Happy Birthday Danny Kaye

Happy birthday to Danny Kaye, born on January 18, 1911! We listened to the soundtrack of “Hans Christian Andersen” all the time when I was growing up, even though I was too young to have seen the movie and had to put the story together from the description on the back of the album. I chose this YouTube video of the spinning record and album cover rather than one of the many clips from the movie, because this one is really the way I remember experiencing the music and the story. (It was thrilling when I finally saw the movie on TV years when I was a teenager!) And of course we loved him in “White Christmas” — another movie that I knew from the soundtrack album long before I ever had the opportunity to see it.

Danny Kaye was also a social activist and served as first Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF from 1954 until his death in 1987. Kaye held a commercial pilot’s license and in 1975 flew his plane to 65 cities in five days on a UNICEF good will mission.

Music to Shave By

This cardboard record was included in a magazine promotion. Lyrics include “Oh that Roll-a-matic, adjusts to any kind of beard and skin, makes you wish you had a double chin” and “Ain’t misbehavin’, I’m shavin’ myself for you.”

SoundHound

SoundHound: Instant Music Search and Discovery — There aren’t too many apps that I can say have truly enhanced my life, but SoundHound has, because it has connected to me to so much new and old music that I would otherwise have missed. It took me a while to get into the habit of grabbing my phone and using it whenever I heard a song I like when I’m sitting in the Atomic Cafe or when they’re using a song I don’t know in the background of a TV program. It has lots of different features, but this is the one I use the most — hear a song, tap “What’s That Song?” and in less than a minute, it usually identifies the song and artist, with links to listen or buy the song, see a video, read the lyrics and more. It’s pretty amazing — it nearly always finds the right song. The only time I have a problem is when there’s too much talking going on over the music. Otherwise, it’s not easy to stump it, even with relatively obscure songs.

It’s not until I started using SoundHound to identify music that I realized how often in the past I have heard an unfamiliar song that interested me and tried to remember a snatch of tune or lyrics to try to look it up or ask around to find out what it was, and just never did. I also like using it for very familiar old songs when I just can’t remember (or maybe never knew) the title or artist.

The other way I use SoundHound is by speaking a title and/or artist into the phone and letting it do a search. This is handy when someone refers to a song I’ve heard of but can’t remember. You can also sing into the phone as a search, but I seldom do, and SoundHound seems to have trouble recognizing my renditions for reasons possibly related to my singing ability.

This app does so much more, but it’s these two that have enriched my life. Hear a song, and get an instant identifiction; think of a song, and instantly
hear samples. Amazing!

Strawberry Fields Forever

I heard this Beatles song yesterday for the first time in quite a while, and it instantly brought me back to the year 1967. In June of that year, I entered Children’s Hospital in Boston to have a spinal fusion to correct scoliosis. I spent the whole summer there having surgery and other treatment, and was sent home in a body cast to spend the next four months in bed, and then returned to the hospital the first week of January to have the cast removed and another one put on — this one was shoulders to hips, but at least I could get out of bed and walk with it. A few months later, I was back in the hospital to have that cast removed, and to get a brace which I had to wear 23 hours a day, and gradually fewer hours until I was finally free, over a year after the actual surgery.

Strawberry Fields was very popular that year, and I remember it as part of the soundtrack of the hospital, along with Red Sox games on the radio and the endless “Paging Doctor So-and-So” announcements on the PA. I heard Strawberry Fields drifting in and out of rooms as I was wheeled down the hall on a gurney going back and forth for various tests and treatments. It was the first thing I remember hearing when I was coming out of the anesthesia after surgery. I wasn’t sure if I were dead or alive, awake or sleeping, and I remember just floating along with the song for a minute or so until I heard someone ask if anyone knew the score and I knew I was alive and awake. 1967 was a big year for the Red Sox, and the whole hospital staff seemed to be listening to every game. The hospital is close to Fenway Park, so for home games you could practically hear the cheering crowds and people were always joking about possibility of a home run ball coming through the window and knocking someone out.

The psychedelic dreaminess of Strawberry Fields seemed perfectly suited to the hospital, where we were having our own drug experiences, though not by choice. Even when the song wasn’t actually playing, I used to hear it in my mind, intentionally replaying it over and over, drifting along in my mind’s own music video.

I’d close my eyes and send myself far away.

“Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see
It’s getting hard to be someone
But it all works out
It doesn’t matter much to me”

One thing I learned at Children’s Hospital was how to deal with medical treatment and many other problems in life: Just do what needs to be done, and don’t ever complain or feel sorry for yourself. I was in an orthopedic unit, and we knew we were lucky, because although we lived in all sorts of casts and braces and traction, we weren’t actually sick and were unlikely to die from our conditions. We were aware of other units of the hospital, filled with children and teenagers with much more serious conditions.

So I tried to make the best of things, and instead of feeling sorry for myself, I’d distract myself. Strawberry Fields was perfect for this, filling my mind with music and beautiful images. Music is still my first choice for managing pain, anxiety and depression, and it really helps. For that, I’d like to thank The Beatles and Children’s Hospital.

Also Apple, because when I got my first iPod I started creating custom playlists that really help me cheer myself up, calm myself down, or otherwise keep myself moving forward!

Did Your Mother Come from Ireland?

Post Office, Clare IslandOr your grandfather or your great grandparents? If so, you should check out the National Library of Ireland, the newest member of the Flickr Commons. They have an interesting collection of photographs and will be adding more.

The Flickr Commons is a program that encourages museums, archives and libraries to share collections of historical images on Flickr where the active community of members can not only enjoy them, but add comments, notes and tags to help make them more searchable. Flickr members often identify people, places and events, and add other interesting information about the images.

Cooperage, Killarney, Co.KerryYou might recognize a photograph of a relative here, pr a photograph of the town where your great grandfather was born. Even if you don’t find anything that relates so directly to your own relatives, it’s interesting to look through these photographs just to see the faces, the clothes, the toys and tools and houses and landscapes.

Links

Music

Just in case the title of this post made you want to hear the song, here’s the late, great Gracie Fields (1898–1979) :

RIP Jimmy Dean, 1928-2010

Mount Pleasant Heritage Trail

The Mount Pleasant Heritage Trail is a self-guided walking tour of the Mount Pleasant neighborhood in Washington, DC. I really like these historical markers, which combine a map and text with photographs and other images from various time periods. This one shows Jimmy Dean on the accordion: “After World War II, Mount Pleasant enjoyed a brief heyday as a ‘hillbilly’ (country) music destination. Singer (and later sausage salesman) Jimmy Dean found fame hosting a local TV show, Town and Country Time, but Mount Pleasant knew him first as Jimmy Dean and the Texas Wildcats, the house band at the Starlite Restaurant….”

I’m sure a lot of younger people don’t know who Jimmy Dean was, confuse him with James Dean or only know the name as a sausage brand. But to me, Jimmy Dean means just one thing: “Big Bad John.”

Clancy Hayes Campaign Song for Nixon/Lodge

You never know what you’ll find when you go searching around on YouTube. I have written here before about searching for the song Peoria. I was hoping to find a performance of the song by Bob Scobey’s Frisco Band that I remembered from my childhood, but instead I found a lively performance by the Duesseldorfer Banjo Club.

Last night I was searching again, this time looking for videos of Clancy Hayes, popular singer and banjo player who did the vocals for the Bob Scobey’s Frisco Band. What I found was a record I didn’t know existed, Hayes singing a song for Richard Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge’s 1960 Presidential campaign.

It’s a catchy number, featuring lines like this:

They’ve proved they have the know-how
To guide our ship of state
Through fair and stormy weather
That’s for sure!

Not much video in this video — it’s just a still shot of the record. Great Tweed label, though!

Christmas Music and Memories

Good King WenceslasI’m working on my Christmas playlist, and I want to put in songs dedicated to family members no longer with us. For my mother, it’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” for my father, “Good King Wenceslaus,” for my brother Peter, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

But I am finding it more difficult to choose the right one for the living. For my sister, I think it would be “We Three Kings.” Not sure if she now considers it her favorite, but she certainly enjoyed dramatically singing the more depressing verses when we were young. For me, it’s definitely “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” but I’m not sure anyone knows that. For others in the family and some of my friends, I have some ideas, but I’m really not sure.

Does everyone have a favorite Christmas song? What’s yours, and why? Do you know the favorites of your parents and grandparents? We should record these things — I am currently working on family trees for both sides of my family, and I’d be much more interested in knowing the favorite Christmas songs of my grandparents, great grandparents, etc., than in finding their graves or figuring out if they were really born in 1896 or 1897.

Maybe people should put this in their wills — I hereby request that my heirs and their descendants play ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ once each year, and think of me.

For my mother, here’s her favorite, as sung by Judy Garland in the movie, “Meet Me in St. Louis.”

Chicago, Chicago…

Chicago, Chicago, that toddlin’ town
Chicago, Chicago, I’ll show you around
Bet your bottom dollar you’ll lose the blues in Chicago
Chicago, the town that Billy Sunday could not shut down

I’m off to Chicago for the American Library Association conference tomorrow, and this song is stuck in my head. It plays there pretty much nonstop every time I’m there. My father used to play the Bob Scobey record of this all the time when I was a child, and the lyrics fascinated me. I had no clear idea of what a “toddlin'” town might be, but it sounded cool. I assumed that “Billy Sunday” was a mythical character, like Mother Nature and Father Time, and assumed that this line meant that Chicago didn’t observe the kind of Blue Laws we had in Massachusetts, and that people there went grocery shopping on the Sabbath. I wondered about State Street, that great street, and wondered exactly what they did there that they don’t do on Broadway, but thought perhaps it was better not to ask!

Here’s a wonderful version of the song, featuring Blossom Seeley (voice), Lil Hardin-Armstrong (voice and keyboard), Jack Teagarden (Trombone) and Jimmy Noone (clarinet.) The video quality is pretty bad, but that gives it a hazy, dreamlike quality that I think works well here.

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