Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Breaking Records

Today, I experienced the downside of relying on the USPS to deliver out-of-print vinyl record orders. (That's a copy of Billy Joel's The Stranger that has experienced vinyl separation anxiety due to someone bending the box and the record in half at some point in its transit...)

I guess I'm pretty lucky... I've only had two records damaged in shipping so far. One was a copy of Blind Faith that was cracked on the outer edge (bad packing was partly to blame on that one), but in this case the seller had packed the vinyl quite well. It took some real effort to bend the cardboard box sufficiently to break the record on this one. *sigh*

At least it's not a record that's particularly hard to find... In fact, the original seller thinks he may have another copy, and he's going to let me know tomorrow.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Vinyl Rediscovery: James Taylor

Today I picked up a virtually pristine copy of James Taylor's self-titled first album for Apple Records; this was my first James Taylor album way back in the fall of 1969, prior to "Fire and Rain" from Taylor's second album Sweet Baby James, which made him a star. I bought this album simply because it was on Apple Records, and the Beatles owned Apple Records, and Paul McCartney played bass on one song... I had no idea if I would enjoy it, but the Beatles link was enough for me to invest $3.34 way back then, and my enjoyment of the album was enough for me to re-invest $7 today.

This is a more upbeat James Taylor than the one you'll hear on Sweet Baby James; songs like "Carolina in My Mind" (with McCartney on bass and George Harrison on  guitar or vocals or both, in a much more engaging arrangement than the re-recorded version Taylor did later for his Greatest Hits album), "Night Owl," "Sunshine Sunshine," and "Something in the Way She Moves" have a genuine optimism and joy to them. (And if that line "Something in the Way She Moves" sounds familiar, it's probably because George Harrison borrowed it for his mega-selling song "Something.") Even "Knocking 'Round the Zoo," which references his time in a mental institution, has an upbeat tone that juxtaposes with the lyric's manic quality.

But I've always thought the real genius of this album was Peter Asher's arrangements. Asher came up with hhe idea of composing links between each song—musical bits that carry listeners from one track to the next (some have said that Asher came up with this idea in conversation with Paul McCartney, but Taylor gave credit for it to Asher himself, and it seems more Asher-esque). Richard Hewson composed most of the links, using string quartets, harp, acoustic guitar, percussion--whatever Hewson felt would best carry the listener from one specific song to the next. I've never known another album to plan its musical flow in such a distinctive way, and it hooked me from the first time I heard it. And that's why, as far as I'm concerned, this is an album that really needs to be heard one whole side at a time in order; any other means of listening reduces the links to unusual intros/outros that don't really accomplish anything.

James Taylor was every bit as entertaining today as it was more than four decades ago, and well worth tracking down.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome: 11/19/62 to 11/25/62

Romans awoke on Monday, November 19th, 1962, to read of a crime that sounded like it came straight from a television show or film: thieves broke into the Fahy Store on Broad Street, tore open the safe door using burglary tools, carried the weekend’s cash and receipts to the basement, then sorted them out, leaving behind all checks and change and taking only the bills… or most of them. Seems that the superstitious thieves took the time to sort out and leave behind the $2 bills (apparently they were considered bad luck to burglars). This sort of slick burglary was almost unprecedented in Rome.

The war between India and China continued to keep global tensions escalated, and it remained a front-page story in the Rome News-Tribune throughout the week.

Meanwhile, the de-escalation of the Cuban Missile Crisis continued, with the US finally halting its Cuban blockade on November 20th. Many of us undoubtedly breathed easier knowing that the threat of nuclear war had been pushed back a little further. On that same day, the President lifted the news censorship policy regarding military information that had been in effect since the beginning of the crisis. (Did you know that there was a censorship policy, and that newspapers voluntarily worked with the White House to keep this information confidential? A different time indeed!…

We got almost a week off for Thanksgiving holiday in 1962, thanks to a teachers’ in-service scheduled for November 20th and 21st.  The normal holiday schedule in the 1960s gave us just two days off for Thanksgiving—Thursday and Friday. Four days off from school for Thanksgiving was so unprecedented that The Rome News-Tribune devoted a front-page story to this upcoming holiday in their November 15th issue, since they wanted to make sure that parents knew about their kids’ extra two days’ off.

B&L Appliance and TV was pushing the new large-screen 23” Westinghouse televisions as the perfect holiday gift; the sets (which were still black and white) sold for $339.95 (which works out to between 20% % of the cost of a typical new car at the time). If you adjust for inflation, that’s the equivalent of paying $2600.00 for a 23” black and white television today—and if you’d like to adjust any of the other prices for inflation, the multiplier is 7.52 (that is, every 1962 $1 would equal $7.52 today). Rome Appliance countered with a holiday sale of the 23” Motorola for only $299, while Sears trounced everyone with their 23” Silvertone television for only $158.00.

A&P cut the price of their Thanksgiving turkeys to 35¢ a pound; their whole or half hams were 89¢ a pound. (And yes, if you adjust for inflation, both turkeys and hams are much less expensive today: using our handy-dandy inflation adjuster, we learn that turkeys would sell for $2.63 a pound today and hams would sell for $6.69 a pound in order to match that price.) Kroger was asking 37¢ a pound for turkeys, while their hams were 55¢ a pound. West Rome mainstay Couch’s Grocery was 39¢ a pound for turkeys, but the low-price leader at only 49¢ a pound for hams.

Rome Days kicked off on November 23rd, launching the official Christmas shopping season. Rome stores were having employees report to work several hours early on Friday morning to fully decorate the stores for Christmas (yes, stores actually waited until after Thanksgiving to decorate in 1962!). Many stores were announcing that they would have their first stock of Christmas wrapping paper on that date, priced at 6 to 8 rolls for $1. Miller’s had a full set of holiday stainless steel flatware for $8.88; Rome Men’s Shop had wool suits for $24.95; Wyatt’s had an early American sofa for $29.95 (delivery always free!); Enloe’s offered  foot silver aluminum Christmas trees for $7.77; Sears offered a new roof for only $199.00 for the average house or new aluminum siding for only $299.00, while for kids they had a miniature car road racing set for $14.99 or a new bike for $29.88; and Brock’s offered  a Bell & Howell 8mm home movie camera for only $39.99.

Garden Lakes topped everyone with their offer of a new home for the holidays: the Century Home, “built to outlast a century with minimum maintenance,” was available in a 3-bedroom brick home for $9995.00 or a 4-bedroom brick home for $12,950.00. If you're reading this, your parents probably did not take advantage of the offer, however--otherwise, you'd have been a Coosa alumnus and not a Chieftain!

The General Forrest Hotel was advertising its Thanksgiving dinners for $1.50 per person, urging Romans to make their reservations for the 12-2pm or 6-8:30pm seatings. At this time, of course, the General Forrest was still a fine hotel in downtown Rome, and its restaurant was considered a first-class dining experience.

A Friday night dance for teenagers from all Rome area schools was held at the Memorial Gymnasium from 7:30 to 11pm on November 23rd; the highlight was a twist contest.

Romans who went to the movies could choose from I’d Climb the Highest Mountain or The Bravados at the DeSoto Theater; Five Weeks in a Balloon at the First Avenue (I remember seeing that film at the First Avenue!); or The King and I and Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man at the West Rome Drive-In.
One of the biggest record successes of 1962 was Vaughn Meader’s The First Family, a comedy album featuring satirical impressions of John Kennedy and his extended family. Meader’s album was selling out across the nation, and he was making appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and other television programs. Alas, one year later, his career would come to an abrupt end after Lee Harvey Oswald’s bullets took the life of President Kennedy. Until then, however, many of us probably laughed along with our parents at Meader’s act.

The West Rome Mite League team placed in Rome’s Santa Bowl Football Classic was held on Saturday, November 24th; all proceeds from the event went to the Cheerful Givers, which used the money to help make Christmas brighter for boys and girls from less fortunate families. Upcoming West Romans who made the team included Mike Goodson, Bobby Padgett, Eddie Ashworth, Rocky Vines, Tom Baird, Ken Davis, and Donald Holbrook.

The District Student Council met at West Rome High School; West Rome’s Student Council sponsor, Mr. Midkiff, coordinated the event.

West Rome’s Sherill Liverett was chosen as a member of the 1962 Kiwanis All-Area Football Team, the only Chieftain to make the list.

Ceramics were a big thing in 1962 (I know that my mom took ceramics classes and decorated our home with several things that she made and painted at those classes—some of which still decorate my home today), with the Rome Recreation Department reporting that their ceramics classes were being held seven days a week at the girls’ dressing room facilities at the Memorial Gym, with many Rome residents signing up for a waiting list just for a chance to get into the classes.

“Big Girls Don’t Cry” held onto the number one song spot for yet another week in the Teen Beat’s Top Twenty as it seemed like the Four Seasons had moved into that position for good.  There were virtually no changes of songs on the list, with Elvis’s “Return to Sender,” the Tornadoes’ “Telstar,” the Tijuana Brass’s “Lonely Bull,” the Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel,” and Chubby Checker’s “Limbo Rock” holding pretty much the same spots they held the week before.

West Rome Post Office

I got a nice note from David Hendrix, class of 1964:

         When I read the following installment of  Fifty Years Ago in West Rome, it jogged a memory that hadn’t surfaced in many years:

“The other high-tech item for the holiday season was the automatic electric blanket with a thermostat and dual controls; it was available at Sears for $28.00.  Sears also had  a Silverstone Console Stereo for $99 and an Enfield MK 3 military rifle for $12.88 (yes, you could buy military rifles at Sears!).”

Fifty years ago, my friend David Gray ’64 read this add and asked me to drive him to Sears to shop for a hunting rifle. At Sears we found that for just a little more money you could also get a sporty version of the Enfield MK 3, with the barrel-encasing wood removed and the stock trimmed down. Sears apparently had no problem selling a high-powered rifle and ammunition to a 16 year old, because David bought the $12.88 version and several boxes of inexpensive .303 military rounds. Even though David Gray certainly would have never harmed a soul, it appears that just anyone could have made that same purchase. Scary!

(It was a very different time 50 years ago, wasn't it?)

            Thanks for writing the Fifty Years Ago in West Rome column!

(Thanks for writing, David, and it's good to know that folks are enjoying this look back at West Rome life)

Best Regards,
David Hendrix ‘64

Losing Larry Hagman

For about three hours this evening, I was offline while I worked on Comic Shop News. When I took a break and checked my newsfeeds, I discovered that Larry Hagman had died today at the age of 81.  I was genuinely saddened to hear of his passing; Larry Hagman has been a part of popular culture for almost as long as I was aware such a thing existed, and he has entertained me for almost five decades.

Like almost everyone from my generation, I first discovered Larry Hagman via his role as Major Anthony Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie, a charming series which cast Barbara Eden as a genie discovered by a US astronaut. Larry Hagman portrayed Major Nelson as the archetypal 1960s image of the astronaut--resourceful, intrepid, indomitable, and always able to overcome any problem thrown at him. Even better, he portrayed him with a charm that made many young boys like me wish we could be a Major Nelson when we grew up. He avoided the television tendency to present sitcom men as buffoons (remember Darren Stevens from Bewitched?)--and at the same time, he managed to convey his character with humor and compassion. All boys my age wished we possessed the bottle that housed the lovely Jeannie, but we also wished we could be a man like Anthony Nelson--and while that was due in part to the character the writers portrayed, it was even more due to Larry Hagman's ability to make that character sympathetic and admirable in a situation that other actors might have approached very differently.

It's hard to believe that it was just a little more than seven years later that Hagman returned to television in a major way as J.R. Ewing on the prime-time soap opera Dallas. On paper, J.R. was the opposite of Anthony Nelson in every way: conniving, vicious, duplicitous, machiavellian, unscrupulous, disloyal, cruel... a man who was impossible to like. But that's on paper. On the screen, Larry Hagman made J.R. Ewing a schemer who viewers couldn't help but like, regardless of his actions and flaws. And that was all Hagman; television history is filled with forgettable scenery-chewing villains who lacked any redeeming qualities, but Hagman found a way to convey just the right mix of ruthlessness and rogueishness to make the villain a more complex character. And in the process, he made J.R. Ewing and Dallas a landmark in television history and in popular culture. It's rare enough when an actor can become famous for one memorable character, but Hagman made the lightning strike twice.

His drinking, his health problems--they were a part of Hagman's story, too, and he didn't try to hide them. In some ways, it seemed as if he was willing to let himself be seen as the same sort of flawed man as J.R. Ewing; he owned up to his mistakes in a frank and public way, but refused to let them outshine his achievements.

So when TNT announced that they were bringing back Dallas, and that they had signed Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray to return in their original roles, I was curious. Were the older cast members going to be relegated to cameos and minor roles? Reportedly, that was the initial plan--use them as transitional figures to familiarize viewers with the next generation of Ewings and Barnes, then gradually push them aside--but as soon as Hagman appeared on screen as J.R. Ewing, it was evident that this new Dallas was as much his series as the old Dallas was. He controlled the screen every time he appeared. Even better, he did so by portraying J.R. Ewing as an older man; he embraced his age, as did his fellow actor and friend Patrick Duffy, and at times the two of them even managed to create an Oedipus at Colonus-like depth of character as these two older men faced life's challenges and looked back on what had gone wrong. I didn't initially expect to enjoy Dallas, but I did because Hagman, along with Duffy and Gray, made it impossible not to like Dallas.

I also saw Hagman and Duffy on the talk show circuit promoting the show, and I was touched by the depth of friendship these two men shared, and by Hagman's frankness in discussing his career, his life, and the importance of Patrick Duffy to both. It was impossible not to appreciate his candor, admire his honesty, and like the man that he was.

Now he's dead from cancer at the age of 81, and I'm sad--not the sort of casual sadness you feel when a famous person has died, but the sort of deeper sorrow you feel when you hear that the world is a little worse because of the passing of someone who made it a little better. Rest well and proudly, Larry Hagman, and know that you will be missed.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Slightly Missing the Target

Last November, I had plenty of good things to say about the Black Friday sale at Target--good crowd control, wide selection of merchandise, deep stock, and a great attitude. So tonight, on a whim, I headed back over to Target  at the corner of Shallowford and Sandy Plains for their 9pm Thanksgiving Day sale. Once again, I was looking for absolutely nothing at all--I was going more to see the shopping fervor than to buy anything in particular.

All those good things I said last year? None of them applied this year.

Crowd control was awful; there were people there, but they were letting crowds break from the opposite direction of the line and were amused when an older couple ahead of me got upset by the breaking (these people, after all, had stood in line the entire time patiently waiting their turn, only to see literally hundreds of people breaking in front of them). It was clear that those members of the staff didn't want to be there and didn't care to do their jobs.

Selection seemed very shallow. Many advertised items had sold out--and judging by the floor space they had allotted for those items (mostly electronics), they had very few to begin with.

The attitude of the indoor staff was rude and brusque. One woman was trying to find out a little bit about a television set and a DVD player, and the staff member was making no effort to answer her questions or to help her load the 40" flat screen into her cart. I helped her find the information she needed and then helped her load the television into her cart, while two staff members stood around doing nothing.

I happened to walk past one larger television that was on sale for a very good price; I stopped to look at the sign and the specs, and one of the staff members stepped in front of me and said (no joke, no exaggeration), "Keep walking, pardner. You don't have a ticket, you're not getting one of these."

I wasn't planning on buying the HDTV anyway (no room for another one unless I get rid of a perfectly-functioning existing unit), but I was surprised by the attitude. "What ticket?" I asked. "If you don't have one, it doesn't matter," was the only response I got. I wasn't looking for an HDTV or an argument, so I abandoned my cart there and headed on through the store.

Everywhere, I saw frustrated customers, long lines inside the store for an understaffed electronics counter, and customers finding empty spaces where they had hoped to find gifts.

You let me down, Target. I bragged on you last year, but this year was a very different experience.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Dwindling List


After I posted my list of vinyl wants here a few days ago, I heard from eleven different friends with titles that I wanted.  As of now, this is all that remains of that list (and even one of these has been offered by a kind friend who said she'd get it to me the next time she's in town):

Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass - Whipped Cream & Other Delights, Christmas Album
Buckingham/Nicks - First (and only) album, self-titled (and I'm still trying to decide if I really want this one or not--it seems to be the most expensive disc on my list, and I pulled out the CD and listened to it and realized that there's not much on here that I really like other than the potential of great music to come once these two joined Fleetwood Mac)

Cream - Fresh Cream, D'Israeli Gears, Fresh Cream

I'm having a great time listening to a lot of these old albums the way I originally heard them, and I'm really appreciating the planning that went into structuring some of the albums. Putting an album together was much more than just throwing some tracks together; a lot of effort seems to have been expended to alternate tempos, tones, and overall sounds so that each track stood on its own. I had forgotten how much variety there was in the Rolling Stones' Exiles on Main Street, for example, until I listened to all four sides on vinyl. Many songs benefit from their juxtaposition with songs that are quite different; it's like following something sweet with something salty, in that it emphasizes the distinctive qualities of each.

My friend Tom was talking about this the other day, and he pointed out that it would be possible for an artist to recreate that on CD by simply making either one or two long tracks, each comprised of either the entire album or the equivalent of one side of an album. That way, no matter how the listener tried to randomize things, the album could not be easily broken down into a component any smaller than an album side. I know that Genesis did that with their DVD-A release of their albums in surround sound; it is impossible to jump to individual tracks. Same for Jethro Tull's recently-issued Thick as a Brick 2; I haven't tried the CD, but the surround-sound DVD mix mandates that the listener play the album straight through, with no track breaks.

I suspect that the main reason it doesn't happen, though, is that a single massive track makes it impossible to profitably sell the album on iTunes, Amazon, etc., in downloadable format. And like it or not, that's the direction in which music sales are heading nowadays...

Monday, November 19, 2012

Today's Vinyl Flashback

In the past few weeks, I've picked up the occasional vinyl LP just because (a) it looked interesting, (b) it featured an artist who has produced other work that I liked, and (c) it was in remarkable condition for its age. Friday, I picked up Glen Campbell's Gentle On My Mind--which, as it turns out, was his seventh album release but his first album to chart (it came in at number one on the Billboard Country Albums chart for two weeks in 1967, and made it to fifth place in the Billboard Top 200 albums during that same period). The copy I found was so pristine that it seems like it could have been issued last week: clean, white back cover, sharp colors on the front, no corner or edge wear, and an album (complete with the Capitol Records black label with the rainbow border) that was absolutely pristine.

I listened to the album today and was absolutely fascinated; while this album was considered country in 1967, were it issued today there would be nothing about it that would fit into the country music genre other than Campbell's vocal accent (and it's not that strong on any of the songs). The album opens with his first big hit, "Gentle on My Mind," which is one of John Hartford's best compositions--and a song that I've heard many, many times over the years. However, on this album, the sound seems more open, the stereo more wide than in the later issues. Just to verify that, I pulled out a 1970s Glen Campbell's Greatest Hits and a CD version of The Best of Glen Campbell and it turned out my memory was correct--in both cases, the version of "Gentle on My Mind" was a more traditional mix with the bulk of the sound centered in the sound field rather than being pushed as widely to the left and right channels.

The rest of the album consisted of Glen Campbell covers with which I was unfamiliar. One of my favorites was his take on Donovan's "Catch the Wind," one of my favorite songs; he brings to it the honesty and introspection that the song deserves. There's also a great cover version of Harry Nilsson's "Without Her," a song that sounds so distinctively Glen-Campbell-esque in his version that I'm amazed it didn't become a major hit. He also does a fine job with Roy Orbison's "Cryin'" as he brings his empassioned, fervent vocal style to play in fine form. My favorite unknown song, though, was "Mary in the Morning," a song I know I'll listen to again and again.

45 years later, this album is every bit as engaging as it was when it was first released, and the sound is impeccable--rich, full-range instrumentation, well-placed stereo, clean vocals, and the crisp Glen Campbell guitar that made him such a popular session man before he became a solo star. Quite a find for only $3!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Vinyl Update

My quest for vinyl recordings has continued; I've discovered that it's not that difficult to find LPs that I want, although it's not always as easy to find affordable copies of specific LPs. I've made trips to both Book Nooks (Marietta and Decatur) and have found very little at either from my want list, but I nevertheless found a number of records that I didn't realize I wanted until I saw them there.

Here are the albums I am diligently seeking at this point:

Led Zeppelin: Physical Graffiti, Presence
Badfinger: Straight Up (in near-perfect condition - have a VG- copy)
Cream - Best of, D'Israeli Gears, Fresh Cream
Buckingham/Nicks - First (and only) album, self-titled
Jesus Christ Superstar - (brown fold-out cover only--and I want this one only in VG++ or better, since I have a VG copy)
Soundtrack -  2001: A Space Odyssey (original cover)
Soundtrack - On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Klaatu -  Hope, Sir Army Suit
Paul Simon - Paul Simon (self-titled first solo album), There Goes Rhyming Simon, Hearts and Bones
Rare Earth - Get Ready
Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass - Whipped Cream & Other Delights, Christmas Album
Billy Joel - The Stranger
Electric Light Orchestra: Eldorado, Face the Music, A New World Record

The best finds of the past week? Near-perfect copies of the two Christmas albums I played to the point of virtual destruction in my childhood: Christmas With the Chipmunks and The Original: Gene Autry Sings Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Other Christmas Favorites. Even more specifically, I wanted these on the specific labels that I had as a child--and in the case of the Gene Autry album, that meant I needed it to be in mono on the black Grand Prix label with the pre-zip-code office address. Believe it or not, it took me less than two weeks to find excellent copies of both, and for only about $5 each. I have added more than two dozen holiday albums to my collection, but these are the gems of my Christmas acquisitions: I loved these albums as a child and played them over and over and over again until my parents undoubtedly regretted ever buying them for me. Now I have new copies that should last me for the rest of my life, since I am much better at taking care of vinyl now than I was back then.

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome: 11/12/1962 Through 11/18/1962

        On November 12, 1962, Governor-elect Carl Sanders probably caused students’ hearts to skip a beat when he announced his support for a plan to add a 13th and 14th grade to high school. As we all know, those plans went nowhere... (Or did they? Now that we have pre-K and kindergarten as part of the public school system, we do indeed in effect have a 13th and 14th grade—we just call ‘em 11th and 12th grade!)

    If you felt like catching a movie in the first half of the week, you had a choice of Two Tickets to Paris with Joey Dee and Gary Crosby at the DeSoto Theater, Guns of Darkness with Leslie Caron and David Niven at the First Avenue, or a Jerry Lewis double feature—The Sad Sack and The Delicate Delinquent—at the West Rome Drive-In. The weekend saw the Rome premiere of The Manchurian Candidate with Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and Janet Leigh at the First Avenue Theatre; The Firebrand and The Loves of Salammbo at the DeSoto; and House of Bamboo and Freckles at the West Rome Drive-In.

    The Four Fellows performed for the West Rome Chieftains Club on Monday, November 12th; the business half of the meeting involved a discussion of an upcoming band trip to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC.

    Apparently there just wasn’t as much in the local news in 1962: WSB-TV 2 offered only 15 minutes of local news every night (compared to the three hours of local news they run every afternoon/evening nowadays!).

    Piggly Wiggly was promoting a new Del Monte product, Mexicorn, which could be had for only 14 cents a can. Five pound bags of potatoes, apples, and/or grapefruit were 3/$1; Butterball turkeys were on sale for Thanksgiving for 39 cents a pound. Kroger was promoting Morton’s pumpkin or mincemeat pies for a quarter each, or a fresh pecan pie from the deli for only 39¢. (Those who wished to expand their vocabularies as well as their waistlines could also pick up a Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary for only 99¢ at Kroger.)

    People apparently ate pickled peaches in 1962, since Sunshine Pickled Peaches actually ran a display ad promoting their pickled peaches as a part of every Thanksgiving meal. Somehow my family never got the message...

    Pepsi Cola was promoting their new lemon-lime drink Teem, “the crystal clear drink in the bright green bottle.” Turns out that Rome was one of the test markets for the drink, which wasn’t rolled out nationally until two years later.

    If you were willing to drive across town for a bargain, you could pick up one of  the new king-size barbecue sandwiches with dill pickles and potato chips for only 50 cents at Troy’s Barbecue—twice the size of the regular barbecue sandwich for only 15 cents more!

    The Dinner Bell Cafe at 612 Shorter Avenue had a new owner, Mrs. Riley, and she was encouraging everyone who knew her from her years at Enloe’s to visit her restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner all month long.

    C&S Jewelers suggested the perfect Christmas gift for a high school student: a Remington typewriter for only $79.50—and you got a free metal filing desk to go along with it!

    We’re spoiled by icemakers, but Harper Nichols Furniture was pushing the predecessor fifty years ago: the Frigidaire Ice Ejector, a box that would hold up to eighty ice cubes and spit them out one at a time when you pressed a lever. Since you still had to open the freezer to get it out, though, how was this an improvement on an ice tray or an ice box?...

    The other high-tech item for the holiday season was the automatic electric blanket with a thermostat and dual controls; it was available at Sears for $28.00. Sears also had  a Silverstone Console Stereo for $99 and an Enfield MK 3 military rifle for $12.88 (yes, you could buy military rifles at Sears!).

    West Rome kicked off its basketball season on November 15th with a home game against Cave Spring. The Boys won 35-33, while the girls lost 33-30. Jimmy Walden earned 17 of the Chief’s points in the boys’ game, while Emma Bray racked up 17 points in the girls’ game. The boys played their second game on  November 16th against the Berry Falcons, winning 45-39. Wesley Jenkins was the star of the night, accounting for 25 of those 45 points.

    Rome’s growth—much of which was occurring in West Rome—led to the expansion of Floyd Hospital, with the opening of its first additional wing on November 15th. The new addition expanded the hospital’s capacity from 143 beds to 249 beds.

    Seventh district congressman John W. Davis spoke in Rome, stressing that schools needed to help prepare students to use new high-tech “computers” (quotes were the newspaper’s, not mine) in order to win the Cold War. 

    The Four Seasons’ “Big Girls Don’t Cry” held on to the number one position on Teen Beat’s Top 20 record survey; other songs in the top ten included “Return to Sender” by Elvis Presley, “He’s a Rebel” by the Crystals, “Telstar” by the Tornadoes, “Bobby’s Girl” by Marcie Blane, “The Monster Mash” by Bobby Pickett and the Crypt Kickers, “Surfin’ Safari” by the Beach Boys, “What Kind of Fool Am I?” by Sammy Davis Jr., and “Only Love Can Break a Heart” by Gene Pitney.

    (The Beatles were still unknowns in Rome in 1962; in fact, this week fifty years ago they were 4579 miles away from Rome, performing at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany, before returning home to perform in the Cavern Club on Sunday, November 18th.)

    We loved to laugh in 1962: comedies dominated the highest-rated television shows, with The Beverly Hillbillies holding a lock on first place. Other top ten series in November included The Red Skelton Hour, The Lucy Show, The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Danny Thomas Show, and Candid Camera, while Bonanza, Ben Casey, and Gunsmoke filled out the list.

We Get Mail (And a 4 cent stamp wasn’t necessary to deliver it!)

A pleasant surprise arrived in our mailbox as Ellen Sosbe, class of ‘66, dropped me an email regarding the column:

    “Thanks for your articles for the Drumbeat; they bring back a lot of memories of Rome from that time.
     “You mentioned the Shrimp Boat in East Rome.  Do you happen to remember the other Shrimp Boat in West Rome?  I can't remember exactly when it was there, but it was shaped like a boat. It seems that it was located across the road from West Rome High, in the shopping center parking lot.”

    --(I have to confess that I don’t remember it; was that the location where Big K opened their Rome store in the mid-1960s? Anyone remember more about this?)--
     “Another thing I've been trying to remember is exactly where the old ice house was located on Glen Milner Blvd. That may have been a bit before your time, but I remember going there with my parents to purchase ice and dry ice blocks for special events.  Seeing all those blocks of ice was fascinating to me as a kid.”
    --(I remember the existence of an ice supply house in Rome, but didn’t recall its precise location; how many of our fellow Chieftains have cool memories of the ice house?)--
     “Thanks again for your entertaining articles.”
    --(And thanks to you for taking the time to write, Ellen! I hope that other Chieftains will share their memories here!)--

Sunday, November 11, 2012

More Record Ruminations

My enthusiastic re-entry into the world of vinyl music continued unabated. I've added another fifty or sixty albums to my growing collection; as I had indicated previously, much of what I'm buying now are replacement copies of the albums I had in the late 1960s through the mid-1970s. I foolishly parted with my vinyl copies in the first five years of the CD era; I figured that once I had replaced them on CD, there was no reason to keep the vinyl. Oh, if only the myself of now could travel back and educated the myself of then...

As I've listened to some of the albums again (tonight's rehearings: Four Way Street by Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young and Santana (self-titled), I've found myself thinking not only about the quality of the vinyl recording, but about the experience of vinyl as well. I believe that vinyl is a more satisfying listening experience for several reasons.

First, LPs give the artist more control of the listening experience. Unlike CDs, LPs cannot be placed on ramdom; the listener will generally listen to the entire album side as the artist envisioned, created, and engineered it. While an album may be made up of individual tracks, the placement, arrangement, and organization of those tracks is quite often designed to create an aesthetic whole. Listening to the CD in random mode, or listening to the MP3 in a randomized mix with many other songs by many other artists, doesn't communicate that aesthetic whole.

The best example I can think of off the top of my head is the Beatles' Abbey Road. The vinyl LP is engineered to create musical suites--medleys of several different songs that meld together to create a musical experience. Put on the CD of Abbey Road and hit "random" and you find that even those medleys are broken into their individual components--quite jarringly so, in fact.

A more recent example: Al Jardine's A Postcard from California. As I listened to it on random, mixed with other recent music acquisitions, I thought that it was almost hokey; it seemed that Al felt obligated to include references to California, the ocean, the surf, etc., in every song.

Then I listened to it straight through and discovered that it was a concept album--each song was like a segment of a play following a man's odyssey to California. He's initially drawn there by work, then he becomes intrigued by the history, the culture, and the lifestyle, until finally he's ready to make the transition and become a Californian--and in the process, he even sets his career aside and weighs the option of becoming a musician. None of this is communicated in a randomized listening--but when the album is heard as a whole, it takes on a new meaning.

Secondly, there's the duration of an album. Due to limitations of the vinyl, the ideal album side is 18 to 20 minutes long. Some longer sides have been produced, of course, but there is often a sacrifice of audio quality to squeeze more tracks onto the album. As a result, the artist not only constructs an album, but also constructs two sides of that album, knowing that each side can create its own feel and tone. Again, I turn to Abbey Road as an example: side one, beginning with "Come Together" and ending with "I Want You (She's So Heavy)." The album kicks off with a powerful, distinctive rhythm carried by the unusual drum sound; it ends with a driving wall of sound underscored by a white noise generator that builds so steadily that it becomes a part of the music. In between are the softer, more moving "Something," the almost satirical "Oh, Darling!" and the lightly absurd storytelling of "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," and the catchy "Octopus's Garden," all interspersed to create a mood change from one song to the next.

Turn it over, though, and each track builds, from the cosmic joy of "Here Comes the Sun" through the introspection and vitality of the various medleys, ending with a celebration of the Beatles themselves, stressing their individual contributions through a series of solos that reconnect them as a group in the very end, delivering the ultimate theme that drove most of their music: "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."

And each side, constructed to work in a unified fashion, delivers its particular message in less than 20 minutes. It's the perfect listenable block of sound: it requires more of a commitment than a song, but no so much that the listener feels burdened by the investment of time. It allows the creation of individual listening segments--it's a sort of tonal play in two (or four, or six, depending on the number of discs in an album) acts.

Our busy lives often make it difficult to find time to devote a full forty minutes to an hour to listening to a new musical release on CD; we take it in tiny aural bites instead. But the shorter duration of the album side is more suited to listening, and the physical format of the medium makes it more likely the listener will stay with the album for the duration of that side.

I know it's not true in every case--greatest hits albums by their vary nature are a forced fit, although the duration aspect remains constant--but I think it begins to explain why I'm listening to albums differently than I listen to CDs, and enjoying it more.

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 11/5/1962 - 11/11/1962

The Cuban Missile Crisis continued to wind down, with spyplane photos confirming the removal of Soviet planes and missiles from Cuba. Meanwhile, global tensions were heating up in India as the Chinese Army began to mass near the Indian border, paving the way for the escalation of  a border conflict into a full-fledged Sino-Indian war. Remember all those cold war fears from 1962? Well, events like this certainly contributed!...

Not exactly West Rome news, but Eleanor Roosevelt passed away on November 7th, 1962, from the effects of prolonged anemia. I still remember my elementary school teacher being very sad about this news.

How times change; elections were held this week in 1962, and the Democrats held the majority of the offices once the votes were tallied. The Republicans added two state senators to their column, but neither of them represented Rome.

West Rome took part in the Third Annual Cross-Country run at the Berry Track on Tuesday, November 6th--one of nine Rome area high schools participating. West Rome only placed third, alas--but that still put us ahead of East Rome, who finished fourth.

Elm Street’s Mites beat Northside on 11/5 with a score of 18-0 for the Boy’s Club Mite Championship. Rocky Vines, Donald Holbrook, Ken Davis, Larry Padgett, Allen Reed, and Gary Nutt were named as outstanding players for Elm Street. Meanwhile, the Garden Lakes Vs. West End Midget playoff was pushed back to Monday, November 12th due to rain.

Residents of the Beverly Heights subdivision asked to be annexed into the city 50 years ago this week. The annexation eventually came to pass, and those residents (including my family, who lived in this neighborhood) officially became Chieftains soon afterwards.

The Office of Civil Defense (think “Homeland Security” minus a half-century) held workshops on fallout shelter construction and maintenance throughout the southeast, including in Rome, this week fifty years ago. (I know of at least one West Rome family that had a fallout shelter in their back yard--right, Phil Patterson?--but how many others had their own protection from nuclear annihilation?)

Remember Christmas Clubs--that program wherein local banks would encourage you to deposit a set amount each month, which they would return to you in a Christmas Club check as the holiday season approached (but there was no interest added). Well, this was the week in 1962 that National City Bank and Rome Bank and Trust began to distribute their Christmas Club checks!

If good fences indeed make good neighbors, then you could have great neighbors for only 29 cents a linear foot: Sears was offering 48” chain link fencing fabric at a bargain price.

Cholesterol didn’t worry us much in 1962: Kroger was running a special on 4 pounds of pure lard for 29 cents, a quart of Kroger Mayonnaise for 45 cents, and 24 ounces of Crisco for 39 cents.

Sears sold fruit trees? Yes, they did--or at least, they did in 1962! They were advertising their new shipment of apple, peach, or pear trees for $1.98 for a 3 to 5 foot tall tree. Wonder how many fruit trees in West Rome yards today began as Sears saplings?

The Christmas advertising got underway in earnest with Murphy’s 3/4 page ad promoting their toys, including $3 barbies (and you could add a Barbie wardrobe for $1 to $3.50 more!), an $8.99 foot-and-a-half long battery powered Dino plush figure from the Flintstones, and a $9.58 Talking Cecil 44” long figure from Beany & Cecil.

How popular were pork and beans in 1962? Big enough that Van Camp’s ran a half-page ad for the line, touting them as “America’s first, finest, and favorite pork and beans.” Those pork adn beans could be had for 10 cents a can at Colonial or 12 cents a can at Big Apple.

Now here’s a bargain I wish I could buy today: Piggly Wiggly offered 5 hot pork barbecue sandwiches from their deli for only $1 (how did I forget that Piggly Wiggly HAD a deli?).

We take digital watches for granted nowadays (if anyone even wears a watch, since many people just use their smartphones as a timepiece), but the Accutron Sonic timepiece was the latest technology in 1962. Guaranteed not to gain or lose more than one minute per month, these watches could be had for the bargain price of $125.00 to $250.00 at Brock’s. (And when you consider that a 1962 Volkswagen could be had for $1100 to $1200, that’s one expensive watch!)

What we would give for numbers like this today!... Floyd County unemployment came in at 4.2% this week in 1962, almost a full percent below the 5.1% unemployment rate nationwide. Rome’s strong manufacturing, retail, and medical-related businesses were credited for the incredibly good numbers, with Rome forecast at remaining a hiring engine for northwest Georgia for years to come (and that was the case , as it turned out!).

The DeSoto Theater was running If a Man Answers with Sandra Dee and Bobby Darrin; the First Avenue presented Damon & Pithias through Wednesday, with 2 Week in Another Town with  Kirk Douglas, Edward G. Robinson, & Cyd Charisse premiering on Thursday; and the West Rome Drive-In featured Disney’s Babes in Toyland through Tuesday, with The Cabinet of Caligari running on the weekend.

“Big Girls Don’t Cry” by the Four Seasons held on to first place in the Teen Beat’s Top Ten, with “Return to Sender” by Elvis Presley climbing to second place. The only new song int he top ten was “Limbo Rock” by Chubby Checker.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

I Orto Recommend the Ortofon...

Over the weekend, I picked up an Ortofon Red 2M cartridge for my turntable; since I've been picking up a lot of vinyl, I decided to do something I've never done in all my years of music buying—namely, buy a top-quality cartridge to see if I could notice a difference in sound.

Oh, I know that the Ortofon isn't up there with the $500-and-up cartridges that folks rave about, but it's still about two to three times what I've spent on cartridges before, and I wasn't sure if it would be worth the difference or not—but I figured the best way to find out was to listen to a couple of albums with the old cartridge, switch things out, and then listen to them again.

The test albums were Fleetwood Mac's Rumors (180g vinyl reissue), Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water (1977 boxed set of Simon & Garfunkel albums, acquired used in VG++ condition), and Tracy by the Cuff Links (1969 release, original LP, acquired used in VG condition).

The difference was instantly noticeable. Both cartridges had a warmth to them, but the Ortofon had a richness on the upper end that the old cartridge (wish I could tell you what it was, but it was the original equipment with the Audio-Technica turntable, so I don't know—probably an Audio-Technica cartridge) couldn't approach. The crispness of the cymbals, the richness of the horns, the sharpness of the guitar—it all sounded incredible. The bass was there, just as strong, albeit a little more precise with the Ortofon.

What amazed me was how good the oldest and most worn of the albums sounded. Tracy is one of my favorite albums of all time; Ron Dante, the voice of the Cuff Links and the Archies, did some incredible vocal work on this album, and I still smile every time I listen to it. This album had a few visible surface scratches and scuffs—nothing deep or significant, but enough that I figured they should have impacted the sound. Both cartridged picked up a little surface noise in the space between tracks, but the vibrancy of the voices and the fidelity of the instrumentation was phenomenal. The album sounded "cleaner," if that makes any sense, with the Ortofon; it's like it had stripped away a decade of playing from the vinyl.

I'm quite pleased with the purchase, and I'm glad I decided to step up to a better cartrige. If you're interested, has the cartridge and a Denon DP-300F automatic turntable on sale for about $425; it's one of the best combo prices I've found on a good automatic turntable and a quality cartridge. If you want to hear the best possible quality from your vinyl without crossing the $500 barrier for a turntable and cartridge, this is the way to go.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 10/29/62 to 11/4/62

The 445th (Dixie) Troop Carrier Wing of the Air Force reserve was called to active duty this week in 1962, which meant that a number of Romans had to report; this activation came about as a result of continuing tensions over the Cuban Missile Crisis. Rome’s Cuban population was interviewed and overwhelmingly supported a Cuban invasion. The crisis was still impacting area grocery stores, who were reporting difficulties restocking batteries and some canned goods. The week ended with news that lifted everyone’s spirits, however: surveillance photos revealed that the Cuban missile bases were being dismantled, which signaled an end to the crisis. Every one in Rome was breathing a little easier as a result of that news!

The big East Rome-West Rome game took place fifty years ago this week; the Gladiators were favored to win, but they didn’t. However, neither did West Rome: the game ended in a 7-7 tie. That meant that West Rome once again denied East Rome of a football victory (the Gladiators had lost every ER-WR game prior to this year). West Rome had a chance for the win in the final 25 seconds of the game, had they gone for a field goal.  “We had every intention of going for the field goal,” Coach Paul Kennedy said, but he was unable to get the word to the players on the field, since there were no time outs remaining. West Rome scored on a Chris Warren pass to Gerry Law that came after some great running plays by Larry Parker and Dickie Sapp. Jimmy Walden’s point-after kick tied the game, which was played before an audience of 6000+ people (now doubt about it—Rome was a football town!).

The Chieftain JV team closed a perfect season with a 26-0 victory over Calhoun

Parrish Bakeries announced plans to expand its West Rome facility, adding 7000 square feet to the production line and adding a number of employees to its staff which numbered 159 workers as of October, 1962. (This was, of course, a time when Rome had a thriving manufacturing and production community, including a number of factories and distribution centers.)

Those who consider pumpkin pie a fall essential could pick one up for 39 cents at the Piggly Wiggly in West Rome. You could also get a pound package of Mann’s Golden Harvest Wieners for 39 cents (is that brand even around today?), and you could pick up a pound of Brach’s Pic-a-Mix candy for only 45 cents.  West Rome’s  Big Apple Grocery Store was offering ground beef for 39 cents a pound; sugar was on sale for 39 cents for five pounds; RC Cola (“Bottled in Rome!”) was 89 cents for a case of 24 bottles; and the newly-arrived Christmas gift wrap was available in a 6-roll pack for 89 cents.

If you were listening to Rome radio, you would have most likely heard “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by the Four Seasons, since it was Number One fifty years ago this week. Other songs in the top 20 included “He’s a Rebel” by the Crystals, “Return to Sender” by Elvis Presley, “The Monster Mash” by Bobby Pickett and the Crypt Kickers, “Surfin’ Safari” by the Beach Boys, and “Lonely Bull” by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass.

20,000 people showed up for the Second Annual Rome Automobile Show, held at Central Plaza. Attendees had an opportunity to compare the 1963 lines from every major automobile manufacturer.

    Moviegoers could see The Miracle Worker at the DeSoto Theater; Lolita at the First Avenue (if you were over 16, of course--and was it normal policy that mature films with more sexual themes ended up at the First Avenue?), or King of Kings at the West Rome Drive-In.

    The Shrimp Boat was running a special on a dozen oysters, french fries, hush puppies, and cole slaw for only $1.25. (Was I the only West Rome kid who actually thought they brought the seafood up the river to the Shrimp Boat restaurant, since it was located right next to the 2nd Avenue Bridge?)

In the mood for a ham dinner? Then Redford’s 5 and 10 Cent Store was the place to go: they were offering baked ham, green peas, creamed potatoes, candied beets, and hot rolls for 50 cents every Friday. Murphy’s in downtown Rome countered that with a fried chicken breast, snowflake potatoes, buttered vegetable, rolls, and a chilled pear half on a bed of crisp lettuce (apparently a menu mainstay in the 1960s--and I remember it being a part of many a meal at our house, often topped with a dollop of mayonnaise and a little bit of grated cheese) for the same 50 cent price.

The Rome Radio Company was pushing its 19” Zenith Console Color Television as  the ideal Christmas gift; since color televisions were still relatively new (and most programming was still in black and white because of the rarity of color TV’s), the price was so high that Rome Radio didn’t even promote the price in its ad, although they did offer a trade in of up to $100 for your old TV.

Patches Martin, Ellen Cantrell, & Leigh Whittenburg were elected as officers of West Rome’s Interclub Council.

Shorter College launched its “Sherwood Forest Day” event on October 29th to raise money for Thanksgiving food baskets for needy families. A number of West Rome churches helped in the fund-raising drive.

Today's Surprise Find

Susan wanted to go the Woodstock Market (an antiques and crafts market not too far from here) for their Christmas Open House this weekend, so we headed up there this afternoon. My plan was to stop at the Woodstock Antiques Mall across the street and check with a vinyl records dealer there to see if there was anything I might want at a price I might be willing to pay. There wasn't (stuff I wanted--yes; price I would pay--no!), but I did make a lucky find at the Woodstock Market.

One of the dealers there had a copy of the 1977 Reader's Digest--An Old Fashioned Christmas 6 album boxed set for $10 minus 20%--making it just a little more than a buck a record. Even better, I don't think this set has ever been played.

If you didn't grow up with the Reader's Digest mix of traditional, easy listening, and light country holiday songs, then this set will have no appeal to you at all. But this is the sort of Christmas music that Dad loved, so I heard the songs from this set many times over the years.

I was particularly pleased to discover that, as far as I can determine, this set has never been played. None of the albums showed the slightest sign of play or wear--not even the most minor spindle-wear at the center. There was no surface noise, no scuffing, no scratching--just great sound. I look forward to hearing this one as the holidays approach.

A few hours later, while I was waiting on Mellow Mushroom to get my pizza ready (house special, hold the onions, add kalamata olives), I stopped at the Goodwill in the same shopping center and checked through their records. Two finds there: Al Hirt's Brassman's Holiday and Mantovani at the Movies, both in fine to excellent condition (vinyl) with very good covers, for only 77¢ each. While neither was on my vinyl want list, each was an interesting flashback to my childhood, so they were worth the buck and a half that the pair cost.

Shopping for vinyl continues to amuse me; it's something I haven't done in many years, and I have to confess that the larger album size, the clearer graphics, and the ritual that goes with an album is somehow more alluring than the musical experience of a CD.

Susan saw a small sign at the Woodstock Market that I found amusing: "The Antiquer's Lament: Grandma had it, Mom got rid of it, I'm buying it again." For me, there's a musical version. "The Album Collector's Lament: I had it. I got rid of it when I bought the CD. Now I'm buying the album again."