Monday, August 30, 2010

So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star

By Paul Dugan, Groovy Reflections Team Member

Late in 1963 the beginnings of a revolution could be heard coming from radio speakers across the world. The British Invasion was about to begin, led of course, by the Four Mop Tops as the main stream media dubbed The Beatles.

We all know the impact the Beatles had on the music industry, but did you ever stop to think about what other economic impacts they were at least partially responsible for? I've often wondered how many barber shops went out of business. How many comb manufacturers had layoffs? You get the idea, but while some industries suffered, others prospered. According to my parents, ear plug manufacturers saw a boost. Not sure if that's based on fact or wishful thinking on the folks part.

One industry that I know for a fact saw a boost is the guitar makers. Think about it, before the Beatles, guitars were just a musical instrument, usually in the background, sometimes out front, but only if you were a cowboy. Then, after the Beatles dominated popular music, everybody wanted a guitar; I know I did. I was pretty sure I could be a star, if I only had an electric guitar. I practiced constantly with my Mother's corn broom, since the air guitar hadn't been invented yet.

We were far from poor, closer to hard working middle class I guess but an electric guitar was a pretty extravagant gift, and even though that “was all I wanted, nothing else, if I could just have a guitar for Christmas”, I knew it wasn't very likely.

But come Christmas morning, there it was under the tree. The most beautiful electric guitar I'd ever seen! It was red and white and glossy; I had to rub my eyes to be sure I wasn't seeing things. My older brother, who was in the Air Force at the time, had made a surprise visit home and he'd bought it off a fellow airman that was being transferred and didn't want to take it with him. That had to have been one of my happiest Christmas' ever; it didn't matter that it was an inexpensive model made for Sears by a company in Japan. It had the latest technology, it was the first guitar ever made with a built in speaker/amplifier, and the best thing about it was; it was mine!

I practiced and practiced, I just knew I was gonna be a Rock 'n' Roll Star. I even joined a couple garage bands, where we spent more time arguing over the name of than band than actually playing.
Then later that year my parents were getting ready for a big party, with lots of relatives and Mom said I could play a song. This was it! My chance at stardom!

I sought out my older sister's advice and she said “What ya know kid?” so I played The Beatles “I want to hold your hand” and “Satisfaction” from the Stones. She said “Not bad but ya have to remember kid, this is an older crowd, got any thing a little slower?” So I said “How about “These boots are made for walking”? She said I'd look silly in a mini skirt; I told her I have one other and she said “Then play it, I'm sure it'll be fine”.

The big day was finally here and I was ready. The crowd was hushed as I made my way to the middle of the room and played “The Sounds of Silence” and I nailed it! Paul Simon himself would've been proud of me! When I finished the last “of silence”, I waited for the applause....nothing...silence (not what the song means people!) and then my Uncle said “Not bad kid but can you do this?” He pulled out his accordion and played a polka; everyone started clapping and laughing and dancing. I was devastated. Fortunately The Who hadn't invented smashing guitars on stage yet, let alone on Uncles! I went to my room to lick my wounds. My sister followed me in and told me what a great job I'd done and that “They were too old to understand our music”! That meant a lot to me, almost as much as getting the guitar did.

I never did become a Rock ‘n’ Roll star and long ago sold my electric guitar, but I still play my acoustic sometimes for my grandson and he appreciates it and for a little while I am a star, at least in the eyes of one of the most important people I know.

Written by Paul Dugan, Guest Groovy Reflections Blogger

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Stevie the Wonder Dog

By Gerry Wendel, Groovy Reflections Founder and Team Member

The photo was small, but it was easy to see that the little dog had personality. I noted the price and the phone number, with full intention to call later that day. I was in the borough hall of my home town, located in an early 1900’s structure that housed the police department, borough clerk, courts, and post office. We didn’t have house numbers. We didn’t have mail delivery. Folks enjoyed coming to pick up their mail and running into neighbors, enemies, and perhaps a famous person or two. The borough hall was a place to pick up your mail and a little gossip.

In the main hallway was a very large bulletin board. If you wanted the latest happenings, baby clothes for sale or bake sales, here was the place to look. And that’s where I saw the photo for a mini-poodle for sale.

Got home. Called the number. Spoke to a woman on the other end. Strangely, she said, “Oh, you have to make an appointment”. An appointment? To see a dog? I played along; we decided on Friday at 3PM. Then she described where she was located, no house numbers, remember? I almost gasped out loud. It was the former Diffleburg* home, set back from the road a ways, at the western edge of town. But rumor had it that it was the current home of Stevie Wonder. How could this be?

I couldn’t wait for Friday. My curiosity was killing me.

Finally, the big day. I drove down the main street of town, down the hill about two miles. Made a right at the light. A minute later, there I was. Pulled up the to the gate. There was an intercom and a small plaque that read “Morris”. A soft voice said “Yes, what would you like?”. And I said “I’m here to see the dog.” The gates slowly swung open, and I drove my not-very-fancy Chevy Nova up the driveway and parked in front of the garage.

I could see part of the backyard, where two (or maybe three?) young children were playing. There were swings, a sandbox, a jungle gym, a slide and pretty much anything that a kid would want or need. Two mini-poodles were on chains, far away from each other.

One was white, the other a light brown color.

A woman stepped out of a side door of the house and introduced herself. She was a nanny or housekeeper; honestly, I don't remember! She brought me over to the white poodle, and told me that the dog’s name was Champagne. “Champagne fights with Café all the time.” She then told me. “The two dogs just don’t get along”. Champagne? What kind a name is that for a dog? Oh, I get it. Poodle. French. Sparkling wine. Great.

I spent a few minutes petting Champagne and scratching behind his ear. He was bright-eyed, bursting with energy, and thoughtfully licked my hand. That’s it. I was in love. Where had you been the first year of your life, little Champagne?

We then moved into the house, into a huge kitchen with a black and white checkered tile floor. Nice. Of course the whole time I’m thinking, where’s Stevie? Unfortunately, he was not going to make an appearance on my part, but what’s wrong with being hopeful?

The conversation continued. One of the more memorable statements I recall was when I was informed “If that dog don’t eat, you just feed him chicken”. Sigh. This is a characteristic that I’ve noticed ALL dogs have. And me, being of solid mind but lacking pockets bursting with wealth, started haggling on price. Score! Asking price, $100. Final price, $85 and a big, big bag of Purina Dog Chow.

And so that pretty little poodle went home with me. For a day or so, as we bonded, I struggled with that name, Champagne. Couldn’t find a decent nickname, Pagny? Champy? Pane? Finally, it dawned on me. In fact I was patting myself on the back for coming up with such a clever solution. When my Dad came home that evening, I excitedly told him that the dog’s name was now Stevie. Stevie the Wonder Dog.

Stevie was with me for over 16 years, through thick and thin. I always wondered if the more famous Stevie petted him often, or if that little poodle curled up by his feet. Suppose I could write a fictional piece about that, can’t I?

For the record, the real Stevie Wonder lived in my town only for about two years. During that time, while I was coming home at 5 in the morning from somewhere, I did see his limo making a turn into his street, no doubt returning from some activity in nearby New York City. That’s the closest I’ve ever come to seeing him. I read somewhere that he still owns the house, and his ex-wife (or girlfriend) still lives there.

* Name has been changed.
Note: Photo is Stevie the Wonder Dog at about age 6.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Times Weren't the Only Thing Changing

By Paul Dugan, Groovy Reflections Team Member

I'm so lucky to have grown up in such a magical time. The early 60's found me just entering my teens and thanks to an older brother and sister, I'd been listening to rock 'n' roll for some time. It was amazing! Every time you turned on the radio there was something new and exciting to hear, ranging from the early days of Rock ‘n’ Roll with Buddy Holly and Gene Vincent to the 1960’s with The Beach Boys and The Four Seasons.

Rock ‘n’ Roll and dancing: We learned to twist with Chubby Checker, and I remember doing the stroll at high school sock hops, trying to maneuver into the line so I'd "stroll" with that pretty girl that hardly knew I existed! Elvis was still king and girl groups were in their heyday. And fashions were changing as well.

Me? I was a greaser, through and through, with tight jeans and pointed toe boots with "taps" on the bottom for making noise when walking in the school hallways. Of course, that was against the rule but hey, I was a rebel! Now, no self-respecting greaser would be seen without their slicked back D.A. and a comb outlined in the pocket of those tight jeans. Everything was "cool" until THAT day, don't remember which one exactly, but it must have been one specific day because it happened so fast.

We were invaded! Some guys from England took over the musical charts! Overnight it happened! And these guys had long hair and heaven forbid, bangs! What were we to do? Well I know what I did. I listened to my brother and let him give me a "Beatle" cut!

I've made bigger mistakes in my life but at that time, this was definitely top five. If he would have placed a puddin' bowl on my head and cut it would've looked better, but he convinced me it was the way all the "cool" kids his age were wearing their hair. Okay, if I'd been just a bit wiser, I'd have noticed that he wasn't wearing his that way.

Without the D.A. the whole greaser look was history for me, so for school the next day I tried a new look and wore white slacks and a mohair sweater. I was now Mod, or Collegiate as it was called in my area of the world. However, there was still that brotherly haircut to deal with. The reactions? The kids were cruel, but when the teachers joined in, I definitely knew something was wrong. When I arrived home, Mom gave me the money to go to a barber and get my brother’s barbering job "fixed". It's still a funny little memory with me.

A few years went by; we were listening to folk rock and heavy metal and, we got groovy. Haircuts? They were a thing of the past; grew my hair until it was in the middle of my back, making me a full fledged "long haired hippy weirdo freak" and proud of it! Still proud of it. And today, as I run my fingers through the skin on my head, I'd give anything to have that puddin' bowl haircut back.

Written by Paul Dugan, Guest Groovy Reflections Blogger

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Buy Me a Song.

By Gerry Wendel, Groovy Reflections Founder and Team Member

“Daddy, Daddy THAT’S the song! THAT’S the song I want to buy! PLEEEEEZE, can I have fifty-four cents?” That wishful chant happened in the backyard on our patio. I was the one chanting. THAT song was oozing from the “jukebox” which was hooked up to the stereo inside the house. Well, it really wasn’t a jukebox, just a giant speaker. Originally painted white, on this particular day it was proudly wearing a color that us kids were told was lavender. Trust me, it was pink, and could have been called “muted Pepto-Bismol”.

Oh, but the sounds that came out of that "jukebox substitute" from both the radio and records. In my youngest days, it was a blend of Rock ‘n’ Roll, crooners, Country and Western, and traditional German songs. The mix included Nate King Cole, Jerry Vale, Johnny Cash, Everly Brothers, Cousin Brucie on WABC, and the Beer Barrel Polka.

The playlist morphed into something quite different a few years later. German songs gave way to Danish ones. Show tunes and soundtracks emerged: West Side Story, Half a Sixpence, Mame. Rock ‘n Roll lived on, however, there was an on-going conflict between my Dad and Step-Mom over whether or not Rock 'n Roll should be heard. Thankfully, it still was.

Dad of course needed justification in order to give me the fifty-four cents. He had to actually LIKE the song. And yes, he did fork over the dough; otherwise, there’d be no tale to tell. 

Soon after the funds were surrendered to me there I was at Woolworths gazing at the rack of 45’s, anxiously searching for THAT song. And there it was! Eagerly, I grabbed my treasure and marched over to the cash registers, where I promptly paid for that platter with the sacrificial coins from Dad. Yes! My first real purchase of a record. Sure, I owned records already and had accumulated a small collection. They weren’t bought by me, but acquired in other ways; I was notorious for stealing my brother’s records including both their “Here come the Judge” 45’s. Other discs came my way as gifts.

Why this record? I had connected with this song, and though I had no clue as to what the song was truly about, I felt drawn to it by the soaring vocals and the lyrics. I knew that it was about people coming together. I knew it was about peace. But as far as the inspiration for those words it was something I’d learn about later on.

In the privacy of my room, seated on the floor, wearing those larger than life headsets, I spun that 45. Three minutes and 49 seconds of pure bliss. Over and over. Funny, I do the same thing nowadays, only nowadays with digital tracks on my iPod instead.

Now you know and I know that those turntables from our youth perhaps didn’t have the highest quality. And records certainly weren’t made to last forever. But we could fix those skips and improve the quality ourselves by placing a penny on the stylus, couldn’t we? And so, I did. Soon, Melanie ceased singing “Lay down, lay it down, lay it all down”. Instead, she sang “Lay down, psssssssssssssssssst, lay it all down”. But that was okay, because her next release, “Peace Will Come” became my new favorite 45. And so the process begins again.