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Posts Tagged ‘1961’

One year — 1961, to be specific — in the life of the Blumenau family of Stamford, Connecticut, as jointly interpreted by William H. Blumenau (calendar entries) and Charles A. Berry (text):

American history and practical math
You’re studying hard, hoping to pass

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January 23-24.

Cruising and playing the radio
With no particular place to go

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January 27.

She just don’t have the appetite
For gas somehow,
And Dad, I got four carburetors
Hooked up on it now.
I tried to hook another
To see if I’d do a little good,
But ain’t no place to put it
‘Less I perforate the hood

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February 2.

If she’s in the mood no need to break it
I got the chance and I oughta take it
If she can dance we can make it
C’mon, Queenie, let’s shake it

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February 11.

Well I looked at my watch, it was 10:05
Man, I didn’t know if I was dead or alive

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February 23.

Don’t care to hear ’em play the tango
I’m in no mood to dig a mambo

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February 25.

I go to court tomorrow morning
And I got the same judge I had before
Lord, I know he won’t have no mercy on me
‘Cause he told me not to come back no more

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April 7.

Sweet little sixteen
She’s just got to have
About half a million
Framed autographs
Her wallet filled with pictures
She gets ’em one by one

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April 9.

Nothin’ outrun my V-8 Ford

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May 1. (The new car in question really *was* a V-8 Ford, if memory serves.)

In the heat of the day down in Mobile, Alabama
Workin’ on the railroad with a steel-drivin’ hammer

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August 10.

Ring! ring! goes the bell

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September 6.

I must admit they had a rockin’ band
Man, they was blowin’ like a hurr-i-can

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September 21.

All day long you’ve been wantin’ to dance

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September 27.

Roll over, Beethoven
And tell Tchaikovsky the news

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October 2.

The engine with blood was sweaty and damp
And brilliantly lit with a brimstone lamp
And imps for fuel was shoveling bones
While the furnace rang with a thousand groans

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October 31.

I was campaign shoutin’ like a Southern diplomat
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November 7.

Gee but the teacher don’t know how mean she looks
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December 5.

It’s got a backbeat, you can’t lose it
Any old time you use it
It’s gotta be rock ‘n’ roll music
If you wanna dance with me
If you wanna dance with me.

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December 30.

Thanks for everything, Chuck.

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No sooner does one member leave the extended family than another (bless her) joins it.

May’s a big month for weddings; and by and large, the men in my immediate family seem to favor it.

Not sure there’s any deep-seated reason for that. Maybe we all want to get things over with as soon as the weather’s favorable, and early enough that our summers stay free. Or maybe, generation after generation, some occult hand keeps our venues of choice free in May so we can each find an open date.

Anyway, my older brother is the latest to board the May train. By the time you read this, he will be two days married. I am flying out to San Francisco to be there for the big day, and am much looking forward to it. (The big day, not the flying.)

I’ve been on the same train a while myself. Two days after this post goes live, I will mark my 20th wedding anniversary. My wife and I were only a year out of college when we got married, and I suspect we chose our date so our friends who were still in school could come out and join us before they scattered for the summer.

My grandpa and grandma picked the first half of May as well, for reasons lost to history. They were married for almost 60 years.

This week’s calendar entry finds them at the same point in time I’m at now:

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May 3, 1961. I wonder where they went out to eat.

I would love to be able to tell you how to make a marriage last for 20 years, much less 60, but I am devoid of wisdom or vision. I just get up every morning and go to sleep every night and somehow the years go by.

(Of course, many of my readers have been married longer than I have and have no need for my advice. I’m just saying that I searched my soul and found nothing. It’s happened before.)

My brother and his wife invited their friends and siblings to share their thoughts on love and marriage — to email them to the celebrant for inclusion in the ceremony. My thoughts didn’t figure into it, because I couldn’t come up with any.

I briefly considered inventing a friend for Eric and sending in something absurdly flowery: “Eric’s friend Hassan says, ‘Love is like a welter of gleaming pearls, radiant in their brilliance. No, diamonds!'” But then I decided that pranking my brother’s wedding ceremony was probably a classless thing to do, so I kept my mouth shut. Except on my blog.

I dunno. Maybe there isn’t a fancy formula or mission statement that captures the soul of marriage. Maybe it’s different for everybody. Or maybe the secret is buried so deep in the stream of days and months that it’s hard to see.

At any rate, whatever it takes to keep two people happy together and pulling in the same direction, I hope my brother and his wife discover it together.

And I hope it only seems like months before they go out for their own 20th anniversary.

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It’s always fun to look back at the things we took for granted, the things we thought were omnipresent and would never change.

It’s also fun to apply hindsight to hubris … to burst the bubbles of people or organizations that blew their own horns a little too loudly.

So this week we’ll do a little of both.

Specifically, we’ll sit down in the family room of 1107 Hope Street, where the TV was, and watch as a well-known American institution pats itself on the back for a quarter-century of success.

Probably no one involved — from the stars, to the producers, to the viewers in family rooms like my grandpa’s — had any inkling that the institution being celebrated had fewer than a dozen years of Life left.

No, that’s not a typo:

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March 2, 1961.

Strictly speaking, Life magazine wasn’t 25 years old in the spring of 1961; it was 78.

The original Life (I steal liberally over the next few paragraphs from Wiki) was founded in 1883 as a humor and general interest magazine. Apparently it influenced The New Yorker, which promptly ate its lunch.

Life had been struggling for years when Henry Luce bought the name in 1936, relaunching it as a weekly newsmagazine with a focus on photography. Sparing no expense on capital letters, Luce described the revamped magazine as “THE SHOW-BOOK OF THE WORLD” in the prospectus he prepared before its launch.

As we all know, Luce’s vision paid off. The magazine was selling a million copies a week just four months after launch. Its coverage of World War II, as well as copy contributions from well-known authors, further established Life as near-required American weekly reading.

As TV caught on in the 1950s, Life’s circulation began to drop. Americans could now see the kinds of images in which Life specialized every day in the comfort of their living rooms.

I cannot imagine, then, that Henry Luce was entirely happy about handing cash to a TV network — NBC, as it happened — to host a celebration of Life’s quarter-century as a photo magazine. (News articles from the time describe the 90-minute show as being “sponsored” by Life; NBC didn’t independently  decide that the subject was worth covering.)

But, TV is a visual medium; and Life was a predominantly visual magazine; plus there was a story the company wanted to tell. So in the end, Luce’s desire to celebrate his success won out over his reluctance to pay a competitor for America’s eyeballs.

Did they hire Bob Hope? Of course they hired Bob Hope. Heck, they even got President John F. Kennedy to record remarks for the occasion. Since I can’t find a video of the show online, Kennedy’s remarks appear to be the only scrap of “25 Years of Life” that is available on the Internet 55 years later.

I take that back: Another remnant of the show is available on eBay if you care to pay for it. Life commemorated the event by pressing a vinyl record with musical and comedic highlights of the show. I’d love to know how many they pressed, how many they sold, and how many were ever spun more than once. Something tells me handsome copies can still be found at your local flea market.

A flea market — rather than a newsstand — is also your best bet for copies of Life. The magazine ceased weekly publication at the end of 1972. Life changed, and left Life behind.

I can’t say whether my grandpa watched “25 Years of Life” because he was genuinely interested, or because Time Inc. company men were expected to. Some of both, most likely.

Either way, I wonder whether he questioned at any point in those 90 minutes why people would put up with still photographs when they could watch them move.

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A little thematic music … but whatever you do, don’t dance.

To steal a phrase from the Mennonites, I consider myself to have been in the Eighties, but not of the Eighties.

Growing up in that decade, I spent most of it wanting to be somewhere else. Most of my cultural choices in my pre-teen and teenage years (long hair, Grand Funk Railroad, Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell, Saturday Night Fever and Midnight Cowboy, to name a few) evinced a desire to escape.

I couldn’t avoid the popular culture of my youth, though.

For instance, I was still listening to Top 40 radio (the late, unlamented WMJQ-92 in Rochester) when the movie Footloose hit big in 1984, dragging a whole raft of hit songs along with it.

The movie told the unlikely but apparently true story of an Oklahoma town that banned dancing, with Kevin Bacon (not yet a pop-culture in-joke) starring as the big-city drop-in who broke the elders’ grip on their children’s hips.

Sounds dopey now — and indeed, I think it was kinda dopey then — but it made its mark on People Of A Certain Age, even those who wished they were somewhere else.

I had to think of Footloose, and all the related Eighties baggage, when I saw this week’s calendar entry:

March 4, 1961.

March 4, 1961.

I dunno what was going on in the red print — something about birthday cards, gifts and Time magazine.

Instead, I concentrated on the black print, which says something about my dad the teenage musician having a gig (“Job”) but stipulating that the gig involved “no dancing.”

I found that curious for reasons having nothing to do with Kevin Bacon.

Stamford and its environs are not particularly fundamentalist, and certainly not the sort of places to prevent people from shaking their tail feathers.

Inevitably, I had to wonder: Where was this gig, and why did the musicians hired in advance know that people wouldn’t be dancing?

And what did it matter to my dad? Did his preparations for the gig somehow change, based on whether or not people would be cutting the rug? Did he have to adjust his musical phrasing to be as corny and square as possible, to discourage any would-be jivers from taking the floor?

I asked my dad, and not surprisingly, he was unable to recall this specific gig at almost 55 years’ distance. Nor did he recall why Terpsichore was not a welcome guest.

He did come up with one interesting suggestion based on the calendar entry. In those days, he sometimes brought musical “fake books” to gigs, to help him navigate unexpected and unfamiliar tunes. If he knew in advance there was not going to be any dancing, that might have been a cue to bring a different book.

In his words:

Pretty mundane, but at the very last “no dancing” would indicate a different repertoire, and therefore would probably be a clue to bring different music.

 I did occasionally play with folks I didn’t play with regularly, and brought a cardboard fold-away music stand (looked like one of those big band stands when assembled) from which I read.  Other times it was probably more a security blanket, but yeh, I brought it.

Funny how much you keep in your head at that age.  Nowadays when I write a gig on the calendar I write the time, who’s on the gig, the place, the dress, sometimes the pay (that’s usually in a contract I have in my filing system).  Can’t believe how cavalier I was about gigs then!

(Apparently, around this time, a Midwestern office of the FBI noted that “practically every professional musician in the country owns a copy of one of these fake music books.” The cultural history of the fake book would be a fascinating blog post … but, alas, this ain’t the one.)

So, who knows what the story was?

Perhaps there is some person in Stamford who recalls going to hear music but not being able to dance to it. Perhaps they were even the Dance Police, responsible for dragging rump-shakers off the floor and administering suitable punishment.

Like Footloose, it’s a long-ago memory now.

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It is part of every boy’s maturation to realize that his dad has feet of clay, and is prone to the same faults and vanities as everyone else in the world.

I learned that some time ago … I don’t remember when exactly, which suggests the process was gradual and without trauma. And now, I can relate to his shortcomings just as well as I relate to anybody else’s.

This week, we — mayyyyyybe — catch my dad engaging in a little self-serving stretching of the truth.

To which I say:

“Well played, Slick.”

June 1, 1961. The Yankees, on their way to a 109-win season and a World Series title, are surprisingly stuck in third place.

June 1, 1961. The Yankees, on their way to a 109-win season and a World Series title, are surprisingly stuck in third place. There are no Mets.

Even in his high school days, my dad was a working semipro musician, playing piano and saxophone in a variety of settings. We wrote about one of his gigs, at a high school prom, just a week or two ago.

As a result of that, there is a steady stream of “JOB” notations on the calendars of 1961-62. (Occasionally, there is also a “NO JOB” note in my grandpa’s writing — usually following two straight nights of gigs. Enough was enough, I guess.)

A few years ago, my dad admitted to me that not all those “JOB” listings were quite what they appeared.

See, the Blumenau family only had one car in my dad’s high school years. And, like most high schoolers, my dad liked getting the keys for a night of cruising the town — or crossing the state line to New York, where the beering age was 18.

So from time to time, my dad would log a phantom “JOB” on the calendar as a means of claiming dibs on the family car.

He couldn’t do it too often, of course. For one thing, phantom jobs didn’t pay. For another, my grandparents would only let him out so often — so if he took too many fake jobs, he might have to turn down a real one.

But, on a limited basis, it was an ingenious way to get out of the house with four wheels at one’s disposal, and no one the wiser.

I have no way of knowing whether this week’s calendar listing is a phantom gig or a real one.

I sorta suspect it might have been real, because it happened on a Thursday night at 6:30, and there’s nothin’ shakin’ but the leaves on the trees at 6:30 on a weeknight.

On the other hand, this particular calendar listing is devoid of all detail save for time. No location, no mention of a leader for the gig.

So, who knows? Maybe my dad threw his saxophone in the trunk right after dinner, and spent the evening of June 1, 1961, drinking cans of warm Rheingold with his high-school buddies.

To which I say, again:

Well played, Slick.

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