Tag Archives: Memories

A Slice of My Life: Music of My Youth

Today a program on Public Radio featured this year’s nominees for the Grammys.  Nothing makes me feel older and more out of it, than hearing the names of  wildly popular, hot new musicians. I realize I don’t have a clue who they are or what type of music they produce.

But I pulled myself out of my funk by realizing that for all my ignorance of contemporary music, my children and grandchildren probably are similarly clueless. What do they know about the music of my youth?  Yes, there was music before MP3, streaming, or even before CDs!

My Parents Music

As a child, the cheerful nonsense verse of the Depression and World War II hung on, and I would sing “Marzy doats and Dozy coats and Little Lambseativy” with my father, giggling all the way. (Trans.: Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy).

Growing up I learned to love my parents’ eclectic set of 78 rpm record albums.  As a teen, I added my own more modern music, but never lost my appreciation for the records of my parents and never looked down on their choices–most of their choices, at least.

Gilbert and Sullivan

Poster for Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Patience.’

For instance, Mom and Dad had several Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. To this day, I love the word play and can sing along with many of the songs.

“I am the very model of a modern Major-General,
I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral,”

They also had various classical albums that I remember listening to while I was in grade school.  My father took me to see José Iturbi, Spanish pianist in a Columbus Ohio concert when I was about ten.  I was as star-struck as my grand-daughter might be going to a Beyoncé concert.

Side Note: In the 1940s through 1960s, people still considered music education an essential part of a child’s growing up, and everyone I knew took piano lessons if their parents could afford it.  Likewise, although I went to a tiny high school, we had a school band, a boy’s chorus, a girl’s chorus and a mixed chorus.

Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald

Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald in movie “Sweethearts”

The operettas sung by Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy (and anything  that Victor Herbert wrote) stole the hearts of Americans in the late 1920s through the 1940s, and my parents owned those records, too. I drew the line at the syrupy songs of that period.

When I was in college, I know that my parents had quite a few albums of jazz, but I was too busy with college to pay attention to exactly which ones they had. But I do know that when I got married, an album by Dave Brubeck was the one of the first to be added to my own collection, and I have been a lifelong fan of all jazz.

The exception to accepting rather than disdaining my parent’s musical choices (Besides MacDonald and Eddy) would be the old folks’ Saturday night viewing of Lawrence Welk playing polkas and oldies.  I did agree on one of the family’s favorite entertainers from that period, Victor Borge. He never failed to crack us up, while providing a fresh look at the classics. And Grandma (and everybody) loved Liberace, who sold classical music by mixing it with plenty of kitsch.

Junior High

Although future generations may have heard of some of the musicians I name in this article, I probably can stump them with my Junior High hearthrob. I fell hard for a singer named Johnnie Ray.  He was known for singing sad songs–“Cry Me a River,” “The Little White Cloud that Cried,” and the very romantic “Walking My Baby Back Home.

Ironically, since I was not a big fan of Rock ‘n Roll, many, including Tony Bennett, have said that Johnnie Ray was a precursor of Rock and Roll.  Even Ringo Starr reportedly said that the three singers the Beatles listened to early on included Johnnie Ray!

Totally star-struck, I attended a live concert by Johnnie Ray in Cleveland in 1952 and joined his International Fan Club. The crowds of squealing girls who greeted him echoed the earlier Frank Sinatra sensation and the later Elvis and Beatles mania. My attempt to start a fan club in Killbuck, Ohio didn’t catch fire, but I collected various fan memorabilia and mooned over Johnnie for a couple of years.

My Teen Years

Every generation finds a particular music that forms the soundtrack for its high school years. In their adulthood, that music generates nostalgia. My generation–the early to mid-1950s–saw a radical shift from the mellow crooning of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Eddie Fisher, Patti Paige, Rosemary Clooney and others to the electricity of Elvis Presley and the birth of Rock ‘n Roll.

I distinctly remember Rock Around the Clock (1954) by Bill Haley and the Comets and Fats Domino’s Blueberry Hill (1956). I had the sensation that pieces of music like these would change the whole musical world. And they did. Besides, in northeastern Ohio, we were close to the source of the excitement. Disk Jockey Alan Freed from Cleveland gets credit for being the first to feature and promote the new form–Rock and Roll. Of course it helped that parents thought it was despicable and dangerous music.

Not so incidentally, we knew what songs we should be listening to by listening on the radio and watching on TV (1950-1959)– “Your Hit Parade.” (The Grammys did not exist until 1959) The Wikipedia article on the Hit Parade refreshed my memory about some of the musicians, but it does not mention Rosemary Clooney, who along with Giselle MacKenzie is the one I remember the most.

Elvis

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley became the heart-throb of my high school girlfriends. Elvis’ first big hit, Heartbreak Hotel dominated the airwaves in January of 1956, the year that we graduated from high school. Some of my friends no doubt dreamed of Elvis as their date for the prom. After all, at just 3 or 4 years older than us, he understood our generation.

Confession time: I never liked Elvis, and I never became a big fan of Rock. When I whined to a friend that I wanted to listen to meaningful lyrics and hear a tune, she replied that she wanted something she could dance to.

In another conversation with friends, we argued about Patti Page. He thought her music excelled. I judged her based on a nonsense song, “How Much Is That Doggy In the Window.” It must have been the country edge to her songs. Peggy Lee’s bluesy jazz appealed to me more.

The music world was moving to Rock ‘n Roll. Nevertheless, some of the earlier stars continued to have hit songs and from the fifties into the sixties, we (some of us at any rate) continued to listen to the gentler styling of Doris Day, Johnny Mathis, Rosemary Clooney, Patti Page, Dean Martin, ‘Frankie,’ Perry Como. The choral music of Mitch Miller was also popular in the 50s and 60s–although not so much with the youngsters. You could find a variety show with popular musicians nearly every night of the week on television.  TV introduced new musicians, and radio disk jockies helped popularize them. Ed Sullivan introduced Elvis Presley to the nation, and later introduced the Beatles. But as Rock prevailed, live concerts became more important than TV as a medium for artists.

So, even though I may not know who the Grammys are going to in 2017, I definitely could have told you in 1954 who would be on Your Hit Parade that week. I collected 45 rpm records–little disks about the size of today’s CDs.  With high school graduation money, I purchased a portable 45-record player to take to college with me. It, and the 45s I played on it–Eddie Fisher, Johnny Mathis, etc.–are long gone. But whenever I hear “Walking My Baby Back Home”, or “How Much is That Doggie in the Window”, I will remember those days.

A Slice of My life: A Memorial for My Father

MEMORIAL: Paul Kaser 1909-1996

My father,Paul Kaser, died twenty years ago today. A Memorial is supposed to be a solemn affair, bordered in black. But that is not who my father was.
This is who my father was. He told stories. Especially shaggy dog stories. This is my free form version of one of my favorites.

Grass Shack

Grass Shack and Coconut Palm by Forrest and Kim Starr

“There once was an island far away in the South Pacific. The King of the Island lived in a grass shack like all of his subjects. But his grass shack was bigger and grander. His grass shack had three stories, a separate room for sleeping and another for eating, a breezeway, a patio, windows looking out on the surf and a double door made of pieces of driftwood.

“Being a king, of course, he had to have a throne. When he first became king of the island, he had a modest stool which served as a throne, since everyone else sat on the ground. But after a year, he thought he should have a more impressive throne, so he stored the stool in the third floor of his grass shack, and had a wooden chair built from pieces of a shipwreck. The chair seemed quite grand to him until one day he visited another island. That king sat on a chair that had arms and a high back. It was much more impressive than the island king’s plain chair. So when he went home, he commissioned a new chair with arms and a high back and he stored his old chair in the third floor of his grass shack.

“For a year or so, he felt quite grand, but then a tourist happened upon the island with a magazine that showed a throne in a far off country. It was carved ornately and decorated with precious jewels. Of course nothing would do but that the island king have a more ornate throne. He commissioned his finest craftsmen to build a new throne with carving of dolphins and waves. Since there were no precious jewels on the island, he asked them to inlay colorful seashells in the wood. He stored his previous throne (the one with arms and a high back) in the second floor of his grass shack, since the third floor was getting rather crowded.

“Of course by now you can guess what happened in another year. A shipwrecked sailor staggered ashore carrying a wireless set. The king, who by now had learned a bit of English from visitors, listened to the stories on the radio and heard the description of a throne that had a high back, and carved arms, was covered with jewels but also had rare and wonderful fabrics covering the seat and the back. He had to have a throne like that. Buying fabric from a passing ship, his craftsmen built the new throne and stored the old throne that was decorated with seashells in the second floor of the grass shack.

“The King proudly sat down on the soft fabric and leaned back on the carved wood frame. But as the craftsmen left the grass shack palace, a wind came up, the building swayed, and it came crashing down on the king seated on his throne and killed him.

“The moral: People who live in grass shacks should not stow thrones.”

Can’t believe you have been gone for twenty years, Daddy. Because you are still in my heart and my mind. And you still make me laugh.

For Father’s Day, Bro Remembers Paul Kaser’s Humor

Paul Kaser circa 1980

Paul Kaser (circa 1980)

As I mentioned in my other article about my memories of Dad–he had wit and was a story teller. My brother gives us a couple of examples.

Bro, who inherited my father’s literary and imaginative gifts, sent me the first story on Father’s Day in 2003, with a note, “You probably remember that this was one of his favorite true stories.”  I think we have to allow some leeway in the definition of “true” although Paul Kaser did most definitely work and hang out at the Alderman Hardware store in Killbuck, Ohio.  He and the owner and others had a bottle of whisky in the back storeroom and they would gather around and tell stories until the cows came home.

By Bro Kaser

A Paul Kaser Story: A Thoughtful Gift

chopping wood

chopping wood

The time was somewhere between the great wars in a small Midwestern country town.  The place was somewhere between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi, where I had found a job as a clerk in a hardware store.  Our stock in trade included such items as hammers, horse collars, picks, saws, fence-stretchers, and axes.  It was the latter item which provided this story and many a laugh for the store’s owner and me.

The personae dramatis for our story lived a few miles from town and up the “holler.”  The one -room board and batten house was complete with leaning porch where the men of the family found room for relaxation and reverie.  And what men—there was not one among the father and several sons who was less than six feet tall or weighted less than two hundred pounds, all lean hard muscle and tough bone.

One of these sons of the disappearing frontier came into the hardware on a summer day and asked to see an axe.  He was promptly shown the heavier, double-bladed.

“Too heavy,” was his surprising comment.

A slightly lighter, single-bit brought the same response.

Unable to understand why this Paul Bunyan would want anything less than a man-sized axe, the clerk invited him to examine the whole stock of axes in the warehouse, and in a few minutes he returned with a small, very lightweight axe and asked the price.

“That one sells for $1.49.  What good will such a dinky tool as that do you?” the clerk could not help asking.

“Oh, it’s not for me.  It’s Mother’s birthday.  I just got plumb tired watching her chop stove wood with Pa’s big old heavy axe.”

And Bro also sent me his own recollection of working alongside Dad.

Dad’s Gardens of Delight and Deception

Family Photo of Garden

Paul Kaser’s carefully planned garden in Columbus Ohio, Circa 1950.

Whether we lived on a small suburban plot or on a country acre outside of town, Dad never missed a chance to build and maintain a neatly engineered and well tended garden.

Picking Peas for Dumbo

I have a vivid memory of desperately picking peas when I was about five years old. If I accumulated enough, I would be taken to see the new release of Dumbo. I kept looking eastward where the sky was purpling toward dusk. Soon I began to believe it was all going to be in vain. I’d never reach my quota before dark. The bucket grew cruelly large. I’d never be able to fill it in time.

Downtown, the movie had probably already started. I began to hate the monotonous ping of the peas I flung into the pail behind me. But somehow Dad must have secretly contributed part of his pickings because when I looked again, the bucket was full to the victory line. Thinking back, I assume now that Dad had wanted to see Dumbo almost as much as I had. But then, with some of the dirt still under my fingernails and my hands still smelling of peas as I watched the wonders of Disney unfold, I was sure I had earned this all by myself.

Dumbo the Elephant

Dumbo the Elephant, photo by Lauren Javier

That’s why Dumbo was more memorable in its way than any of the hundreds of films I have seen since and which provided me with a second profession. [Note: Bro Kaser reviews and lectures on movies]. You never know where picking a few peas (with the help of a empathetic parent) will take you.

The Dumbo picture and the chopping wood picture come from Flickr. You can click on the photo to learn more about the photographer. Other photos are the property of Ancestors in Aprons.