Friday, July 29, 2011

Newfoundland Icebergs

This photo from Yahoo News today brings back fond memories of the 18 months my wife and I spent in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.  Ahhh summer days, just watching the icebergs drift by.

Photo caption: An impressive iceberg arrived in Newfoundland’s Goose Cove in mid-July. “Icebergs float in from Greenland,” said the photographer, Gene Patey. This one briefly blocked the town’s harbor before breaking apart and melting, “but the fishermen took their chances.”

Keene's Drive-In Movie Theatre

Like many of New England’s small cities/large towns, Keene, New Hampshire laid claim to one of those 1950s centers for inexpensive entertainment – the drive-in movie theatre. Keene’s single screen facility was located at the corner of Route 101 and Optical Avenue and had a capacity for about 400 cars. It’s not clear when the drive-in first opened, but it appears on a 1958 USGS topographic map and a NH Public TV clip refers to a new owner purchasing the property in 1953. The family-owned, family-run theatre was closed in 1985 and apparently the screen and snack bar were demolished shortly after.

In the 1998 black & white aerial photo below, the triangular outline of the property is quite clear, but you can see that vegetation has begun to reclaim the site. The color photo is from Google maps (2010) – the triangular outline and former rows for the cars are less obvious, but discernible, as vegetation continues to “attack” this unused sandy lot (the sandy soil has inhibited even more rapid revegetation than would normal occur with more organic soil conditions).

No still photos of the Keene Drive-In could be located on-line, but this Youtube links to an older (1980s?) NH Public TV segment on the drive-in and the family that owned it. The TV segment's narrator is storyteller and regional personality, Fritz Weatherbee. For followers of AVI’s blog, AVI is very much a younger version of Weatherbee.

Musical Poverty

I’m wondering if I can attribute my total lack of musical talent to my New England birth. I’ve always envied other parts of our country where a popular musical style was developed and is today's heritage of that culture. The Appalachians have their ballads and fiddle-banjo bluegrass, the deep South it’s spirituals and gospel music, the South and South Central birthed blues, rhythm and blues, and American jazz, and the West took cowboy music and morphed it into Country and Western and more recently into the chart-busting Country music genre.

So what music do you think of when you think about New England? The only thing I can come up with is Sea Shanties. Sea Shanties for Pete’s sake! When was the last time a Sea Shanty cracked the Billboard Top 40?

My relatives boarded whaling vessels in New Bedford and Nantucket and put out to sea for years on end, traveling all through the Pacific and Arctic. With all that time on their hands, you think they could come up with something more than Sea Shanties, wouldn’t you? We can only conclude that they must have been too preoccupied with attending scrimshaw classes on the arts & crafts deck to focus on music. How else can you explain little gems like:

Cape Cod Girls

1. Cape Cod girls they have no combs,
Haul away, haul away!
Combs their hair with cod fish bones.
And we're bound for south Australia!

2. Heave her up me bully, bully boys.
Haul away, haul away!
Heave her up and don't ye make no noise.
And we're bound for south Australia!

3. Cape Cod cats don't have no tails,
Haul away, haul away!
Lost them all in southeast gales.
And we're bound for south Australia!

4. Cape Cod kids don't have no sleds,
Haul away, haul away!
They slide down hills on cod fish heads.
And we're bound for south Australia!

5. Cape Cod ladies don't have no frills,
Haul away, haul away!
Skinny and light as codfish gills.
And we're bound for south Australia!

6. Cape Cod folks don't have no ills,
Haul away, haul away!
Cape Cod doctors feed 'em Codfish pills.
And we're bound for south Australia.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Distant Cousins

I think this 45 must have sold all of 13 copies when released in 1966.  But I couldn't figure out why it didn't shoot to the Top Ten. Love the drums.

Cardboard 45 RPMs

In 1961 Mad Magazine had a cardboard 45RPM record in the folds of one of their magazine issues.  I wish I still had mine - a classic!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Barry and the Remains

The Remains in 1965: (from left) Bill Briggs, Chip Damiani, Barry Tashian, and Vern Miller. Photo by Bill Freeman
Second in my trio of college-launched rock groups is Boston University’s Barry and the Remains. A strong contender for the finest overlooked American band of the mid-'60s, the Remains (led by Barry Tashian) were one of the most notable Boston groups of that era. But they never broke out nationally, despite signing to Epic, working as the opening act for the Beatles on their final American tour in 1966, and exposure on the Ed Sullivan Show and pop TV shows like Shindig. They were, and still are, often described as a garage band similar to hundreds that characterized the mid 60s. But the Remains had a lot of professional finesse to their straight-ahead attack and sharp songwriting with their energetic harmonies and guitar-electric keyboard blend.

Four fine singles for Epic found little action outside of the Northeast. Frustrated by the disparity they perceived between their studio work and their furious live show, the Remains broke up. Tashian played with Emmylou Harris for quite a while and also as a Nashville-based country-folk musician, often recording as a duo with his wife, Holly.

Their biggest single was “Why Do I Cry?” – all over Boston AM radio when released. It brings back memories of free street dances in the summer and the post-Christmas CYO dance where I danced with my wife-to-be for the first time.

Harry Potter Continued

A fairly thoughtful article on Harry Potter and Christianity here.  (I think I'm still agin it - HP that is).

Saturday, July 23, 2011

From College to Commercial

Many singing groups and rock and roll bands came out of university life. I’ll profile three favorites, in separate postings.

First, The Playmates (not what you’d think – these were singing nerds as you can see from the jacket covers)

The members of The Playmates were all students at the University of Connecticut in the early 50's when they formed a comedy act calling themselves The Nitwits. As music became more a part of their act, they ultimately transformed themselves into a musical act instead as The Playmates: pianist Chic Hetti; drummer Donny Conn; and Morey Carr.

Signed to Roulette Records in 1958, their biggest hit came that same year with the novelty tune "Beep Beep." That hit #4 and was all over AM radio for a long, long time.

They followed up with a chart listing single in 1959 with "What Is Love," a song that actually haunted me for decades. I heard it on the car radio while my family was vacationing on Cape Cod in July 1959 and it stuck in my head. But years later I could not recall the full song or the recording artists, but I was determined to find out. It became a quest. In the days before internet search engines were as thorough and easy to use as they now are, I even sought out the proprietors of those used record shops that sell old 45rpm records and would sing or hum the little fragment of this song that I could still remember: “…the cutest ponytail that sways with a wiggle when she walks.” Pitiful huh? Several tried their best to help but to no avail. Then about 10 years ago I stumbled on the lyrics searching on a music lyrics-artist website. Mystery solved after more than 40 years.

After four albums for Roulette, the novelty group — which was known for its between-song comedy and banter as much for its repertoire — broke up in 1964.

[Credit to Youtube posters Nocaro and Ne14Fr8Music for some of this information.]

Friday, July 22, 2011

Baseball in the Neighborhood

When my family moved to suburban Philadelphia in the late 1950s, all my new-found friends were baseball fans. We played stickball in the street on summer nights until it was too dark to see the ball. We all collected baseball cards, some were more serious collectors than others. One neighborhood friend a few houses away was a walking statistics bank, rattling off players' ERAs and RBIs from his brain like he was reading them off of a open page in front of him.

I was a jonny-come-lately to baseball since previous to this family move we had lived in the southern part of the Shenandoah Valley – not exactly close to any major league team. Among my friends in Lexington, VA, collecting and shooting marbles was a bigger sport that collecting and flipping baseball cards (Anybody remember baseball card “flipping?” I recall two versions, flipping the cards against a hard wall and standing straight up and each player dropping one in turn trying to cover the previous card).

My new Philadelphia friends informed me that a famous Phillies pitcher lived near by, Robin Roberts. I confess that informed bit of data absolutely did not impress me at the time, but recently I’ve researched Roberts.

Robin Evan Roberts (September 30, 1926 – May 6, 2010) pitched primarily for the Philadelphia Phillies (1948–61), but spent the latter part of his career with the Baltimore Orioles (1962–65), Houston Astros (1965–66), and finally the Chicago Cubs (1966).

Roberts made his major league debut on June 18, 1948, and in 1950 he led his Phillies—whose overall youth earned them the nickname the Whiz Kids—to their first National League pennant in 35 years. Roberts started three games in the last five days of the season, defeating the heavily favored Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field, in a pennant-deciding, 10-inning game. This marked his 20th victory of the season and Roberts became the Phillies' first 20-game-winner since Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1917.

Between 1950 and 1955 Roberts won 20 games each season, leading the NL in victories from 1952 to 1955. Six times he led the league in games started, five times in complete games and innings pitched, and once pitched 28 complete games in a row. During his career, Roberts never walked more than 77 batters in any regular season. In addition, he helped himself as a fielder as well as with his bat, hitting 55 doubles, 10 triples, and five home runs with 103 RBI.

His 28 wins in 1952, the year he won The Sporting News Player of the Year Award, were the most in the National League since 1935, the year Dizzy Dean also won 28 games.

One of the most memorable highlights of his career occurred on May 13, 1954, when Roberts gave up a lead-off home run to Cincinnati Reds (then known as the "Redlegs") player Bobby Adams and then retired 27 consecutive batters to win 8–1, on a one-hit game.

But the most impressive statistic I found was a bit of trivia: Roberts was the only pitcher in major league history to defeat the Boston Braves, the Milwaukee Braves, and the Atlanta Braves.

That’s cool. Now I wish I had been interested enough as a kid to seek out Roberts’ home and ask him for his autograph.

Roberts was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1976.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Its the Code of the Hills

WASHINGTON – AP - Fourteen people were arrested Tuesday for allegedly mounting a cyberattack on the website of PayPal in retaliation for its suspending the accounts of WikiLeaks. FBI agents executed more than 35 search warrants around the country in an ongoing investigation into coordinated cyberattacks against major companies and organizations.

Is this the new Hatfield and McCoys, updated for the Twitter generation? “Ya’ll varmits done wrong to my kinfolk, so Ima going have to make you pay.”

Does the human species evolve? I’m thinking not so much.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Value to Reading Harry Potter?

A few days ago I had an e-mail exchange with my oldest daughter (public HS English teacher) and AVI over the original contention that the Harry Potter books were ideal for young readers, in spite of the occultic subject matter. Since the last HP movie was just released, I was intrigued by a brief NPR segment on their take on the HP effect and what follows. I've excerpted portions of the e-mail exchange between myself (SHS), my daughter (DA), and AVI below.  Apologies to both if I inadvertently changed any meaning or emphasis from the original. Free free to set me straight!

SHS. So the Harry Potter book craze was going to encourage young readers’ interests, huh? Such a positive thing, right? But look what young ladies are interested in after 10 years of HP.

Michele Norris of NPR interviewing Judy Bulow, book buyer for Tattered Cover books, on Thursday July 14. (My underlining of course).

Ms. BULOW: Well, Harry Potter was such a phenomenon from the first book to the last movie, and the website that is now Pottermore. I don't think anything is going to fill that gap in that way for a while.

But there is a series called "The Hunger Games," which is for slightly older readers, and it's about a girl who must fight other kids her age for her own livelihood and for the livelihood of her family.

And it sounds like it's very violent. It is, but the way the author has written it, it works very well.

There's one called "Before I Fall," which is Lauren Oliver. It's sort of a "Groundhog Day" for teens, where she is dying, but she kind of relives her day.

Or there is one called "If I Stay," which is about a girl who's in a coma, and she tries to decide whether she really wants to stay alive or whether she just wants to give up her life, which is not the ideal life. They're great books. I don't know if they'll be made into movies, but they would be wonderful movies.

NORRIS: If someone was just tuning in, I think they might be surprised to know that we're talking about young adult fiction. These movies are really dark.

Ms. BULOW: Yes, it's very dark. I think teens and the demographic we're talking about after Harry Potter really like the dark dystopia.

Full NPR interview here.

DA. Yup, it's what kids read. Hunger Games (the first book in the series) is actually one of my sophomores' summer reading books. And the girls are in love with Jodi Picoult books, which follow variations of suicide packs, family members with cancer, or rape/unintended pregnancy. They're all Lifetime movies waiting to happen. But have you thought back to the good ole "classics"? They're not much better. My sophomores read Brave New World (let's teach little kids to have sex with each other so they don't think it's a big deal), 1984 (obey us or your face will get eaten up by a rat), Night (the reality of concentration camp life), A Separate Peace (pressure from boarding school life & jealousy causes a boy to push his best friend out of a tree, the friend eventually dies), and To Kill a Mockingbird (the "happiest" of the bunch, where a black man is unfairly tried in Jim Crow Era Alabama and dies).

There are obviously merits in these books we find that make them worth teaching that I doubt I'd find in a Jodi Picoult book, for example, but kids are already exposed to worse language, graphic scene descriptions and ideas in our classics than at least Harry Potter exposes them to.

And going back to the questions you or NPR asked, kids are still avid readers because of HP. They've just moved on to poorer quality fiction a la Twilight.

SHS. DA, good points all around (and I was certain you’d come up with several!). I’m always arguing the power of critical thinking and explaining why I can listen to literal commentators and the like without buying into their specific political message. But I guess for me the book series-movie issue is similar to violent video games or just watching mindless TV junk all day - eventually “you are what you eat.”

AVI. As to youth reading, the Judy Blume era was also problem-focused, and we've had decades of dying dogs. I think dogs were that era's acceptable way to practice painful emotions. A lot of kids read Stephen King or VC Andrews. Heroic fantasy can be dark - it wasn't accidental that it took a maker of horror films to do Lord of the Rings. Lots of adventure reading is pretty dark. I think the observations are true, but I don't think they are new. At least, not so much to the boys. What may be different is how dark the girls' reading is.

DA. Also have found that many students are disenchanted by Night when we start to have the discussion of truth in nonfiction. I teach The Things They Carried with my AP students and we do a whole unit on memoirs and a synthesis essay on truth in memoirs (documents from the fallout after A Million Little Pieces, excerpts from Dillard & Zinsser, etc.). Always sparks great discussions.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Rockers With Lungs

In the earlier years of Rock, there were plenty of female vocalists with power-lungs.  Among the noteworthy:

Janice Joplin (Big Brother and solo)
Gracie Slick (Airplane)
Aretha Franklin (mostly solo)
Lydia Pense (Cold Blood)
and of course,
Linda Ronstadt (Stone Ponies, but mostly solo).

Today, not so much.  But for my money, one stands out: Grace Potter (and the Nocturnals).

Must Be Vermont

You can tell you're in the great State of Vermont when the thrift/junk/antique store you are visiting has an entire backwall section dedicated to Grateful Dead souvenirs and T-shirts. There was probably a homemade shrine out back, but I didn't bother to look.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

South Sudan's Independence Day

Today, July 9, 2011 South Sudan became an independent country and was recognized as the 54th country in Africa and 193rd in the world. The journey started in January 2005 with a Comprehensive Peace Agreement that brought an end to decades of civil war between South Sudan and the northern government based in the city of Kartoum. Six months ago a referendum vote was taken in the South as to whether to form a separate country or remain part of the Kartoum government. Overwhelmingly South Sudanese voters chose an independent path.

As AVI noted in his blog today, Southern Sudanese living in this country celebrated the independence of their homeland. Most living here still have family members in South Sudan and so the ties are tangible and deep. The following photos are from the celebration in Manchester, NH where an estimated 600 to 800 Sudanese call home.


Peter Nhiany is VP of the non-profit Life for Sudan and one of the Lost Boys. Peter spoke elequently in urging his fellow young Sudanese to make the most of the educational opportunities in America.

Colorful clothingwas in abundance.

Pride for the adopted country as well as the homeland.

And a must-have at Sudanese celebrations is music ...

and dancing.

The day included speeches of course.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Rose - Part II

Well unfortunately I did find out there is a Chief Happiness Officer out there, at least in the blogosphere.   And I also came across an old file on CD this week while looking for something else. The file I had saved several years ago was a document where someone had compile all the Chief X Officer titles they had come across.  I wish I knew the source for this list so I could give proper credit but unfortunately I did not record that piece of information.  I'll spare you the entire list but here are the A-B-Cs so you'll understand the world has gone quite mad:

chief academic officer
chief accounting officer
chief acquisition officer
chief administration officer
chief administrative officer
chief advertising officer
chief antidiscrimination officer
chief awareness officer
chief banking officer
chief branding officer
chief bridge officer
chief brokerage officer
chief budget officer
chief business officer
chief change officer
chief chocolate officer
chief client officer
chief commercial officer
chief communications officer
chief competitive officer
chief compliance officer
chief concept officer
chief content officer
chief corporate officer
chief country officer
chief creative officer
chief credit officer
chief crisis officer
chief customer officer

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Rose by Any Other Name Still has the Blight

There’s a growing expansion of titles and positions in Corporate America. I get the creation of Chief Information Officer (CIO), or even the cutesier title of Chief Knowledge Office (CKO) that showed up of a few years back. Being in the environmental management business I even get the proliferation of CSOs – Chief Sustainability Officers – although for the most part theses tend not to be new hires as much as a re-titled compliance officer or environmental VP. Everyone’s got to have a CSO these days. You got to.

But I’m not as patient with overly pretentious titles such as “Green Prophet,” or the trend among West Coast techie firms like Google who created the position of “Jolly Good Fellow” for their new self-awareness/meditation manager (“oh please” to both these gems). Even a small professional service firm I know let their single on-staff graphics designer re-title herself “Art and Atmosphere Director.” You know, if I’m an engineering manager at a big chemical firm and I’m cheesed over the graphic on page 34 of my technical report that was issued by this firm, do I really want to ring up the Art and Atmosphere Director. Is that going to make my mood any better?

But the renaming trend follows the “Happy Company” trend. Yes, there really is a move afoot in the corporate world to aim for universal happiness – not merely stability or profitability or sound corporate citizenship, but happiness. Now if I worked at Google and was showered with all of their perks, including free lunches and that happiness/meditation guru, and there was still money left over to burn, then happiness seems within reach. But when a smallish firm I know distributes copies of the latest business happiness psycho-babble book to all of its employees and that firm hasn’t made a profit in four years due to mismanagement, something has gone off the rails and the conductor-has-no-clothes syndrome has won the day.

Fast Company Magazine reports this month that the organizing service firm Engage Network holds flash-mob style Love Song Sneak Attacks - renditions of Paul McCarthy’s “Silly Little Love Songs” and other treasures to perk up the staff. “When things suck,” says the firm’s co-founder, “we use games to bring us back to a sense of lightness.”

Just what American business needs to pull us all out of this recession – a sense of lightness. Then we can graduate to a sense of mindless distraction, and on to a sense of total shallowness. And we’ll certainly need more CLOs – Chief Lightness Officers. Oh boy, “The future is so bright, I’ve got to wear shades.”

You know, maybe that bureaucratic, wasteful, lumbering, bumbling, central-planning-obsessed Federal government idea doesn’t look so bad after all.