It’s pouring down. I wonder if a good litmus test for whether someone has crossed the threshold into adulthood is what they think when looking out of a window during a storm. If it’s along the lines of, Oh wow, I can turn the sprinklers off and save on the water bill, you’ve not just crossed the threshold, but performed a little pirouette on it. I’m certainly at that point. Maybe not a pirouette; I’ve never been that physical.
I’ve wanted to write a little update for a few weeks, but needed some down time. Turns out that I developed shingles. When I told my friend, Karl, he was incredulous. “Shingles?” he asked. “What are you, Victorian?” Well, it’s true that sometimes I wear my shirts done up right to the top button, but alas it’s a virus. It’s not really contagious (a point I’ve bellowed as friends ran screaming out the door), but lies dormant in anyone who has had chickenpox, waiting for the right time (in my case, probably stress) to come up and make itself comfortable. You might say that I “manifested” it. Isn’t that what Oprah encourages? Well, I have a pretty powerful mind and all I got were these lousy spots on the right side of my torso…yes, you get them on only one side. Symmetry is no longer á la mode, it seems.
When I went to the doctor, I didn’t expect to find out it was shingles. I thought that my spots and feeling like I was sunburnt (that’s how I would describe the initial feeling) were the result of working out too hard at the gym and not wearing a suitable t-shirt. It turned out that my bursts of running on the treadmill while watching The Chaser or reruns of M*A*S*H weren’t the cause. Friends and strangers told me that they were surprised someone my age would get it. The first few times I heard this, I thought they were trying to flatter me, and I would playfully throw back my head á la Blanche Devereaux. Turns out they weren’t flirting because, well, who wants to flirt with the shingled patient.
The worst of it has now passed. But this episode has made me evaluate the ways I handle stress and anxiety. It also gave me some time to slow down. I’m rarely bored, but days and nights on the couch with itchy spots and a pricking sensation in my spine started to wear thin. I did start watching Nashville after planning on doing so since it started in 2012! We also watched the really lovely Boy Meets Girl starring Michelle Hendley and Michael Welch. In these days of fearmongering regarding trans issues, I thought it was a sincere and charming film. I hope Michelle makes another movie soon; and I was pleased to reacquaint with Michael Welch, whom I loved watching in Joan of Arcadia but hadn’t kept up with. I’m glad to reacquaint with him.
I also started researching three new interviews (the interviewees are really being patient with me), as well as continuing work on a long-term project. When I haven’t been able to work, I’ve been inspired by creative friends who have completed exciting projects. Bob is doing a great job hosting his Sunday Sleep In on Three D Radio. Another Bob, Bob Evans, has a new album, Car Boot Sale, and podcast, Good Evans, It’s a Bobcast! Simon Williams’ jewellery label, USE, is making its way to international fashion festivals. Nat Luurtsema, who wrote the delightful memoir Cuckoo in the Nest, has a new book coming out very soon: a young adult novel called Girl Out of Water. In the U.S. I believe it will be called Goldfish, and who knows what the translations will be in other countries (well, I saw on Amazon that the French title will be Moi et les Aquaboys, which is really so fabulous). She has also completed a short film called Three Women Wait for Death (replace “women” with “men”, and you’ve got my social activities covered), which I was happy to be able to help along in the final stage with a little Kickstarter money. Karl Geary has inked a deal with publisher Harvill Secker for his first novel, Montpelier Parade. Like Nat, Karl’s a beautiful writer and filmmaker, and I’m so pleased for him. Patrick Harvey is co-starring in a new horror film named Scare Campaign with Ian Meadows and Meegan Warner. I love a horror film. Speaking of horror, Matthew Currie Holmes, who is well-known for his horror movies (remember him as the director, M, in Wrong Turn 2?), is in post-production for his writer-directorial debut, Traces, starring Pablo Schreiber, Rick Springfield, Sharon Leal, and Sosie Bacon. Matthew is a music aficionado (making music, himself), and music will play a big part in this story of a record-store flunky and former one-hit wonder given another chance at the big time. And Donna Loren has a new pictorial biography coming out, Donna Loren: Mover and Shaker in the Center of a Mid-Sixties Pop Maelstrom. Do you like candids of people like The Supremes, James Brown, and Jerry Lee Lewis, as well as the sets of Batman, The Monkees, and the Beach Party films? Well, it’ll be quite the coffee-table book in beautiful black and white and far-out colour. I have so many people around me who inspire.
Well, that’s all for now. Back to research, writing and, with any hope, sharing some new projects with you. The picture above is a rainy day in Tokyo. I loved the design of the umbrella. I tried to bring it back, but it wouldn’t fit in my suitcase, and I didn’t think the Japanese would have been fond of my Emma Peel impression if I carried it as hand luggage. Right now, I’m reading up on reflexes in infants for a developmental psychology presentation I’ve been asked to give. I’ve come across one I’d never heard of: the asymmetrical tonic neck reflex. It’s also known as the “fencing reflex” because the infant’s head, arms, and legs resemble the position taken by a fencer. Maybe that’s the sign you’ve crossed the threshold from childhood to adulthood: when the tonic neck reflex is replaced by the tonic and gin reflex – the sudden urge when confronted by limes and ice to fix oneself a highball. Bottoms up, I say!
I’ve loved Bobby Vee’s music for as long as I can remember. If I had written that opening sentence without the word “music”, and maybe referred to his dreamy hazel eyes, it could just as likely have appeared in an article from 16 or Teen Screen in 1961 when Bobby was firmly in teen idol territory. What started for me as an affinity with his early ‘60’s songs like “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” and “Rubber Ball”, both mainstays on Saturday Night Jukebox-type radio shows when I was a kid in the ‘80s-‘90s, grew over the years and he is probably my favourite male singer who started a career at that time. I emphasise started because while he may be best known for the almost 40 Billboard Hot 100 chart hits that he had from 1959-1970, he never really stopped recording and performing. Along the way, Bobby became a legend.
Another Bob was actually the impetus for my writing about Bobby Vee. Well, not technically a Bob. Bob Evans is the name singer-songwriter Kevin Mitchell uses for his solo work. But I’m sure Mr. Vee will forgive me. After all, he was born Robert Velline, just as Italian-Americans Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell weren’t born with those names; and Fabian and Dion did once have surnames! In Bobby Vee’s case his lineage is Scandinavian (Norwegian on dad’s side, Finnish on mom’s). I heard the song “Sitting in the Waiting Room” performed live at Kevin/Bob’s April 2013 Adelaide show, and again shortly after on the beautiful and lush album from which it came, Familiar Stranger. In “Sitting in the Waiting Room”, Kevin sets the scene of a doctor’s office where a man and woman, most probably a couple, are passing time waiting to be seen. He is watching TV and she is reading magazines that, while he doesn’t say it, I imagine being out-of-date and well worn. The female protagonist is likely picturing all the sick people who have read those magazines and just knows that she’s going to catch something. Maybe that’s just me. It is a scene we are all familiar with, one where those nursing colds, sporting injuries or just needing general check-ups sit quietly alongside those awaiting potentially life-changing news. The problem of this pair doesn’t seem to fit the first category, and it may or may not fit the second. They are scared and apprehensive; as he puts it, “And I don’t have the words to make it right”.
Eventually they are with the doctor, and while she talks, he is silent, all “helplessness and fear”. The couple eventually emerge from the office and exit back through the waiting room. He comes to realise it is not words she needs, but someone to be there in times like this when you have no choice but to “let the unknown forces take control”. We don’t know the outcome of their visit: “Walking out the waiting room/My eyes are white, the skies still blue/Now there’s other stuff to do”. Life goes on; even it has seemingly changed in an instant. Besides the big things to think about, there are still the little things.
I thought a lot about this song as I prepared to listen to an album by Bobby Vee, The Adobe Sessions, released in February 2014. Yes, it’s September 2015 and this is long overdue. I had heard about the album, but for some reason I had missed a post on Bobby’s blog from April 2012. In the letter from Bobby and his family, he began, “As my buddy Fabian says, getting old is not for the meek. I think he may be right. A little over a year ago I was diagnosed with the mild stages of Alzheimer’s disease”.
I don’t really know the Vellines, although we’ve had some interaction online and I’ve found them to always be friendly. I was even able to send Bobby a card. But it was the image Kevin Mitchell painted that came to mind when I read Mr. Vee’s letter to his friends and fans. Later Tommy Vee, Bobby’s son, said, “We were all in the room when they gave the diagnosis and it was a devastating thing to sit and hear that”. Bobby comes from a generation of musicians that are much more accessible to their fans, but it would have been understandable if the Vellines chose not to disclose the diagnosis. Son Jeff wrote in an article for the magazine Care ADvantage in spring 2014, “For 50+ years, Dad had bared his heart on a stage night after night: ‘Here I am; this is what you get’. He ultimately reminded us of this when he chose to go public with his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease in 2012: ‘Look, here I am, this is still me… I am here!’” Jeff continued that his father “was resolved about going public—he knew what was best. It was an act of grace and courage”. And, in his father’s words, “You work with what you got”.
I have had very little direct experience of dementia. I think those of us who haven’t cannot really understand, although we can of course empathise at some very general level. Most important, though, we can listen to those who are experts by experience: the families of those with dementia and, perhaps more importantly, the people with dementia themselves. Since being diagnosed, Bobby himself said in his letter, “This past year has truly been life taking its own course without words that can describe the mystery and conflict that none of us can know. So without a song or a script I am stepping onto a stage that we all share: The mystery of life”.
When Bobby received his diagnosis, the family set out on a road trip from their home in Minnesota to Tucson where Bobby and his wife Karen had built a hacienda. It was father, mother, sons and daughter, as well as the grandchildren. As Bobby wrote, “Together we explored the depths of our reality… the depths of my reality. With very few words, no solutions and a lot of heart, we did what we do. We shared time. We shared laughter, tears, stories, meals and music. We shared thousands of miles of hi-way as familiar to us as the pillows on our beds. As if nothing had changed, as if everything had changed… simultaneously”. From the garage, Bobby described in the album liner notes, “mud adobe walls still radiating warmth from the days’ desert sun”, the Vellines did what they had always done: they made music. As Bobby wrote “We made music every day for a week… just for us. For the joy of making music. For the joy of being together. For all of the reasons I ever picked up a guitar or sang a tune in a Fargo, ND garage back in ’59. I have truly come full circle!”
Besides making new memories, I am sure that Bobby’s mind wandered to his more than five decades in music. He was a 15-year old in Fargo, North Dakota desperate to join his brother Bill and Bill’s pals, Jim Stillman and Bob Korum, during their jam sessions: “I played saxophone in the high school band … but I wanted to rock out.” Bill eventually relented and Bobby could tag along with his brother, “if I would promise to keep quiet”. I had a good laugh recently when I was looking through some old newspaper articles detailing Bobby’s early years in music. One paper recounted a version of this story, with the more colourful description that Bobby was allowed “to sit in during practice sessions with the proviso that he would ‘shut up’”. Underneath a beaming photo of Bobby is the caption, “Bobby Vee … He didn’t ‘Shut Up’ …” (Cedar Rapids Gazette, August 7, 1966). I’m glad he didn’t. Besides enthusiasm and $30 Harmony guitar, Bobby had an ace up his sleeve: he knew the lyrics to the songs the guys played.
In an often-told story, and one Bobby has been asked to recount many, many times, it was the deaths of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, The Big Bopper, and pilot Roger Peterson en route to Moorhead, Minnesota via Fargo that led to Bobby’s debut. The young men on that flight weren’t much older than Bobby, Bill, Bob, and Dick Dunkirk (replacing Jim Stillman). There was a call for local talent to fill in at the Moorhead Armory show that the three musicians would never attend. As recounted at The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll website, “The boys [Bobby and the band] had three hours to come up with an act. They knew six songs maybe. After the quick rehearsal, on the way to the armory, they stopped at J.C. Penney’s and bought black peg pants with tight cuffs and sleeveless sweaters accented with angora ties”. It was at the event, Bobby recalled a few years later in the liner notes to his 1963 LP I Remember Buddy Holly, “We hadn’t even named the group up to that time, so we gave ourselves a name on the spot, calling ourselves ‘The Shadows’”. Until then, in Bobby’s words, “I was the lead singer … of Fargo’s first nameless garage band”. While the show that night started Bobby’s career, had he not performed that night, I can’t imagine that Bobby Vee wouldn’t have been ‘discovered’ elsewhere. No matter what, he would have become a star.
Shows around the traps, their first paying gig on a makeshift stage, which half-way through the show came apart, were a prelude to the worldwide travel Bobby would be doing within a couple of years. In the liner notes to The Essential and Collectable Bobby Vee (1998), Bobby begins his story with, “The date was June 1, 1959 and I was barely 16 when I recorded my first record, ‘Suzie Baby’, at the Kaybank Studio in Minneapolis, MN. By September it was #1 in the upper Midwest and I signed my first recording contract with Liberty Records”. Maury Dean, in his book Rock ‘n’ Roll Gold Rush, described “Suzie Baby” as “not just a good record – it is a great record”. When I listen to that record some 55 years after it was recorded, Bobby and his band absolutely kill me.
After “Suzie Baby”, a hit with B-side “Devil or Angel” in 1960, after a couple of misses, led to Bobby’s initial five-year contract with Liberty. God bless the B-sides! At Liberty, it was with company founder Si Waronker’s “love of music and steadfast desire to create quality product he placed 21 year old Snuff Garrett in charge of A&R production and with Snuff’s seemingly endless string of hit records Si’s dream became a reality. Liberty Records became one of the most successful record companies of the sixties and very happily, it became my musical home for over fifteen years” (The Essential and Collectable Bobby Vee liner notes). I am familiar with Si Waronker’s work through my friend, Donna Loren, who was married to Si’s son, Warner Bros. Records president Lenny Waronker. In fact, Donna and Lenny’s son Joey played drums on Bob Evans’ Familiar Stranger.
In his songs, Bobby often dealt with lost love, two timing girls, and even best pals who end up with his girl. In one song, Bobby gets “A Letter from Betty”. Sounds innocuous? He opens that letter: “She said, dear, Bobby/Just a line to say hello/We’ve been such good friends/You should be the first to know/I fell in love/My dreams have all come true/And, Bobby, he’s so much like you”. Like what?! The listener often wonders how someone so good can put up with all of this. When Bobby sings the first few lines to “Punish Her” and comes to “Punish her, kill her”, you’re likely to spit out your soda from the Malt shop. Until, of course, he finishes this advice to punish and kill her “with kindness”. That’s our Bobby!
While Bobby may seem a pushover in some of the songs – he even refers to himself as being like a “Rubber Ball” – I like to think he knows his worth. Through it all, Bobby can only wish these girls well and hope that if they only realise what fools they’ve been, they’ll return. “Run to Him”, a song in this vein by Gerry Goffin and Jack Keller, reached #2 on the Billboard chart. I think the public kind of liked it when Bobby misbehaved just a little to give some back to the Suzies, Barbaras, Bettys, and Robins. On his #1 “Take Good Care of My Baby” by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Bobby’s lost the girl because he was untrue; but he hopes he’ll win her back. And on his #3 “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” (Weisman-Wayne-Garrett), where he suspects his girl of being a “run-around lover” he mischievously eludes to the fact that two could play at that game. Of course, he wouldn’t, but you know…
Some of my other Bobby favourites are “More Than I Can Say” by Sonny Curtis and Jerry Allison, “It Might as Well Rain Until September” again by Goffin and King (where Bobby has the girl, but she is away), and the later beautiful “No Obligations” by K. Walker. I say later, but Bobby would have only been around 26!
What to make of this good guy persona? It seems to have been pretty close to reality. In articles from the ‘60s, Bobby was described as “handsome, shy, young” (The Emmetsburg Democrat, July 13, 1961, p. 3) and “soft-spoken” (The Lima News, August 8, 1963, p. 17). In an article in the Clearfield Progress (July 28, 1964, p. 9), he is described in this way: “Now he is the hottest name on Liberty Records, has made millions of fans among teenagers and adults, appeared on all the top television shows and is weighing a half-dozen more motion picture offers. Through it all, Bobby Vee retains the same shy, soft-spoken qualities that made him a favorite among friends in Fargo, N. D., where he was born on April 30, 1943”. More recent profiles describe him as “self-deprecating” and “a great guy”.
Wait for another Bob. Bob Dylan wrote in his autobiography Chronicles (2004) how, as a young Elston Gunnn, he met Bobby: “His band was called The Shadows and I had hitchhiked out there and talked my way into joining his group as a piano player on some of his local gigs, one in the basement of a church. I played a few shows with him, but he really didn’t need a piano player and, besides, it was hard finding a piano that was in tune in the halls that he played”. Dylan felt that “Bobby Vee and me had a lot in common, even though our paths would take such different directions”. For Bob – er, Elston – Bobby had “a metallic, edgy tone to his voice and it was as musical as a silver bell”. Dylan goes on to describe how at the time of “Take Good Care of My Baby” in 1961, he wanted to see Bobby again: “He was on the top of the heap now. It seemed like so much had happened to him in such a short time. Bobby came out to see me; was as down-to-earth as ever, was wearing a shiny silk suit and narrow tie, seemed genuinely glad to see me, didn’t even act surprised”.
Bob Dylan never forgot his “old friend and fellow performer”. At a 2013 show, Dylan introduced a song he was to perform with a tribute to Bobby. “I’ve been on the stage with most of those people” explained Dylan referencing the likes of Madonna and Mick Jagger, “But the most meaningful person I’ve ever been on the stage with, was a man who is here tonight, who used to sing a song called “Suzie Baby”. I want to say that Bobby Vee is actually here tonight. Maybe you can show your appreciation with just a round of applause. So, we’re gonna try to do this song, like I’ve done it with him before once or twice”. And with that, Suzie had another shot of life.
In real life, Bobby may have been the teen idol, but perhaps the girls were indeed hard to find. Listen to the song “The Idol” by Bobby’s regular songwriters, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and you get the idea. In an article for a section of the Van Nuys News called “Teen Talk” (September 30, 1960, p. 8-B), it was written that “Bobby has been so active this past year that he has had little time to relax and enjoy things other teenagers of his age usually do”. This included making new friends or meeting girls. What did Bobby look for in a friend or girl? The article explained: “‘The first thing I look for in a friend,’ says Bobby, ‘is a kind of sincerity that you can’t fake’. As for girls, Bobby admits to a wholesome and typical 17-year-old enthusiasm but also reveals he likes his dates ‘quiet types, not gigglers or gabbers. I also prefer a girl with a sense of humor’”. In the liner notes for The Adobe Sessions describing “Love Must Have Passed Me By”, originally written by Bobby in the ’50s and first recorded just after “Suzie Baby” (but not released at the time), it is described how Bobby was asked by singer-songwriter Rosie Flores “How does a 15 year old write such lyrics?” He replied, “I just wanted a girlfriend so damn bad!” Those 15-year old-feelings held up well enough for Rosie to want to sing that song on her own 2012 album with Bobby providing harmonies (and the collaboration made its way onto Bobby’s Adobe Sessions as well).
However, the guy who wanted that girlfriend “so darn bad” (actually Bobby said “damn”, but the slightly more wholesome “darn” just seems to fit better when imagining a 15-year-old Bobby) would meet the love of his life soon enough, Karen Bergen. The two were engaged July 1, 1963, and married December 28th of that year. Together they raised four children: Jeff, Tommy, Robby, and Jenny. Karen reflected on their marriage in 2014: “I think we’ve both led our own lives and led life together … We supported each other in what we were doing. We both had careers, and we both enjoyed the other’s career. He participated in mine sometimes, and I participated in his. Raising the kids together and having common goals and common values. And we had a lot of fun”. In recent years, Karen had significant health problems, including undergoing a lung transplant. True to the Vellines, they were open with fans, and the children turned outward continuing works started by their parents to benefit the arts and music programs. In looking at photos posted on Bobby’s website and elsewhere of Karen with her children and grandchildren, I am reminded of the phrase writer Margaret Talbot told her readers was one of her mother’s. Like Margaret’s mother, you can tell that Karen’s family “made her heart sing”. Bobby and Karen Velline remained together until Karen’s passing on August 3, 2015.
What the Vellines have left for us, besides of course a lifetime of music that continues with the next generation and beyond, is as Bobby and family wrote in the liner notes of The Adobe Sessions “our little family scrapbook”. After recording in Tucson and realising they had enough material, this album was born. Bobby provides the vocals and, of course, acoustic guitar, and the Vellines and friends perform the tracks, many of them written by the family.
It is an album about new love, long-lasting love, memories. There are songs that have meant much to the Vee family. Some link with Bobby’s own past such as “I Like It Like That” by Smokey Robinson and Mary Taplin that Bobby first recorded in 1968. There is “In My Baby’s Eyes,” by – you guessed it – Goffin and King that Bobby released his original version of long, long ago (another B-side!).
Others Bobby has performed live for years, such as “Save the Last Dance for Me” or “The Man in Me” by Dylan. “The Man in Me” and two songs by Hank Williams that Bobby has known, loved, and performed for so long are fresh and different here. While the essential truths of these and other songs remain the same, in Bobby’s hands their meanings change and deepen with time. There are Velline family favourites, “I’m Just a Country Boy” by Fred Hellerman and Marshall Barer and “Walls” by Gordon Lightfoot, the latter of which was a family road trip favourite. There is Daniel Lanois’ “The Maker” with monks of Saint John’s Abbey Schola providing a Gregorian chant. As Bobby writes in the liner notes, “Unforgettable”. And with his vocals – you still kill me, Bobby.
It is probably a false dichotomy to separate songs on the album into those Bobby has performed/recorded before, and those that have been part of the Velline family’s life. After all, with the Vellines music has been a way of business and a way of life. Robby Vee and his mom, Karen, wrote one of my favourites on the album, “Father to a Son”. As they write and Bobby performs, “It’s who you love and how you love in all the special ways/That’s all you take with you and the rest fades away”.
In preparing to write this, I read album notes, watched old Scopitone films on YouTube (music videos of the ‘60s) that really are a trip, and looked at photos. Some of my favourites were of a young Bobby in Rome, the newlyweds, the family, and of course Bobby on stage over time. I thought about memory. Jeff Vee wrote in his Care Advantage article about the need to always make new memories, “The road ahead is indeed murky. We think about it, but it does not rule the day. Life is about right now—trite, perhaps, but true. And we are all better people for this. We have the scrapbooks to prove it!” Another writer, Kate Swaffer, came to mind. Kate Swaffer is a fantastic writer and scholar. I actually was one of her lecturers when I was a PhD student. She was diagnosed with younger onset dementia. She wrote, “When my mind is not bursting with memories, which it is more prone to these days, I try not to neglect it, or to ignore it, but to fill my being, my life, my belly, with laughter, love and tenderness, and friendships, and most of all with caring for others, so that it is possible to see I am not alone, and that there are others also experiencing their own grief and pain, and loss and sadness… none of us are really alone, even though we can feel that way some days”.
While Bobby Vee has retired, and we the public may see less of him, he is still here. Thank you, Bobby, and the family Vee. We love you more than we can say.
The Adobe Sessions is available at Amazon.com, CD Baby, iTunes, and your usual online or bricks-and-mortar stores. Likewise, Familiar Stranger by Bob Evans is available online or in-store, including through iTunes.
The holidays can be a stressful time. I’m usually pretty on top of Christmas shopping, but this year I wasn’t – and it seemed a lot of people weren’t either – really in the festive spirit. We were also away in Sydney mid-December and some Christmas shopping was done more or less at the last minute.
Book shops at Christmastime are a useful starting point. I was in one of the large chain stores a few days before Christmas and watched intently as two police officers walked sternly toward a timid assistant. Fearing the worst, I was relieved to hear the taller officer raise his gruff voice to ask, “Do you have Hairy Maclary?” I had actually forgotten about the adventures of this little black terrier. As a child I had the first book, Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy, but had no idea that Lynley Dodd has continued the series to the present day from the first adventure in 1983.
I was speaking with my friend Mikaila a few months back about the series we loved as children. She was looking into books in preparation for the birth of her first child. Mikaila found that another favourite, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch by Ronda Armitage, had continued into breakfast the next morning, a picnic, and even Christmas. With this in mind, I was curious to check out the children’s section in the book store and made my way to those aisles. A little way down one of them a young girl of no more than eight or nine explained to her friend the plot of a novel, “Her parents are divorced and her mother goes out a lot looking for men”. The solitary life of the Lighthouse Keeper hadn’t prepared me for that kind of story.
For my Christmas shopping I was also happy to make my way to Adelaide’s Pop-up Bookshop in Rundle Mall, where I found a mammoth book of Audobon’s paintings. Once I’d purchased it, I was curious to see how mammoth it actually was and did the usual trick you might try with a suitcase: you weigh yourself on a scale and then add the suitcase (in this case, the book) to the scale. This book clocked in at just over 4kgs (almost 9lbs). I also found a gift for myself (because what does Christmas shopping do other than let you know how well all the department stores have got your demographic cornered) of A History of Greece by J.B. Bury and Russell Meiggs.
As the year draws to a close, I want to sincerely thank all the people who have participated in interviews that have made their way on to my site in its first year (you can click on their name to revisit the articles): Kellie Flanagan, Adz Hunter, Kevin Mitchell, Mark Smith, Wendy Strehlow, Charles Tranberg, and Mikey Wax. The same goes for the talented individuals who participated in my All We Need is an Island posts (click here and here): Jesse Bradford, Mark Deklin, Fabian, Yvette Freeman, Dick Gautier, Eric Hutchinson, Sheila Kelley, Ben Lawson, Rick Lenz, Matt Long, Donna Loren, Chad Lowe, Matthew Jordan, Josephine Mitchell, Erin Murphy, Dylan Neal, Don Rickles, Holland Taylor, Mikey Wax, Shane Withington, Lana Wood, and Francine York. All of you have a place at my table if and when you’re in my neigbourhood.
I would also like to sincerely thank you for reading. My site stats for 2014 report that I’d need several NYC subway trains to transport all of my visitors (that’s a nice metric). I’d happily ride with you, and our travelers would come from 83 countries. I so look forward to sharing more with you in 2015. I haven’t read T.S. Eliot in a long time, but I came across his words when looking for something about New Year:
For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
What three items would you want to have with you if you were stuck on a desert island?
Variations of this question are often used as an icebreaker or team-building exercise. I remember completing one during the first tutorial of a second-year psychology class, which required the group to rank items most useful after an emergency lunar landing. If there’s one thing psychology students have an aversion to, it’s group work. However, psychologists have been known to throw their students or research participants in the deep end. In 1954, as part of the Intergroup Relations Project at the University of Oklahoma, Muzafer Sherif and his colleagues took two groups of boys to Robbers Cave in Oklahoma. The boys were split into two groups – the Rattlers and Eagles – and intergroup conflict was generated through competitive tasks like baseball and cabin inspections (that would bring out the competitive streak in anyone) by staff members. Prizes included four-bladed knives, and were highly coveted. As reported in the book Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation: The Robbers Cave Experiment (1954/1961), “The trophy was so valued by the winners that they kissed it after they took possession and hid it for safety in a different cabin against a possible seizure by the losers”. The experiment was a success in generating conflict. Of course, the experimenters wanted to show that you may reduce conflict by introducing goals that are only obtainable if both groups worked together. But I digress. In short, while many of you would find these Moon/Island hypothetical group tasks only mildly discomforting, as a psychology student they were true practice runs for our survival if we had an errant lecturer needing research subjects.
Another thing that comes to mind when I think “island” is Gilligan’s Island. I’ve always felt that the criticism of the show as being unrealistic because of how many outfits Ginger wore on the island was unfair. Surely, these armchair (or Panton chair if you grew up with the show during its original run) critics opine, the passengers on a three-hour tour would have never packed at least 98 changes of clothes (the number of episodes). I have a couple of remarks for this. Firstly, you don’t know how this is not only possible, but indeed probable, until you’ve travelled with my friends and I for a weekend away. Second, if you are looking for holes in the fabric a Sherwood Schwartz-created show, is this really the worst of them? I’m more concerned about where Alice the housekeeper slept in the Brady house.
With these two (flights of) ideas in my mind, I decided I’d ask some friends and/or generally nice people the question of what three items they would like to have with them if they went the way of the Swiss Family Robinson or, more recently, the characters of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Their answers didn’t have to strictly adhere to logic. For example, if they were to mention a favourite album, a record or CD player didn’t have to be one of the other items. Also, they could bring/be with their loved ones – the answers needn’t be only items as specified in the question. The answers were enlightening, entertaining, heart warming, and didn’t once mention a volleyball. Good for them.
Mikey Wax has a new single, “You Lift Me Up”, and an upcoming album in June. It’s understandable, then, that he might just want a whole orchestra with him. Failing that, Mikey explained his first choice: “An acoustic guitar – I can’t live without a musical instrument, and I would need something to write about how lonely I was on the island. I would ask for a keyboard but that would require a power outlet. A baby grand piano on a deserted island would be pretty cool but getting one there just doesn’t seem possible”. His second choice would be, “Chips and guacamole – I hope this doesn’t count as two separate things. I believe I could live entirely off this one dish and be satisfied. It will provide necessary energy to build a boat out of tree branches and escape off the island”. For number three, “Scotch or wine – you can’t be on a deserted island without some sort of alcohol. Having a good bottle of scotch like a Macallan or a nice bottle of red wine would be necessary”. Singer-songwriter Matthew Jordan has been busy lately releasing singles, including his cover of “I See Fire”. His requirements are also musical: “My Beatles records, a baby grand piano, and maybe my Kindle if I didn’t have to worry about charging it. I think as long as I had all my Beatles music to listen to and a baby grand to play, I’d be happy for a long time Actually, listening to Rubber Soul while relaxing on a desert island sounds pretty awesome to me. It’d be like a vacation!”
Mark Deklin plays the man with a past, Nicholas Deering, on Lifetime’s Devious Maids. Mark, himself, is a man of many pasts, with a background in English literature and history and having worked as a book dealer and jazz pianist. His choices reflect some of this. First there would be, “An iPod fully loaded with music – particularly classical (especially Baroque and Renaissance) and jazz (especially by the likes of Coltrane, Tatum, Davis, Mingus, etc.)”. Then he’d like “a Nook or Kindle fully loaded with books – an even distribution of fiction, science, history, philosophy, and humor, please”. Finally, it’s important to stay nourished with “a bottomless jar of peanut butter and/or box of pizza… No explanation needed”. Mark does concede, “And I guess water would be good, too”. Ben Lawson, Michael in the upcoming ABC pilot Damaged Goods and recently seen in 2 Broke Girls and Australia’s Love Child, found that the island would bring out some chords and a couple of clubs or spades, “I’d want goggles first of all. Then maybe a guitar. I don’t really play guitar but I’d presumably have a fair bit of time to get good at it. And then a deck of cards; I’d just hope that somewhere on the island there were some natives that I could teach to play 500”.
Comfort food, and comfort in other forms, is important. Holland Taylor’s character Evelyn Harper on Two and a Half Men would attest to that. For Holland, she would need on her island, “An encyclopedia, a mattress, and a chef who had his knives and pots and pans and olive oil and butter and a gun and a fishing pole. Young chef”. If Eric Hutchinson ever needed inspiration for a new album after his recent release, Pure Fiction, a lazy afternoon on the island would do it with, “A chair, an umbrella and a very large bottle of tequila”.
Sheila Kelley, actress and founder of lifestyle and fitness movement Sheila Kelley S Factor (seen on Oprah and The Ellen DeGeneres Show) may want to build a pole and ambient space for her pole dancing sequence of movements. She requires, “A solar powered iPod. A machete. A flint”. Jesse Bradfordis used to playing characters in situations of high-stakes such as Rene Gagnon in Flags of Our Fathers, intern Ryan Pierce in The West Wing, and Dom in the recent The Power of Few. So it is understandable that an island stranding requires a low-key approach, “Two guitars and a ChapStick”. For Shane Withington, who has played characters in rural (A Country Practice) and seaside settings (currently on Home and Away), it’s also a “Guitar”, as well as “good red wine, and Cate Blanchett”.
No man or woman is an island, of course. Fabian’s Golden Boys tour with Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell would have to go on hiatus if he were stranded, but he said, “I would want to have my wife, my children and my grandchildren with me”.
Chad Lowe grew up in the Midwest before moving closer to water in Malibu. For Chad, whose character Byron Montgomery on ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars is used to moving (to Iceland, no less) or trying to move others (to Vermont or New Orleans), the choice was clear, “My daughter Mabel, my daughter Fiona, and my wife Kim. I realize they’re not ‘items’, but they’re the only thing/people I care about. Plus I know that if we were all together everything would be fine”. Donna Loren is no stranger to the question or the island. She spent 15 years living on the Big Island and Oahu in the ‘90s and co-starred in the Beach Party films. Donna also recalled an episode of The Newlywed Game in the ‘60s where “a husband was asked, ‘If you were stranded on a desert island, who would you like to be with?’ And the answer was ‘Donna Loren’!” (I think that couple made their second TV appearance on Divorce Court.) But Donna’s choices are also three people. She explained it this way: “The heart of my husband, Jered; the dancing legs of his father, Harry; and the great compassion of my first husband’s father, Si”.
Matt Long played the empathic Dr. James Peterson on Private Practice,as well as a freelance artist who crossed swords with Joan in Mad Men, working on the Samsonite account amongst others. Now that would be a sturdy island suitcase. Matt would want “my wife, our six-month-old daughter, and a fishing pole”. Rick Lenz experienced life on the plains in The Shootist and more cramped quarters in Cactus Flower. Rick tells me, “1: My wife—for my soul. 2: My paints etc.—for my soul. And 3: books and paper—for my soul. The rest, God will provide”.
Francine York probably doesn’t need books on the island. She played the Bookworm’s moll on Batman. Francine would while away the hours with “Liam Neeson, Chris Hemsworth, and Tom Selleck”. And for Dick Gautier, Get Smart’s logical robot Hymie, some long-time island dwellers are the best option, “I’d like to take Tina Louise, Bob Denver and Jim Backus”.
Some felt in spite of the fish caught, painting, dancing and companionship, they’d want to perhaps get off the island. “Mr. Warmth” (or, as any child will gleefully exclaim, “Mr. Potato Head!”) Don Rickles was aware he may be there for a while. He guest starred on Gilligan’s Island, after all. In addition to “a satellite phone so I can call a rescue team” Don would need “a portable toilet” and “a great chef”. Lana Wood as Plenty O’Toole in Diamonds Are Forever met James Bond at a card table,but didn’t want to gamble and spend a moment longer than she needed to either: “To quote John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful…a plane, a runway a pilot!” I wonder if John were marooned with her, could he put down his baritone guitar for a while and work on that runway? Some would stay and try to make it work. Erin Murphy sometimes got things done with a twitch of her nose as Tabitha on Bewitched. She’d want, “My husband, for love and companionship; a large pan, to boil water and cook food; and a boat, so I can leave the island when I’m ready for my next adventure”. Josephine Mitchell, star of A Country Practice, is much more use to a drier setting of that show’s Wandin Valley. However, she has a plan to ensure there will always be leftover sustenance, “I would take a Kindle with unlimited downloads, lots of sunscreen and a grape vine so I can make my own red wine”.
So, not one of my castaways mentioned food concentrate or 50 feet of nylon rope. But why would you, really? I actually sent an email through to Buzz Aldrin’s team asking him the island question. Team Buzz (they sign their emails that way) very politely passed on the request but wished me the best of luck. I like a Team that gets back to you after a request, even if it’s not an affirmative. If I ever am stuck in one of those team-building exercises again and the Moon question comes up, you know who I’ll call.
Whose choices would make you want to join them on their island? What would you take with you? I’d love to read your choices in the Comments section.
Today, March 7, is my friend Donna Loren’s birthday. Yes this post will be dated March 8, but stateside she will still (a late dinner by now) be blowing out the candles. Now Sounds also used the occasion to officially announce Donna’s new CD, These Are the Good Times: The Complete Capitol Recordings, which will be released April 14. The CD is a compilation of Donna’s time at Capitol. During her tenure there she recorded the classic Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)album. Donna also released five singles from 1964-66, including the Northern Soul classics “Blowing Out the Candles” (the reference in the second sentence was only semi-deliberate) b/w “Just a Little Girl” and “Ninety Day Guarantee” b/w “Ten Good Reasons”. The singles also included Steven Van Zandt’s favourite Donna song “So, Do the Zonk”, which he regularly plays on his radio show; one of Donna’s favourites, the Tony Hatch-penned “Call Me”; and one of my favourites, “I Believe”. Elvis released that last one in 1957 – one of the many connections Donna has with Elvis, but that’s for another day.
Making their debut for the first time are eight unreleased tracks that have sat in the Capitol vaults all these years. Donna and I have known each other for over a decade. It is a friendship that I treasure. When I was visiting L.A., I stayed with Donna and her husband, Jered. One afternoon, after a visit to the Getty Villas and a very slow trek back home in mid-afternoon traffic (and they told me the traffic was excessive, even by L.A. standards!), Donna set about making us all dinner and Jered played me the rediscovered gems. Boy are you in for a treat. While at Capitol, Donna was produced by David Axelrod, Steve Douglas, and Al De Lory, and arranged/conducted by H. B. Barnum, Billy Strange, Jack Nitzsche, and Gene Page. The new material will delight Douglas-Nitzsche fans. And, she was backed by the Wrecking Crew, musicians she knew from her early recording days. Donna reunited with one of those musicians, Carol Kaye, on her 2010 album Love It Away.
Donna’s fans who visit her website and Facebook pages (Official Facebook Page, Official Facebook Profile Page) are used to rare photos. Her adopted dad/manager was a professional photographer (in addition to once having been a cartoonist for Disney and Hanna-Barbera). The new CD package will feature never-before-seen photos.
So a happy birthday to Donna! These Are the Good Times will be available in the usual places, including at Donna’s website.