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Archive for January, 2019

In the late 1940s, my father owned a bar in the Fleetwood section of Mount Vernon. The City of Mount Vernon along with Yonkers formed the northern boundary of New York’s Borough of the Bronx. During that period in my life both my parents would disappear for a while. I never knew where my father went. My mother was hospitalized for a year or so at a time in various mental and medical hospitals having unspeakable procedures administered to her as was usual at the time.

Anyway, during the period my father owned the bar, I would spend many of my days there sitting on the floor, my chin propped up on my fists listing to the music and staring at the changing colors of the lights emanating from the Wurlitzer.

Now for those who do not know what a Wurlitzer is, it was one of the last great analog machines for producing music before the advent of the digital age. Through the clear plastic window at the top, I could see the bright chrome handle move up and down the stack of records, stop with a jerk and pluck a record out of the stack, swing the report over to the turntable and drop it. Then the music would play — silky jazz, bright pop tunes, magnificently melodious show tunes. Surrounding the window, a roll of back-lit variegated colored plastic would bath me sitting there before it with its ever-changing colors.

One day, in the bar, while I sat there before the Wurlitzer dreamily wandering through the bliss of the colors and the music (Lady Day’s cover of Night and Day?) I, for some reason, overheard my father and the other men at the bar talking. One of them, probably my father, said, “You know those guys on Tin Pan Alley*, who write those songs all wear bow ties and horn-rim glasses.”

This startled me. “What do bow ties and horn-rim glasses have to do with writing music,” I thought? “Was it some sort of uniform that one must wear to get into the alley?” “Odd, why would they say that?”

I would continue to ponder that question as I sat there in that dream-like state, bathed in the slowly shifting colors listening to Sarah Vaughn, Mildred Bailey, Jack Teagarden or some other the wonderful sounds of that golden age of music wondering about bow ties and horn-rim glasses.

Of my childhood, this was one of the only two experiences which I remember fondly.

Later, there was a time that I wore bow ties and still later horn rim glasses. Never wrote a note of music though.

A Wurlitzer Juke Box


  • Tin Pan Alley — the name given to the collection of New York City music publishers and songwriters who dominated the popular music of the United States in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The name originally referred to a specific place: West 28th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in the Flower District of Manhattan.

The start of Tin Pan Alley is usually dated to about 1885 when a number of music publishers set up shop in the same district of Manhattan. The end of Tin Pan Alley is less clear cut. Some date it to have continued into the 1950s when earlier styles of American popular music were upstaged by the rise of rock & roll, which was centered on the Brill Building.

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On Christmas night at the early hour of 6PM, I slipped into bed, sipped from my well-steeped cup of cannabis tea and opened my computer. My thought was to make some sort of plan for the remaining six days of the year. Not so much a to-do list as a muddle-about-file which I could, now and then, dip into without too much difficulty in order to pass the time while waiting for this arbitrary section of my life to dribble on to the next.

The first thing to pass through my mind was Joyce’s opening line to Ulysses: “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”

Stately Plump Buck Mulligan

I haven’t the slightest idea why it did. Except perhaps, to encourage me to contemplate why I would consider ending the year pondering the opening line of Ulysses. Perhaps, having not yet consumed enough tea made such reflection worthwhile. Maybe, my subconscious was attempting to jump-start the evening’s descent into irrelevancy.

The second item to suggest itself as a subject worth ruminating on was the first thing I read on my computer after opening it. Under a heading entitled notable events on history on this day, I read: “1194 Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, King of the Romans [Germany], Sicily and Jerusalem, born in Lesi, Italy.”

That was something I felt was of little more consequence. Or, at least, I generally considered that someone who in his time was referred to as “Stupor Mundi” (Wonder of the World) was someone of greater consequence than “stately plump Buck Mulligan” and his shaving utensils — Then again perhaps not. Fredrick later in life was also referred to as “The Anti-Christ.” Nevertheless, I still felt, someone who held suzerainty over most of Medieval Europe, was of more consequence than a fictional med-student with flamboyant grooming habits — Then again, perhaps not.


Nicholas II — Stupor Mundi

“Stupor Mundi” was clearly not fictional, although his adventures and the stories about him rival that of any character inhabiting the world of fiction. As to why I would consider intentionally including the contemplation of one or the other or both into my remaining six day’s of 2018, I have no idea. Perhaps it is because it is a mystery requiring a solution and that always pleases one’s consciousness. Perhaps it does not. Maybe it just has something to do with the cannabis. Take chess, for example, it has always appealed to me as a worthwhile way to cut two or three hours from one’s life. On the other hand, cocaine, cannabis and a host of other things, I think would do so as well, without requiring your consciousness to leap from the chair in which it had been dozing and actually exert itself entertaining you.

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One afternoon, we arrived home to find our fully decorated Christmas tree lying on its side amidst a splatter of broken ornaments and spruce needles. Dick the engineer hypothesized that the tree, despite out heroic endeavor three days ago to balance it properly, was, in fact, unbalanced and it took the tree this long to realize it. So, we lifted up the tree, rebalanced it, placed additional weights on the bottom, redecorated it with the remaining unbroken ornaments and hoped for the best.

On Saturday, a day of horrendous rain and fog, HRM happily announced he was going out to play in the rain. Noticing one of the eyelets in his boots was detached he decided to reattach it with superglue before flitting about in the rain. As misadventure would have it, rather than attaching the eyelet to the boot he managed to glue both his own eyes shut. HRM, Dick and I, then spent the next eight hours in the emergency rooms of two separate hospitals where the doctors worked to unstick his eyelids. One of the doctors, who was quite amused by it all, took me aside and asked, “We see this a lot, where children [usually in the 3 to 6-year range] glue one eye shut with super glue, but we have never seen anyone who managed to glue both eyes shut. How did he do this?”

“HRM,” I replied, “is a very special child.”

WWE blew in from SE Asia in concern for the welfare of her progeny and then promptly refused to accompany him to the ophthalmologist claiming she had more important things to do.

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