A LOSS OF INNOCENCE – Garry Armstrong

A friend took me to a Red Sox Game at Fenway Park. It was the middle of April, so there was a chill in the wind. I layered up and topped it off with my retro Brooklyn Dodgers tee-shirt. It was Jackie Robinson day. Everyone was wearing the fabled #42.

red sox 42 jackie robinson day
April 15, 2016 – Fenway Park

April is the beginning of the new baseball season, when hope springs eternal. Anything could happen. The haves and have-nots are equally in the race. For me, it’s also when I open the cookie jar of memories, mentally racing around the bases to those days when I listened to our boys of summer on the radio.

Vin Scully was a 20-something rookie broadcaster, calling his first season of Brooklyn Dodgers games.

The Korean “conflict” dominated the radio news, which preceded the important stuff, baseball. The Brooklyn Dodgers were “America’s Team” in 1950. Vin Scully was a new breed of a sports broadcaster. He mixed in stories about President Truman’s desegregation of our Armed Forces and “discontent” about the integrated Dodgers’ team.

Scully used phrases like “Goodnight, sweet Prince,” after Jackie Robinson turned in another memorable game amid jeers from rabble-rousers. It was curious to this young fan who dreamed of becoming a teammate of Jackie Robinson, Peewee Reese, and Duke Snider. I’d wear Dodger Blue with pride, I promised myself.

I thought it would be wonderful if they played baseball all year round and the stories would always be about the Bums and the dreaded New York Yankees. How terrific to listen to Vin Scully and not those other people talking about grown-up stuff. Scully even mentioned things we were studying in school and made them sound exciting.

I’ll never forget his referring to April as “the cruelest month.” I’d steal that line a zillion times.

A couple of decades later, chance opened the door to meetings with Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, and other fabled Boys of Summer. Campy was friendly and outgoing, eager to share stories with a newbie reporter. He would say, “Life is good, young fella. You gotta appreciate it.”

Jackie Robinson would glare at Campy as he wove the stories of good times with the Dodgers. Sometimes, he would interrupt Campanella with a sharp, “Enough, Roy. Enough of that fiction.”

72-Jackie-Robinson-Baseball-HOF_038

Robinson would turn to me, his eyes blazing, seemingly angry. “Life isn’t a ball game, young man,” he once said.  Then, he gently patted me on the shoulder, noting that I was a good conversationalist and listener.

It was a bit confusing. It happened that way several times.

People like Campy, Peewee Reese and even a reluctant Duke Snider would share that Jackie Robinson was an angry, complicated man on a mission. The inner turmoil, anger, frustration, and multiple health issues took Robinson from us way too early, at age 53.

1950. So long ago. A time of innocence for many young boys like me.


Almost two years have rolled around. It’s the beginning of October and the playoffs are about to begin. Our team is in them. It has been a record-breaking year, so regardless of what comes, we’ll remember 2018.

Vin Scully retired last year. I keep thinking “Maybe we can bring him back, just for this one final set of post-season games … because we need his eloquence.” The world is not running short of baseball commentators, yet I feel we need him.

Depending on how the mid-term elections go, so will go this country. It’s no small thing. It’s possible the future — our future — depends on what happens during the next few weeks. It’s daunting and frightening.

Baseball has been a saving grace for me during this otherwise disgraceful year of political ugliness and international ill-will. Could a World Series win fix this?

Somehow, I doubt it. We need something bigger than a ballpark win this year.

REALLY THE PAST – Marilyn Armstrong

Trevor Noah did a long spiel on “adult summer camp” on “The Daily Show” which left Garry puzzled. He went to summer camp. He even liked it. I never had the chance, but I think I’ve gotten over my resentment. It was a long time ago.

Garry wanted to know why grownups — adults — would want to do that stuff?

I said that some people don’t actually have a clear understanding that the past as a memory is not the same thing as reliving it. Like this town where they are so determined to go back to a period in time that — especially for this town and valley — sucked.

It was a bad time. All the mills and factories closed their doors, then moved south. They left the river a stinking waste of hazardous gunk and everyone out of work. Half the population left because there was no work. The other half sunk into poverty. The train no longer stopped here and the buses no longer ran.

Why would you want to go back to that?

For that matter, why would an adult want to go back to doing arts and crafts and sleeping in cabins with mosquitoes?

We all want to get away. For this purpose, we have books and movies. And memories.

I loved the late 1960s, with 1969 officially my best year. Why? We had men walking on the moon and Woodstock. The Mets won the World Series and my son was born. All my parts worked. I was 22 years old, I had my first camera. I wore rose-tinted eyeglasses and bell-bottom jeans. It was an exciting time politically, socially … and I was young with a whole life ahead of me.

At 22, that world was mine and I loved it. We took drugs and the music was great. If I took one of those drugs now, I’d die. Immediately. Boom, gone, finished. Garry has fond memories from childhood, but that doesn’t mean he wants to be a child.

It would be especially awful going back because I would know that all the progress I thought we were making was going to turn out to be a sack of trash 50 years later.

We all want an interval in a different time. That’s why Garry watches old movies and I read time travel novels. I also understand this is entertainment.

And that is all it is.

WITHOUT PEER – Rich Paschall

The Beach Boys had a successful 50th-anniversary album and tour in 2012.  It all ended rather spectacularly when Mike Love dismissed founding members Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and David Marks and went on with a crew of replacements.  He could do that because he owned the name, Beach Boys.  Wilson went on to make a new album in 2015 (reviewed below) with Jardine and a crew of young stars, No Pier Pressure.

The Beach “Boys” are still around and performing separately.  They have agreed to “reunite” for a Q&A session conducted by Rob Reiner to be played on August 10 on Sirius radio.  Undoubtedly the release of a new album with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra played into this.  It is the old vocal recordings of hit tunes with the Orchestra arrangements added.  The CD is out now, the vinyl on August 15.

Brian Wilson’s No Pier Pressure, Rich Paschall

When the Beach Boys finally got back together in 2012 for a 50th Anniversary Tour, Brian Wilson, the musical genius behind the sound, agreed to sign on.  Wilson had been a nervous performer over the years, and there were many years he could not perform.  His mental health history not only is well-documented, but it was played out on-screen in the 2014 biopic, Love and Mercy.  After decades away from the often-feuding Beach Boys, Wilson was ready to go.

To start the anniversary year, Brian Wilson produced and arranged a brand new Beach Boys album, as well as having written most of the songs.  In true Beach Boys’ form, it was steeped in harmonies of the voices that had blended so well over the decades. Fans still revere their work for the unique sound.  The genius behind the Beach Boys had done it again.

L to R: Bruce Johnston and founding members Al Jardine, Brian Wilson, Mike Love, David Marks

Although Wilson did not originally want to perform many shows for an anniversary tour, he finally agreed to 50 shows for the 50th year.  The tour went so well, shows continued to be added.  There was some talk of yet another Beach Boys album in the future. By the time the “boys” got to their 75th show in London, Wilson, who was usually cloistered in a studio, was willing to continue. True to the Beach Boys history, the tour ended on a sour note.

Brian Wilson

Mike Love, frontman, lead singer on most of the hits, and owner of the name Beach Boys fired Wilson, Al Jardine and most of his crew.  The mastermind of the tour was stunned.

For his part, Love claimed he did not fire Wilson but had other commitments.

The other commitment turned out to be a tour with a stripped-down show and a crew of replacement Beach Boys.  Yes, he booked his own tour — even as the highly-acclaimed Wilson-engineered production was on the road.  Love, by the way, is Wilson’s cousin and a founding member of the Beach Boys along with Al Jardine.

The backlash was immediate.  Fans were outraged.  Love took to the LA Times to pen a letter claiming he would never fire Wilson.  He pleaded innocent.

Wilson fired back with his own letter: “What’s confusing is that by Mike not wanting or letting Al, David [Marks] and me tour with the band, it sort of feels like we’re being fired.”  David Marks is an original member of the Beach Boys and a neighbor to the Wilson Brothers and Love as they grew up.

The new album, That’s Why God Made The Radio, grew in popularity as the 50th Anniversary tour rolled on. “What’s a bummer to Al and me is that we have numerous offers to continue, so why wouldn’t we want to? We all poured our hearts and souls into that album and the fans rewarded us by giving us a Number Three debut on the Billboard charts and selling out our shows. We were all blown away by the response,” Wilson was reported in Rolling Stone as having written.

Wilson continued to perform over the next two years in a limited amount of shows.  Al Jardine and sometimes David Marks came along for the ride.  It is hard to say whether Love and his version of the Beach Boys or Wilson and Friends were more popular.

Brian Wilson

So was the idea of a new album dead?  Was Wilson near the end of a long and successful ride?  Was he ready to fade away while Love kept singing songs from the 1960s.

The answer was delivered loud and clear.  Wilson made 2015 one of the biggest years of his career.

Wilson went back to the studio and created a new album.  Perhaps it would have been one for the Beach Boys, but there are former Beach Boys and longtime Wilson musicians on hand to give it that Wilson-arranged, Beach Boys sound. The album debuted to strong reviews.  It is filled with songs you would expect from Wilson, along with a few surprises.

Wilson clearly could not take the lead on all of these songs, so there are plenty of artists on hand to share the parts.  Lead vocal credits are given to Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, one-time Beach Boy Blondie Chaplin, country singer Kacey Musgraves, YouTube star Peter Hollens, Zooey Deschanel (She & Him), Sebu Simonian (Capital Cities) and Nate Ruess (Fun.)  Some of them also get a songwriting credit and/or contribute background vocals.  David Marks contributed guitar work to two of the songs that featured Al Jardine.

A blast from the past comes from a new song, Sail Away, featuring the lead of Chaplin and Jardine.  It is reminiscent of Sloop John B and Sail On, Sailor and will evoke past Beach Boys hits.

Much of the new album was featured on a PBS Soundstage special, Brian Wilson & Friends.  There are also some other Wilson hits to thrill the live audience.  For some insights to other songs here’s the official Soundstage trailer:

Tuesday: New Voices energize No Pier Pressure
Read more on the Mike Love, Brian Wilson letters:
Brian Wilson to Mike Love,” Rolling Stone, October 9, 2012.
Sources also include: “Beach Boys, Royal Philharmonic Preview,” Rolling Stone, May 10, 2018.
Surviving Beach Boys To Reunite For Radio Q&A,” liveforlivemusic.com, July 26, 2018

ON THE BENCH BY THE RIVER IN BLACK & WHITE – Garry Armstrong

Benched! 


Marilyn with camera
The soft grass
Retro park fade
Two guys fishing or maybe having lunch
Gently nostalgic
The fading gaze …

OPEN MEMORY – Marilyn Armstrong

A Wide Open Memory – RDP #46 and #FOWC

Just when I think I’ve finally figured out what’s going on with my body, something weird changes and I have to figure it out all over again. When I think I know what I look like, I take a peek in the mirror and wonder — “Who is that?”

When I know what day it is? It isn’t. Sometimes, I’m not fully clear on the year and recently, someone asked me my age and I said 22 without even a pause.

What would Superman have to say about today’s world? I’m absolutely sure he could fix it, aren’t you?

Now, it’s obvious I am not 22 … or for that matter, 62. I think my brain skipped a beat and made me — for that brief moment — the girl I was. Because in 1969, I really was 22. That was a great year. My best year.

The music was amazing. The news was upbeat and we just knew that somehow, everything would work out better. And it would do it soon.  It wasn’t that we didn’t have plenty of issues and problems, but we were positive, and absolutely, positively certain that we could overcome them and really be great. Americans.

Great Americans, not these tawdry pretend imitation creatures that mealy mouth Americans but act like Stalin’s cohorts.

We walked on the moon and the Mets — who had previously been not only the worst team in baseball but hilariously the worst team — won the World Series. My friends were alive, full of bounce, and energy. Nobody was trying to figure out where they could move so they could use public transport, avoid having to drive, and skip the hard winters.

We still liked winter. We thought snow was fun. We went sledding and tobogganing even though they hadn’t yet invented Uggs. We went to the beach in summer and people got a suntan and bragged about it.

We got birth control and Roe V. Wade came down from the Supreme Court — and it was a real Supreme Court with honest-to-God the best in the world judges on it. They didn’t always agree and some of them were definitely strict constitutionalists while others were more inclined to change the law because the world was growing up.

But for all of them, the Constitution of the United States was the issue. It mattered. Law mattered. No matter where they fell, on which side of whatever issue was presented, they cared enough to be sure they made decisions they believed were in the best interests of the people they served.

Remember that? They people they served? They served us because we were the people. Even the politicians we hated were real Americans. They believed in this country. They believed we had a role in this world and it wasn’t just to become the richest, most corrupt global corporation on Planet Earth.

It’s not hard for my brain to take a bounce and get back there. I wonder what kids today will remember as their happiest days? I hope it won’t be how many different things they could do with their mobile phones. That would be too pathetic.

So just when I think I know something, it skitters away. Sometimes, it’s because I forgot. It’s easy to forget. So many things don’t feel important now. Values have changed. My understanding of reality has changed.

Remember growing up with The Lone Ranger?

I bet the Super and Lone could make things right! With maybe a hint of Crockett, just for the legend. You should always print the legend.

#RDP – Open

#FOWC – Memory

A NOSTALGIC SPOOF: THE LAST OF THE SILVER SCREEN COWBOYS – Garry & Marilyn Armstrong

A Nostalgic Spoof of a Beloved Movie Genre

We watched “Rustler’s Rhapsody” again last night. I love this movie. It’s an affectionate spoof of the B-Westerns of the 1940s starring Tom Berenger, Patrick Wayne, G.W. Baily (currently with “Major Crimes” on which Berenger has a recurring guest role), Andy Griffith and Fernando Rey.

The women include Sela Ward, a solid dramatic actress perhaps best remembered as Dr. Richard Kimble’s slain wife in the movie version of “The Fugitive”. There’s also Marilu Henner who riffs on all the “Miss Kitty/Miss Lily” saloon ladies of our favorite TV westerns.

Andy Griffith and Fernando Rey both play power-mad cattle barons. Fernando usually plays an international drug czar and you probably remember him in “The French Connection”. He is slimy sinister personified. Rey and Griffith make a very odd couple. Check out the scene where they argue about who gets to do the countdown for killing the hero. They are hilarious, but Andy Griffith steals the show.

We love the movie so much we own two identical copies of it on DVD. It wasn’t going to be available for long, so Marilyn bought a copy for us, another for our best friends … and an extra. Just in case.


rustler's rhapsody dvd cover

NOTE: As it turns out, “Rustler’s Rhapsody” is available. Again. Who knows for how long? If you are interested, Amazon has the DVD and the download.


Tom Berenger is The Hero who shoots the bad guys in the hand. Pat Wayne is the other good guy, but he used to be a lawyer, so be warned. Casting Pat Wayne was an inspiration. “Rustler’s Rhapsody” could easily be an homage to his Dad’s ‘poverty row’ westerns of the 1930s. Pat even nails Duke’s acting range of that period.

My heroes have always been cowboys, even the stalwarts of those budget-challenged B movies. I had the good fortune to spend time with two legends of the genre. Buster Crabbe and Jack “Jock” Mahoney.

Crabbe, most famous for his “Flash Gordon” days, contends he had more fun playing the lead in the oaters where the line between good and bad is always clear and you get to wear nice costumes. He considers his westerns as “small classics” not B movies. (Crabbe continued his career into the late 60’s when producer A.C. Lyles revived the B cowboy movie with over the hill actors including Johnny Mack Brown, Rod Cameron, Bob Steele, Hoot Gibson and Richard Arlen among others).

Jack “Jock” Mahoney, known to many as TV’s “Range Rider,” is a former stuntman who graduated to supporting roles as nimble villains and finally established a following at Universal-International, playing literate good guys in lean, well-written westerns. Mahoney clearly is proud of his work in the B movies. I remember the smile on his face as he recalled the fun of being recognized as a cowboy hero.

I think all the cowboy actors I’ve met (Including John Wayne) would heartily approve of “Rustler’s Rhapsody”. It’s an affectionate tribute to their work.

This is the song they play at the end of the movie when the credits are rolling. I love the song and the memories it brings because I’m of the generation that went to the movies and watched those B movies as part of the afternoon doubleheader at the Carlton or Laurelton, the second or third-run movies houses where you could see two movies and a cartoon for a dime. Eleven cents if you were considered an adult. Which turned out to be any child older than 10, but they still made you sit in the kid’s section — which I firmly believed (and still believe) was unconstitutional.

Warner Brothers, 1982. “Last Of The Silver Screen Cowboys” by Rex Allen Jr. and Rex Allen Sr. Be sure to listen for Roy Rogers in the final commentary and chorus!

RDP #7 – PURPLE FLOWERS, PURPLE HAIR, PURPLE HAZE – Marilyn Armstrong

PURPLE FLOWERS, BETTER SWEATERS

Purple is the color of half the stuff leftover for clearance sales! Enter the annual purple sweater of the year.

It really is. Orange and purple. I know because during the poorest years of my life, those were the colors of all my shirts and sweaters. They were the only things left in my size. Eggplant, aubergine, pumpkin … whatever it was called, it was orange and purple.

I’ve always like dark purples and sometimes, the more lavender or red-violet purples, but there have been a few that were just a bit overly intense for my neutral mind to fully grasp. Orange is an okay contrast color if the rest of what I’m wearing is dark brown or black, but other than as a nightgown, I have a little more trouble with orange.

To wear that is. I absolutely love it as a Jack O’Lantern!

Purple is the color of the Mayflower, the classic iris, lilacs (sometimes more lavender, but close enough), and the spots that float across my eyes if I look into the sun for a moment.

For a brief few days, I vaguely contemplated dying my hair purple, but fortunately, no one shared my enthusiasm for the project and it died off on its own.

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/fjwWjx7Cw8I?rel=0

Let me add just a little nostalgia for long ago years when drugs were fun. Not something you took to make the pain in your back ease away. Not only was this quite the song of a generation (to be fair, it was not one of my favorites; I was more “Judy Collins” than “Jimi Hendrix”), but look how young they are! My granddaughter is older. I was that young too, but it’s hard to remember. Fifty years have passed. Fifty.

Purple Haze! Not just a song, but a crazy, mad state-of-mind … for about 12 hours with a residual fade of four more, give or take a couple. Oh, those really were the daze.