Your High School Music

The other day I thumbed through my iPod music playlist and stopped at the playlist “UAHS Rock.”  (UAHS stands for Upper Arlington High School, from which I graduated in June, 1975.)  It’s a list of about 200 songs I remember listening to during my three years attending high school as a Golden Bear.  (In those days, classes were so huge that the freshman year was spent in junior high.  I think my graduating class had about 890 people in it.)

upper_arlington_oh_sign-307x192I wrote about the playlist some years ago, but it had been years since I’d listened to it.  My musical tastes have broadened quite a bit since my high school days, and lately I’ve been enjoying classical music from the baroque era.  But I got the sad news that one of my high school classmates had passed on, and it made me think about those days and the music I associate with it.  Once I started playing the music on the playlist, I felt the stirrings of my 17-year-old self, sitting in my room at our split-level family home in “new Arlington” and listening to records on a cheap Panasonic turntable or on WCOL-FM, the “album rock” station in town.  Boy, there was some great music being recorded during those days!

All of the songs on the playlist now form a core part of the playlist on any modern “classic rock” station, and they all came out during the days when I was a kid trying to find my locker and then make it to my next class in the sprawling corridors of UAHS.  The songs are terrific, and because they came out at that weird, awkward, scary, fun time, they pluck some of those special musical heartstrings we all have.  I’m guessing that pretty much everyone has a special corner of their psyche reserved for that high school time in their life and especially the music that is so incredibly closely associated with it — whether you graduated from high school in the ’60s, ’80s, post-2000, or are in high school right now.  You listen, and you feel yourself beginning to do the same lame dance moves you first tried as a fumbling teenager.

I’m not arguing that the rock music of the early ’70s is the best rock music ever — who would argue with that irrefutable proposition? — but only observing that if it’s been a while since you’ve listened to your high school music, you’d be doing yourself a favor by doing so.  You’ll feel younger!

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Peter Tork, R.I.P.

There are news reports today that Peter Tork, one of the members of the musical group the Monkees, has died.  Tork was 77, but for those of us of a certain generation — including me — he’ll always be remembered as he was as a young guy, when he was one of the four stars of the TV show The Monkees and part of the band that produced lots of hit singles and albums during the ’60s.

gettyimages-530242673-e1550770849823The Monkees were the first designer musical group, carefully crafted to appeal to a mainstream TV audience, a mainstream musical audience, and the teenyboppers who bought magazines like Tiger Beat.  They borrowed some of the antics that the Beatles popularized in movies like A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, and the four members of the group followed a pretty rote formula.  There was the cute one (Davy Jones), the quirky smart one (Mike Nesmith), and the zany, funny ones (Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork).  In the TV shows, Peter Tork seemed to be the happy-go-lucky Monkee who always got into goofy predicaments and took the comedic pratfalls.

I liked Peter Tork then, and I’m not ashamed to say that I liked the Monkees and their records, too.  I still do, in fact, and I’ve got a bunch of their songs on my iPod — including Tork’s big song, Your Auntie Grizelda, complete with its odd sound effects and fuzz guitar.  Who cares if the Monkees didn’t play all of the instruments themselves?  The songs were classic examples of ’60s flower power music that still stand the test of time.

It’s sad when figures from your childhood pass on, because it just makes you feel old.  Rest in peace, Peter Tork.  You’ll live on in your music and our fond memories of an innocent TV show from days gone by.

Tea Time

I’ve started drinking hot tea some evenings. Hot tea seems to go well with cold weather. I especially like the Twinings natural peppermint herbal tea. After you’ve steeped it for four minutes– which is what the packet commands — the room is thick with a minty fragrance. Add some milk, and you’ve got a tasty, warming libation the fortifies you against the winter chill.

Drinking hot tea reminds me of my childhood, when Grandma Neal would watch us grandkids and have us drink tea with her in the afternoon. The tea kettle would shriek, the hot water would be poured into the teapot, and as the tea steeped Grandma Neal would set out a small container of milk, honey, a sugar bowl, and a plate of shortbread. We’d make our tea and sit carefully drinking out of china cups on saucers, dunking the shortbread into our cups of milky tea and trying to eat the result without making too much of a mess.

It all seemed very elegant. It was only years later that I realized that Grandma probably used “tea time” to get a rest. If the grandkids were sitting drinking hot tea and eating cookies, that meant they weren’t tearing around her house causing havoc.

The Vestiges Of Prohibition

I thought Prohibition — America’s doomed effort to legislate morality and propriety by banning the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages through a constitutional amendment that gave rise to bootleggers, speakeasies, and rumrunners — ended back in the ’30s.  And it did . . . in most places.  But weird vestiges of Prohibition-era laws still can be found even now, more than 80 years later.

we-want-beerTake Colorado, for example.  Thanks to a law that traces its roots back to Prohibition, grocery stores in that state haven’t been able to sell full-strength beer.  If you walk into a store of the grocery chain of your choice in Denver, for example, you can buy 3.2 beer — and that’s it.  If you want to buy full-strength beer, you’ve got to go to a state liquor store. It’s kind of weird to think that such a limitation on beer sales would exist in Colorado of all places, because it has been one of the leaders in the movement to legalize the sale and consumption of recreational marijuana.  But Prohibition-era laws die hard.

Grocery stores apparently put up with the limitation because, until 2008, liquor sales of any kind on Sunday were banned in Colorado, except for the 3.2 beer you could buy in grocery stores.  That restriction no doubt gave grocery stores a boost in Sunday sales to thirsty drinkers who couldn’t buy anything else.  When the blue law ended, however, grocers started advocating for change, the legislature finally acted, and now the 3.2 beer limitation will be ending.  Effective January 1, 2019, you can walk into a grocery store in Colorado and buy a six-pack of Sam Adams seasonal — just like you can in Columbus and pretty much everywhere else in the United States.

For those of us of a certain age, the notion of drinking 3.2 beer brings back memories of our adolescence, when people of a certain age in Ohio (and elsewhere) were permitted to drink 3.2 beer and nothing else.  It was a rite of passage.  I don’t remember much about the quality of 3.2 beer, but I do remember the quantity, because you had a drink a lot of it to attain the desired effect.  The 3.2 beer laws in Ohio ended decades ago, however.

Welcome to the modern world, Colorado!  And down with the Volstead Act!

Soup Canned

Household food staples of the 1960s have had a tough time of it lately.  Production of the glorious Twinkie was halted for a while a few years ago when its maker went through bankruptcy, and now comes news that the Campbell Soup Company — a brand so iconic and associated with American meals that its soup cans were painted by Andy Warhol — is struggling, too.

w1siziisijmxodi0mijdlfsiccisimnvbnzlcnqilcitcmvzaxplidiwmdb4mjawmfx1mdazzsjdxqAccording to a report in the New York Times, Campbell’s earnings fell 50 percent last quarter, sales of its soups have been declining, and expensive acquisitions have left the company dealing with significant debt without providing any help in the sales department.  The company’s stock price trails the rest of the stock market and has lost a third of its value, and the company’s chief executive, Denise Morrison, stepped down under pressure earlier this year.  And now the company’s Board of Directors is facing a challenge that pits a hedge fund and dissidents who want the business to be sold or restructured against the heirs of John Dorrance, the chemist who invented condensed soups more than a century ago.  The Dorrance descendants own 40 percent of Campbell’s stock, have lived lifestyles of great wealth as a result of their descendants’ creation, and want to make sure that any changes that occur happen on their terms.

Why is Campbell’s struggling?   The Times notes that the company is “fighting headwinds like declining consumer interest in packaged food and a preference for fresh ingredients over highly processed soup from a can.”  Some people believe that the company has lost its focus with its acquisitions and needs to return to a soup-centric model, and analyst contend that the company hasn’t adequately responded to marketplace changes.  The article points out that “Campbell Soup cans, for example, have barely changed since 1900, and the top sellers remain tomato, chicken noodle and cream of mushroom.”

Of course, for many of us, those three soup options were familiar ingredients of meals when we were growing up.  In the Webner household, Campbell’s tomato soup (made with milk, not water) and grilled cheese was a highly popular dinner, countless casseroles were made with Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, and Campbell’s chicken noodle soup was the inevitable lunch if you were home sick from school with a cold.

I hope Campbell’s can figure out its problems.  Although I haven’t had a lot of Campbell’s soup lately, there’s something comforting about seeing those familiar red and white cans on the grocery store shelves, and I still think tomato soup and grilled cheese is something to be relished on a cold winter’s day.

Bring Your Parents To Work Day

According to the Wall Street Journal, it’s becoming increasingly common for businesses to host “Bring Your Parents to Work” days.  The Society for Human Resource Management estimates that around 1 percent of American employers host such an event, with advertising and tech companies like LinkedIn leading the way.

fullsizerender__1_Companies see such events as appealing to young employees who are close to their parents. (Or, stated alternatively, some companies may realize that they’re hiring Gen X/Y/Zers who have helicopter parents who have always been deeply involved in every facet of their children’s lives and expect that to continue into core adulthood activities like working at a job.)

The article reports that the parents who attend these days wander around the office, wearing matching “Josh’s Mom” and “Josh’s Dad” t-shirts and snapping pictures of their kids at work and posting them on Facebook.  And, parents being parents, it’s not unusual for them to corner executives and pepper them with questions about how the company is doing — and, presumably, why their gifted kid isn’t moving faster up the corporate ladder.  For that reason, some of the children admit that having Ma and Pa at the office can be an anxiety-inducing experience.  Others, though, think that visits from their folks will help their parents understand what they do and where they spend a lot of their time.

It’s another example of how family dynamics have changed over the years.  My parents were interested in making sure that I got a job, kept a job, and became self-supporting, because that was part of the road to responsible adulthood, but they sure didn’t express any desire to experience the workplace with me for a day — and I really wouldn’t have wanted them to do so, anyway.

Some people obviously see the notion of “Bring Your Parents to Work” days as a way for parents who are close to their kids to further cement that bond.  I see the workspace, in contrast, as off-limits territory, where people should be making it on their own, without oversight from Mom and Dad.  I think it’s part of the boundary drawing that has to occur as children grow up and make it on their own.  Apparently, not everybody wants to draw those boundaries these days.

Stan Lee, RIP

I was saddened to read of the death of Stan Lee yesterday.  Lee, who died at the ripe old age of 95, was the driving force behind Marvel Comics and the creator of countless characters — good guys and bad guys both.

stan2blee2bolder2bimageDuring my teenage years I was a huge fan of superhero comics.  (They weren’t called “graphic novels” back in those days.)  There were DC Comics — home to Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman — and Marvel Comics.  DC was the established brand, with by-the-book heroes who were red, white and blue, fought the bad guys, and won; Marvel was the feisty challenger that featured characters who struggled and at least seemed aware of some of the challenges of real life.  Most comics readers of that day stayed true to one brand or another.  I was a Marvel guy, and ate up the characters created by Stan Lee — with the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and the X-Men being my favorites.  I read the new issues as they came out and hunted around Columbus trying to find old issues so I could read through the back stories and fill out my collection.  Eventually I had a decent collection, but as I got older and we started a family I found that I had less time for old friends like Reed Richards and Peter Parker, and the collection got sold.

The interesting thing about Lee is the astonishing amount of his output, and his genius at coming up with new superheroes and supervillains.  For a time during the ’60s, he was the principal writer for multiple titles for Marvel, including flagship vehicles like The Fantastic Four and The Avengers.  He came up with dozens and dozens of great hero characters like The Thing, great villains like Dr. Octopus, and — even more interesting — other characters like Galactus who were neither good nor bad in their intentions to humanity, but just living their lives in the cosmos, even if it meant that they needed to devour worlds to keep going.  Lee and his artists — Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, who had dramatically different styles, were my favorites — had an assembly-line approach that required them to write and draw on a virtual around-the-clock basis to bring out new comics every month.  Somehow they did it, and it is astonishing that they were able to avoid schlock and produce high-quality issues month after month.  Lee’s work during the ’60s was one of those periods of great artistic outburst that become the stuff of legend.

Stan Lee later became known for self-promotion and cheesy cameos in the countless Marvel movies, and he ended up fighting with his fellow creator Jack Kirby about who was responsible for creating what back in those early, glory days of Marvel Comics.  His story confirms, once again, that creative people aren’t perfect — they’re people.  But his later actions can’t take away what he did during the ’60s, and what the characters he created meant for comic book readers like me.  RIP, Stan Lee.