Memories Are Made of This

When I hear music like this I'm transported back in time to a quiet afternoon spent in my grandpa's tavern: sipping fruity "pop" from 10 ounce glass bottles, trailing my fingers through the sand on the big long shuffleboard table, watching the moving waterfall on the big Hamm's clock on the wall behind the bar. This song was actually released the year I was born, but of course, it all ran together for me back then, just as it does now. 

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Dean Martin, born June 7, 1917. 

That world is so distant now; another time and place, sure, but it feels practically like another dimension I can no longer get to. At least we still have the music, though. 

 (and it's a Dean Martin extravaganza at my right-brain Tumblr page today.)


Burt, Billy, and Me, middle-aged sex and the tao

This is rather long and probably a bit chaotic. I keep being interrupted, and my mind is on so many things. So my brain got fuzzy when I tried to edit. Oh, well. You'll read it as a gift to me, and be rewarded with music at the end.

Completing my 46th trip around the sun today. If you're near my age there is one thing we have in common. No matter how cool your family was 40 or so years ago—and mine was, Dad listening to Ray Charles & old jazz, Mom into Motown, brothers playing Beatles records and more—there was still one constant in all our lives at that time. Burt Bacharach. 

Okay, and Laugh-In, unless your parents were the kind who thought that sort of thing was wicked. And talk of the moon landing, Vietnam, Liz and Richard, sure. 

But really, Burt Bacharach. I napped to him, is what I remember. I enjoyed his particular style very much, especially when rendered by the smooth jewel-toned Dionne Warwick, or the Fifth Dimension or one of those other vocal groups that made with the groovily blended harmonies back then. I never gave any thought to any of this, though. It was just background music for the times. Later on, if you asked me what I thought of it, I'd have remembered it all as distinctively bland, unexciting, good for listening to while dozing on a summer afternoon. Taken and smoothed out even further, it became what we then referred to as "elevator music."

Oh, and Billy May! I always liked his sound, but if I could conjur the typical listener of a Billy May record back in those days, it would have to be someone I'd make fun of, just a little. The kind of guy eventually known as Leisure Suit Larry. Or someone's uncle and aunt, the childless ones in a really sharp-looking apartment which came straight out of a catalog, but none of the chairs were comfortable. 

To me, back then, cool was only what young people were into, except not the ones who went around in ragged jeans that covered their dirty bare feet. Because that was just never cool, no matter how much your cannabis-addled brain thought so. Anyway.

Of course I was, as we all are early on, a young idiot. I had natural good taste, but didn't understand or appreciate it. And by the time I started to figure it out, there was no one else to share it with, not for a long time. 

The world's a bit more open-minded now, but when I was growing up, the Cult of Youth controlled everything. The baby boomers were in charge, and they were never going to grow up. At least, not grow up and turn into their parents. I didn't know it at the time, but their parents were laughing at them. To continue with music. How could you find anything sexy in "Paint it Black," when you were making out to "Tuxedo Junction" 20-25 years earlier? How could punk music 15 years later sound like anything but noise next to your cool jazz and bossa nova records? But that was the past, and to a young person in the 70s, that past looked sterile and uptight, though it was actually anything but. People like me who were interested in both present and previous eras were oddities back then. The Happy Days nostalgia for certain aspects of the 1950s was a fairly new type of phenomenon, and once that was over, the past was just old again.

All my favorite singers now were considered has-beens or jokes when I was young. They were not respected. They couldn't keep up with the rapidly changing times, and the ones who tried just looked awkward and out-of-place. Nothing was respected when I was very young except whatever someone had just thought of the day before. Many young people know better now, as they're exposed to so much more, but it's still a basic aspect of youth. And when they discover something that's been around awhile, they discover it as though they're the first ones to see how great it is. Young people discovered Tony Bennett and swing music and rockabilly…in the 90s, and acted as though they were gifting these phenomena to the world. As though, because they made the discovery, these things were worth appreciating as they never had been before. They eat them up and spit them out, though, and the turnover is remarkably fast. I am just barely, but barely, old enough to remember when a cultural era outlasted a shopping season. 

When you're young and filled with furious sexual energy, you think your time, the best time, the only time, is now. But all you're really doing is releasing excess energy, and you don't find out until later how good it can feel to burn and seethe and hang onto the energy, stretching it out to an aching point like the tempo of a great song. You think that when you're older, you won't feel sexy, no one else will look sexy, and you won't even care, but of course none of that is true at all. You know who already knew that when I was a kid? Billy May. 

He took this Burt Bacharach song that just everybody was recording when I was a little kid, and he made sex out of it. Don't laugh. It's easy to just write it off as cheesy ephemera of the Disposable Era. Listen to it with your eyes closed, instead, and think about what your parents knew that you thought they didn't know. Er, maybe don't picture them knowing it, though. 

The Look Of Love

I remember now and then while growing up, hearing some older person joke, "young people think they invented sex." Already my young adult children think there are things I might not get, or would find shocking. This is, of course, partly because as parents we shield these things from them so carefully when they're little. So when they discover it, they first assume we must not have known about it at all, since we never mentioned it. But of course there is nothing new under the sun. (And rule 34 was around well before the internet. Young people just gave it a new name.) 

But this is about music, and the point is, it was often and usually about sex, even though we didn't always get that when we were kids. It's just icky when you're little, a nearly violently biological imperative in young adulthood, and then, well, something quite different in middle age, quite spectacular if you let it be so. 

It's kinda like booze. Young people tend to like fruity or fizzy beverages. Even though I had a fairly well-developed palate when I was younger, the first time I tasted a martini, I was sort of depressed by it. How could that be the magical drink people sang about and glorified? I went for gimlets, instead; crisp and dry, but with a familiar fruity essence. However, the combination of gin and dry vermouth is a taste best acquired with seasoning, and once you've acquired that taste, so much of the rest seems cheap and cloying. All the best stuff is like that. Think of the various spiritual disciplines that aren't even available to students until after they hit forty. Your mind starts to stretch for real only when it starts to slow down a little bit. 

So when you look back at who you were 10, 15, 20 years ago, during the wine cooler days, Nirvana and NIN, and Alice in Chains, hopefully there's only a little melancholy, not too much regret and especially not any longing at all for better days gone by. The best is yet to come. 

The Best Is Yet To Come

(Talk about not getting it. This song just seemed sleazy to me when I was a young adult. Now it seduces me.)

Maybe there'll even be an opportunity to recapture a little youthful energy to enjoy in the delectable middle years. Now that you know so much better what you should be doing with it. No reason at all you can't still enjoy this (track chosen fairly randomly and hilariously,)

That's Not My Name

While really starting to appreciate this as well: 

I Wish I Were In Love Again

 


Limewire, Wild Cherry, Mint Car, Daiquiri

As a piece of writing, this is kind of a mess. But I think you'll enjoy it, anyway. 

Limewire, which I hadn't thought of in years, is dead. Ten years ago, we tried out Napster, but when Limewire came out a little bit later just as the original Napster was taking a dirt nap, I jumped on board and had a good ride for a little while. 

 Before Lars Ulrich took control of how we discovered new music for awhile, I made some remarkable discoveries through Limewire. One day, I wanted to hear more Bobby Darin music, but there were only limited choices on CD, and I knew there must be something I was missing. Of course, this was before YouTube, certainly before YouTube became what it is today. 

I typed Bobby Darin into the search window and saw quite a few names of songs I'd never heard by anyone before. It was very exciting. 

When was this, 8 or 9 years ago? We were living in the crazy old house in Rumson, I was using the 2000 Bondi Blue iMac, and for some mysterious reason, I was alone at the time, the first time, I heard this song. 

darin 

I can't express how it made me feel. It's physical. I've played this song hundreds of times since then, and I still catch my breath when it begins. 

My research showed that, at that time, it was available only on out-of-print collections. Same with the next song I fell in love with, which I described as causing me to need to change my clothes. 

standards

I searched for other recordings of these songs, and discovered/rediscovered other old recording artists. I learned which orchestra leaders tended toward which style of composition, and how to tell the differences between them. Because of those songs, I embraced a much larger segment of music than before, and began expanding my interests, which, really, were already fairly expansive for someone my age at that time. 

So many of us did. File-sharing clients changed the way we discovered new and old music, but more importantly, they allowed us to discover So Much More than ever before. 

I never lived near a cool college radio station. I didn't have cable TV when MTV was launched. I didn't gain access to the music I was searching for in my youth until someone introduced me to all the best stuff 1989 had to offer, stuff I'd never known how to find before. The Top 40 was all I was previously allowed to have, as a corporate citizen. And then through the early part of the 90s, we got our cool new music from MTV's 120 Minutes hosted by Dave Kendall. But it got more difficult again for a few years until the web had grown enough for everybody to start sharing with each other. 

Until, that is, Lars Ulrich and the record companies tried to put a stop to the collective groove. 

Twice in the 80s, my record collection was stolen. Limewire allowed me to find recordings of old favorites that I'd never been able to replace because they were old, out of print, or rare. 

24groovygreats

Why pay 45 dollars to some random used book store owner for a used recording of something that had once cost me 3.98? And part of me felt that I should not have to pay for them again, because I already had, before someone else took them from me.

Which brings me to Wild Cherry, and "Mint Car."

Remember Wild Cherry? 

wildcherry

Yeah, the rest of the album that song is on is just truly awful. But I paid 4 whole dollars for it in 1975 so I could have that song. There was no way for me to know then how the rest of it would sound. So often, a musical group would come up with a good song or two, but the record producer would need them released on an LP, so they put in a lot of schlock filler along with it. You could only be certain an album would be any good if you knew a whole lot about the band first, and even then, it was sometimes a miss. That's why I usually bought 78 cent singles. Other people made fun of me for not buying a lot of LPs, but I couldn't afford all that filler. 

Hard to believe, but this was still true in the 90s, for awhile. I mean, take The Cure. What Cure fan won't just buy whatever they call an album? Disintegration? Brilliant. Mixed Up? Yeah, okay, remixes, but really cool ones. That guy can play guitar, man. Wish was different, but darkly fun.  But then came Wild Mood Swings. The single "Mint Car" was a hit, but the album tanked. 

The_Cure_-_Wild_Mood_Swings

I think it's because it wasn't "Curish" enough. If you listen to it now, nearly 15 years later, it's really not bad. But it's kind of uneven and not all that inspiring. And even in 1996, which is the year we got the internet at our house, getting to hear that album ahead of time would not be an easy thing to do. 

Okay. For years, I didn't understand why all these ladies swooned over Michael Bublé. I didn't want anybody else, someone much younger than me, singing Frank, Dean, and Bobby's hits. And his contemporary pop music, which was all I really knew of him, seemed like romance novel pablum. But at some point, very into comparing everyone's version of "Fly Me To The Moon" or some such old song, I took a fresh listen to Bublé. I think he'd grown up a bit more by this time. And he actually made me sigh. I could tell, you know, he gets it. 

Do you think I would have gone out and bought a Michael Bublé recording in this age of ours if I hadn't gotten a very good listen first? No way. But I did, and then I did. 

Change is always in a state of acceleration. People who want to make money off everybody else always try to grab onto the latest new thing, define it, control it, repackage it to sell. Well, sure, that's enterprising. But we're moving too fast for most of them these days, and spreading out too far and wide. They hate that we don't really need them to get what we want, but basically, if they will just offer a good product honestly and not seriously piss me off by telling me that is the one way I should own something, I'll still often buy what they're selling. That's how a competitive marketplace works best. It's why I'm willing to pay a monthly fee for satellite radio. Choices spur the economy, not limitations. They don't get to sell me only pre-packaged advertising-sponsored schlock through my car radio anymore, because I get to choose another musical path, in fact, I get to choose several paths, in the car, on the computer, and on TV. And no more paying 15 dollars for a CD to which I've hardly been introduced.  

So anyway. The world wide web is a complex and amazing thing. Thanks, Limewire (with a nod to Napster,) for Bobby Darin, and Kay Kendall, and Billy May, for, finally, letting me again hear 24 Groovy Greats, and most importantly, for your part in helping the rest of us get to know each other through the music we love to share. You were stoppable, but really, we are not, anymore, and you had a hand in that.  

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unusual beauty?

From LIFE archives. 

Frank and Dean, Making Beautiful Music

"I don't discuss his girl with Frank or who he's going to marry. All I discuss are movies, TV, golf and drinking." –Dean Martin, date unknown. Pictured: The stars, photographed in a recording studio by LIFE's Allan Grant, take a cigarette break during the recording of Sleep Warm in 1958. The album was re-released in 1963 with a much more direct title: Dean Martin Sings/Sinatra Conducts.



Lights, Camera, Fedora

"He likes to pretend that he cannot remember lyrics and, blowing a line while singing, will gaze appealingly heavenward and plead, 'Don't just look down. Help me!' When he is on stage with other famous folk, the air is likely to clatter with competitive ad libs, many of which have been polished to perfection by re-use.... A favorite Martin target is his ex-teammate. 'These muscles,' he will declare, flexing his abundant supply, 'I got them from carrying Jerry Lewis for 10 years.'" —From LIFE's "Make-a-Million Martin," 12/22/1958. Pictured: Martin on the set of an unknown production that year.




two excerpts from last year's November novel

Over at the card table, Tommy and Vinny were arguing again. Oddly, it was about who put on a better show; Tom Jones or Engelbert Humperdinck.

“Did you know that Engelbert Humperdinck’s real name was Arnold? Who goes from Arnold to Engelbert? Somebody who takes himself way too seriously, that’s who!” Tommy shook his head mournfully. “Tom never did that. That’s why he still has a career.”

Vinny laughed, shuffling the cards slowly and deliberately, as he always did. He’s never in a hurry. “Some producer or agent named him that, that’s all. It’s what they did back in those days. Didn’t you ever think about what name you’d take to become a big star, Tommy?”

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