You don’t see hollyhocks much anymore. Or at least I don’t. Oh, I know there are a number of varieties, none of which seem to be prevalent in the areas I frequent. And to me they’re not true hollyhocks anyway. I’m talking about the old-fashioned kind, which when you’re a kid, are much taller than you are, and seemed to grow not so much in gardens but around garages in the alleys of Aurora’s east side.

In some ways, alleys were more interesting to the kids of my time, that is to say the 1950s. Well, the boys anyway. There was always something fascinating in the alleys that captured our interest to a greater degree than what could be seen from the sidewalk out front. Backyards, garages and workshops — on our block in the mid-50s there were even two guys building a small airplane in a one car garage. Fascinating.

And gardens. If you like flowers, which I did, the alleys offered a greater floral variety. There was an elderly lady a couple of houses to the east of ours on Weston Ave, a Mrs. Hayes, as I recall, who had a wonderful garden which extended from the back of her house all the way to, of course, the alley. When walking the alley behind our house – perhaps on an errand to the Buy-Rite Market for a pound of oleo, or some other commodity which my mother was out of — I could pause at her garden and enjoy the sights.

And directly across the alley from Mrs. Hayes’s garden was a garage festooned on either side with hollyhocks, the real old-fashioned kind. The kind with big round fuzzy leaves, and flowers which, as I was once shown, could be picked off, the petals turned down and held, transforming the blossom into a ballerina. I didn’t care much about ballet dancers at the time, but I thought the trick was pretty neat.

Now, in my new little house, I have the ability at last to plant my own flowers. And while it may not be a designer’s dream, my little plots and spaces contain mostly things that I like, or fondly remember, such as hollyhocks.

I was pleased to discover in the last couple of days that while still tiny, the plants are already producing flowers. Since I remember hollyhocks as being taller than the eight or nine-year-old me, this is something unique in my experience. The picture I have herein attached is the very first of my hollyhock flowers, and I’m proud of it. I am also pleased that this particular plant, the runt of the litter so to speak, was the first to bloom. I’m looking forward to many more.

Being Retired

After moving from Milwaukee, and renting a small house, I am settling into being an elderly retired person. I have TVs in three locations, each connected to the cable and the recorded shows queue. Two have Blu-Ray players attached. My “Office”, which shares space with my bedroom (where a nap may be had) has computer, printers, and necessary equipment. On the computer are various projects — for the company for which I am still doing some work (which is enjoyable, and more like a hobby), and things that I am writing, and photos to sort, or process, or print. Plus all of the usual stuff, as well.

If I get up to heat up my coffee, or make some more, I may take time to check the mail, or wander into my little workroom, where other projects await my attention. I may rather step outside to see if the flowers or the tomatoes need tending. Or a few steps further to the garage where the velocipede (bicycle to you) is parked.

The point of this ramble is that, at any given moment, I am doing precisely what I choose to do. And that, I think, is the very definition of being retired.


Instrumental Music of the Rock Era

Instrumental music goes back a long way, beginning perhaps several thousand years ago when Ugh and some of his friends sat around banging rocks together because it felt good, and made a neat sound. You hear of lyres and lutes from antiquity, and classical music aplenty from that era, and forward to the guitars of the old southwest, and many a harmonica in one lonely hobo camp or another. The swing music of the ‘40s sort of faded as the decade turned and mellowed to become a part of the music to which I was exposed in my early years.

Somewhat overshadowed in time by rock music, the bands and orchestras of the 50s held on to contribute significantly to the mix of instrumental music with which I came of age. Yes, this list — or rather lists — focuses on the instrumental music of MY time. That is to say from the mid-fifties to the mid-seventies. The later boundary determined because instrumentals have since largely faded from contemporary popular music.

So I have compiled two lists of my favs from this era. Two lists because I believe that combining the two would be long and cumbersome, and because the two together would make for an awkward mix. Most are accurately place as either rock music, or the holdover “Big Band” stuff. In a few cases I had to make a difficult, but hopefully correct choice.

*** Rock Music Instrumentals (in chronological order)

Rebel Rouser,   Duane Eddy
Guitar Boogie Shuffle,   The Virtues
Walk Don’t Run,   The Ventures
Perfidia,   The Ventures
Wheels,   The String-Alongs
Maria Elaina,   Los Indios Tabajares
Cast Your Fate to The Wind,   The Vince Guaraldi Trio (Actually Jazz, but a big favorite)
Waterboy,   The Don Shirley Trio (Same as above)
Telstar,   The Tornadoes
Pipeline,   The Chantays
The Hustle,   Van McCoy (And a little disco to finish it off)

*** And the Big Band list (also in chronological order)

Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom,   White Prez Prado
Quiet Village,   Martin Denny
The Magnificent Seven,   Al Caiola
The Theme from Exodus,   Ferrante and Tiecher
A Wonderland By Night,   Bert Kaempfert
Asia Minor,   Kokomo
Theme from A Summer Place,   Percy Faith
Moon River,   Henry Mancini
Stranger on the Shore,   Mr Acker Bilk
Love Is Blue,   Paul Mauriat
Classical Gas,   Mason Williams
Tubular Bells,   Mike Oldfield (Something scary on which to end)

The Top 20 Rock and Roll Songs

It comes as no great revelation for me to say that when it comes to music, tastes very. It is fair to say that there are as many favorite types of music as there are people to hear them. Large numbers of us come together sometimes to favor one or another performer. Many, many of us like some of the classical composers, and The Beatles, and Paul Simon, and other superstars. Many, many of YOU like artists such as Travis Tritt, Pearl Jam, or Taylor Swift. Even, inexplicably, Miley Cyrus has her fans.

All it really comes down to is that when it comes to music, as with many other things, the only opinion that really matters is your own. So in this age of sharing our opinions on social media, and places such as this, I have decided to generate, over time, some lists of the top things that I like. And being a child of the rock and roll era, I am starting with my list of what I feel to be the top Rock and Roll Songs of, at least, my era (Which started before there was R&R, and continues on).

These listings, and (by extension) my beliefs my generate conversation, additional suggestions, indifference, or scorn. I’ll take what comes. Sub-genres such as Soft Rock, and Folk Rock, ect must wait for another time. In no particular order, here is my list of the best of pure Rock and Roll.

Hotel California,  The Eagles

My Back Pages  (Live- from Bob Dylan’s 30th anniversary, at Madison Square Garden) Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Roger McGuinn

Running On Empty,   Jackson Brown

Don’t Look Back,   Boston

Journey to the Center of the Mind,  The Amboy Dukes (Ted Nugent)

The Night has a Thousand Eyes,  Bobby Vee

Runaway,  Del Shannon

Somebody To Love, Jefferson Airplane

Pleasant Valley Sunday,  The Monkees

Crossroads,   Cream

Only You Know and I Know,   Delaney, and Bonnie, and Friends (I know, it’s kind of blues, but it’s my list)

Up Around the Bend,   Creedence Clearwater Revival

Wild Night,  Van Morrison

I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock ‘n’ Roll Band),  The Moody Blues

Karn Evil 9,  (Short Version)  Emerson, Lake, and Palmer

Crazy On You,   Heart

The Fire Inside,  Bob Seger

The Time Warp,  The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Such a Woman, Tycoon

Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy,   Bad Company

Drivers Seat,   Sniff & The Tears

Find Another Fool,   Quarterflash

Saturated,   Casey Chambers

Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,   U2

This list was meant to be (20). I actually ended up with (24). I could have added a few more, and could not figure out what to cut.

A Thought for the Times

I have said it often enough, that when I was young I was a poor student. Somewhat closer to the actual truth is that I was poor at being a student, which in the 1950s and 60s academic environment in which I existed amounted to the same thing. I didn’t like school much, and so I didn’t try hard. This led to the inevitable consequences.

Being a time when gold stars and trophies were not awarded for doing nothing, and feelings were not spared, I was subjected to ridicule by teachers (in the guise of motivation) and no small amount of teasing from my peers. But I managed to get through it all, to some degree, with psyche and self-esteem intact.

And I did manage to learn a few things along the way. Among the things I learned, a few have stayed with me. Before the days of televised football Sunday afternoon was TV’s intellectual hour, and there was a program in the 1950s which started each show with the statement “I disagree with what you are saying, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, and then go on to some political jibberjabber. But I remembered the opening and learned it to be one of the founding principles of the country.

Another recollection, oddly enough, is that I heard or was told that on Sunday afternoon anyone, literally anyone, could stand on a soapbox at Hyde Park Corner and say whatever they pleased about the Queen. Passersby could stop, listen, and nod in agreement, or jeer. Or they could continue on, shaking their head in displeasure, or amusement. Or they could simply go on their way, and ignore the spectacle altogether.

Some of the things that were, and occasionally are, said about the Queen displease me. Of the world’s great personages, I count Elizabeth II as one of my favorites. But it doesn’t bother me that much, and I’m sure HRH, if she pays attention at all, just takes it in stride.

For one of the other things I learned when I was young is the saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me”.

Something today’s young people, and a surprising number of adults as well, should bear in mind.

‘Angel On My Shoulder’

We all have that little music player in our head. Of course we do, it’s often how we entertain ourselves when we’re not on Facebook or watching Game of Thrones. It’s mostly a benefit. But it can occasionally be a negative, as well. That is, when it won’t turn off when you want it to. Everyone I know, and thus I’ll extrapolate to everyone, complains now and then of “having that song stuck in my head”.

Some personal examples. In 1979 when I was traveling from Milwaukee to Eastern Pennsylvania on a weekly basis, the two hour flight from Philadelphia, or from Allentown — through DC — on Friday evenings were occasionally filled with what was considered that year by the “experts” to be song of the year. “My Sharona”, a song which I loathed, then and still. Similarly, as the calendar turned to 1980 I was occasionally burdened by endless personal repetitions of Donna Summer singing “On the Radio”.

In more recent times, while I love Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album, I like hearing it not so much over and over in my head, or every time I wake up in the middle of the night, as age and nature insist that I do with increasing frequency.

But a while ago, I found a remedy. If I consciously play, in my head, a song from 1961, “Angel On My Shoulder”, sung by Shelby Flint — a big favorite of mine, then and still — it seems to never stick in my head, but instead serves as a sort of eraser, turning off the music player until my mind is otherwise occupied. I don’t know why this is, but I am grateful, and as I employed it again last night to turn off Paul Simon, yet again, it occurred to me to share it.

It was fairly obscure even in 1961, and never rose high on the charts, but it has stayed with me all of these years. So here it is.

Albatross (Two)

The more I read the lines of the Judy Collins song “Albatross”, the more obvious the meeting seems to be. To me. Some may read this explanation and say, “well duh, of course that’s what it means”. Some may find something altogether different. What follows is what I, myself, believe to be the meaning of what I have called one of the saddest songs ever written.

In its opening lines, the song sets the stage for what seems to be a wedding. The guests, the steeple bells, the flowers, the veils. But within, I sense a somber note. Reading (or hearing) these lines one could just as easily envision of a funeral. The mourners, the steeple bells, the flowers, the veils.

After some consideration, I believe the author — Judy Blue Eyes herself — is equating death with that saddest of wedding circumstances, the common tragedy of hopefully past centuries — that of a young woman with dreams of her own, and hope for a bright and shining life, condemned to a loveless, arranged marriage to a wealthy older man, who offers to his prize little more than survival.

Her own insignificance in all of this is demonstrated as those attending the event impute their own beliefs on who she is, or was. Young men ask and answer their own questions, her own feelings are not considered, whether because they lack importance, or because death has rendered her mute.

But back to the wedding. The routine of her existence provides her a place to be, but also separates her from the broader society. She holds herself captive behind an almost opaque barrier. The colors of the day is an archaic reference to the wedding bouquet, and as the crowd gathers she tosses the bouquet, and in doing so casts away her former life, and with it her hopes and dreams.

The next verse defines the dream. The Prince who rides to save her, to shatter the barrier, and deliver her and bring her the life for which she has so longed.

Guests come for a couple of days and go away, not to be seen again. Her view of the world at large is increasingly oblique. What hope she retains fades as the tragedy of her existence becomes who, and all, that she is.

The iron wheels of course could be either a wedding carriage, or a funeral cortege. But the iron bells seem not to be wedding bells at all, but are instead calling her away, alone in death. The final lines repeat, and reinforce the chorus. But now we hear — so I believe — the voice of the husband, calling her away to the living death of her new life. “Come away, alone. With me”.