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Posts Tagged ‘1967’

The electronics companies of my youth had, in retrospect, some of the coolest names.

Zenith television sets? The absolute peak of technological advancement, judging by the name. How do you get better than Zenith?

I bet that name moved some TV sets all by itself.

(The name “Zenith” looked good across a sports jersey, too, as it happened. But that’s another story from the frozen provinces.)

The name Magnavox was pretty killer, too, with its pseudo-Latin overtones suggesting mountains, vast plains and all-encompassing sound.

Magna vox = “big voice,” more or less. Maybe even “biggest voice.” I bet Wagner’s Ring Cycle sounded pretty good running through a Magnavox stereo. Or at least, that was the subliminal sales pitch going on at stereo dealerships across the land.

Maybe that deft bit of branding helped reel in my grandpa in the late winter of 1967, when he went out and bought himself a new stereo.

March 4, 1967.

March 4, 1967. The Jefferson Airplane’s “Surrealistic Pillow” has been out for two weeks; “The Velvet Underground and Nico” and Aretha’s “I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You” are coming out in the next two weeks. I do not think any of those wonderful LPs ever got spun on this particular stereo system.

The Internet tells me nothing about “Downes & Smith,” though a little poking around suggests that “Downes-Smith” was the name of a now-closed appliance retailer on Viaduct Road in the city of Stamford.

A 1949 newspaper article floating around on the interwebs describes it as “the county’s biggest and oldest electrical supply and maintenance firm.” That might explain why my grandpa bought a stereo there: He would have been one to spend his money with a known quantity.

I don’t know exactly which model Magnavox he bought. But, thanks once again to the Internet, we can get a pretty good idea of what his unit looked and sounded like.

These big, monster-console home stereo setups were already yesterday’s news when I was growing up in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. They look positively like dinosaurs now, in an age of iPods and docking stations and phones that play music.

Still, it’s worth remembering that, once upon a time, trees died to make these stereo systems; and people made room in their family or living rooms for these big beasts. Perhaps music meant a little more to people then, back when a stereo system took up serious real estate.

(If you were gonna drop coin for one of these parlor-barges, you wanted a big voice. Nay, the biggest voice. What were we saying about that a little while ago?)

Ironically, my dad — who is something of a sound-snob, though not obsessive about it — told me a while ago that the Magnavox didn’t really sound all that good.

I don’t have an exact record of the conversation, so I could be wrong. But I could swear I remember him telling me that he was not that impressed by the sound of the Magnavox.

A shame, that. You’d expect any piece of equipment that big and heavy and serious to have cold-gin highs and melted-butter lows. Perhaps the biggest voice was not really as impressive as it seemed at the time.

Of course, the real question is what my grandfather would have played on his new stereo. I’m guessing the classic Greatest Generation mix — equal parts classical and Mantovani. I’m sure my dad will jump in and correct me if that’s wrong.

Either way, I’d like to think that the big Magnavox provided the soundtrack to many relaxing hours at 1107 Hope Street. And that’s what really counts.

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A little thematic music.

Awwwwwwright!

This is the 167th post I’ve written for this blog. And after two-plus years of writing about grandchildren, cookies and retirement, I finally get to write about some debauchery.

Well, some very well-mannered and proper debauchery. But debauchery nonetheless, by Hope Street’s buttoned-down standards.

So slip your flask in your side pocket, travel back to the end of the Summer of Love, and get ready to kick out the jams …

# # # # #

The story starts with my dad’s lifelong best friend, Louie Chiappetta.

(Faithful readers will remember Louie playing with my dad’s college band, Oedipus and the Mothers, in this earlier post, and — appropriately enough — drinking beer in this one. He’s known my dad since junior high and is still putting up with him today.)

Less than two months after my parents got married, Louie and his bride, Kathy, also tied the knot in Stamford.

Louie was such a close friend of the Blumenau family that my grandparents and great-grandma got invited to the wedding, along with my mom and dad.

And there was no question that everyone would attend. It was on the calendar, after all:

September 16, 1967.

September 16, 1967. The Yankees are three-hit by Sudden Sam McDowell.

Everything went fine until the wedding party and guests arrived at the San Souci for the reception. There, they were greeted with one of those pieces of mood-harshing news that isn’t supposed to happen on a wedding day: The reception hall chosen by the newlyweds had been double-booked and was still in use by another couple.

The managers of the San Souci, no doubt sweating furiously under their business suits, made the Chiappettas an offer they couldn’t refuse:

If the stranded wedding party and guests would be willing to wait in another, smaller room for a while, they could have all the free booze and hors d’oeuvres they could hold down. The Chiappettas and guests could move into the main room as soon as it was empty and clean.

(“As I recall this was at least an hour and a half, maybe pushing two hours,” my dad recalls.)

By my dad’s telling, the parents of the groom were understandably displeased by this snafu on their son’s special day. They quietly urged the guests to load up at the San Souci’s expense.

Many of them — including my grandpa — gladly complied.

And at the peak of the celebration, with a strolling Italian wedding band with clarinet and accordion working the room, my dad saw something he had never seen and would not see again:

My grandfather, feeling no pain, twirl-dancing with one arm around my grandma and the other around a support post in the middle of the room.

“This was the only time I ever saw your grandfather even remotely under the influence, and he was a very happy and sociable drunk,” my dad says.

It was, according to my dad, completely in keeping with the event. Nobody got pushy or obnoxious or loud on the San Souci’s booze; everyone was loose and friendly and having a good time in their own way.

By the time the formal dinner rolled around, my grandpa had sobered up, and probably felt no ill effects the next morning.

“All things considered, it was quite a successful wedding …” (my dad again) “… everyone was quite happy, there were no problems, and the establishment provided a reasonable solution to an untenable situation (double-booking weddings).”

Louie and Kathy’s wedding day worked out fine in the long run. The guests had a good time; the San Souci paid for its mistake; and the newlyweds are still married all these years later.

I wish I could have been there. It sounds like a swingin’ time.

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The following has absolutely no connection with family history. If that’s why you’re on the train, come back next Monday.

I love beer. Adore it, in fact. Nectar of the gods and all that.

There have been beer-related posts here before; and there are likely to be more in the future.

In fact, here comes one now …

# # # # #

For this past Monday’s post, I found myself looking at pictures of my parents’ rehearsal dinner, held in July 1967 at my grandparents’ house in Stamford, Connecticut.

Many of my dad’s fraternity brothers attended. So it’s no great surprise that beer mugs, cans and bottles are visible in the pictures.

I decided it would be an interesting historical expedition to try to figure out exactly what my grandparents chose to serve on their big occasion.

(I assume my grandparents, as gracious hosts of the party, supplied the beer, and that it was not brought by the fratboys. I am sure my grandparents would have wanted to make sure everyone was happy.)

And what did the hosts with the most offer their guests? For the most part, they served a brand still familiar today:

My dad-to-be with the Champagne of Beers.

My dad-to-be with the Champagne of Beers. Is there a sweeter sight than a nearly-full mug of beer?

7/21/67

Not sure whether the cans pictured are flipped upside-down because they’re empty, or whether it was the Thing to Do to open them upside-down. (If you’re using a church key, you can go either way, no?)

But Miller High Life wasn’t the only brew there … and that’s where things get historically interesting.

The can in my dad's hand is probably a Miller, though it looks vaguely Schlitzy. But more importantly, what's that brown can -- Gabl-something?

The can in my dad’s hand is probably a Miller, though it looks vaguely Schlitzy. But more importantly, what’s that brown can — Gabl-something?

Another brown can in the hand of my dad's best man, Louie Chiappetta. Looks like we can complete the name: Gablinger's.

Another brown can in the hand of my dad’s best man, Louie Chiappetta. Looks like we can complete the name: Gablinger’s.

My dad and his buddies might not have realized it at the time, but they were on the bleeding edge of a massive development: Light beer.

Just two weeks before the rehearsal dinner, Time magazine ran a story about how Rheingold, the venerable New York brewery, had purchased a Swiss chemist’s formula for making carbohydrate-free beer.

As of July ’67, the beer had just been rolled out, and was being pushed in the Tri-State Area by a “saturation advertising campaign,” the magazine noted. Perhaps it was that selfsame ad campaign that inspired my grandparents — or somebody — to pick up a sixer of Gablinger’s for the big party.

(The development of lower-carbohydrate beer is also commonly credited to a biochemist named Joseph Owades. Perhaps Dr. Owades, who worked for Rheingold, took the Swiss chemist’s formula and adapted it for Rheingold’s use.)

Gablinger’s print ads stressed that the beer was made the same way as any other brew — except with a mysterious “extra step” that removed carbs, making Gablinger’s a beer that “wouldn’t fill you up.”

Other ads, more directly aimed at weight-watchers, described Gablinger’s as a “diet beer” with fewer calories than skim milk.

Neither pitch connected with the frothing mass of America’s beer drinkers.

Perhaps those people felt that drinking “diet beer” was tantamount to an admission of being overweight. Perhaps, if they were slimming down, they simply chose to cut out beer altogether. Or, perhaps the pale golden brew simply didn’t deliver enough beer flavor and body to win over drinkers.

Whatever the reason, Gablinger’s was a failure, and Rheingold went out of business as an independent brewery less than a decade after the “diet beer” was introduced.

It was Miller — that other brand at my folks’ wedding reception — that finally hit paydirt years later with light beer, using a humorous, jock-filled series of TV ads that emphasized the tastes-great, less-filling angle while playing down the “diet” pitch.

(Using athletes was an ingenious way to connect with diet-shy drinkers: “That’s Mickey Mantle! He can’t be fat; he’s Mickey Mantle. Hence, Miller Lite must not make you fat.”)

And today, light (or “lite”) beer is inescapable. There will be countless rehearsal dinners across America this summer where the participants quench their thirst with Bud, Miller or Coors Light.

Personally, I’d rather have a Sam Adams … or, in a pinch, a Miller High Life.

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I think after last week’s screed, I’ll write something inoffensive about home and hearth this time around. Disaffected patriots are a dime a dozen on both sides of the aisle, anyway.

# # # # #

On a shelf in my parents’ basement sits a small box, labeled in my dad’s hand with words to this effect:

Rod & Lynn Love Letters (Yech)”

When I was a small boy who loved poking around in the basement, I was young and daft enough to read a few of the letters my parents exchanged before their marriage. I don’t remember what they said any more, and wasn’t really old enough to understand them anyway.

(OK, one letter I can’t help but remember. It was the mid-1960s, and my mom was going to college in Boston. My dad had the cheek to address a letter to her at “Boston University, Somewhere Near Where The Strangler Is, Boston, Mass.” I would later inherit his blue eyes and his black sense of humor.)

The time period of my grandfather’s calendars — 1961 to 1975 — trace my dad’s evolution from high school senior to married father of two.

And in so doing, it provides the occasional awww-isn’t-that-sweet glimpse of my parents when they were young and in love … just like the letters inside the yech-box.

The glimpses look kinda like this:

January 21, 1967.

January 21, 1967. (Coincidentally, Albert DeSalvo – who claimed to be the Boston Strangler – was convicted of other, unrelated crimes earlier that week.)

I didn’t ask my folks whether they remember anything about their trip to New York for an engagement ring (however exotic it might have been — were there no acceptable rings in Stamford?)

I guess I’d rather imagine what those days were like.

I can’t imagine them too specifically, of course, since I wasn’t actually there. My mental images of my young-and-in-love folks are kinda like cardboard figures, fleshed out somewhat by my knowledge of their personalities and my views of photo albums from those early days.

I know they were both musical, and that probably provided considerable common ground in their earliest days.

I know that they carried on much of their courtship more or less long-distance, without benefit of Skype or email, and made it last anyway.

I know they moved together, right after their marriage, to a place neither of them had much of any familiarity with, and found it a place to sink roots.

And I know that, despite their disparate personalities, they had some unquantifiable degree of interpersonal chemistry.

A bit of byplay at my folks' wedding rehearsal dinner. July 21, 1967.

A bit of byplay at my folks’ wedding rehearsal dinner. July 21, 1967.

Forty-six years after that calendar entry, the same ring is still on my mom’s finger. My parents have gone from being young soon-to-be-marrieds, to being the last couple standing when the wedding DJ starts clearing the dance floor a decade at a time.

It hasn’t always been easy (it never is), but some essential part of the compact they forged back in the mid-1960s is still alive. Something lives in the yech-box that has not been chased away by kids and job pressures and gray hairs and all the other pressures of adult life.

How ’bout that.

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Maybe 15 years ago, I came to a curious realization about my visits to Stamford. This was years after my grandparents had moved out of town, and my regular trips to Connecticut were at an end.

Stamford is not tremendously far outside New York City, and serves as a bedroom community for many people who commute into the city every day. (Nine Stamford residents died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.)

Stamford gets New York TV and radio stations, and by and large, its residents read New York newspapers. The ties between the two cities are significant.

And yet, in a dozen years of visiting Stamford at least once a year, I’d never once been to New York City.

There were reasons for this. New York in the Seventies and Eighties was still trying to play down the ironic “Fun City” image it got in the John Lindsay years as a crime-ridden, threatening, fading metropolis.  Out-of-towners — including some who had been content to visit in the ’50s and early ’60s — turned their backs.

My own parents had a similar experience. I don’t know the details, but I know they went to New York in the late ’70s or early ’80s to see some old friends, and had a poor enough time that they had no interest in going back. And they didn’t.

I was a big Mets fan as a kid. And yet, it never occurred to anyone to suggest a trip to the city for a a big-league game — I think because there was a built-in family aversion to going to New York. (The Yankees were around too, of course … but a trip to the South Bronx? Nope.)

My grandparents, as I’ve said before, were stay-at-home types, not tremendously adventurous by nature. My grandpa took my young dad to ballgames at New York’s various stadia in the Fifties, and my grandparents went to the 1964-65 World’s Fair in Queens. But beyond that, they tended to get their kicks close to home. And as New York’s reputation got hairier, they were probably content to steer clear.

It is kind of sad, I suppose, to have the City that Never Sleeps a short train ride away and never take advantage of it. But that’s how it went down at the time.

That’s not to say my grandparents never left their house, though. This week’s calendar entry finds them heading out on the town — or at least planning to:

May 4-6, 1967.

I always thought New Haven suffered from much the same urban woes that plagued New York, on a smaller scale.

But apparently, the chance to hear “Gee, Officer Krupke” performed by Ivy League undergrads was too good a chance for my grandparents to pass up. Or at least it was until the show got cancelled, for reasons I am unable to determine.

This would have been my grandparents’ anniversary weekend. (The mention of sauerbraten at Hugo’s would have been their yearly anniversary dinner.)

So perhaps my grandfather hit upon the idea of an exotic night out, and looked to New Haven as the nearest easily accessible big city in which entertainment might be found.

This is not the only record of their visiting New Haven: A previous blog post about football mentions a 1969 birthday dinner for my Aunt Elaine at the city’s long-gone Les Shaw’s restaurant.

I believe my aunt was going to school in New Haven at the time, at what was then Southern Connecticut State College, which would have added to my grandparents’ interest in visiting.

(New Haven is also reputed to be the birthplace of the hamburger and the home of the best pizza in America, though I doubt either of those would have lured my grandparents there.)

So, there you have it. A night out on the town.

Not The City; the town.

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