Saturday, January 1, 2011


I know, I know  - the title's a bit hokey. But I'll probably never have a chance to do it again, so... We are quickly reaching the "Ahhhhhhh' moment - the one where its all over until next year. That moment. It's here. Unless your tastes are more Catholic, in which case ya still got Epiphany to get through.

Here it is New Year and all, but it just doesn't have that button that gets the "Ahhhhh". As if the year just finishing wasn't bad enough - we seem to say that every year now_ if you grew up in the Philadelphia area you got a great surreal slam bang finish in the Mummer's Parade. I am not going to attempt to explain it just now. Here's a general idea of what it is like.

At any rate, you can relax now.

Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve - when I have to be at work at 6:15am the next morning, the bastards.

On my very first New Year's Eve after moving to Brattleboro, I found myself walking up the hill part of Linden Street. It was the last hours of 1995 and the fireworks had just ended (weren't they at 10pm back then?). I was about even with the Retreat Clock Tower when I became aware of the conversation of three people walking a polite distance behind me. "So," asked a male voice, "what do you think Noam Chomsky does on New Year's Eve?" That was the moment when I knew for sure that I had found my place to live.

This is where I used to live, on the hill part of South Main Street.
I sent this to a friend, but I'll be damned if I can remember what year it was.
 Here, they don't celebrate "First Night" on Dec. 31st. Here it's "Last Night". I've no doubt that it took several years, 7 committees, and hundreds of meetings with the same handful of people to come up with that name. But it is the correct choice. The sad thing is that "Last Night" is mostly a police'em and fleece'em kind of thing. It's a forlorn attempt at providing an alcohol free alternative environment for celebrating the joy of survival...  (which may not be all that well advised around here, if ya know what I mean. Just sayin'.)

From my childhood through my mid teens, I always ended up watching the ball drop in Times Square while "Auld Lang Syne" was played by Guy Lombardo live at the Astor Hotel Ballroom. (Oh, Robbie Burns, where are ya lad, where are ya ?) Somewhere, in Beta Max, I have two different NY's Eve shows. One of them is from 1958 when the show was sponsored by Bulova Watch Time with John Cameron Swayze. Or something like that. It was a long time ago. And nothing has been quite right since Guy stopped playing on New Year's Eve. But it seems that every year, I keep turning on the TV shortly before midnight hoping that the world will have righted, and I can safely go about my business.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Pop Culture that used to be

So, here's the thing : today is Marlene Dietrich's birthday. I started looking through old files for a certain pic - never did find it. But when I found a still from "Blond Venus", I started to recall a particular Dietrich entrance, and..... hmmmm, wondered if it would be on YouTube and there it was... and here it is:

Now, to continue a conversation Laura and I have been having: Today's kids are sadly lacking in not only general knowledge, but in Culture knowledge as well. For instance, they don't know who Gershwin  was (George or Ira). Or Noel Coward. Or just about anything that dates back more than say, 5 years ago. I'm talking about Pop Culture here, the kind that became the universal subconscious of our nation. The testament of our dreams, fears, and hopes. So, while I was watching the clip above, I realized that today's kids and younger adults weren't really exposed to things: I grew up as TV grew up. As a 5 or 6 year old, I had access to the three major networks as well as the Dumont network (TV tuners at the time only had channels 2 thru 13). Oh, how I loved a show on Dumont - it was 'Sheena, Queen of the Jungle', starring Irish McCalla. I was 5 years old.

Later, as the late 1950's gave way to the early to mid 1960's, UHF broadcasting arrived (channels 14 - 83). In the Philadelphia market we had two, maybe three of these smaller independent channels. Unable to afford much programming, they ran old movies. Oh, the Networks ran old movies too. Late afternoon around 4:30 was the Million Dollar Movie, there was one at 11:30pm opposite or after Steve Allen and/or Johnny Carson, etc. All the movies were in black and white, but then so was everything - color television was just starting to move to the commercial arena. I was in my mid teens before I knew that the Errol Flynn "Adventures of Robin Hood" was supposed to be in color.

At any rate, we got to see all of the old Hollywood product line again and again. We knew the songs, if they had any. We knew the famous lines of dialogue. Just two days ago I was reciting: "The vessel with the pestle has the pellet with the poison...". People seemed to think I had lost my mind.

Most of our popular music was the music of Broadway: "Tonight" from 'West Side Story', "Hello Dolly", "Till there was You" from 'The Music Man'. Etcetera. And the same songs would come around again in a couple of years when they made the movie versions. And Movie Roadshows - good God, a movie palace with a huge screen, advance reserved tickets, souvenir programs, ToddAO, Super Panavision, CinemaScope! Intermissions when you could buy candy or dash to the rest rooms. Music from the movie playing as you waited in your seat for the movie to start or after it ended. Curtains that would open and close in front of the screen (and a second set of curtains which were often painted in the theme of the theatre). (Sigh)

Ocean City, New Jersey
Painted curtain at the Strand.
Just about anybody born after the mid 1970's would have no knowledge, no memories, of this era. And they have no idea what they missed. There may be no real reason for them to know these things, but I find it rather sad that they don't.