, counts on ingenuity to provide style innovations that laugh at limitations.”

Well, okay, if you say so.

While she’s made wardrobe adjustments, the young fellow earning his nickel is doing what young fellows were doing three years before — with the exception of having to submit to price controls, of course. Most of his customers, I suspect, are men, which might explain his apparent delight in having a woman visit his stand. I’ve been down this road myself; when I was in the Army, circa 1972, there was a female in the battalion who had me shine her shoes on a regular basis, since (1) I had a wooden box just like that, with a place to rest her foot, and (2) I did a pretty good job shining shoes. I didn’t even charge her 12 cents (a nickel after 29 years’ inflation) for it, and she was perceptive enough not to ask why. (Still have that box, by the way.)

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From the top-center square

Rose Marie put this up yesterday:

And a couple of hours later, she was gone.

At least she was around for this:

Meanwhile, in the little Writers’ Office at The Alan Brady Show:

Sally Rogers: … and Alan says, ah, “Good night, folks, and remember, if you find yourself in hot water, take a bath.”

Maurice B. “Buddy” Sorrell: Good! Good, I like it. Oh, wait a minute!

Sally: What?

Buddy: We can’t do it.

Sally: Why?

Buddy: We did it last week.

Sally: Oh, yeah, that’s where I heard it.

You may even have heard this:

And the inevitable Fark blurb:

Dick Van Dyke/Hollywood Squares star Rose Marie dead at 94; Paul Lynde now cracking jokes about how she was the only woman ever to get on top of him.

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We can still work it out

Sir Paul is seventy-five; Ringo is seventy-seven; John and George have already moved to the Next Level. And with 2018 nearly upon us, the Beatles sell darn near as many records now as they did in 1963, fifty-five years ago. Is all this going to grind to a halt? Not in my lifetime, or in yours:

Here There & Everywhere is due out around this time next year. Yours truly is one of the financial backers thereof. (The project, as they say in the crowdsourcing game, is 56 percent funded so far.)

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Minor historical note

From the Bridgeport Post (now the Connecticut Post), 27 December 1956:

CT newspaper clipping: Only 1 woman in 1100 now wears black lace panties

I can’t imagine things have improved any since then.

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Track three

Last year, for no particular reason, I showed you my absolute favorite Partridge Family record, one so certain of its place in the repertoire that David Cassidy cut it again for his Now and Then album in 2002.

Now with David gone (liver failure, at sixty-seven), I give you my second favorite Partridge Family record, produced and cowritten by savvy old Wes Farrell. And if it seems odd to you that the Partridge Family would be doing a sort of pre-Jeffersons pop tune, yearning for the time when you actually can move on up to the East Side, well, this works better than it has any right to:

Since you asked: “Bandala” is track 3 on The Partridge Family Album, from deepest 1970.

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Little slices of time

I’ve always been an op, not a coder: I could pound on a DECwriter, I could change a ribbon on some arcane IBM printer like the 4214, and when called upon, I could speak some pidgin version of VAXese. But I remember these days frighteningly well:

The last time I went down this road I wrote my own search function that would return the element with the closest value to my requested target. I also wrote my own insert and delete routines. I did this because when I went to school everything about computer programming was about saving CPU cycles. Beginning programmers got seven seconds of execution time on the mainframe. I screwed up once in a junior level class and burned my entire semester’s allotment before the OS kicked me off. That rated some words from my professor.

I wonder why it took me so long to figure this out. I’m thinking it might because most of the programming work I did involved making things work, and there was no end to it. Well, I guess it did come to an end which is why I am unemployed. Computer companies eventually got their acts together and started building machines that worked when you turned them on, and software companies started producing software that people could use to do something useful. Took a while but they eventually got it sorted.

I got a reminder of this last week when I ran an optimization cycle on the database that underlies this site. Cut the size from 125 MB to 121. And I remembered my very first hard drive, which would hold almost one-sixth of that database — reluctantly.

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One among many (a repost)

I was standing on a mountaintop at the Edge of Nowhere, or so it seemed, staring into the face of the enemy, and I knew he was staring back.

Not that anything scary was about to happen. There was a rather large body of water between us, and even on the clearest of days I couldn’t see him and he couldn’t see me. Still, I knew he was there, and I assumed he knew I was there, and a few dozen other guys were making a list and checking it twice and delivering it to the commanding officer. They were doing their job, and I was doing mine.

And a few months later, that particular job came to an end; I left this post, a little older, maybe a little wiser, an unexpected medal added to my uniform, and after a few days of R&R — well, maybe some R, but not a whole lot of R, if you know what I mean — I reported back Stateside and was assigned to the Reserves for three more years.

This was before “Be all that you can be,” and I’ve never been sure I was all that I could have been. But we had a mission, and I was part of it, and I’d like to think that I had something to do with the fact that the enemy no longer exists.

That enemy, anyway.

On this day of remembrance, there are millions more with their own stories to tell. You’ve already heard mine.

(Originally posted 11/11/2004.)

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The Fat Man

Actually, celebrating his rotundness wasn’t Antoine Domino’s priority that day in 1949; he’d cut a single for Imperial called “Detroit City Blues,” and he and producer Dave Bartholomew came up with a little throwaway for the B-side. He’d play that throwaway for the rest of his life:

Much is made of the fact that Fats placed thirty-seven songs in Billboard’s Top 40 but never quite made Number One. A lot of this can be blamed on radio-format apartheid: “Ain’t That a Shame,” which peaked at #10, was drowned out on the airwaves by a blandified cover by Pat Boone, which soared to the top. According to one story, one of the other trade papers (not Billboard) explained why they factored airplay into their chart computations: if they scored simply on sales, said their rep, the entire Top Ten would consist of black acts. And really, do you know anyone who bought Boone’s version? (Other than me, I mean.)

Besides, if we add up the entire Hot 100, Fats wins, 66-60. His last entry, #100 for two weeks in 1968, was a cover of a Beatles song that Paul McCartney said was inspired by Fats. You can’t close the circle any better than that:

Farewell, Fat Man. Rock and roll heaven will make good use of your voice, your piano, and every one of your two hundred (as if) pounds.

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All the product placement you could want

Here we have Dean Jones sneaking a photo of Dorothy Provine:

JCPenney hosiery ad 1965

Okay, he’s probably not all that sneaky.

JCPenney’s “Gaymode” brand name disappeared many years ago, of course. What’s amusing here is that darn cat, which is intended to suggest the movie That Darn Cat! Hayley Mills had top billing, but the next two down were Jones (as FBI agent “Zeke Kelso”) and Provine. An improbable crime caper, it did well for Disney, grossing $28 million in 1965, when $28 million was a fair chunk of change. And the cat in the ad, like the cat in the movie, is a Seal Point Siamese.

Now to figure out that bottle of Canada Dry.

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These I swear

Jimmy Beaumont, lead singer of the Skyliners, has passed away at seventy-six. If the name draws a blank, allow me to refresh your memory:

The group dissolved in 1963, but reformed in 1974; Beaumont was the last of the original members. (The Skyliners’ last show was last month in New York.)

During the interim, Beaumont drove a cab, but also cut some singles, including the fearsomely soulful “I Never Loved Her Anyway.”

There is a movie called Since I Don’t Have You, but it’s not about Beaumont: it’s about soprano Janet Vogel, who died in 1980, perhaps by her own hand.

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A man, a plan, pajamas

LeeAnn remembers Hugh Hefner:

When I was little, all I wanted to be was the Playmate of the Month. Seriously. In the spirit of “always dream big,” since I was a short, chubby, bespectacled, monkeybutt ugly little slug, it seemed the biggest dream I could get. Nevermind I was born too late to really get in on the whole working at the Playboy Club thing. I think most of them were gone by the time I was old enough to crave high heels and a fluffy tail.

I never bought the whole “degrading to women” bullshit. I also don’t have the energy to have the perpetual fury it takes to be a feminist. If I’m anything, I’m a me-ist. Then a puppy- and kitten-ist, then maybe a people-ist. No, wait, I mean humanist. There are far less humans than there are people.

I think she’s got us there.

She also defends the mag:

Playboy, to me, was the classier of the nudie magazines. Not “shot on a G-string budget” like Penthouse, or the wanna-be gynecological textbook by way of Ed Gein, Hustler. Nice lighting, casually draped sheets, healthy looking girls who like to take long walks by the beach and hate men who light their farts on fire the first date.

Nothing, of course, lasts forever. I complained several years ago:

Playboy, godfather to all the lad mags, has sacrificed a few IQ points in the past forty years. (Playboy Interview, April through June 1965: Art Buchwald, Jean-Paul Sartre, Melvin Belli. Playboy Interview, April through June 2005: Les Moonves, James Spader, Lance Armstrong.)

By 2045, it will be all grunts, all the time.

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No longer a young man

From earlier this month:

Rick Stevens, the former lead singer of Tower of Power, died Tuesday [5 September] after a battle with cancer. He was 77.

Stevens replaced Rufus Miller in the R&B band in 1969 and three years later, their album Bump City put Tower of Power in the national spotlight, including hit single “You’re Still a Young Man.”

In 1976, Stevens, who had left the band shortly after their big hit, was now addicted to drugs and shot three men to death during a deal gone wrong. He was sentenced to life in prison, where he kicked his addiction before being released on parole in 2012 after 36 years behind bars.

I heard about this, and thought: Some of the Tower of Power guys have been together for nearly 50 years now. Wouldn’t it have been great if Rick Stevens got to sing with them one more time?

He did, and it was:

And hey, the hippest threads and the bad boogaloo will never, ever die.

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Always gentle on your mind

“Love in the real world is a mixture of the magical and the mundane, and the two never intersected more beautifully than in this Jim Webb classic.” — Me, after proposing a Valentine’s Day mixtape.

As Webb himself will tell you, it’s as much the singer as the song. And for “Wichita Lineman,” he got exactly the singer he needed:

Of course, Glen Campbell was so singular a singer that we tended to forget his virtuosity on the guitar: they’d didn’t let just anyone into the Wrecking Crew. And if you happened to flip over his 1977 cover of Allen Toussaint’s “Southern Nights,” you got to hear him try his hand at Gioacchino Rossini:

And then there was that time he sounded nothing like himself and still demanded your attention:

Now I ask you: who else from Arkansas ever did Italian overtures and musique concrète in the same lifetime?

It was, alas, a lifetime that ended in confusion and bewilderment. Two weeks ago, this heartbreakingly apt video appeared:

“Adiós” was recorded in 2015, a couple of years before the final curtain. Take a bow, sir.

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Now here’s something we hope you’ll really hate

June Foray, perhaps the greatest of all the voice actors in animation — Mel Blanc might have been her peer, maybe — has checked out of Frostbite Falls and gone to her eternal rest:

Few actors — or everyday, ­performance-averse human beings, for that matter — maintained as much control over their voice as Ms. Foray, who received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2010 and an honorary Emmy Award three years later.

She portrayed elderly women even as a child, going on the radio at 12 with the help of an acting teacher. In 2014, as a very senior citizen, she played the Looney Tunes role of Granny, owner of Sylvester the Cat and Tweety Bird, with the same good-natured screeches and yawlps she used for the character a half-century earlier.

Ms. Foray sometimes drew comparisons to the actor Lon Chaney, known as the silent film era’s “man of a thousand faces” because of his ability to inhabit many roles. She was also placed in a virtuosic league of her Looney Tunes colleague Mel Blanc, who gave voice to Bugs Bunny — whom Ms. Foray pursued as the sinister Witch Hazel — and Daffy Duck and a host of other characters.

Her devotion to animation was legendary:

She helped build ASIFA-Hollywood, a branch of the International Animated Film Society, and in 1972 created the Annie Awards, an animation-only alternative to the Oscars and Emmys.

As a longtime member of the Academy Awards’ board of governors, she also successfully fought to create an Oscar for best animated feature film. It has been awarded each year since 2002, when it went to the computer-animated comedy Shrek.

June Foray was 99 and still working. We may never believe she’s gone.

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Beatniks and politics

If you’d told me in 1967 that the Strawberry Alarm Clock would still be a functioning band in 2017, I’d have whupped you with the yardstick for lunatics I used to keep handy for just such emergencies. The SAC had several problems, among them frequent personnel changes, and the fact that the lead singer on “Incense and Peppermints,” their biggest hit, wasn’t even a member of the band. Bassist George Bunnell explains:

One of those things where nobody thinks that at the moment, what you’re doing is going to be successful. The song wasn’t fitting anybody. Greg Munford happened to just be sitting there in the session, and Greg also had the same manager and producer. He was doing his own project simultaneously. They asked him to try it, and it was right in his wheelhouse. So he did it and it was exactly how you hear it. He was not in the band, and then the song started to have success. Then they asked Greg Munford if he wanted to be in the band and he didn’t. He had his own thing. The band went off and never had the lead singer of that song in the band. Completely stupid.

SAC was signed to Uni Records, a West Coast outpost which was expected to be hipper than mother Decca. (Which it was; their labelmates included Desmond Dekker, Neil Diamond, Olivia Newton-John, and, um, Elton John.) They never again hit the Top 40, but they did produce some interesting singles. One of them was a B-side: “Pretty Song from Psych-Out,” which is exactly what it was: a pretty song (by group members Lee Freeman and Ed King) from Psych-Out, a 1968 American International drugsploitation film in which the band appeared and played three songs, none of which was the “Pretty Song.” (The version on the Psych-Out soundtrack album was performed by The Storybook.) I played this 45 to death:

“Pretty Song” was the flip of “Sit With the Guru” (!), which struggled to #65.

To start out the Seventies, the Clock toured the South; for one concert series, their opening act was, um, Lynyrd Skynyrd. (As SAC fragmented, Skynyrd asked Ed King to join them, which he did.)

We close with “Sit With the Guru,” live in 2012, because of course we do.

(Provoked, like so many of these, by Roger Green.)

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There’s the beef

Set the clock back nine decades or so, and zoom in on Austin, Texas:

Tofie and Charles left the grocery store to form a partnership in the meat and produce business. And that they did! Balagia Produce Company was highly successful and became a leading commercial and household enterprise. The poultry was raised in cages at their business location on East Fifth Street. When orders were received, the poultry was removed from the cage and prepared on the spot. The success of the business was based on the freshness and quality of their products. Good management played a major part too. Charlie purchased the livestock and was a well-known specialist in his field. Tofie was the business manager and contact with civic leaders of the city and State. Together they prospered and expanded and were highly respected businessmen.

I never got to meet Tofie, who died in 1940, but brother Charlie would be my grandfather.

Charles C. Balagia at work

My mom was third of eight children: they had three girls, then two boys, then three more girls. You may safely assume that we were well fed.

The Balagias in Texas date back to about 1885, when Saba (1834-1913) and wife Mary (1857-1919) arrived from Tripoli, Syria (now in Lebanon). They had one child when they settled in Austin; they would have six more. (Large families run in the family.)

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Forget pixels

Zeiss Ikon camera circa 1930Stories like this command your attention from the first couple of words:

Photographer Martijn van Oers of the Netherlands recently visited a thrift store and came across an original Zeiss Ikon 520/2 folding camera, which was produced in Germany between 1929 and 1937. To his surprise, the camera contained a roll of exposed film in it.

The camera looked “barely used,” Van Oers says.

What would you do? That’s what Van Oers did:

Van Oers took the film to his friend Johan Holleman — someone who has developed his own film for much of his life — who then processed the film in his kitchen.

Expectations were understandably low. Still:

The duo soon discovered that the film was nearly 70 years old. 4 of the photos had enough detail in them to show that it was probably owned by a man who took the camera along on a trip. One photo was found to show a scene shot in the city of Biarritz in Southwest France.

More than usual, I urge you to read the whole story, which has some truly miraculous pictures from that roll of Kodak film.

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A site even older than mine

By not quite a year, in fact.

Today, it’s “You’re kidding. They sell books too?”

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Before Iggy’s time

There were in fact six Stooges, but you only got to see them three at a time. A re-recording was issued in 1959, but this is the original, as seen in a 1938 Columbia two-reeler:

I have no idea if this inspired Shirley Shirley Bo Birley in 1964:

And if you wondered why Shirley invoked a relatively uncommon name like Lincoln, it’s a shout-out to her co-writer, producer and manager Lincoln Chase.

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And we’re all gonna die

Well, yes, we are, but probably not the way the guy monopolizing the microphone is trying to tell you:

These prophets of doom rely on one thing — that their audience will not check the record of such predictions. In fact, the history of prophecy is one of failure and oversight. Many predictions (usually of doom) have not come to pass, while other things have happened that nobody foresaw. Even brief research will turn up numerous examples of both, such as the many predictions in the 1930s — about a decade before the baby boom began — that the populations of most Western countries were about to enter a terminal decline. In other cases, people have made predictions that have turned out to be laughably overmodest, such as the nineteenth-century editor’s much-ridiculed forecast that by 1950 every town in America would have a telephone, or Bill Gates’s remark a few years ago that 64 kilobytes of memory is enough for anyone.

More often quoted as 640kb, which is still nowhere nearly enough.

Often as not, these dire projections are full of crap. Here’s one which was literally so:

Nineteenth-century cities depended on thousands of horses for their daily functioning. All transport, whether of goods or people, was drawn by horses. London in 1900 had 11,000 cabs, all horse-powered. There were also several thousand buses, each of which required 12 horses per day, a total of more than 50,000 horses. In addition, there were countless carts, drays, and wains, all working constantly to deliver the goods needed by the rapidly growing population of what was then the largest city in the world. Similar figures could be produced for any great city of the time.

The problem of course was that all these horses produced huge amounts of manure. A horse will on average produce between 15 and 35 pounds of manure per day. Consequently, the streets of nineteenth-century cities were covered by horse manure. This in turn attracted huge numbers of flies, and the dried and ground-up manure was blown everywhere. In New York in 1900, the population of 100,000 horses produced 2.5 million pounds of horse manure per day, which all had to be swept up and disposed of.

Ah, those were the days. And sayers of doom were duly heard from:

Writing in the Times of London in 1894, one writer estimated that in 50 years every street in London would be buried under nine feet of manure. Moreover, all these horses had to be stabled, which used up ever-larger areas of increasingly valuable land. And as the number of horses grew, ever-more land had to be devoted to producing hay to feed them (rather than producing food for people), and this had to be brought into cities and distributed — by horse-drawn vehicles. It seemed that urban civilization was doomed.

It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future, but the things that would probably kill us, such as the collapse of the global financial system, on the heels of its diversion from maintaining monetary policy to allowing the top one percent of the top one percent to ascend higher, will be discussed only by nimrods on late-night radio or other nimrods on YouTube or the likes of me; meanwhile, things that probably won’t kill us — North Korea, various Russian entities, sport-utility vehicles — fill the news cycle to the brim and then some.

(Via Bayou Renaissance Man.)

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I can’t believe it’s not Butterick

Time to take the dust cover off the sewing machine:

The Vintage Patterns Wiki boasts more than 83,500 patterns that are at least 25 years old, which makes for a fascinating look back at fashion history. As a collaborative effort, the database is constantly being updated and organized, with any newly uploaded patterns dating prior to 1992. Just click on the cover and browse the list of pattern vendors who have the look.

Whether you just want to ogle the fashion illustrations or get your hands dirty and make a new look, it’s worth browsing the well-organized site. Arranged by decade, garment type, designer, and more, you might just be inspired to whip up a dashiki for your next costume party or try out a Mad Men chic outfit at the office with a skirt suit from the 1960s.

High fashion names like Dior and Givenchy, as well as looks modeled off costumes from movie stars like Audrey Hepburn remind us how pervasive patterns and creating fashions from scratch once were. And with a whole new era of young women going retro, it might be worth giving up vintage shops in favor of creating new pieces based on these vintage patterns.

Obviously they’re not going to have Every Pattern In The World. But the wiki serves as a useful guide to what’s out there and who’s worked with it. I pulled up a pattern at random — Vogue 6368 — and found someone who’s put it to good use.

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Shipping and handling extra

Back in the 1970s, Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward seemed to carry a lot of the same stuff, and apparently this was the case half a century before:

A couple of years ago, I lucked into a Montgomery Ward Western Field Model 30. This was a store-branded version of the Stevens Model 520, another John Moses Browning design that was produced between 1909 and 1955 in a number of versions.

Did they carry this same rifle at Sears? You betcha:

Inspection, and a serial number check, revealed it to be the version manufactured in 1926-27. This image, courtesy of Wikipedia, reveals the elements that identify it as such. The firearm depicted is the Ranger model, made as a house brand for Sears, but otherwise identical to the “Western Field” model made for Montgomery Ward. The only difference between them and the Stevens originals was the model name engraved on the side plate.

I often wonder what might have happened if Wards had joined Sears in offering a compact car in the early Fifties. (The Searsmobile, branded “Allstate,” was a slightly less downscale version of the Henry J, offered mostly in Southern Sears stores, but nationwide in the Sears catalog.)

1952 Allstate advertisement

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The old man

He would have been 90 this month, which seems incredible to me. Then again, I never imagined being as old as I am now. And I suspect sometimes that maybe his job isn’t finished so long as I’m still around.

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You have the right to remain

In memory of the late Adam West, the only goddamn Batman that matters:

How I missed this in 1966, I’ll never know.

And apparently the wild, wild West lived in wild, wild Ketchum, Idaho:


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Gimme a Vee

Roger Green (remember him? I do) dropped a Bobby Vee reference into a recent post, including three of Bobby’s biggest hits.

Speaking of which, the late Tony Peluso, who played that amazing guitar solo on the Carpenters’ “Goodbye to Love,” also played narrator on “Yesterday Once More,” and suddenly I hear his perfect Top 40 voice over the last notes of “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes”: “One of Bobby Vee’s biggest hits!” True; Vee had one Number One, one Number Two and two Number Threes, and “Eyes” was a Number Three.

The other Number Three was “Come Back When You Grow Up,” listed as by “Bobby Vee and the Strangers.” “Come Back” was written by Nashville songwriter (and later label executive) Martha Sharp, who had written Sandy Posey’s first two charters, “Born a Woman” and “Single Girl.” (For a while, rumors persisted that Sharp really was Sandy Posey. She wasn’t.) “Come Back” was first recorded earlier a few months earlier by Shadden and the King Lears, and, yes, “Shadden” was Shadden’s real first name.

Over the years, Vee proved to be an astute selector of material, whether or not it would be a big hit for him. “Yesterday and You” made it to #55 in late 1963; the song, he got from labelmate Ross Bagdasarian, who had recorded it in his pre-David Seville days. (Yes, that David Seville.) As “Armen’s Theme” — Armen was Mrs Bagdasarian — Seville’s instrumental made #42 in 1956.

In the summer of 1966, Vee and the Strangers covered an indie-label song by Texas band The Playboys of Edinburg. “Look at Me Girl” wasn’t a big hit for Vee or for the Playboys, who immediately got picked up by a major label — Columbia, arguably the major-est — but the Strangers rather easily picked up on the Playboys’ modified norteño beat.

One more? In 1961, Vee put out a semi-successful cover of the Crickets’ “More Than I Can Say”:

It would have charted higher than #61, I think, had it not been relegated to a B-side. Nearly two decades later, British producer Alan Tarney remembered it, and suggested it to client Leo Sayer, who took it to #2 in both the UK and the States:

I think Tarney’s instructions included “Sound as much as you can like Bobby Vee.”

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Of remembrance and forgetting

It gets a little harder each year.

I am the son of a sailor and a sailor who had been a soldier. I had a brother who was a sailor, and a sister who was a soldier’s wife. By the mercy of God or an accident of timing — we’ll never, of course, know for sure — none of them were taken as a direct result of enemy action. But they were taken just the same, as all of us some day must be.

Memorial Day, it occurs to me, is the most solemn holiday of the American civic religion, unconnected to any organized denomination, with its own rituals and myths:

What we have, then, from the earliest years of the republic is a collection of beliefs, symbols, and rituals with respect to sacred things and institutionalized in a collectivity. This religion — there seems no other word for it — while not antithetical to and indeed sharing much in common with Christianity, was neither sectarian nor in any specific sense Christian. At a time when the society was overwhelmingly Christian, it seems unlikely that this lack of Christian reference was meant to spare the feelings of the tiny non-Christian minority. Rather, the civil religion expressed what those who set the precedents felt was appropriate under the circumstances. It reflected their private as well as public views. Nor was the civil religion simply “religion in general.” While generality was undoubtedly seen as a virtue by some … the civil religion was specific enough when it came to the topic of America. Precisely because of this specificity, the civil religion was saved from empty formalism and served as a genuine vehicle of national religious self-understanding.

Which is not to say that everyone embraces it; there are those who are content with empty formalism, and those who might dismiss even that as a “fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” And for some, Memorial Day is simply the beginning of summer, nothing more.

Perhaps this is one of those times when, as the phrase goes, you had to be there, and human nature being what it is, a lot of us eventually will be. Much as I would like to endorse the idea that man can be educated out of his warlike tendencies, evidence to support such a notion is conspicuous by its absence; a perfunctory glance at the news is enough to show how easily we fall back into tribalism and other traits we fancy ourselves to have outgrown.

This old soldier will fade away in time, remembered by a few, forgotten by others, never known at all by most. So far as I can tell, this puts me more or less even with most of the human race. I can live with that.

(Reprinted from 2011.)

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Now get typing

The moment you go past half an hour, it’s going to cost you more:

This is actually a late-Twenties Remington Standard, refitted with a coin mechanism by a San Francisco company. One such machine was located in the basement of Powell Library at UCLA; Ray Bradbury typed the novella The Fireman (1951) on it, and two years later expanded the story into the novel Fahrenheit 451.

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One way out

The legend has already begun: Twitter was overrun with the idea that the last song Gregg Allman played on stage was, yes, “One Way Out,” a couple of years back. He’d had to pull back from touring after he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation; he’d sworn off meats and gluten. He’d had hepatitis C; he’d had a liver transplant. Had I had to deal with all these things, I’d never make it to 69, as Gregg did.

Still, his place in the Pantheon is assured; there essentially is no Southern Rock without the Allman Brothers Band, and while there are stacks of Allman vinyl everywhere down south, there are plenty of them up around the Canadian border as well. The band, for their part, didn’t much like the strictures suggested by the “Southern” tag, pointing to some of the cultural baggage thereof, but there’s little question that they did as much as anyone, and more than most, to create the genre. And like the best Southern rock, the Allmans’ music was firmly rooted in the blues.

This is the 1995 version of the band; Butch Trucks, Jaimoe Johanson and Dickey Betts were still around to make the trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The song, by then, was more than thirty years old, and had originated with Elmore James circa 1961. The message, however, remains the same: whatever predicament you may have gotten yourself into — the specific narrative involves a bit of upstairs cheating while the actual husband has just arrived downstairs — ultimately you don’t have a Plan B to fall back on.

The band dissolved after their last show in 2014. (The last song they played was Muddy Waters’ “Trouble No More,” which makes perfect sense.) The legacy they leave behind is deep and wide. And Gregg, though he never considered himself the frontman — brother Duane, later Dickey Betts, were the nominal leaders of the band — was there for all of it. I hope he’s ready to jam among the clouds.

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Ancient memory

A look at personal computing online in the UK, a mere third of a century ago:

You can learn a bit more about this from a history of Prestel.

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