Archive for March 2nd, 2009

Frost, Nixon and Neil Diamond

Veering away from either politics or travel once again, I have to write about the birthday present given to me by my wife and kids today: a turntable that I can connect to my computer in order to get the music from the vinyl record album to a CD or MP3.  Not only that, but it can “restore” the music by editing out hisses and other background noise, and can increase the volume as well.

Having started buying 45s when I was 9, this is a treat.  I will finally take those old records, some in better shape than others, and be able to listen to them and play them again.  I used to go to Lewis Drugs on Minnesota Avenue in Sioux Falls and get a 45 for 77 cents — or 66 cents if it was the number one hit of the week according to KISD radio.

Some of the music I’ve been able to find on CDs or download from i-tunes.  But songs like Hank Cardell’s “Natural Man,” well, who has even heard of that?  The first 45 I bought was “Wedding Bell Blues” by the 5th Dimension, though it was not the one I wanted.  I was determined to buy “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond, but that was sold out.   “Wedding Bell Blues” was number one that week, and thus 11 cents cheaper, so I went for that one.  I have over 200 45s, almost all from the time frame of 1969 to 1972, many of them songs that otherwise one can’t get.  Now I’ll put them on CD, make a back up copy or two, and keep the records themselves to pass down.

My album collection got built later, as my allowance early on was geared more to 45s than LP’s.  But I still remember my first LP.  I bought it on sale:  Neil Diamond, Touching you, touching me. Neil Diamond was my favorite singer early on, thanks to “Sweet Caroline” (which became the 2nd 45 I bought).   The reason was because that year we were reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books in my third grade class and I became a fan.  When I wasn’t spending my allowance on records, it was to finish my collection of Laura Ingalls Wilder books — $3.95 a piece at Courtney’s Books and Things (also on Minnesota Ave, about 8 blocks east of Lewis Drugs).  Her mom was named Caroline, which was the reason I fell in love with that song.  It’s also the reason I got the song “Laura” by the Newbeats.  I called to request that one once — I think it topped at number 40 in the top 40 — and the DJ said “see, I knew someone out there liked that song.”   It’s another one I won’t find elsewhere.

Of course, as I went on to high school and college my love for music grew and I developed a pretty large LP collection, currently over 250 (though I lost some over the years).   This includes some “Master disks” that were done more slowly and cost about twice as much.  It was the highest quality.

I’ve kept the records within reach, but usually out of mind.  Today, I could pull them out again.  Due to other family activities I only had a chance to turn one into a CD, and that was the first LP I bought.  Neil Diamond, then young and more edgy, comes through perfectly singing songs like “Holly Holy” and “New York Boy.”  I fell in love with his versions of “Both Sides Now,” and “Everybody’s Talking.”   What better for a birthday celebration, to zoom forty years into the past and reconnect with that music and realize that for quite some time to come I’ll be rediscovering music long lost.  Natasha has a way of knowing what to buy me — this even beats out the gourmet popcorn of a few years ago!

To be sure, I have CDs for a large chunk of my old vinyl records.  My collections of Supertramp, Rush, Styx, Al Stewart, Billy Joel, and others are mostly complete as CDs as well.  But there are many that I just didn’t get or couldn’t find as CDs that I get to rediscover.

I had to know how much this wonderful gift cost.  I had to be hundreds of dollars, it’s a Sony, after all.   But it was only $135.   That’s more than my usual birthday gift, but given what it can do I was shocked at the low price.

This wasn’t my only forray into my youth.  Saturday night we went with friends to see “Frost and Nixon,” a movie that took me back to the early seventies.  Watergate was really the first big political story I was able to follow reasonably well.   I remember the hearings, the jokes, and the discussions of Nixon.  I also remember the Frost interviews, though I had the impression then that Frost was an accomplished intellectual journalist, while the movie portrayed him as more of a flashy talk show type.

I enjoyed the movie immensely, in part because of the connection to a time I remember, which now is very much way back in history.   I found it far more interesting and entertaining than “Slumdog Millionaire,” for example.  At a point in the movie Frost is celebrating his birthday, and they go to a posh club.  Playing there is Neil Diamond (an actor playing a younger Neil Diamond to be sure), singing “Frost and Nixon…” to the tune of “love and marriage.”

And as I reflected on that while playing with my new toy today, I realized that getting older is not a bad thing at all.   I’ve experienced a reality and culture younger folk never will.   To be sure, my sons will experience a world I won’t live to see either, it all balances out in the end.  But there is something really satisfying about having old 45s, remembering Watergate and the end of the Vietnam war, thinking about how much the world has changed, and how I try to keep up (even though musically I’m alas still locked in the past).   I can even compare this economic downturn to the one in the early eighties, which I also recall vividly.

Age makes it easier to keep perspective, even if it also makes it more difficult to accept new and innovative things.  I work to keep the best of both worlds, and luckily teaching at a university keeps me in contact with a generation that might otherwise seem far away.   Not that I think of myself as ancient — Barack Obama is about my age, and people say he’s a young President.  But it says something when one compares oneself to world leaders rather than sports stars to compare ages!

All this, plus a great meal at a new Italian restaurant that opened in nearby Wilton, Maine, made this an excellent birthday (since my blog goes on GMT, it’ll say March 2nd, but I’m posting it before midnight March 1st).     And now before bed I’ll listen to “Wedding Bell Blues,” the first record I ever bought, four decades ago.