Record Making

You Tube has been my savior for many a dinner hour. Since my wife works evenings most nights, it’s just Short Stack, Lulu Belle and me clustered around our little ash wood table as I try repeatedly to get them to take bites and masticate what I’ve made for supper. Since neither one of them is really “in to” eating, it’s a crazy making situation for their father that can very quickly ratchet up my stress level to brain popping levels.

“Short Stack, take a bite. Lulu Belle, chew.”

“Short Stack… What did I just say? Lulu! Stop pouching! Chew!”

“Hey! Take. A. BITE!”

“Lulu! CHEW! You’re going to choke!”

And around and around it goes until I need to get up and find another beer.

The main problem is that, being five and three, the two if them usually get messing around with each other, which is a lot of fun it their eyes, but usually ends up with a two hour mealtime and at least one spilled glass of milk. This is not good for my mental well being, especially when you throw in the inevitable cry of hunger that will be tossed at me at bedtime.

“But Dad! I’m too hungry to go to sleep!”

And before you say it, the tough love thing doesn’t really work. Sending them to bed hungry, mostly just makes for a midnight visit to my bedroom asking for food OR them getting up and raiding the cracker boxes them selves at O-Dark-Hundred. It’s not a good way to ensure a full night’s sleep. So, I use the only trick I have found that works: Distraction.

With the computer sitting at the table like a guest unto its self, I cruise You Tube in search of fun things that will astound and amaze my kiddos without giving them nightmares or turning them into sociopaths. There’s more that fits that criteria than you’d think! Today’s was the magic of the phonograph.

“Hey! Look at this one guys! It’s a Victrola.”

“What’s a Victrola, Dad?” It was a machine, so it had Short Stack’s interest immediately.

“Yah! What’s a Bic-tra-la?” Lulu asked around the mouth full of sandwich I had just crammed in her.

“Well, it’s a old kind of record player. I’ve always wanted one of these. It plays 78s!”

Blank stares.

“You see, different records spin at different speeds. The older ones… Wait.” I stopped my self as a mind blowing notion washed over me like a big analog wave. “You’ve never actually seen a record player before, have you guys?”

More blank stares.

“Eat up, and I’ll show you something amazing.” And with that, I hopped out of my seat and scurried to the basement.

To my children, our basement must seem like some sort of Cavern of Wonders, which I suppose makes me Ali Babba, which I’m cool with. I love neat, old stuff and I’m pretty careful to keep things in good shape. Couple that with my ability to fix most things I encounter and my ridiculous sense of sentimentality and you get a basement that is bursting at the seams with “stuff”.

Good stuff, though!

Lots and lots of it.

It took about five minutes for me to locate my ancient stereo with integrated turntable. This machine had been lusted after by a far, far younger me something like thirty years ago and purchased in the electronics department of Sears by my lovely mother. I’m sure she knew exactly what she was in for, but, bless her, she bought it anyway. It had a double tape deck (for making mixes!) as well as the ability to record directly off the radio. Somewhere, in some ancient and sagging cardboard box, there must exist my collection of radio recordings featuring the best of the 70’s and early 80’s. Back in the day, I was quite proud of my ability to fling myself across the room with enough precision to reliably connect with the record/play buttons when a sought after song started playing on the local station. I have a lot of music that’s missing the first second and a half of each song.

What this wonderful piece of hardware also sported, was a turntable! MY turntable! Down in the living room, my parents had a super fancy, stack six or seven records and let it rip, turntable. It was a thing of beauty and music playing power. It was also mostly off limits. It was for their music and though my Mom and I often shared similar tastes, Dad was another story all together. Dad was mostly a Classical person and rarely ventured into anything with an amp or a snare drum. For whatever reason, the only real divergence from this involved the 70’s answer to disco: ABBA.

For much of my childhood, I listened to every ABBA record that they ever made, over and over again as my parents stacked them on the turntable and spent their weekend hours working on our house. Somehow, and for some reason unknown, it didn’t burn a hole in my soul and actually, I came to love it. Call it nostalgia, call it disco-fever, call it the outcome of a mild head injury, whatever… I loved it. Even later on, as I started purchasing my own albums, the likes of Van Halen, the J Giles Band and even ZZ Top weren’t capable of totally eclipsing the guilty joy of catching that Swedish Supergroup on the radio or on the weekends when my folks were painting. Eventually, as the decades wore on, it faded away, with the likes of plaid pants and el caminos.

As my own children quickly munched down their dinners in the hopes of seeing the latest treasure dredged up from the house’s depths, I dragged the wooden and plastic box to the head of the stairs and plunked it on the kitchen floor.

“What’s THAT, Dad?”
“Yah! What is it?”

I felt like a magician. I was going to make music with NO iPod or CD involved. After a brief foray into the living room to retrieve a speaker from the house sound system and a little wire splicing, we were ready.

I plugged it in and touched the dusty power button.

It lit up!

I love old technology. Thirty years later and after who knows how many in storage, it still works!

The kids clustered close around me. “Ok, it looks like there’s a record in there so we should…” What I had expected to see was an old Fleetwood Mac record, which I have a vague recollection of playing in the garage while I cleaned. This particular garage belonged to our last house which I haven’t set eyes on in a decade or more, so I can be forgiven for not remembering correctly. What I was there made me smile broadly.

“Oh… You’re gonna like THIS!” Looking up from the table was a dusty but unscratched ABBA Album. Actually, it was ABBA: The Album.

You know!? The one with Take A Chance On Me?… Okay, maybe that was admitting too much knowledge.

“Hey! It’s got lines on it!” Short Stack chirped.

“Actually, it’s just one line. It’s a spiral that starts at the outside and goes all the way to the center. As the needle on this arm travels in the groove, it makes music.”

Pause. Pause. Pause.

“WHOA!”

Little mind: officially blown.

He looked on in amazement for a second more and then reached forward. “Can I start it?”

“No, no! I’ll do it. You have to put it down just right.” And in that moment, I had become my parents.

“Don’t drop the needle!”

“Don’t run in front of the record player!”

“Only touch the edges!”

“Don’t set it down like that. Put it right back in its jacket!”

Oh the rules of an analog world. Compared with the modern rules of “Don’t drop it” and, “Don’t drop it in THE WATER” what we had to deal with as kids looks pretty Byzantine.

Still, as the record spun, both of my kids sat next to it, glued to the floor, watching the disk spin and the arm move slowly to the middle. Short Stack was intrigued with the breaks between songs and Lulu, with the wonderful music she had never heard before. I’ve now listened to The Name of the Game and Thank You For the Music more times in a row than since I was under ten years old… and I have to say, I still love it! It brings me back to summer days long gone, couch cushion forts in the living room and my Dad’s voice booming, “Slow down! You’ll make it skip!” as I ripped though the house at full throttle.

Good times. Good times.

Looking up, I noticed that though mostly gone, my munchkins didn’t get quite all of their dinner eaten, but that was okay. I shut the computer, still sitting on the table and showing the frozen You Tube page, waiting for our next digital selection and cleared the plates. Lulu Belle and Short Stack hopped around in the living room, far from the delicate needle traveling in its microscopic groove and grooving away.

“Close enough,” I thought and broke out the cookies.

My little girl beamed at me over the thumping beat of the bass guitar, “Let’s dance, Daddy!”

“You bet!”

After a while, the telltale hiss of static, clunk and silence announced the end of side one and the beginning of dessert. We chatted as we munched about different records, record speeds and how old their daddy was until the cookies were gone. Getting up, I went to put my venerable old stereo back where I had found it.

“Dad…” It was Short Stack.

“Can… Can I put the needle down this time? I’ll be super-careful.”

I smiled. “Yah. Sure. I know you can be super-careful. Just let me flip the record first. I’ll show you the right way to pick one up.”

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Cartoon Musicology

It happens with amazing regularity. At some point, my impressively large music collection works its way down to about seventeen songs that seem to loop in an endless… well… loop, I guess. I’m stuck like a needle in a record scratch and the same tunes go drifting through the house in a predictable pattern until, like the wall paper, we don’t even notice it anymore.

Wait.. Do I have wallpaper?

I hit this point again last night and decided, with minutes to spare before dinner, that we desperately needed to have something new to listen to as we ate the wonderful pork meal that Action Girl had been toiling over for the last hour or so. Looking thought what I already had on file was not the right place to start when making a new playlist. Those waters have already been plundered pretty heavily and in an effort to make a fresh approach, I wanted something new, and the best “something new” in my book, is something old. I needed a tune I hadn’t heard for a long, long time.

“Is You Is, Or Is You Aint’ My Baby,” by Louis Jordan.
Perfect!

To old jazz aficionados, this is no doubt a timeless classic and I’m sure that it brings back any number of wonderful memories to them as they reminisce about smoke filled jazz clubs deep in the dark of a sleeping city. To me, it brings back memories of a cat and mouse trying to kill each other to the highest comic effect.

Ah, Tom and Jerry.
Good times.

My introduction to this musical masterpiece came as I sat on the sky blue, deep pile rug of the living room floor in my parent’s house. I’m willing to be that a bowl of something soggy and sugar coated was in my hands and feety pajamas might have been part of the bargain as well. I won’t bore you with the plot, but I’ll just mention that Tom was using a double bass and the syrupy lyrics to good effect in his attempt to woo an improbably curvatious female cat. Jerry objected to his disturbed slumber and alerted Tom to this with a lemon meringue pie wrapped around an iron. Subtlety was not Jerry’s strong suit.

The point is, the likelihood of me encountering this song at home was next to nil. My Dad’s idea of enjoyable, “rowdy” music was confined to some of the more lively Beatles singles with the complete and utter exclusion to anything released post “Rubber Soul.” Classical could be lively as well providing it didn’t get too full of its self, but that’s about it. My Mom always had a more accepting ear toward music. After all, it was her “Best of the Doors” LP which I nicked and transported off to college. Still, since my dear, sweet, happy-go-lucky Father becomes downright insufferable if the music gets too uppity, my exposure to the musical world was pretty much limited to ABBA, Mozart, Cat Stevens, Beethoven, Simon and Garfunkel, Vivaldi, and a little Jerry Rafferty when Dad wasn’t home. Jazz? Not a chance.

As I think back, I actually learned a heck of lot in the way of music from a variety of Saturday morning cartoons. I clearly recall singing along with, “Yes, We Have No Bananas” as I followed along with the bouncing ball at the bottom of the screen. Another Tom and Jerry episode that took place on a waterfront taught me most of the lyrics to, “Moonlight Bay.” Dad wasn’t a Verdi kind of guy, but that was all right because Bugs and Elmer opened my mind up to, “The Barber of Seville” and later a little Wagner and a taste of the Ring Cycle, even if highly… altered in a “Spear and Magic Helmet,” kind of way.

KILL THE WABBIT! KILL THE WABBIT!

The classical hits are great, of course. I’ll always equate various cartoon characters with what ever classical piece that Warner Brothers decided to ascribe them to, but it’s the “modern” music that I learned of that I am most thankful for. Most of these cartoons were made in the 40’s and 50’s and the topical music of the day, the really big radio hits of the era, largely disappear into the mist of the social fabric that is our world. The fact that in 1975, a little kid, jigged up in high octane cane sugar and corn syrup (part of this balanced breakfast) could happily chirp out the song, “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” with the TV, quite frankly, makes me smile.

Grabbing a bit of couch that would keep me momentarily out of view, lest I be seen as slacking, I hopped on my computer and took advantage of the miracle of modern living. With a quick look through iTunes, I found it.

“Is You Is…”

I had never even heard of Louis Jordan before that moment. To my astonishment, there were about twelve recordings of his to choose from for this one cut alone. After sampling a few, I heard the one that had been used by Tom all those years ago. Action Girl heard me fiddling around from the kitchen.

“Hey! What was that? I like those brassy horns. That sounds really fun!”

In about five minutes, I had put together a new playlist for us all to enjoy over our meal. I don’t know if Short Stack and Lulu Belle appreciated it, but we did. It was new but old and Action Girl knows me well enough not to ask why I already knew all the lyrics or where I learned them from. Smart Girl.

To Tom, Jerry, Bugs, Foghorn Leghorn, Daffy and all the others, thank you, guys.

“Oooh!!! There ain’t-a-nothing finiah than to be in Carolina in the moooooorning!”
Thanks Daffy!

Proving Grounds

So today was the first big day for this new dad of two. For the first time, I was the sole care giver for the kiddos while Action Girl went back to her employer for the fist time in months and months so she could pick a schedule to start working in about a week and a half.

Let me say that first, I rather pride my self on being able to multi-multi-multi task and manage time and resources very well. It’s what I do every day at work. At work though, the machinery and product rarely poops its self, then runs around shrieking and trying to escape. To be fair, neither do my kids (mostly). Short Stack is far too happy go lucky for that sort of behavior (again, mostly) and Lulu Belle is still in the “Where you put her is where you’ll find her” stage. Mostly, Short Stack wants to play with his trucks and Lulu Belle wants… well, if I knew that, I’d be in far greater demand with young parents with new babies. Let’s just say that her main interests are eating, sleeping, pooping and “urping up”.

Action Girl was out the door by eight and I was determined to make a showing of not just competency, but Super Dad levels of ability. I really bent my self hard into the job and worked my buns off; not for the bragging rights, but rather to show how badly I wanted to earn an “A+” WITH a Gold Star and smiley face. I think I made it.

The kids and I had a good time. Actually, mostly Short Stack had a good time. he has trucks to play with and used them well. Lulu Belle was cranky and barely slept. I finally got her down with a bottle, a fresh diaper, the baby swing, a pacifier, and “The ABBA Gold Collection”. Hey, when it comes to crying babies, what ever works.

When Action Girl came home at about 12:45, she got out of the car, looked at me, cocked an eyebrow and said,”Well, how did it go?”

I took a deep breath…

“Our internet connection is now fixed, the dishes are done, the baby bottles are sterilized, the laundry is folded and put away, the lawn is watered, the kids are fed, they have fresh diapers on, the trash went out, I reconnected the plumbing in the front yard. Short Stack is covered in sun block and is playing with trucks, Lulu Belle isn’t having anything to do with napping so she’s in the swing seat with a pacifier listening to ABBA.”

That got me a great big hug and a kiss!

“I guess dinner’s on me, huh?”
“Nah, I’ll bring home pizza”. Hey, if you’re putting your all into it, you might as well go for broke. I’m picking the toppings though!

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