NATIONAL BROTHERHOOD WEEK?

Way back in the dark ages, the third week in February (an otherwise dreary and neglected month) was designated National Brotherhood Week. As designated special weeks go, it was never a big hit with the general public. In the 1980s, it disappeared completely. Probably because it failed to sell greeting cards. Which is, I believe, the point of such created events.

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The National Conference for Christians and Jews (NCCJ) came up with the idea of National Brotherhood Week in 1934. Given the current political climate, maybe we can agree more brotherhood year round would be an improvement. Sadly, we no longer have even that one, measly week.

February is now Black History Month which seems to mean movie channels run films featuring non-white stars. Unless you watch PBS or the History Channel where you might see a documentary or two.

The man who took it seriously – even in the old days – as he took all politics seriously, was Tom Lehrer. He taught math at Hahvid (Harvard, if you aren’t from around here). He didn’t write a lot of songs since he, till his dying day (which hasn’t occurred yet as he’s alive and living in California), thought of himself as a math teacher who wrote silly songs. Not as an entertainer.

Despite this unfair self-assessment, I’ve always felt Tom got this particular holiday dead to rights. Ya’ think?

He got a lot of stuff right. Check him out on YouTube. He only wrote about 50 songs and most of them are posted in some video or other. Me? I’ve got the CDs. (Remember CDs?)

A PIANO BY THE WINDOW

Leftovers - For this week’s writing challenge, shake the dust off something — a clothing item, a post draft, a toy — you haven’t touched in ages, but can’t bring yourself to throw away.


I started playing the piano when I was four and by the time I finished high school, I played pretty well. Well enough to impress a few people, mostly those who weren’t schooled in the finer points of classical music.

I followed through by majoring in music at college where I learned how deficient my music education had been. I had a lot of feeling for music and a deep, abiding love for it. What was missing was solid technique and high-end sight-reading skills. By the end of my sophomore year, it was obvious to everyone — especially me — that my future as a classical pianist would never happen. Being almost good enough in classical piano is not good enough. And so I moved on.

The grand piano my parents gave me was too big for the living room of our first house as well as for the much bigger second house. I gave it a bedroom in our first house, but had no place for it in the colonial we bought next.

I reluctantly sold my piano.

Life happened. I moved to Israel, lived there 9 years, moved back to the states. Moved seven more times in two years. Then, Garry and I married and settled down.

I missed having a piano. Whenever I was in a house with a piano, I would sit and play. Probably that’s why Garry bought me a beautiful electronic piano for my birthday 23 years ago. A tidy little instrument with a big sound and a full 88 key keyboard, it fits snugly under the dining room window and never needs tuning.

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I have played it, forgotten it, then rediscovered it over and over during the decades since it became part of my life.

A couple of years ago, I began to practice again, only to discover that after just a few minutes, shooting pains made me stop. It was arthritis in my hands. I have arthritis almost everywhere and it had gotten worse. Gotten so severe I wouldn’t be able to play unless I had surgery to remove some of the calcification. But other stuff got in the way of getting my hands fixed. The surgery never happened.

The piano lives in front of the dining room window. It needs a more thorough cleaning thank I’ve been able to give it. Sometimes, I swear, I hear it softly calling me. I feel guilty when I look at it. It deserves better than to sit alone gathering dust.

I could sell it, I suppose. But many generations of electronic instruments have come and gone. By modern standards, the piano is almost antique. I don’t think it would be worth much on the market. In any case, why should I sell it when it’s so easy to keep?

If I sold it, I’d never own another. Though I don’t play now, maybe I’ll get my hands fixed one of these days. Then I could play again and my piano will be waiting under the window, bright with sunshine.

You never know. Sometimes life surprises you.

SONGS OF SUMMER – RICHARD PASCHALL

The Top 10 of a Musical Genius

From the time the Beach Boys hit the surf and the top of the charts in the 1960′s, Brian Wilson has been considered a musical genius. His prolific song-writing propelled the careers of the original “Boys.” Their music remains wildly popular to this day.

Wilson was not just trying to crank out rock and rolls songs for public consumption. He was trying to create a new sound, the “California” sound of blended harmonies and instruments. His obsessive work in the studio while seeking a certain type of perfection, was both his strength and ultimately his weakness.

Today Brian is again touring, writing and producing. His opinions on music are held in high esteem by song writers everywhere.  Many, including Paul McCartney, Bono, James Webb (American songwriter), and Rolling Stone Magazine, consider Wilson’s “God Only Knows” among the best songs of all time.

So when Brian offers an opinion regarding rock and roll music, it usually garners some attention.  Recently he gave us a top ten list of his favorite songs of summer.  To no one’s surprise, a couple of Beach Boys’ songs made the list, but there are also a few interesting choices:

1. Hot Fun In The Summertime: Sly and the Family Stone
2. In The Summer Time: Mungo Jerry
3. I Get Around: The Beach Boys
4. Be My Baby: The Ronettes
5. California Girls: The Beach Boys
6. Give Me Some Lovin’: Spencer Davis Group
7. Hey Jude: The Beatles
8. Honky Tonk Women: The Rolling Stones
9. My Obsession: The Rolling Stones
10. Mony Mony: Tommy James and the Shondells

I don’t know how some of these songs were chosen for a summertime list, but it is Brian’s list so he can do as he pleases.  I am happy to modify it a bit and you can follow with your own list in the comments if you are so inclined. First of all, any song I have to go find because I never heard of it needs to go.

“My Obsession” by the Rolling Stones is an early hit that really offers little in the way of music and lyrics.  It is certainly forgettable in every way and a surprise on any list provided by Wilson.  Of course, we all have early rock favorites that will probably sound weird to anyone else.  So, I am kicking that one off the list and replacing it with one of the Beach Boys’ top hits of all time, Little Surfer Girl.

Next I have to replace the over done Hey Jude. While McCartney still uses this epic to kill 10 minutes of every concert, I think it is time to retire it. Seriously, have you seen any performance of McCartney, live or on television, that did not contain an overblown version of this hit?  I can not associate it with summer anyway, so I am replacing it with “Summer in the City” by the Lovin’ Spoonful.  It is true that every oldies station will play the heck out of this song from now until Labor Day, but I never tire of it. That’s my standard.

I like “Honky Tonk Woman” and “Mony, Mony” but let’s replace them with Summer hits.  Add Jan and Dean’s number one hit from 1963, “Surf City.”  With a similar sound to the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean successfully rode the airwaves on their musical surfboards for a number of years, cashing in on the California style rock.  Another song I’m adding is “Saturday in the Park.” by Chicago — if for no other reason than to include a song from one of my all-time favorite bands.

When I discovered Billboard’s list of the Top 30 Summer Songs I see there are a few more that could go on my list.  That would also include more by the masters of their style, the Beach Boys.  Go forth and create your own list and enjoy the sounds of summer.

NOTHING SAYS INDEPENDENCE DAY LIKE ARTILLERY

Yankee Doodle Dandy

It’s the 4th of July. Happy Birthday America!

Hurricane Arthur (spirit of Arthur Fiedler?) changed the schedule. With the hurricane heading up the coast and thunder and lightning racing in from the west, the festivities were moved up by 24 hours. The fireworks went on early, barely ahead of the weather. WBZ didn’t have all their cameras ready and had to show the first half of the display from the helicopter cams. After a while, the rest of the cameras came on and it was even better than last year.

The live 1812 Overture was preempted by a massive lightning storm. Instead, WBZ broadcast a taped version (dress rehearsal?). Which was fine.

For the historically challenged, our Guv (Deval Patrick) offered up some history, what the music is about. NOT our War of 1812. The war going on across the pond. Napoleon. Russia. I think this was the first time I’ve seen them do that, so everyone got a bit of remedial European history.

No place does Independence Day like Boston. It’s our holiday. The rest of the country is a Johnny-Come-Lately. It happened here. The Declaration of Independence. The battles of Lexington and Concord.

Boston knows how to hold a party … and let’s not forget the howitzers, the most important instruments in the 1812 Overture. Nothing says independence day like artillery.

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When we lived in Boston, we could see the fireworks and hear the concert from our balcony in Charles River Park. It was one of the perks of living in Boston. If we wanted to get closer, we could stroll a few hundred yards west enjoy the party from the Arthur Fiedler footbridge over the Charles.

It was the best view in town. Watching it on television is okay too, now that we live in the country and getting into town is out of the question. Still, being there was the best.

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Boston has had a pretty good year. Nothing awful – other than the appalling collapse of our World Champion Red Sox — happened. Even more reason for us to get together and have a gigantic party to celebrate America’s birthday. The rain has put (ahem) a bit of a damper on it, but we’re adaptable.

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Now it’s time to watch Yankee Doodle Dandy again. We always watch it. It’s part of our personal celebration of being American.

When Garry and I were growing up in New York, the old Channel 9 had Million Dollar Movie. It was on not only every day, but several times a day and it played the same movies for a full week. The theme for the show was “Tara’s Theme” from Gone With the Wind. I had never seen GWTW, so when I saw it for the first time, I said “Hey, that’s the theme for Million Dollar Movie.”

I wasn’t allowed to watch TV on school nights and even then, only for a couple of hours on Friday and Saturday night. But, if I was home sick, I got to watch all the television I wanted. Better yet, I got to watch upstairs in my parents bedroom. The television was black and white (as were all televisions then). I don’t know if color TVs had been invented, but if they had been, no one I knew had one.

Channel 9 with its Million Dollar Movie was the movie channel, so whatever they were playing, I saw it a lot. They didn’t have a large repertoire. Odds were good if you got sick twice, you’d see the same movie both weeks.

Thus “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” the great James Cagney docu-musical was engraved in my brain. I believe that during at least three sick weeks (tonsillitis was my nemesis), I watched it repeatedly until I knew every word, every move, every song — except for the pieces the station randomly removed to make room for commercials.

No one danced like Cagney. No one had that special energy! Believe it or not, I never saw any other Cagney movie until One, Two, Three came out many years later.

Tonight, we’ll watch James Cagney dance down the steps in the White House. We always replay it half a dozen times. Can’t get enough of it.

In case you feel the same way, I’ve included it so you can replay it as many times as you want. Cagney won his only Oscar for this performance. I never knew he played gangsters until many years later. Million Dollar Movie didn’t play gangster movies.

Only one questions remains unanswered through the years. How come they didn’t film it in color? Does anyone have a sensible answer to that?

IN LOVE WITH THE PIANO

Strike a Chord - Do you play an instrument? Is there a musical instrument whose sound you find particularly pleasing? Tell us about your experience with the instrument of your choice.


My mother believed that children needed not just food and a roof over their heads. We also needed culture. Books. Ballet. Music. Which included playing an instrument.

She had grown up poor on the Lower East Side where so many immigrant groups settled after passing through Ellis Island. They didn’t have much. A tiny flat, two adults and six kids. And a piano.

Piano-OpenNo one knew where the piano came from, but it seemed to have always been there. There was no money for lessons, but my mother taught herself to play. Not brilliantly, but well enough to bang out a tune and sing along.

When she and my father bought the house in which I grew up, a piano was the first major purchase. First a Baldwin spinet which fit neatly in a corner of the living room.

Eventually, I outgrew the spinet and for my 14th birthday, I got a Steinway living room grand.

Some of my best memories of childhood are little me, sitting on the piano bench with my mother as she sang. Mom sang all the time. Sang, hummed. Half the songs I know I learned because my mother sang them. I don’t think she realized she was singing. It was just her way.

When I was four, my brother was deemed least likely to succeed at playing an instrument. He wasn’t completely tone-deaf, but close. I, on the other hand, could pick out his lessons with two fingers, even though I was tiny and my feet swung, unable to get near the pedals. My piano teacher (formerly my brother’s piano teacher) said “Let him go play stickball. I want her.”

And so began my musical career.

I was a small child. Thin, short, buck-toothed, wildly curly hair. Not a particularly pretty girl. I improved some with age, but classical beauty was never mine. The piano did not care. If I could hit the right keys, it would sing for me. There was no admittance fee to the world of music other than hard work. If you had it in your heart and hands, the piano was yours.

I progressed quickly, though I was never technically as good as I needed to be. I was a good interpreter, but not a great performer. The biggest problem were my hands. Tiny hands. To this day, I can barely reach a 9th with either hand. Most classical music was written by men. With big hands. From day one, I was at a disadvantage unless I was playing “small music” which fit into my little paws. My favorite composers were Chopin and Beethoven, but I had to pick pieces to find those my hands could manage.

Beethoven’s “Sonata Pathetique” was my performance piece. It was a loud piece, one of the few that made the family shut up and listen. I never got used to being asked to perform, then having all the aunts engage in a lively discussion while I played. It’s a family thing, I suppose.

I never fully conquered Beethoven, though I got close. My hands were small and I lacked the physical strength to take over the piano. It was a struggle. I didn’t notice I was struggling until I got to the Grieg piano sonata in e minor Op 7. When I was a kid, it had yet to be recorded. My teacher thought I was the one to do it.

NOTEIn the preceding performance by Glenn Gould, you hear only the first movement of this sonata. There are three more movements, totaling 28 pages of music. I actually like the later movements best. Glenn played everything too fast, including this piece.

I never worked so hard in my life as I did on that sonata. I practiced until I thought my hands would fall off and every once in a while, I managed to get it right. It was a big piece of music. After months of trying, I knew I would be almost good enough to perform that piece.

I majored in music at college for the first few years, but it wasn’t happening. Almost good enough in classical piano equals not good enough. Because for me, it was piano or nothing  – and I didn’t have it — it was over. I moved on.

I still have a piano. An electronic one. The arthritis in my hands has stopped me from playing, probably forever. Still, music, especially classical music, is embedded in my heart and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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OUT MY BACK DOOR

This is my summer view. I watch the seasons through my back door. I see the buds opening in spring, the snow pile up in winter, leaves drift to the deck in fall. In summer, I love seeing my flowers and the deep green of the woods.

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It gives new meaning to the words “picture window.”

Nice to have a beautiful place to set my eyes as I get a cup of coffee and give the dogs their morning share of biscuits.

And now, a word from Credence Clearwater Revival.

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BOATING ON THE BLACKSTONE – GARRY ARMSTRONG

A bright shiny Sunday afternoon in June. At long last, it’s okay to take a canoe or a kayak out onto the Blackstone River. It’s been a long time awaiting.

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You still aren’t allowed to swim in the river for a number of reasons. In this particular part of the river as it runs through River Bend Farm, the huge number of snapping turtles makes it unwise to even dangle your toes in the water, much less swim.

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And the river still is sufficiently polluted to make swallowing the water or getting it in your eyes not such a good idea. But boating is officially, finally okay. You can take your raft, kayak or canoe out on the river.

It’s a fine thing to do on a lovely Sunday in June.

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OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR – REVIEW WITH VIDEO AND MUSIC

OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR

Directed by Richard Attenborough (his directorial début)

OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR

I saw “Oh! What a Lovely War” when it was released in 1969 and never forgot it. Based on the long-running British stage production, it’s World War I – in song, dance and irony. Its catchy score sticks in your brain. The songs are those sung by the troop during that long war. The cast includes everyone who was anyone in British stage or screen during the 1960s. The credits were a veritable who’s-who of English actors.

World War I is hard to understand, even when you study it. No matter how many books I read, I’m not sure I do or will. Its causes are rooted in old world grudges that make no sense to Americans.

So many ancient hatreds – thousands of years of scores to be settled.

My mother summed it: “Everyone was armed to the teeth. They wanted war. They just needed an excuse. Europe was a giant bomb waiting for someone to light a match.”

Hers may be as good an answer as any other. When the war began, it was the old world. The crowned heads of Europe ruled. When it finally ground to a halt in 1918 (it didn’t really end – WWII was the second chapter of the same war), the world had changed beyond recognition. The European monarchies were gone. A generation of men had been slaughtered; the death toll was beyond belief. The callous indifference to loss of life by those in command remains incomprehensible.

More than 9 million men were killed in battle. This does not include collateral damage to non-combatants and death by disease and starvation. It remains one of the deadliest conflicts in human history, paving the way for major political upheaval and revolution in many of the nations who fought.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Says the movie at the beginning: “The principal statements made by the historical characters in this film are based on documentary evidence, and the words of the songs are those sung by the troops during the First World War.”

The first World War could well be categorized as an orchestrated, organized international effort to murder an entire generation and they did a damned good job of it. The absurd statements and dialogue of the historical characters, all safely lodged a safe distance from actual fighting, sound ludicrous.

Did General Haig, when looking at the staggering loss of life on both sides, really say: “in the end, the Germans will have 5,000 men and we will have 10,000, so we will have won.”? Apparently he said it. And meant it.

The arrival of the Americans and their takeover of the endless war — and bringing it to a conclusion while there was still something left to preserve — is a great moment. I wonder how long it would have gone on without American involvement? Would they still be fighting it today? Would Europe even exist or would it all be a wasteland?

The war is told with music and dancing. Songs are mixed with pithy comments by generals, kings, Kaisers and occasionally, soldiers. It’s a long movie — 144 minutes — and I can promise you that you will have a far better and more visceral understanding of this war and the meaning of those little red poppies the Veterans organizations give out (do they still do that?) to commemorate the war to end all wars. Until the next war. And the one after that.

The music is ghastly, funny and catchy. The movie is out of print. It was only in print for a couple of months. I had been looking for it for a long time and was thrilled to snag a copy. A few copies are still available through Amazon. If you are a history buff and also love great movies, grab one before they disappear. Over the Memorial Day weekend, one of the movie channels, usually it’s on Encore but sometimes TCM runs it.

Great directing, biting sarcastic humor, terrific music and surprisingly informative, this motion picture is in a category all by itself. It was unavailable for more than 20 years. You will not be disappointed and you will never forget it. In the 45 years since I first saw it, I never forgot it.


From Amazon.com:

Richard Attenborough’s directorial début was this musical satire that deftly skewers the events of World War I — including the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a Christmastime encounter between German and British forces, and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles — by portraying them as absurd amusement park attractions. All-star cast includes Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Dirk Bogarde, Ralph Richardson; look quickly for Jane Seymour in her screen début.

144 min. Widescreen (Enhanced); English Dolby Digital mono; Subtitles: English; audio commentary by Attenborough; “making of” documentary.

NOTE: This title is out of print. Limit ONE per customer.

SOUNDS OF SILENCE

Break the Silence

When was the last time you really wanted (or needed) to say something, but kept quiet? Write a post about what you should have said.


The last time I really wanted — or needed — to say something, but kept quiet? I’m pretty sure it was when I had not yet learned to speak. Since then, I’m reasonably certain I’ve communicated whatever it was … one way or the other.

Just ask anyone who knows me. Really.

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ASK A SILLY QUESTION, GET A SILLY ANSWER

Worldly Encounters

The friendly, English-speaking extraterrestrial you run into outside your house is asking you to recommend the one book, movie, or song that explains what humans are all about. What do you pick? Sharing is caring.


I am not religious and would never proffer a bible or other religious foundation book as an explanation of humans and their behavior. I can’t imagine that such a book would do more than confuse our poor alien anyhow.

But there’s some fun music I’d like to share. Because life is complex and uncertain. Always eat dessert first.

These are personal favorites. Take them seriously at your own risk!

There IS no book, movie or song to explain humankind. We’d have to be pretty simple creatures for that. I don’t think you could explain a canary that easily.

However, there are a lot of great movies, books, and songs! Enjoy a little taste from me!

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AUTUMN ON CAPE COD – GARRY ARMSTRONG

So there I was, putting a new strap on Garry’s camera. It was part of his birthday present, but it kind of got lost in all the medical crises. Today, I attached it to his camera and it looked good. On a whim, I pulled the chip to see what was on it … and what to my wondering eyes should appear than more than 300 pictures Garry took last summer on Cape Cod.

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All of these are previously unseen by anyone but the photographer himself. So here, for your enjoyment is October on Cape Cod … from beach to Hyannisport and you can sing along with Patti Page, too.

HANGING OUT – GREENWICH VILLAGE IN THE 1960s

Garry and I watched a documentary on Netflix titled Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation. It was about Greenwich Village in the 1960s. Both Garry and I were there. He was already a working reporter, but young enough to enjoy the very special culture of this wonderful corner of New York.

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I was still a kid. A teenager. In college. I was with my first boyfriend. He was into the Village scene. I took to it like a proverbial duck to water.

From the old Italian coffee houses that really sold coffee and other non alcoholic drinks (I was too young to drink and never liked the stuff anyhow), to the tiny, dingy coffee houses where folk music was born. It was the Heart of Hip and everything was a 15 cent subway ride from home. The world was mine.

New York on ones doorstep if you are a teenager is fantastic, but Greenwich Village in the 1960s? That was the stuff dreams are made of.

From Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton, to Pete Seeger and Judy Collins … they were all there. The famous, soon to be famous and a few infamous people. All young, making music and passing the basket.

I’d take the subway and get off at Bleecker Street, alone or in the company of friends. It didn’t matter whether you brought company or went by yourself. There were always people to meet. You didn’t need much money – good because none of us had any. We were kids, mostly without jobs and still in school. Those of us not still living with parents lived in apartments shared with lots of other people to make the rent and afford something to eat now and again.

All I needed was subway fare — 30 cents round trip — and a few more cents for a hot (or cold) chocolate at the Reggio. For this pittance, I could spend an entire day and evening in the Village. Hanging out.

“What do you mean “hanging out?” asks my granddaughter.

“You bought a coffee or a chocolate and just sat. Read a book or a newspaper. Watched people coming and going on the street, hoping you’d see someone you knew or wanted to know.”

“That’s it? You just sat around?”

“Yup. Just sat around. That was the definition of hanging out. No one hurried you or told you to buy something or leave.

Bleecker and MacDougalYou could sit with your coffee and book all day if you wanted to. No one would bother you. When it got dark, you went to one of the places where people sang. There were usually no entry fees. Hopefully you had enough money to drop something in the basket for whoever was performing. Sometimes, you had no money. More to the point, you had exactly enough to buy a coffee and a couple of subway tokens. But that was okay. It was the 1960s. We were cool.”

No cell phones. A lot of people had no phone, period. People rode bicycles with naked guitars strapped to their backs. Car? I think most of us didn’t have driver’s licences. I didn’t. That was years in the future.

People were friendly, funny and convinced we were going to change the world. Maybe we did. We sure did try.

Out near Hofstra in Hempstead, where I was going to school and was a music major, my soon-to-be husband and his best friend decided to bring culture to Long Island and opened the AbMaPHd (pronounced ab-ma-fid) coffee-house. They brought in the guys and gals who were playing in the Village. Dave Van Ronk gave me my first good guitar strings. He even put them on the guitar for me.

What did I do there? Hung out, of course. Sat around, meeting friends, drinking something, listening to music, meeting musicians. Just hanging. No one was texting, computing or phoning. There was no electronic background noise (unless you count the squeal of feedback from the mikes). No beeping, dinging, or strange wailing noises of incoming calls. The noise was human. People talking, laughing, fighting, singing, discussing. Eating and drinking.

It was a wonderful time to be growing up and if I hadn’t been there, I’d envy me for having been a part of it.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANTON ARMSTRONG, MY BABY BROTHER!

Google my baby brother? Why in the wide, wide world of sports would I want or need to Google my youngest brother? Hold on — I got some ‘splainin‘ to do.

First, you need to understand there’s nothing humble about the oldest and youngest of Esther and William Armstrong’s three sons. They have creds. Lots of creds. My middle brother, Bill, knows how important his brothers are. Just ask him.

Dr. Anton Armstrong, Garry's baby brother

Dr. Anton Armstrong, Garry’s baby brother

Anton Eugene Armstrong is my baby brother. I think he probably likes that “baby” adjective more and more these days. Soon, he’ll start receiving AARP literature — if he hasn’t already. Welcome to my world, little brother.

Anton entered the world center stage on April 26th in a very special year. I was a high school freshman. Dwight D. Eisenhower was beginning his second term as President. John F. Kennedy was the junior Senator from Massachusetts. Elvis Presley was racking up number one singles every week. Two of New York’s three major league baseball teams were quietly hatching plans to abandon us for the west coast, leaving a generation of broken hearts.

Mom called Anton her “old age” baby but she glowed with happiness on his arrival. Mom always liked Anton best! (Spare me the groans). As oldest son in a family without girls, I was not only his big brother but Anton’s chief diaper changer, cook, playmate and baby sitter. He was an adorable baby and a cute kid. My dad, not given to spontaneous emotion, was obviously taken with his youngest son, even calling him “Tony.” I think dad was the only one who got away with calling Anton “Tony.”

It was obvious, from a very early age, that Anton was bright and talented. Even as a toddler, he had a lovely voice that would become memorable in later years. Young Anton would come into my room as I played my 45s. He would memorize two or three lines from my favorite songs. Richie Valens would’ve loved Anton’s take on “Donna”. “Oh, Donna! Oh Donna! Oh Donna!,” Anton would sing repeatedly with perfect tone changes. I figured my baby brother might be a star on “American Bandstand” one day. Wrong ballpark.

My parents decided Anton would flourish in private schools given his intelligence and quest for knowledge, especially his growing interest in choral music. Thus, Anton began attending Lutheran schools, quickly establishing himself as one of the brightest students, grade after grade.

Anton’s academic excellence continued through high school, college and graduate school. He didn’t take anything for granted, immediately giving back by tutoring younger students during summer school.

Anton didn’t forget family. He always stayed in touch no matter how busy his schedule. He would continue this even as his career blossomed and took him to an international stage as director of the world-famous St. Olaf’s Choir. I fondly remember the night when the choir performed a concert in Boston. I covered the event but kept my distance with the TV crew. Anton paused during the concert to make special note of my presence, acknowledging his big brother, one of the city’s most respected reporters. What a moment!

Marilyn and I have seen Anton’s work as a choir director, working with relatively young, inexperienced groups. In two or three hours, he turns them into an ensemble, as if they’ve been singing together for years. Impressive!

Anton has also brought diversity and freshness to the St. Olaf music department, no easy chore in a very traditional program. Anton has done this almost seamlessly while honoring music that has endured for generations.

Marilyn and I didn’t have to worry about music for our wedding. Anton, our good friends Kit Grundstein and Mary Mitchell were memorable and touching in their performances. Both Kit and Mary have gotten a lot of mileage out of singing with my brother.

Anton and Garry

I am used to being recognized after all my years as a TV news reporter. Matter of fact, I kind of expect it. As I said earlier, there’s nothing humble about the oldest and youngest Armstrong brothers. One day, a few years back, I was stopped by some people who asked if I was Garry Armstrong. I smiled and began reaching for the picture postcards I autograph for fans. I stopped when they asked if I was related to the famous Anton Armstrong.

Yes, I was humbled. But I was so very proud when I said “Yes, he’s my baby brother.”

Happy birthday, baby brother!

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LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY

Teen Age Idol

I’m too old for this. Teen age idol? Aw, c’mon.

I was madly in love with Johnny Mathis (who?) then traded him in for Marlon Brando who I thought was very cerebral and deep. I loved (still love) the Beatles. the Doors and the Stones, but they weren’t my idols … just great bands I enjoyed.

I had a bit of thing for Harry Belafonte, but he was hot.

72-Beatles-Imperial_02

it was more than 50 years ago. Seriously. That’s half a century.

If it was ever relevant, it has long passed over into mildly amusing trivia of the distant past.

 

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LESS IS MORE – THIS WEEK

Great Expectations: Weekly Writing Challenge

I used to have expectations. Now, I expect little, but am grateful for anything that falls my way. If I wake up and am not in severe pain … if I can breathe in and out without coughing and choking. Finding Garry breathing softly beside me.

The future will have to take care of itself. Being alive and being with those I love is the center of the world. Given one thing and another, most of the things I used to want or expect seem trivial. Even nonsensical. Certainly meaningless.

Being alive, being loved, breathing air and having a future as a living person? That’s meaningful. The rest is commentary.

And that’s how I feel today. Ask me the same question again in a few weeks or months — and I know you will — and maybe I’ll feel entirely different. It’s magic!

 

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A SUMMER MORNING

Morning woods in summer

Morning. Although I want to sleep late, I almost never do. On summer mornings, I drink my coffee and watch the early sun filter through my woods. Each day, the world is made anew.

Morning sun in summer

Cat Stevens’ rendition of this traditional Christian hymn is beautiful, as is the presentation. I ask that you please leave your prejudices behind. It is a beautiful song of praise.

It’s the bonus you get if you arise early. Late sleepers, make an occasional exception and see the world in a different light.

Summer early morning woodland