This used to be our playground

Peanut on the front porch of our house, 1970
Peanut on the front porch of our house, 1970
Mom coming out of the house, 1969
Mom coming out of the house, 1969
Uncle John and Peanut in the living room, 1968
Uncle John and Peanut in the living room, 1968
Me on the swingset and Peanut in the grass, 1973
Me on the swingset and Peanut in the grass, 1973
Dad and I in the backyard, 1972
Dad and I in the backyard, 1972
Summer with lawn chairs, 1971
Summer with lawn chairs, 1971
Roses by the house, 1971
Roses by the house, 1971
Dad and I watering the grass, 1972
Dad and I watering the grass, 1972
Mom's crab tree, 1984
Mom’s crab tree, 1984
Christmas in the living room, 1968
Christmas in the living room, 1968
Dad with me and Beth by the roses, 1978
Dad with me and Beth by the roses, 1978
Me with Beth on the swingset, 1974
Me with Beth on the swingset, 1974
Mom with Beth outside - 1973
Mom with Beth outside – 1973
Mom and I when I came home from the hospital - 1970
Mom and I when I came home from the hospital – 1970
Grandma on Dad's chair, 1970
Grandma on Dad’s chair, 1970
The family in front of the house for Beth's first communion - 1982
The family in front of the house for Beth’s first communion – 1982

Last night, my sister went up to Kenosha for the closing on our family home, where our family has lived since 1966. It’s the only home Beth and I knew from our growing up years until today.

Last year, after we moved my mom into her new home, we spent months cleaning (and cleaning) the house, getting the things we wanted out of it, and planning and executing an estate sale with the incredible help of The Balderdash Collection. In November we put the house on the market, and yesterday it was sold. Pretty incredible when you consider the market today.

A few weeks ago, I stopped in at the house and took one last walk around. Although it was completely empty, I still could see everything the way it was, and I could remember things that happened in every nook and cranny. Where I’d listen to my music. Where my mom would sit and look at the crab tree in the front yard. Where we sat at the dinner table. Where we’d sit and watch TV as a family after dinner. Where my sister and I played together and made up silly games. Where fights happened. Where good and bad news was learned. Where my Dad died. They all happened there.

It’s hard to say goodbye to a place as special as this… but it’s time. We have a lot of wonderful memories there, and we’ll never forget those. But now it’s time for new memories.  In new places.  And now, someone else can make memories in our old home.  I hope it has as many good things in store for them as it had for us.

Advertisements

Hello, yeah, it’s been a while…

Last post: October, 2011.

Yikes.  I really gave up on this place, didn’t I?

At least this is still here.  I somehow managed to keep it alive, even though I haven’t posted anything.

So I guess my first question is, what’s the purpose of having a blog anymore, especially if you’re an independent, personal blogger?  Blogging is very different today than it was in 2004, when I first started blogging.  Back then, it was the “new thing” that everyone was doing.  This was pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, heck even pre-MySpace.  There were no Social Networks around to keep everyone connected.  They were in development, to be sure — I think Friendster was just starting out at the time (remember that?) — and old-time bloggers will remember Tribe, which was a very early precursor to all that came later.

When Facebook started, you had to keep your posts to the (fairly common) standard of 140 characters, just like Twitter.  However today, you can post full articles.  Most bloggers prefer to do their blogging on Facebook– it’s easier to maintain, all of your readers are already “friends,” and you don’t have to republish anything.  The drawback, of course, is that you can’t attract new readers from outside your friend ‘circle’ unless you make your posts public and hope that it gets shared to the point it goes viral.  It’s a rare thing, but it does happen from time to time.

I decided to use Facebook in this way for the last year.  I grew tired of having to bounce back and forth from platform to platform when I wanted to get long-winded about something.  My friends who read this blog (there aren’t many of you left) will probably back me up when I say I let my long-windedness fly free on Facebook lately, and that’s exactly why.

But all the while, I thought about my lonely blog, sitting here, still getting hits (occasionally) and waiting for me to come back and write again.  I tried to restart it a few times.  I currently have seven draft posts that never made it past the third or fourth paragraph sitting my in my drafts folder.  Titles included:

  • Dusting it off
  • Re-Launching… AGAIN.
  • I still own this blog.
  • What Whitney Meant (started right after Whitney Houston died)
  • Back on the wagon (about starting back at the gym)
  • 2011 – A Better Year (a year-end post that got way too long-winded, so I gave up on it)
  • 41 (about my 41st birthday)

So I guess I didn’t completely abandon this blog– I just never really got through a post to get it going again.  I’m hoping that I finish this one.  It’d be nice to hit “publish again.

After I lost my job in July, I figured it’d be good to restart the blog so I could write out my frustrations and feelings.  Or just have a place to let my creative juices flow again.  Didn’t quite pan out that way at the time, but now, six months later, I need it again.  So here we are.

So where will we go from here?  Hard to say.  Now that the writing cherry has been popped (sorry for the visual), hopefully ideas and words will flow more freely.  I’ll take less space on Facebook and more space here, and simply express myself.

And hopefully, I will figure some things out in the meantime.

Oh, by the way… Happy New Year!

Missed connections – years apart

Missed ConnectionsIn the past few days, I’ve had a couple of missed connections return into my life after many years.

The first was a guy I talked about in a post on this blog, and in my brief life as a podcaster. We met at a bar and hit it off great. We were going to get together for a date, but one roadblock came up after another, and we never did go out. We did remain friends though, and he ended up in a relationship.

A couple of days ago, I found that old podcast file and listened to it again. First, I thought how glad I was that I didn’t continue as a podcaster— It really wasn’t my forte. But second, I got to wondering about this guy and what was up with him.

The next day… the VERY next day… he signed up for an audition with the chorus.

Now is the universe telling me something? I don’t know. But I’m interested to see what happens here.

The second missed connection was a guy I met on gay.com many years ago. He lived in Chicago and then moved to Hawaii for a while. I found him recently on a, ahem, gay-related site, and we chatted and texted back and forth for most of the day. We might be getting together soon.

What’s with all these years-apart missed connections coming back into my life? I’m intrigued by this latest universal intervention. We shall see how it all plays out.

Resuscitation/Procrastination

So you may have noticed that I’ve posted here again.

Yes– it’s been a while.

I think my last post was just before my 40th birthday.  Right about then I got busy with chorus and the holidays, and next thing I knew it had been a month or two since I had even checked my blog.

So once again, I abandoned ship.  Surprised?  Not really.  I’ve done it before.

Seems I’ve been doing that a lot lately– I start something gung-ho and then let it slip into memory.  Consider the casualties:  My blog, the gym, my intentions to date again… all have slipped me by at one point or another.  And all make re-appearances only to slip away again.

I posted today on Facebook that I was going to give up procrastination for Lent.  An ironic statement, being that I haven’t been a practicing Catholic in years; but the punch line made it funny:  I said I’d start on it tomorrow.

Yup, so many things get cast aside, and yet time keeps ticking along.  I guess in the grand scheme of things, some things have to remain constant.

 

Birthday Retrospective: Top 70s Artists and Songs

As Part 2 of my “Birthday Retrospective,” leading up to my 40th birthday, I’d like to take a look back at the music which shaped my childhood — which of course took place in the 1970s.

Music was a big part of my childhood.  It was ever-present, in the stereo in the living room, with its 8-Track player that we used constantly, and in my room with my own records.  I lived through the singer-songwriter era, and the disco era.  My mom clued me into artists such as Carpenters, ABBA, Barry Manilow, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond and countless others.  If the 8-Track or the record player weren’t playing, the radio was.  And I was singing along the whole time.

Anyone who has visited my blog over the 5 years I’ve kept it up knows that I have a special love for 70s music.  So here is a list of some of my most favorite artists and the songs I remember best from my growing-up period: the 1970s. (NOTE:  Many of these links, due to copyright restrictions, will take you to YouTube to view the content.)

1. The Carpenters

By far, the Carpenters shaped my life the most, musically.  They were a part of my earliest childhood, singing along with them to the “Singles” 8-Track constantly.  I memorized the words to their songs just as quickly as “Twinkle Twinkle” or “Hickory Dickory Dock.”  They’re ingrained into my fabric.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

To pick just one or two significant Carpenters songs is like trying to pick a speck of dust out of a pile of salt.  There are so many that mean so much to me.  But I did narrow it down to two.

Sing
Written by Joe Raposo, writer of so many wonderful Sesame Street and Electric Company songs, this song probably means the most to me because it has, over the years, shaped my feeling about music, and has stayed with me ever since:  Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear.  Just sing… sing a song. What a profound statement.

Top of the World
Just like “Sing,” this Richard Carpenter/Jon Bettis classic quickly became my favorite, and even at the young age of a 3, I would sing it up and down the halls of my parents’ home.  I called it “I Can Find” at the time, from the line “And the only explanation I can find….” in the chorus.   I guess that one phrase stuck with me the most.  In any case, “Top of the World” still remains a favorite, and every so often I listen to that recording me at 3 years of age, singing along with my Mom.

2. Barry Manilow

Daybreak
Before Serial Mom killed one of her victims while playing “Daybreak” on her car stereo’s tape player (one of my favorite scenes, I must admit), this song reminded me of summers in the 70s, with Barry Manilow playing and my sister and I messing up my mother’s living room with Little People sets all over the place.

Mandy
Another favorite– again, trying to pick just one or two Barry Manilow songs proved difficult.  All of the classic 70s tunes were part of the soundtrack of my childhood; but this one always stuck with me as a favorite.  Even though he didn’t write it himself.  (It was actually written and recorded by a singer named Scott English in 1971, and it was originally titled “Brandy.”  The song’s name was changed when Manilow recorded it because another song named “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” was popular at the time.  These days, that notion seems ridiculous.

3. ABBA

Dancing Queen
Oh Dancing Queen, what a long history you and I have.  You’d think it was the whole “gay” subtext that makes this one appropriate for my list, but you’d be wrong.  It actually goes back as far as when the song itself actually first came out.  My mom loved ABBA and had just about as many of their 8-Tracks as the Carpenters, and we played them just about as often.  My most vivid memory of “Dancing Queen,” though, is that it always seemed to play on the radio while my mom was carting my sister and I to the KYF (which was more or less the YMCA in Kenosha) for swimming lessons.  We’d both be miserable, dreading going to our lessons; but then ABBA would come on and we’d sing along with “Dancing Queen,” and everything seemed to be okay from there on out.  So I guess a song can have multiple meanings to a person over the years.

The Name of the Game
I don’t know what it is about this song, but it’s always been one of my favorite ABBA tunes.  I like the story behind it, the melody, the bassline, and even the video.

Interestingly, about this video, I remember seeing it on TV in the 1970s, probably on a “Midnight Special” show.  You may remember that show– it was hosted by Wolfman Jack and featured popular acts playing live, and was shown, appropriately enough, at midnight.  By the mid-1970s I was a pretty music-savvy kid, so if I knew one of my favorite artists was scheduled to appear somewhere, I’d make sure I saw it.  ABBA was one of them.  However, ABBA rarely appeared live, because they either couldn’t or weren’t willing to travel such long distances.  So instead, they recorded short videos of themselves performing their songs.  They were truly groundbreaking in the area of the short-form music video.

4. Elton John

Rocket Man
No 1970s list would be complete without my namesake– well, at least my nickname’s namesake– the Rocket Man himself, Elton John.  Elton was certainly present throughout my childhood, but he wasn’t among my parents’ 8-Tracks or LPs.  Elton was someone I came to enjoy a little later on, when I realized just how much his music really had affected me.  But I do distinctly remember Elton’s music being VERY present on the radio.

Rocket Man was always a favorite.  I loved the story of the song and the imagery employed by that awesome guitar effect of the “rocket taking off” as the song leads into the chorus.  It was haunting and, really, groundbreaking– and it’s stayed with me my entire life.  So much so that, when I first got online with the Prodigy service in the early 1990s, I chose Rocket Man as my online “handle.”  And it’s stayed with me ever since.

5. James Taylor

Fire and Rain
As you go through this list, you’ll see that singer/songwriters played as great a role in my musical heritage as rockers and disco artists.  In fact, as I’ve grown older, singer/songwriters have probably had a larger lasting effect on me, both for the style of their music and the simplicity of it.  James Taylor, by far, was one of my favorites.  I heard “Fire and Rain” constantly on the radio growing up, and while I didn’t really understand what all the lyrics meant at time, I knew it was a wonderful song with a special meaning to someone.  It’s still one of my all-time favorites today.

6. Carly Simon

Anticipation
I can’t help it.  Whenever I hear this song, I think of Heinz ketchup.  “Anticipation” was a mega hit for Carly Simon in the early 1970s, but many people my age will distinctly recall the Heinz ketchup commercials where two kids could barely wait for the ketchup to come out of the bottle.  Of course now-a-days, you just squeeze the bottle and end of story– but if you are like me and like old-fashioned glass bottles, the “anticipation” is part of the fun.

Nobody Does It Better
This song reminds me of a lot of things– it was on the radio constantly in the late 1970s, so there are many memories associated with it back then.  But I also used this song for a slide show that I created for my DECA state officer team in the early 1990s.  I wish I still had that slide show– might have to re-create it — but ever since then, this song makes me think of them.

7. Paul McCartney & Wings

Two of Paul McCartney’s hits with his second band, “Wings” play very important parts of my childhood, and to this day I still associate them with specific moments from that time.

Listen To What The Man Says
This song reminds me of my mom and our neighbors taking us to the newly-opened city pool at the end of our block.  When it first opened, they used to play music on the loudspeakers, and this song was among those played.  For some reason, ever since then, I have associated it with that memory.  It’s a very good memory, too.

With A Little Luck
Simliarly, and much later in the decade, this classic tune reminds me of playing outdoors in the summer of 1978 or 1979.  I had a little handheld radio then that I took with me everywhere I went, and this song was immensely popular at that time.  Every time I hear it, I can see myself playing in the backyard and laying on our lawn chairs in the middle of the cool green grass.

8. Carole King

So Far Away
This song not only reminds of many wonderful times where I heard the song; but the lyrics of the song also evoke memories of the wonderful people that have come and gone in my lifetime.  Nobody writes songs like this anymore.  It’s a shame.

9. Olivia Newton-John

Please Mr. Please
When I was a kid, I went through a major country phase.  I don’t remember exactly why– but I remember listening to country music on the radio a lot at one point.  One of my favorite songs from that time was this gorgeous tune by the lovely Olivia Newton-John.  This was, of course, pre-“Grease” and “Xanadu,” but I knew I liked what I heard right from the start.

Sam
Another great song from her early years… this one always touched me as being so very honest.  If you’ve ever seen her sing in person, you know how much she “lives” the song… she really interprets everything she does beautifully.  Also, you’ll notice that all of these performances are LIVE.  She rarely ever lip synched.  Oh yeah, and autotune didn’t exist back then.  This is called pure singing.

I Honestly Love You
I had to add one more, because Olivia is just so wonderful.  This one is from just last year, in 2009.  Not only is she still lovely, her voice has aged beautifully.  As a singer, this is what I hope for — to grow old gracefully and to be able to sing for many more years to come.

10. Bee Gees

Now, no list of 70s artists from my childhood would be complete without the Bee Gees.  In the mid to late 70s, they were EVERYTHING, and EVERYWHERE.  I had their poster up in my bedroom, and wore their LPs out so badly I had to get new ones.  The Bee Gees were quintissential 70s, and I still love them today.

Stayin’ Alive
Of course, this song was a HUGE favorite of mine.  When I got my “John Travolta Suit” for my birthday, I imagined myself on that lighted dancefloor, dancing to this song.  Yeah… was there any wonder at all?

How Deep Is Your Love
Man, this song was smooth then and it’s smooth now.  It never ages.  One of the most perfect love songs ever written.  And every time I hear it, I’m hurtled back 30 years to that time when I played it constantly on my turntable.  Such great times.  Such great memories.

BONUS: Michael Martin Murphey – Wildfire

As a bonus, I have to include this classic 70s country-rock tune.  This song was undoubtedly my favorite song growing up.  It’s still at the top of my list.  I never get tired of the melody and the story.  And I was just talking to someone about this — when I would hear it back then, I would create my own “video” in my mind from the imagery of the story.  I still think of those “images” today, every time I hear it.  That’s the power of great music– timeless and everlasting.  I love this live version, with an extended intro and solos at the end.  Still makes me wistful today.