20Apr

Teach Your Children How to Spend

                                           

Sometime in July of 1955, a magical thing happened. Walt Disney’s dream came true, and the gates to Disneyland were opened wide. Originally called Disneyland, its name was changed to Disneyland Park in the 1990s to distinguish it from the expanding complex. The place was and is full of glitter and romance, inhabited by princesses and princes and a mouse named Mickey.

Back then, I had the embarrassing opportunity to tour the Magic Kingdom. Yes, embarrassing. My mother insisted that I place a Mickey Mouse ears/hat on my head, which already had oversized ears, and I looked like a two-headed rat, er, mouse. I don’t know what that embarrassing hat cost back in 1955—it was an original—but Annette looked a lot better in it than I did.

This blog is not about my childhood humiliations, though. It’s about the children of today and the movie Frozen, which has spawned an outbreak of buying frenzy for the movie’s costumes. Desperate parents are paying thousands of dollars for Elsa dresses. Yes, thousands!

This is insane! Even if parents have money to burn, they are sending their children a discomforting message about consumerism and the things that matter: They will always get what they want.  Corporate retail loves this, but what if children’s future careers are more barista than barrister, as happens often today, and they are confronted with disappointing choices they are unprepared to make? The VW will have to do instead of the Lamborghini, and even buying the basics might require some thought. The price of milk has skyrocketed, and gas remains volatile, making me very glad I don’t need to drive a lot.

I’m not sure if my argument is more with the media marketing giants that lead us to want, want, and want until we actually believe that we need, need, need, and will spend the bread, bread to get it, or is it just part of a continuing circle?  In the case of the Elsa dresses, you search, run, and beg and plead because you want to be a good parent and give to your child what you didn’t have. (“Gee, mom, my friends have one. Why can’t I?”) I’m not condemning parents, but I do think it’s feeding a circle of want that makes corporations giddy with happiness and leaves values in peril.

There will be more thoughts about these and other topics at Rambling Harbor. Stop by and give a listen.

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13Apr

8 Track , Cassette and Stereo

Music of the 1960’s and 1970’s was saved on an odd piece of recording equipment, the 8-track tape.  Formally called Stereo 8, it was cutting-edge technology.  April 11 is National 8-Track Day and can be celebrated by paying tribute to the Beatles and the White Album, their first record on 8-track (and I think it’s fair to say, if you have that 8-track it might be worth a pretty Penny Lane).  Jackson Browne gave a nod to the technology of the time in “Stay,” as you might recall. But alas, the great 8-tracks as well as cassettes are no more.

Something else that has all but disappeared from our landscape, smothered by mp3, is the good old-fashioned record store selling vinyl—touch me, feel me, play me. There is nothing like holding an album, feeling the groove, so to speak. Of course, there are still some record stores, fun dusty places where an audiophile can go on a treasure hunt and maybe find that lost piece of vinyl from childhood. When I moved from a very large place to a very small place I was forced to sell off over 300 mint-condition albums to the stores that bought and sold used records.  I discovered there is still a big market out there for collectors of vinyl and also saw that vinyl is making a comeback and for good reason. There is no sound like it and another cause to celebrate. The seventh annual Record Store Day is April 19.

Last week I talked about the Internet saving radio by giving it more life. Your local station is now anywhere you are, live and screaming in your car. If you missed that one, including my review of Twenty Feet from Stardom, check it out here http://creative-treehouse.com/internet-saved-the-radio-world/.

There’s more on the magic that once was, a few words on the 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, and other random thoughts at Rambling Harbor.  Stop in and give a listen.

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12Apr

Internet Saved The Radio World

Like most kids, I grew up in the custody of my parents. I call it custody because wherever they went I was mostly obliged to follow. After several attempts to escape at ages 1 and 2, I accepted the fact that I would be held hostage until at least the age of 18. Please don’t misunderstand. My parents were extremely good and caring people, and I was never abused in any way, but we traveled a lot. I have often joked I was not sure if we were government or mafia. Now I’m not sure there is much of a difference, but my dad was government.

Traveling can be a great learning experience and I am so grateful for all the places I got to see, but here is the issue. You settle down in one place with one school, some friends, and most of all your favorite radio station. Then whack, wham, it’s time to travel on. You find a new school and make new friends, but half way around the world, where is your favorite AM station playing all the hits of today?

In those days it was all AM and stayed that way until that wonderful underground purveyor of songs longer than three minutes, FM, came along. FM radio killed AM radio, at least for me, and in 1979, “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Like all the other tracks on that Buggles LP, the theme was promotion of technology while worrying about its effects. I have a love-hate relationship with technology and still worry about technology and its effects on us.

In some cases, technology can be a good thing, and this is one of them. Now if you find you have become a gypsy, there are no worries about losing your favorite radio station, and I do mean radio. Say you left New York headed for L.A. In the middle of the New Mexico desert you can still hear your favorite station live on the radio from the Big Apple. Internet radio and podcasting have been around for a while, but now it’s going to be in your car wherever you go. Radio is no longer local. It is truly worldwide. The Internet is the future of broadcasting.

More about this and other musical high notes, including thoughts on a great movie, 20 Feet from Stardom, in the podcast. Come ashore and give a listen.

 

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30Mar

Harvard Square, Not Just a University

                    

I took a short trip down memory lane last week, wandering through the Village in New York, visiting the Café Wha and Bob Dylan, among others.  Now I want to share some memories of a place called Harvard Square, which actually is not a square at all but a large triangular area near the center of Cambridge at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue, Brattle Street, and John F. Kennedy Street. It is the historic center of Cambridge and adjacent to Harvard Yard, the heart of Harvard University.

I got a large part of my education in Harvard Square, or the Square, as it’s often called, not at the University but in places like Jonathan Swift’s and Jack’s and the better known Club 47, now Passim. The folk revival movement of the 1960’s forever changed American music, and that change manifested itself solidly in Club 47. One Tuesday night performer was listed as the anonymous “Girl with Guitar.” That performer turned out to be Joan Baez, who at 17, soon after Club 47 opened, gave her first performance.

The Harvard Square of the 60’s and 70’s saw hundreds of performers making the pilgrimage to Club 47 to be part of the Cambridge folk music world: Judy Collins, Pete Seeger, Clay Jackson and Ethan Signer of the Charles River Valley Boys, and Taj Mahal. Some were students, or drop-outs, of Harvard, Boston University, and Radcliffe, such as Tom Rush, Joan Baez, and Bonnie Raitt, respectively, and others came because they knew someone here. Joan Baez brought a good, young singer to Club 47, but it was booked, so Bob Dylan played for free between sets, never playing an official gig.

When I first strolled the streets of Harvard Square, it was a lot funkier than today’s upscale version, not unlike the Village, where Cafe Wha still stands on McDougall street but the falafel is now out of reach for a poor musician. My Square was in the early 70’s: the Vietnam War was over, and it felt like a time of peace. There was a gentler flow of energy then, and on hot summer nights, musicians played on every street corner. Maybe the Taurus in me resists change, but I liked the funky version better.

There are more musical memories and other stuff on the shores of Rambling Harbor. Stop by, grab a driftwood seat, and give a listen.

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29Mar

Bob Dylan and Cafe Wha

In early 1962 “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by The Tokens was the Number One song in America. That January “The Twist” by Chubby Checker broke loose, followed by “The Peppermint Twist” by Joey Dee and The Starliters, and on Feb 24, 1962, “The Duke of Earl” by Gene Chandler was rockin’ at the top. It seems to me, maybe without knowing it,we were bubble-gumming ourselves to death. Just add high school sweaters, no thinking required.

But things were about to change. On March 20, 1962, 52 years ago, “Hey Baby,”a little known and not often remembered ditty by Bruce Channel, was holding at Number One—and Bob Dylan released his first album. The self-titled album didn’t make it to the BillboardTop 100, only selling 5,000 copies, but four months later he would record the track “Blowin’ in the Wind,” which would change music and many lives forever. Dylan never had a number-one hit—the closest he came was Number Two with “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Rainy Day Woman,” but everyone from Norah Jones to the Ramones has done covers of Dylan's tunes. After 52 years, I think it’s safe to say his influence on music has been number one. Robert Allen Zimmerman, born May 24, 1941, will soon celebrate his 73rd birthday. In my life and many others, he has made a big, positive difference. Thanks, Mr. Dylan.

In a notable historical fact, Louis Réard, a French mechanical engineer, introduced a new garment to the media and the public on July 5, 1946, at Piscine Molitor, a public pool in Paris. He named it the bikini.

In other events, ‘The Mouth,’ as I call him (or should I say one of the mouths of show business), Kanye West, was given 24 months’ probation and ordered to do 240 hours of community service for hitting a photographer at LAX airport. He is also required to complete 24 sessions of a level-two anger management program and must turn himself into the LAPD for a formal booking. Anger management? Well, it’s a start.

I was born at the right time—Dylan and the Bikini. There’s more on the shores of RamblingHarbor. Stop by and give a listen

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