Saturday, November 15, 2014
My middle school years were spent at Merrillville Junior High in the northwest corner of Indiana. We moved there in October of 1963 right before John F. Kennedy was assassinated and the Beatles hit the American shores to make modern music history. I was a socially awkward kid in the transition between my much beloved childhood years and the intimidation of growing into my teen years. Music was one of the many refuges I had to escape the insecurities brought by growing older.
Since my earliest childhood I enjoyed listening to the music from my parents' record collection. They had eclectic tastes that ran from pop, easy listening, classical, early rock, and odd selections such as compilations of bullfight and circus music. The variety of styles they listened to shaped my own musical tastes so that I had a broad appreciation of all styles of music.
Having spent her late childhood and early adolescent years during the Bobby Soxer Era of the 1940's when Frank Sinatra was the idol of many young girls, my mother was a Sinatra fan. There were always some of his records in my parents' collection. I too became a Sinatra fan and he became one of my favorite artists.
During my junior high years I don't know how many of the other guys were listening to Sinatra, but I frequently listened to his music on the portable stereo in our family room. My feelings would turn to romance as I'd listen to his songs about love. I'd listen carefully to the lyrics of great songs like "Moonlight in Vermont", "I Can't Get Started", or "If I Had You" and occasionally try my hand at writing similar types of lyrics. For a while I dreamed up a running James Bond type spy story in my head that was inspired by Sinatra songs. The music of Sinatra fueled my imagination.
Eventually the rock music of the 1960's won me over and that became my passion. Sinatra songs like "It Was a Very Good Year", "Summer Wind", and "Something Stupid" would continue to show up on the hit charts and I was happy to hear them played on the radio. My mother continued to buy new Sinatra albums that I would listen to and enjoy. Then, after I had started college, my mother received an 8-Track of the latest Sinatra album offered by the record club to which she belonged. The album was Watertown.
As soon as I began listening to the album I was hooked. Sinatra's familiar style and phrasing was all there, but there was something striking about the songs. For one thing the series of songs told a story, not in the way that a musical would, but it was more like reading a book or watching a movie. They were excellent songs and I liked every one of them. Watertown became a favorite tape that I listened to often.
I tried to get some of my friends interested in the music, but none of them were Sinatra fans and the music didn't strike them as much as it did me. It didn't matter though. I continued to listen often to the tape until eventually it must have stopped working like 8-Tracks were notorious for doing or maybe it just disappeared. The music was now etched in my mind and I often replayed the songs as I remembered them in my head.
Years later I tried to find the album on cassette tape, but it was nowhere to be found. Watertown never did go over much with the public so it was not in general release. What was to me one of Sinatra's best albums was among his least popular and faded into obscurity. It had attained critical acclaim when it was released, but it didn't get many sales so apparently the record company saw little reason to re-release it on newer recording formats.
While researching my Battle of the Bands post at Tossing It Out I ran across some additional reasons that I liked the Watertown album so much. This album was Sinatra's experimental foray into a more modern rock influenced sound. Indeed, he had already recorded some albums that dabbled in rock sounds and popular hits like the Cycles album of 1968. Besides Watertown being a concept album in the song cycle tradition, the songs were produced and co-written by Bob Gaudio who was one of the main creative forces behind one of my favorite groups in my junior high years--The Four Seasons. Also on board with song lyric credits was Jake Holmes who wrote the song "Dazed and Confused" which was popularized by Led Zeppelin.
Though the Watertown album has the fine backing of an orchestra, there is also a greater emphasis on a more rock-sounding ensemble of drums, bass, and guitar, giving the songs a bit more punch than preceding Sinatra albums had. Later covers of songs from Watertown as recorded by groups like Cake and Bomb Dawg show how adaptable to rock the songs are. Though not truly rock, Watertown put Sinatra on the cusp of an edgier sound while keeping him in the comfort zone of what he did best.
Please be sure to visit Tossing It Out to vote for your favorite version of the song "What's Now Is Now" from the great Watertown album.
What is your favorite Frank Sinatra album? Do you think Sinatra's music will continue to be appreciated by many in the future? What were some of your musical faves when you were a kid or teen that most of your peers would have been unlikely to listen to?
Saturday, November 8, 2014
|Girl in shower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
What child doesn't become somewhat preoccupied with the topic of sex? For that matter does that preoccupation ever go far from our minds in adulthood? We look at the sexual content of much popular entertainment as well as the sexual fixation of the advertising industry. Sex is and has always been on the human mind from the earliest years until the day we die.
Sexual curiosity came to my childhood as far back as my earliest memory. I suppose much of it is built into our genetic make-up and is fueled by what we see and hear all around us. I remember puzzling allusions by adults to mysteries I could not comprehend, but I knew it all had to do with physical relationships and attributes of the human body. Bit by bit I began to grasp some of the esoteric jokes and conversations that I would overhear from the adults and that even some of my peers would occasionally bring up.
Always hoping for a glimpse of the hidden parts of especially the opposite sex I kept my eyes open just in case something might be revealed to me. I would be titillated by the spinning ice skater, not realizing that I was not seeing the woman's undergarments but only a part of her costume. When my mother would take me into the ladies room rather than send me alone into the men's bathroom, I would hope that just maybe I would see into one of the occupied stalls. One of the heights of my kindergarten year was when Ruth Springer was removing her snow suit (anyone remember snow suits?) in the cloak room and she accidently pulled down her painties exposing her little bare bottom. I'd never thought too much about Ruth before that day and from then on had a newfound respect for her.
I went through the "You show me yours and I'll show you mine" phase through which many little kids pass. A friend and I might hide in the living room curtains stripping down to our underwear until my mother wanted to know what we were doing and we'd hurriedly pull up our pants, emerging to announce innocently, "Nothing". The curtains gave a false sense of security to us mischievous children, but my mother was not fooled by any of it.
One of the milestones of my sexual awakening in childhood came when I was about five. My mother used to bathe me and my sister, who was a year younger than I, together from the time we were babies. I never gave this any of that much thought because she was my sister and I had no prurient interests in her--she was like my buddy and co-conspirator. Taking a bath together was just a part of sibling life. Then came a turning point in this activity.
We were visiting my grandparents in West Virginia and my eight year old female cousin was also visiting at the same time. My cousin held a certain intrigue for me, she being an "older women" so to speak and a girl who I found kind of cute. We rarely saw each other since we lived some distance apart, but when she was around I wanted to be in her company as much as I could.
When the time for baths came my cousin and sister headed toward the bathroom and I was right behind them only to be stopped at the door by my grandmother. Peering around the door into the long bathroom where water was running into the big claw-footed bathtub, I could see my cousin and sister giggling and preparing to take off their clothes. My grandmother stepped between me and the view and shut the door behind her. It was made clear to me on that day that boys and girls did not take baths together. No communal baths ever took place for me after that day. I'm sure my mother and her mother had a discussion about it. On that day one of the great mysteries and desires of my childhood would remain a mystery.
Did you ever play "doctor" or other games related to sexual curiosity? Did you take baths with siblings? Do you think sexual curiosity is learned, innate, or a bit of both?
Saturday, November 1, 2014
|Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Since today is known as Day of the Dead in some cultures and we're in the scary Halloween season, I've been running a series of sort on my blog Tossing It Out about the topic of death. It's not a topic that many of us like to contemplate, but it is a part of life for all of us. After you've finished this essay at Wrote By Rote I hope you will continue on to my post at Tossing It Out to vote on my Battle of the Bands offering for the first of this month. Yes, it's a song about death.
During my childhood I did not have many direct encounters with death. When I was very young--about 4 or 5--my aunt died. Since I never was around her the loss didn't register much for me though I was concerned about my mother's distraught state after it happened. The thing about that death that I remember the most was that my aunt and uncle lived in a nice house and had a color television set--a rarity in the mid-1950's.
Sometime around those same years I found my mother crying one afternoon and asked her what was the matter. She said our family doctor had died. He didn't seem all that close to me and my family so I didn't understand her sadness. He was just a guy that I went to see when I was sick or getting checked up and sometimes he'd give me a shot, which I did not like at all.
Years of childhood went by during which I'd get wind that someone my parents knew had died or maybe some relative whom I had no recollection of ever having met. If my parents had gone to any funerals during those years it was an event that eluded me. I'd seen graveyards and funeral homes, but never went to any of those kinds of places.
The first time I ever saw a dead body was when I was still in high school. It was in a car accident. I was riding in the back seat with my parents and we passed a car that appeared to have been in a minor fender bender at an intersection. There did not appear to be much damage to the car, but in the back seat nearest to the side that I was sitting on was a man with his head leaning against the window. He appeared to be merely resting or perhaps unconscious, but there was a great deal of blood splattered on the window. I was puzzled about the amount of blood as the man appeared to be generally uninjured. In fact, I didn't even realize he was dead until I read about it in the paper the next day. The accident must have just happened shortly before we came upon it because the other occupants of the car, including some children seated near the man, were just sitting in the car with dazed confused looks. None of them appeared to be hurt, but just uncertain about what to do. And the man was dead. I didn't even realize he was dead and maybe the people with him didn't know it yet either.
Since that first direct encounter with death I have experienced the deaths of friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members. I've been to many funerals and sent off many cards and messages of condolences to survivors. As I grow older death has settled in as a frequent visitor to remind me of my own mortality. Death will eventually come for me one day, but I'm certainly in no hurry. Take your time, o death, I'm not ready to go anywhere with you. Not quite yet.
Have you had many encounters with the death of loved ones in your lifetime? When was the first time you actually saw a dead person? Do you think about your own death or is this a topic that you try to avoid?
Hope you'll stop by to vote on my Battle of the Bands post at Tossing It Out. Thanks!
Saturday, October 25, 2014
|Hazardous waste bottle in a chemical lab (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Like most kids I had a curiosity about chemistry, sometimes bordering on the potentially hazardous. If interesting ingredients were accessible I was ready to mix them up to see what would happen. I'm pretty sure it was inspired by something I'd seen on TV. In one case I know it was.
In one of the Little Rascals episodes the gang was baking a "surprise cake". They mix up a batch of stuff in the kitchen to create a batter that eventually starts groaning and bubbling. I wanted to do that. So one summer afternoon while my mother was talking to a neighbor across a backyard fence, my sister Joy and I and one of the neighbor kids decided to make our own surprise cake. Joy and I were about 4 and 5 at the time and had imaginations that were always at work.
We climbed the counters, digging out flour, milk, spices, and whatever else we could get to and manage to get open and we started mixing in the biggest bowl we could find. The mixture never bubbled or made noise, but we sure did make a big mess, evident by my mother's angry reaction when she came inside. To our defense, we were in a hurry to mix things up and didn't have time to clean up.
Then there was the time a few years later after we had moved to San Diego. Once again it was Joy and I and some friend from down the street. Joy and I were like the two stooges so I guess we always needed another kid to make the trio complete. It was summer and we were exploring the garage to see what was there. We quickly started assembling an assortment of chemical products--cleaning supplies, turpentine, and other miscellaneous containers of mystery liquids.
We got a galvanized metal bucket in which to mix up our chemicals and the experiment was underway. After stirring up half a pail of some nasty smelling dark liquid we waited to assess the results. Nothing happened so we hid the bucket away in a sort of clubhouse that we had constructed out of stuff that was stored in the garage. We then went to seek out other mischief.
It was a few days later when a truly foul smell started permeating the garage. When my mother inquired about the smell Joy and I looked at each other conspiratorially. We knew what that smell was and now we were a bit concerned. Scared even. After my mother had gone back inside the house we immediately went to where the bucket was hidden. The brew had a gag-inducing smell with a truly sickening appearance with unidentifiable particles floating in a film on top. It was disturbing to say the least.
Now I can't exactly recall what we did with this toxic mixture. It was undoubtedly deadly or at least unsafe. If this had been in the current age we might have called a hazardous waste clean-up crew to dispose of the substance. Maybe we just dumped it in the backyard or maybe one of our parents disposed of the evil liquid. As I think more on this I do believe I dumped it into a utility sink that was beside the washing machine in the garage. I don't know what we created in that frightening chemistry experiment but I shudder to think back on it.
It was kind of funny though--in a perverse sort of way.
What were some of your fearful kitchen adventures? Did you ever mix up liquids to see what you could brew? What did you brew?
Saturday, October 18, 2014
|An illustration of a character from a story; also, an illustration of illustrations |
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Earlier this year I put up a post called "Curiosity Kid" in which I talked about some of things that mystified me as a child and wanted to know more about. These were incidents that might have been somewhat embarrassing to my mother putting her in an uncomfortable spot. There were other instances that were probably more of a nuisance to my mother or things that were done surreptitiously.
The Science Experiments:
Kids are scientists at heart. When we are young we are always experimenting to see how things work or what will happen if we do something that we probably shouldn't be doing. And for the latter, most of those somethings are things we definitely shouldn't be doing.
Rarely did I have a toy for too long before I began dismantling it to see what was inside and how the darn thing worked like it did. Mechanical toys were my favorites. Once the outer layer was broken through, I would make great discoveries such as finding that the Japanese recycled things like tin cans and old magazines to manufacture the toys they sent to us kids in the U.S. This was the pre-China years when most cheap products were "Made in Japan". After the dismantling, I would be without a toy and left with a pile of useless scrap that could not be reassembled. Another toy in the garbage.
My most major accomplishment of destruction for the sake of curious discovery was the beautiful bouncing horse that my sister and I got for Christmas one year. I was about 4 or 5 at the time. The horse was made of sturdy plastic and suspended by heavy duty metal springs to a metal framework. Not only could one bounce on the horse, but there was also some sort of mechanism which after pulling a string the horse would make realistic horsey sounds. My mission was to find out how those sounds were made.
Lacking any patience for careful dismantling--there seemed to be no easy way to take the horse apart to get to its innards--I took the most logical approach to doing the job. I used a hammer. With great energy I bashed through the plastic to find an odd little device that was something like a miniature record player. After having liberated the mechanism from the hard plastic shell of the horse, the device now only played a weaker more draggy version of the horse sounds until it eventually quit working. No horse sounds, no bouncy horse. Consequently we never got another horse like it.
Did childhood curiosity ever lead you to dismantle toys or other items? Do you like to find out how things work? Has any of your children, grandchildren, or other children in your life shown a predilection for taking things apart?
Saturday, October 11, 2014
Over the past few years I've written about my old friend Dan Holom on my blogs. On Wrote By Rote I did an A to Z post about Friendship in 2013. A few years earlier on Tossing It Out I related a story about a possible telepathic connection between my friend and I. You can follow the links to read those stories. Today I have a follow-up story regarding my long-time friend.
Dan Holom and I became friends way back in junior high school nearly fifty years ago. We were best friends during that time. When high school came I moved away from Merrillville, Indiana where my family had been living during those junior high school years and relocated hundreds of miles away in East Tennessee. I occasionally heard from Dan and saw him a couple of times over the years, but then for a few decades we lost contact. I never forgot about him and though I had an idea where he was living, I never managed to reconnect with him until 2005.
He came to visit me in California in 2006. Actually he was meeting with the illustrator for a children's book he had written so he decided to pay me a brief visit as well during his short week-end stay. Since then we have kept regular contact.
A signed copy of his book Sleepy Sheepy and Daniel arrived in my mail sometime in 2008. I was thrilled to see that his dream had come to fruition. Over the years since then Dan has been working hard at promoting his self-published book. Anyone who has been involved with self-publishing knows the hard work involved in promoting a book. Dan has been steadily pushing his book through speaking engagements and whatever else he could do to promote sales.
Now he has released his book on Kindle which makes distribution via Amazon far easier than trying to market to the book stores on his own. The book is also cheaper for readers. Sleepy Sheepy and Daniel is based on the Bible story of Daniel in the lion's den. With whimsical illustrations by acclaimed Disney animation artist Mark Henn, children and adults will enjoy this entertaining book that is very values oriented.
If you don't mind spending $1.99 or if you have Kindle Unlimited where you can read the book for free, I would encourage you to help Dan with his book sales. I think any children in your life would enjoy this book--it would make a great gift. And once you've read the book please remember to leave a review on Amazon and wherever else you typically leave book reviews (don't forget your blog as well!).
Dan Holom and Mark Henn have big plans ahead. Their book is to be turned into a series of Sleepy Sheepy adventures. The success of this first book will make the publication of the next book an easier process. Wouldn't you like to be a part of this fun series for children? I hope so!
You can find my reviews of Sleepy Sheepy and Daniel at Amazon, Goodreads, and my Sunday blog A Few Words.
Have you had friends that you've reconnected with after many years? Have you purchased any children's books on Kindle? Can you help my friend Dan Holom launch his book series (sharing this post would also help)?
Saturday, October 4, 2014
|Computer-globe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Since "Google" has become synonymous for "search engine" I've used this term in my title. It's the search engine that I use almost exclusively and I would imagine most of you do so as well. There are many search engine options and in many ways any of them are superior--certainly far more convenient--than other research options.
Some of you enjoy going to the library and this research option can provide some great hands-on opportunities for research with resources that are frequently more reliable than internet resources. Most of us have probably been the victim of unreliable internet sources which in some cases get duplicated onto other sites until the faulty information eventually gets permutated into seemingly reliable information
Caution must be taken when doing internet research, but that is an applicable caveat to doing any kind of research. Often conflicting accountings of events and histories can mislead us if we are not careful. Using multiple resources, organizing data, and filtering by the application of our own sense of logical reasoning can help us in drawing the best conclusions, but mistakes can still be made if enough care is not taken.
My personal experience with internet research is a mixture of good and bad. Search engines can give us access to facts such as weather, historical events timelines, geographical data, or even genealogical background--usually much of this information can be obtained for free right from your computer at home. If you're like me and prefer to work in the comfort of your own home rather than getting out into the hubbub of the outside world, obtaining information on the computer is a great advantage not only from the standpoint of convenience but also limiting stress and transportation costs.
Aside from the dangers of succumbing to inaccurate information that is sometimes disseminated online, my biggest trap is getting sidetracked by all of the easy access to other information related to our searches. Not that this can't happen in a library or similar research venue, but distractions come so much more easily when we are on the internet. One click on a link that we happen to see can lead us down a rabbit hole into subjects we had no intention of researching or just reading about.
The distractions can be fun and even result in new brainstorms. Sometimes we'll find information related to what we are looking for at the present or something we had previously been researching purely by accident. Taking that sideroad can turn out beneficial, but more typically our diversions just make the research activity last longer.
Google and other search engines are a boon to those of us who need to do research--usually far better than those encyclopedia sets most of us probably used for composing school reports. As with anything there are good and bad sides. The computer is an amazing tool for connecting ideas and bits of collected data. I've found numerous things related to my family history as well as data that has sparked memories about my own life.
In compiling accurate and interesting memoir, we should never limit the resources we use to collect data. We need to get out of our houses to experience the world and the lives of the people around us. Reading good resource materials and talking to others can provide information we might not have run across in other ways. However, since we often do spend so much time at our computers, the search engine is one of the better ways to prompt and fuel our imaginations.
What is your preferred or favorite way of finding memoir data? Do you have a problem finding trustworthy data online? Can you recommend any particular sites that are particularly useful when researching for writing a memoir?