Thursday, March 26, 2015


If it is true that most of us use only 10% of our brain power, then I have a special handicap. About 50% of my 10% is occupied with song melodies and lyrics. I take pride in my wide-ranging song knowledge, but I realize that remembering songs is keeping my brain from focusing on other information that might be even more valuable.

Nothing is more fun than listening to the Sirius/XM station “Sixties on 6.” I grew up on those songs. I can’t claim to have “made out” to most of those songs (my making out skills were sadly lacking in the sixties), but I did dance to them and sang along while I danced. And I can still sing along today. Which is pretty amazing since I often can’t remember details about what happened in my life yesterday – or the reason I have just entered a room with great determination, only to stop dead in my tracks.

Over the past few weeks, Audrey and I have been driving to Vermont on Saturday afternoons when Lou Simon has been hosting his weekly “Sirius Sixties Survey” show. He does more than “spin the records” of that calendar week during one of the years during the sixties; he also tells great stories behind the songs. For example, just this week I learned that the real names of the singers performing “Hey, Paula” were not Paul or Paula. Their real names were Ray and Jill. But the record producer decided it made little sense to use their real names on the label. The record sold more than 2 million copies, and I’ll bet that most of us believed that it was really Paul and Paula who wanted to marry each other. (By the way, the duo had a second hit on the charts in March 1963, “Young Lovers,” but I didn’t remember that one.)
Ray and Jill pledge their love
Simon also revealed that the bass voice on “Mr. Bass Man" (song #28 last week) was also the deep voice on “Who Put the Bomp” a few years before. No, none of us need to know this stuff, but our lives are fuller with the knowledge. At least, mine is. And I’m storing the information in my 10%.

And there were more surprises. For example, the #16 song that week was “All I Have to Do Is Dream” sung by (are you ready for this?) Richard Chamberlain. He did more than break hearts and cure disease as Dr. Kildare. He also had three hits on the charts in 1963. Can anyone name the other two? Lou Simon, of course.

As Simon counted down to number one for the week of March 21, 1963, Audrey and I sang along and I reminisced. That’s what I do a lot when I listen to 60s music. And what was number one? “He’s So Fine” by the Chiffons. It was written by a man named Ronnie Mack, whose name impressed Motown songwriter Lamont Dozier enough to write a song called “Jimmy Mack” a little later on.
doo-lang doo-lang doo-lang
And "He's So Fine" was a key part in a plagiarism suit against George Harrison, who was part of another rock group that achieved its own fame in the sixties.
More than religion may have inspired George Harrison

Lou Simon is providing me with so much great stuff. But I wonder what my brain is giving up to make room for it all.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Back to the Future

During my academic career, my dorm rooms were burglarized twice—once during my senior year in college and once during the first three weeks of graduate school. Luckily, these were not grand larcenies because I didn’t own very much in those days. The thieves got away with a nice overcoat, a small stereo system, a clarinet that was of much better quality than the person playing it, a book of prepaid tickets for athletic events, and some assorted other items. In both cases, one thing was conspicuously left behind—my collection of opera records. Frankly, I was a little hurt. I decided that the thieves lacked class.

I have carried those opera albums with me for more than 40 years over a number of moves. They have gone from prominent places on bookshelves to storage boxes in the attic of our current home. They have been neglected but not forgotten as I moved on to cassette and then CD players.

Then, for my Hanukkah present this year, my kids gave me a new toy, a USB turntable. It’s a gizmo that looks a lot like an old-style turntable for playing LPs but includes a cable that can plug right into your computer. With that cable, it is possible to take music locked in the grooves of an old, dusty, neglected record album and turn it into digital files that can be stored on a computer and then transferred to a modern digital device such as my iPod. (Or so I read online. Frankly, it all sounds like magic to me, but I’m still amazed by modern miracles from telephones to fax machines. And don’t get me started on scanners!

 I decided I wanted the toy after reading reviews on the Amazon website. These reviews extolled the simplicity of digitizing favorite records, though they all hinted at some “minor complications.” Now, I worry about minor complications ever since the time Audrey bought some furniture items from Crate and Barrel that required “some minor assembly.” The assembly instructions were written by a Vietnamese furniture maker intent on getting back at Americans who fought a war in his homeland a few years back. I, luckily, avoided fighting in that war, but I did suffer through assembling the furniture.

I finally opened my gift this week and picked out an old favorite of arias from Madama Butterfly to serve as my guinea pig. Or was I the guinea pig? 
Butterfly finds new life in my computer
I discovered that this miraculous turntable functions in large part because of the presence of a small rubber band that fits over a spindle. I was warned to make sure that the rubber band was intact. If not, I should contact the manufacturer. It took me a while to figure out just where the band was, but luckily it was there. So much for minor assembly this time. Then I was instructed to input a software program in my computer to oversee the digitizing. I read the instructions once, twice, three times. I looked at the sample screens which didn’t quite match mine. That was because the instructions were older than my new computer. I had to go online to find newer instructions.

I won’t go into all of the boring details of my first digital transfer, but after only about 4 hours, I had brought new life to my old Madama Butterfly recording. Take that, you old thieves! But I wasn’t through. I still had to find a way to convert these files into a newer format to play on my iPod. That meant going online again, downloading a program, watching a You Tube video to make sure I was doing things right, asking my anti-virus protective software to stop flashing red warnings at me and let me download s potential virus source this one time. Of course this took more time, but what is a little time when you’re recapturing a piece of your history!
What digital music looks like on my computer screen.
Where is the magic?
In the end, I had a new recording of an old recording. And I can listen to it now as I type this overlong diatribe.

The good news is that it took only about an hour to make the next opera album transfer, though I still don’t know how to label and store individual tracks. That comes in Volume 2 of the instructions and is explained further in another You Tube video. But when I learn all of this, my family says I can play my old opera records whenever I want to—as long as I keep my headphones plugged in.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Are Boomers Bust?

At the end of The Heidi Chronicles, Scoop Rosenbaum, Heidi’s main love interest (who is, ironically, married to someone else), tells her that he has sold his influential magazine Boomer and is planning a run for Congress. The scene takes place in the late 1980s. Scoop seems poised to play a new and even more vital role in American society.

When Audrey and I first saw the play in the early ’90s, the sale of the magazine didn’t have any sinister meaning to us. It seemed like a natural progression and fit with playwright Wendy Wasserstein’s cynical view of Scoop and of American society coming out of the Reagan years.  Last night, we saw the play in its revival on Broadway, and Scoop’s decision to get rid of Boomer took on a whole new meaning. Maybe Boomers (yes, people like Audrey and me) are on our way out. Shudder!

Now I don’t think the playwright Wendy Wasserstein or even the director necessarily had this dire connotation in mind. But as an audience member in 2015, I felt it. I’d love to poll the audience that watched the play with us last night to get their opinion. They would have been a good sampling, since at least 75% of them were aging boomers like us. Most applauded loudly at play’s end, and many gave the actors a standing ovation. So maybe I’m wrong. Or maybe I’m too sensitive.

Elizabeth Moss as Heidi and women friends in the late '70s
When we first saw the play more than 20 years ago, Audrey was entranced, and I was happy to come along. Here was a play about well-educated professional women coming of age in American society, looking for their place, refusing to apologize for making that search, and establishing a strong voice. It was a fun ride from the early 1960s to the late 1980s, complete with music of each period and lots of humor and cynicism. How could it not speak to upwardly mobile Boomer women in the 1990s or even today? Not all goes well for Heidi, as she achieves professional success but laments her difficulty in finding happiness. How many Boomers does that describe! She looks for happiness in many different ways, as do the other characters. For several who do seem happy, the playwright adopts a mocking tone, showing their shallowness and implying that they don’t see the sand on which they are building foundations.

The play’s time span ended in 1989 because that is when it made its first appearance on stage. A lot has happened in America since then, and many changes have occurred in the lives of American women and gay men, the groups chiefly under focus in the play. One of the saddest changes during that time was Wasserstein’s untimely death in 2006 at age 55, leaving behind a young daughter and lots of unwritten plays. If Wasserstein were still alive, maybe she would have brought Heidi further up-to-date. Maybe she would have helped it speak to today’s Boomers more directly. Or maybe she would have written a new play about Boomers’ hopes and adventures in a new century. But the play we saw last night, while entertaining and well performed, was stuck in time, like something unearthed from a time capsule.

Several years ago, I managed to find a copy of the movie version of The Heidi Chronicles with Jamie Leigh Curtis that I gave Audrey for a Hanukkah present. We watched it and had a great time reliving our first Broadway experience. We didn’t feel any emptiness at the end. After all, you expect a movie or even a Shakespeare play to be of its time and can accept that idea. But a play about boomers who stop growing older and wiser before their time? Whose magazine is sold when then their “best years” are still to come? That can feel a little painful.
Heidi in movie form
In the final scene, Heidi and Scoop discuss their hopes that the world will be a more enlightened place for their children. They are passing the torch to a new generation (as a famous Boomer once said). But I still want to be part of the generation with a past, present, AND future. I am happy to be living in an age when being 65 is just another step toward a future. Especially when that step includes Medicare and senior discounts.