30-Day Music Prompt: color, numbers

One of the things I’m really bad are those daily challenges on social media. I don’t remember to do them each day, and and I tend not to read other people’s.

For instance, Chuck Miller is doing one on Facebook for Black History Month, but I don’t read anybody except my sisters every day on any social media platform. Well, other than some other blogs. Fortunately for me, he consolidated a few of them into a blog post.

Jaquandor accepted the 30-Day Music Prompt, but instead of doing it daily on Facebook, he’s doing it weekly on his blog.

I decided months ago that was a swell idea, but then I kept finding other musical topics to write about.

A song you like with a color in the title. (Why would I write about songs I didn’t like?)

At first, I thought to cheat and pick Fancy Colours by Chicago.

But no, I guess I’ll go with the other obvious choice, Green Tambourine by the Lemon Pipers, a “psychedelic/bubblegum band,” which Jaquandor also picked. The song, BTW, went to #1 in early 1968.

What makes green? Yellow and blue. I suppose I should select Mellow Yellow by Donovan (#2 for 3 weeks in 1966) and Crystal Blue Persuasion by Tommy James and the Shondells (ALSO #2 for 3 weeks, but in 1969).

And what’s on the wheel opposite of green? Red, of course. Red Rubber Ball by the Cyrkle, which went to #2 in 1966, but for only one week. Paul Simon wrote it, and it shows up on some Simon & Garfunkel live album.

Oh, what the heck:

Name a song you like with a number in the title:

So my birthday is in March, the 3rd month. I’ll Go with Three Little Birds by Bob Marley, which appeared on some children’s program my daughter used to watch.

For the 7th, it has to be 7 and 7 Is by Love. Only got to #33 in 1966.

Year 19XX – 19 by Paul Hardcastle – #15 in 1985.

Alas, no songs with 53 in it. Or is there? 867-5309/Jenny by Tommy Tutone went to #4 in 1982.

Next week, I’ll continue on this, unless something else catches my fancy.

The black funeral home


November 5, 1938 – Indiana

In response to a reference question, I discovered that 10% of undertakers/morticians/funeral directors were African-American in 2016. But that fact doesn’t get to the historic import of the black funeral home.

US Funerals notes: “In the United States there is a rich cultural heritage of black-owned and operated funeral homes. Indeed black funeral parlors were some of the first businesses to be set up by African-Americans after the abolition of slavery.”

Funeralwise agrees: “Since few white undertakers would serve the African American community, black undertakers created independent businesses to fill the need. During the Civil War black soldiers were often assigned to burial details, recovering and burying the dead, but also assisting with keeping death records and finding ways to preserve remains to be sent home to other parts of the country for interment…

“These experiences prepared many soldiers for work in the burial industry, not only allowing them to serve their brothers and sisters in their time of grief but also allowing them to preserve numerous funeral customs associated with their African heritage.”

Edwin Jackson, a licensed black funeral director, and embalmer, shares a more recent history: “The local sheriff is on the other end and says he needs you to pick up a body… You’re used to putting your evenings and sleep on hold. In this case, you’re Chester Miller, a funeral director and a family is in need of your services. Today you have been called to pick up a body that was found floating in the Tallahatchie River. You arrive on the scene and immediately you see the battered, broken, and decomposed body of a young boy…

“I use this story surrounding Emmett Till’s death to show how death has been used as a catalyst within the civil right movement and emphasize the role black funeral directors have played in such movements. Sixty years later, we see the maturity of a new movement that now flies under the banner of Black Lives Matter. We also see a new generation of black funeral directors… looking to support our community in the undertaking of such movements.”

While cultural changes are hitting black funeral homes, the institution has long been a business of loyalty, especially in the South. When they died, both my parents were tended to by the nearby African-American mortician in Charlotte, NC.

There is a group, the National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association, founded in 1924. Though by 1957 it had taken on the new name, its history makes clear that it is geared to the black funeral director.

Valentine’s Day rambling: Jim Brochu, Steve Schalchlin

necco.conversation-heartsThis being the middle of the month, I thought I’d do some linkage related to love. The first post,from Mark Evanier’s blog, he posted back in June 2018, but I saved it for this day.

Jim Brochu and Steve Schalchlin “are a splendid union of two very talented people who seem to know absolutely everyone in their profession, their profession being The Theatre. Here’s nine minutes of Jim and Steve singing about their relationship.”
Alumni couple celebrates 75 years of marriage
Dorothy Dever ’43 and Robert Dever ’43 met at SUNY New Paltz – my alma mater – as education students and were married on August 28, 1943, in East Rockaway, N.Y. They are now celebrating 75 years together.
Season 2 of the Love Letters Podcast: taking on a big, complicated, seemingly unanswerable question: How do you meet someone?
Things I loved about the Super Bowl: Gladys Knight’s performance of the national anthem. The NFL at 100 ad. The Democracy Dies in Darkness ad AND a response. What I didn’t love: the game.
Only one of the reasons I loved Frank Robinson, the first black manager in Major League Baseball, who died February 7: he was the Most Valuable Player in the National League in 1961, playing for the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds traded him away after the 1965 season. He was the Most Valuable Player in the American League in 1966, for the Baltimore Orioles.
Not all the stories are happy. Rent-a-sister: Coaxing Japan’s hikikomori men out of their bedrooms
Not only do these Japanese young men not date, sometimes they never leave their bedrooms..
This is about familial love: How A Long-Lost Guitar Was A Lesson In Grace And Forgiveness

“Rodger McDaniel was 21 years old when his father died. His dad, Johnny McDaniel, worked over the years as a miner and milk truck driver, married and divorced Rodger’s mother three times – and he loved music.”

As someone commented: “Those Story Corps folks have killed me almost every Friday morning for years. Don’t know why I even bother to wear mascara on Fridays.”
Finally, Chuck wrote: May as well cancel Valentine’s Day now

“According to this news source, the New England Confectionery Company – better known as Necco – went bankrupt last year, and their products and recipes were purchased by an Ohio-based candy company, Spangler, in the bankruptcy sale.

“And Spangler didn’t have enough time to produce enough candy hearts – with their ubiquitous messages of ‘LOVE YOU’ and ‘I DO’ and “CALL ME” and ‘BE MINE’ – in time for the 2019 Valentine’s Day season.

“Now this doesn’t mean that candy hearts won’t be around for the season – I understand two other companies, Sour Patch and Brach’s, will have candy hearts – but let’s face it. They’re not Necco hearts.”

Here’s a confession I don’t know that should make, especially living New England-adjacent. But here goes: I hate those NECCO candies. I think they taste like chalk. I’m so glad to get that off my chest.

Rev. Robert Pennock (1926 – 2019)

Bob PennockThe third funeral I will sing at this calendar year is for the Rev. Robert Pennock.

At the FOCUS churches service in early February, I happened to be sitting behind Nancy, an alto at Trinity United Methodist Church in Albany. I used to sing with Nancy there until 2000 and “the troubles.”

Nancy enjoyed my familiar voice behind her. It prompted me to say that back in the 1990s, that Trinity choir was really good. And Bob Pennock was a large part of that.

I generally sat near Bob in the choir loft. When I joined the ensemble in early 1983, my choir singing skills were rusty. As the bass soloist and section leader, he was quite helpful in getting me on track.

He and his wife Holly often hosted choir functions at their home. I watched his younger kids, David and Jessica, grow up in the church.

There was a move at Trinity in 1997 or early 1998 to consider changing the organizational structure of Trinity. It was allowed by the United Methodist governing body. But it was Bob who rightly said, “Where are the checks and balances?” The proposed plan, it seemed, gave too much power to the pastor.

As a minister ordained the year I was born, he immediately recognized the potential for usurpation of congregational authority. He voiced what I, who had served as chair of the Administrative Board, had only been thinking.

Someone said, “Give [the new structure] a chance,” and it was passed. Just as predicted by Bob, the pastor achieved more control without accountability, which led to my departure and that of others less than three years later.

I would see Bob only sporadically after that, including at least twice at a small rural church he served as pastor in the early 2000s.

The funeral of Robert Pennock will be on Saturday, February 16 at our old stomping grounds, Trinity UMC. We will sing two John Rutter pieces, The Lord is My Shepherd from the Requiem, and The Lord Bless You and Keep You, music I first learned while I was singing with Bob and Holly.

Blackface plus time plus change equals redemption?

Ralph Northam

Ralph Northam, elected governor of Virginia in 2017

“I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.” That was Abraham Lincoln in 1858 during a debate with Stephen Douglas.

Seven years later, he evolved, wanting to allow black soldiers – such as my ancestors – who had fought so bravely in the Civil War the ballot. Had he lived, who knows how much he may have changed, with Frederick Douglass whispering in his ear.

The notion here is rather obvious: people change. In The Mosque Across the Street – a video shown at the FOCUS churches service I attended this month – we see one Christian parishioner at a Memphis church weep as he realizes that HE was the problem in dealing with the new Muslim neighbors.

Jeff, a Facebook friend, wrote this recently: “Bob Zellner was a civil rights hero, a white organizer of SNCC. His father was a Klansman until he went to Europe in the 1930s, met up with a group of Southern Gospel singers and traveled with them. He wrote to his wife that at some point, he ‘forgot they were black,’ and he realized how foolish and awful he had been. When he got home he resigned from the Klan, traveled the South as an anti-Klan preacher… and his wife took his Klan uniforms and made much needed shirts out of them for the kids.”

As the very first line of his Oyez bio reads, “Hugo LaFayette Black refused to let his past dictate his future.” The Alabaman joined the Ku Klux Klan in 1923, but quit two years later. As an old poli sci major could tell you, Black was sworn in as an Associate Justice in 1937, and served for 34 years, supporting many groundbreaking civil rights cases.

People change. And we WANT and EXPECT people to do so. I’ve read a number of stories from white people, especially during this Black History Month, about how they, or those around them, were radically changed by interaction with people of different backgrounds.

One fellow from my former hometown wrote: “I changed from the young guy growing up in a backward community that still appears to show the same racist, bigoted attitude. Becoming educated, and allowing others to point out most of my misconceptions helped.”

So I am having some difficulty – OK, a LOT of difficulty – judging people solely based on how they dressed up in costumes – even racist, offensive costumes – decades ago. It does not necessarily make that person a bigot for life.

If people who were ACTUAL members of the Ku Klux Klan can be redeemed, some indiscretions of the past, even blackface – which must have been the state hobby among white Virginians at some point – can be contextualized.

What we need is some sort of formula based on the severity of the offense, the recency of the offense, the level of contrition, and most importantly, their current comportment. As a guy I know wrote: “I think that this needs to be decided by the group that he has offended, not white liberals.”

To that end, the subhead of this article from a couple weeks ago intrigued me: As Calls Mount for Ralph Northam to Resign, Some Virginians Mull a Second Chance. “Seems the average black voter in VA has conflicting feelings about all this. Maybe because they have seen a lot worse?

Florida Secretary of State Michael Ertel had to quit recently. He wore blackface to make fun of victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. I have no sympathy, and he needed to go.

As the Weekly Sift guy notes: “When a politician’s positions on current issues already raise questions about racism, then evidence of racism in his or her past ought to have increased significance.”

As a practical matter, I believe this is also true:

“I worry that we’re playing into Trump’s hands when we drum Ralph Northam out of the Democratic Party. As I interpret it, Trump’s message to wavering whites and men and anti-gay straights goes something like this:
“‘You’re never going to be pure enough to satisfy the liberals. So you might as well wear your MAGA hat and fly your Confederate flag, because no matter what you do, there’s never going to be a place for you on the other side'”.

Nation of Change recommends that Ralph Northam immediately resigns when the “lord of racism in the here and now” goes. THAT is a workable plan.

F is for Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus

The novel Frankenstein was written by English author Mary Shelley when she was but 20 years old. It was published with no author credit on 1 January 1818. Her name first appeared on the second edition, published in 1823.

It is a classic tale. Victor Frankenstein animates a creature. By the end, we’re left to wrestle with the question of whether it’s the man or the creature who is is truly the monster.

The recent bicentennial of Frankenstein might be reason enough to note the book. But it is the many appearances in popular culture that have sustained the story’s popularity.

The first film adaptation of the tale, Frankenstein, was made by Edison Studios in 1910. That short piece has been restored, and you can watch it right here.

“The first sound adaptation of the story, Frankenstein (1931), was produced by Universal Pictures, directed by James Whale, and starred Boris Karloff as the monster. The film has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry…

“In Great Britain, a long-running series by Hammer Films focused on the character of Dr. Frankenstein (usually played by Peter Cushing) rather than his monster.”

It is these portrayals that have kept Frankenstein in the popular culture. When I was growing up, two sitcoms had characters who had the “look.” Lurch (Ted Cassidy) on The Addams Family (1964-1966) was a standard creature in the Karloff tradition; “You rang?”

Whereas in The Munsters (also 1964-1966), Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne) was “the patriarch of a family of kindly monsters. The rest of the family included a grandfather resembling the Universal Dracula…, a wife that resembles ‘The Bride of Frankenstein’, and a werewolf son.”

In 1971, General Mills put out the monster cereals, chocolate-flavored Count Chocula and the strawberry-flavored Franken Berry. “Since 2010, Franken Berry, Boo Berry [first released in 1973], and Count Chocula cereals have been manufactured and sold only for a few months during the autumn/Halloween season in September and October.”

My favorite iteration has to be the movie comedy Young Frankenstein (1974) by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder. borrowing “heavily from the first three Universal Frankenstein films… Wilder portrays Dr. Frankenstein’s American grandson, Frederick, while Peter Boyle plays the monster.” I literally fell out of my seat with laughter – it WAS an aisle seat – when I first saw this in the cinema.

Dustbury posted this recently: “Disabled Valery Spiridonov, 33, was ready to have his neck severed by Professor Sergio Canavero — dubbed ‘Dr. Frankenstein’ — and his head reattached to a new, healthy body.”

Finally, listen to Frankenstein by the Edgar Winters Group here or here or a long version here. It went to #1 in 1973 on the Billboard charts in the US.

For ABC Wednesday

Movie review: Shoplifters (Manbiki kazoku)

My wife and I had just seen the movie Shoplifters (Manbiki kazoku) at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany. A young woman of our acquaintance said, “I don’t know why it got such positive buzz. I thought it was meh.”

I totally understood. The film was a little slow to develop, and even at the end of the two hours, we had questions about the various relationships. Yet we thought it was very much worth seeing.

The story involved a Japanese family with the folks generally underemployed. Some of them resort to… well, see the title… to survive. There’s a code that comes with such thievery, which is that while it’s still in the store, it’s not really stealing.

Their lives get complicated when they find a young girl stuck outside in the cold. They take her in, and are surprised that, at first, no one reports her missing. She begins to learn the family “trade”.

One takeaway is the notion of what constitutes family. The father discusses the boy’s adolescent urgings in a way I’ve never seen before in cinema, precise but not too complicated.

This is a film by director Hirokazu Kor-eeda, whose work I am totally unfamiliar with. He seems well-regarded with all of the films he wrote and/or directed as least 85% positive in Rotten Tomatoes. Shoplifters is 99% positive with the critics. The performances were strong.

The predominant description of the movie in reviews is that, in many ways it feels Dickensian, like a fresh take on Oliver Twist, as one put it. I’m not sure I would have come up with that parallel myself, but it’s not inaccurate. Why else would we be rooting for, at some level, people who are regularly breaking the law?

Shoplifters will be available on DVD on February 12. I’d be interested in the opinions of others on this movie from Japan which was nominated as Best Foreign Film for this season’s Oscars.

Music throwback: Beatles Decca tapes

Someone on Quora posted 10 of the 15 songs that appeared on the Beatles Decca tapes, an audition which took place on 1 January 1962 in London. As you may know, Decca Records rejected the Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and drummer Pete Best – with a polite “guitar groups are on the way out.”

The order of the songs at the session was:

Like Dreamers Do (A) (Lennon/McCartney)
Money* (That’s What I Want) (Gordy/Bradford)
Till There Was You* (Meredith Willson)
The Sheik of Araby (A) (Smith/Wheeler/Snyder)
To Know Her Is to Love Her* (Phil Spector)
Take Good Care of My Baby** (King/Goffin)
Memphis, Tennessee (Chuck Berry)*
Sure to Fall (In Love with You)* (Cantrell/Claunch/Perkins)
Hello Little Girl (A) (Lennon/McCartney)
Three Cool Cats (A) (Leiber/Stoller)
Crying, Waiting, Hoping* (Buddy Holly)
Love of the Loved** (Lennon/McCartney)
September in the Rain** (Warren/Dubin)
Bésame Mucho* (Consuelo Velázquez)
Searchin'(A) (Leiber/Stoller)

*unreleased version *unreleased, (A) appears on Beatles Anthology #1, 1995

I had – actually have – a bootleg an unauthorized version of the Decca Tapes on vinyl from some point in the 1970s. I know that because my girlfriend at the time, who otherwise liked the collection, scowled when she heard Three Cool Cats: “save one chick for me!” It was a song, let’s say, of its time.

The decision to reject the Beatles turned out to be fortunate for three bands:

Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, “who auditioned the same day as the Beatles, as they were local and would require lower travel expenses”

The Beatles, who ended up at Parlophone under the tutelage of George Martin

The Rolling Stones: after the Beatles became popular in England, Decca snatched up the Stones

Coincidentally, both the Tremeloes and the Stones recorded Beatles’ songs.

Those five Decca recordings on the Anthology 1 collection in 1995 was a boon to Pete Best’s bank account.

10 songs
Three Cool Cats
The Sheik Of Araby
Like Dreamers Do
Hello Little Girl

I also own The Songs Lennon and McCartney Gave Away, a “compilation album containing the original artist recordings of songs composed by [the duo] in the 1960s that they had elected not to release as Beatles songs. The album was released in the UK in 1979.” Three covers of the Decca songs appear there.

Hello Little Girl- The Fourmost
Like Dreamers Do – The Applejacks
Love of The Loved – Cilla Black

The Economic Color Blindness of the Sears Catalog

I already felt badly in 2017 when the local Sears store, even though I probably hadn’t shopped there in over a decade. I felt worse in 2018 when the company filed for bankruptcy.

Part of it was that Sears should have been the best position to become what Amazon has turned into, the category killer. It was because of the Sears catalog.

Now I’ve read this very entertaining article, The Economic Color Blindness of the Sears Catalog. The company “played an important role in circumventing the institutionalized racial discrimination of the Jim Crow South.”

I get the sense that a lot of people in America don’t understand how restrictive things could be. “For example, a black shopper would likely face greater difficulty than a white shopper in obtaining credit for a large purchase when such decisions fell to a racist store owner. The retail store could impose a higher credit price structure on black patrons as a matter of personal discretion, or deny them credit entirely.

“The Sears catalog, by contrast, would allow black patrons to buy the same item by mail on credit, with Sears having little ability to bring race into the equation.

“Black patrons could also be refused a sale in a store if they sought an item deemed dangerous to the racial hierarchies of segregated society, such as a firearm.” But Sears, in the days before more restrictions, could ship guns to any home.

“The Sears catalog circumvented the ability of local store owners to discriminate as it essentially allowed for a faceless transaction that took place entirely by mail. Combined with the expanded price competition it brought to the retail industry” – isn’t that what Amazon did more recently? -“Sears’ innovative business model brought unprecedented market access to black customers — and did so in a way that allowed them to avoid the indignities of discriminatory treatment at the cash register counter.”

What’s also interesting is the assessment by Gary Becker from back in the 1950s that “a discriminatory cultural belief such as racial prejudice also carries associated economic costs for the discriminator.” In other words, it costs bigots to be bigots, a lesson still applicable today.

“I cannot throw out these books”

Jaquandor recently wrote about owning books. In part, he quotes from Life Itself by Roger Ebert, which makes more sense in its entirety, and really speaks to me. “I cannot throw out these books. Some are enchanted because I have personally turned all their pages and read every word. They’re shrines to my past hours.”

Looking at my bookshelves in the office, I realize the sheer number of books I am not going to get rid of, because. And that doesn’t even count the ones in the bookcases that are in the attic, arranged, BTW, and the relatively few in the living room.

Initially, I  was just going to pick books as they appeared on the shelves. Then I decided to put them in some sort of imperfect order


Six and Eleven – Ed Dague (2010). Former local news anchor I hung out with him one night and have a transcript – somewhere – of that night’s broadcast in 1994

A Day Apart: How Jews, Christians, and Muslims Find Faith, Freedom, and Joy on the Sabbath – Christopher Ringwald. (2007). Signed to me. I got to hear him speak on the topic in my church a few years before his tragic death.

Figuring Sh!t Out: Love, Laughter, Suicide, and Survival – Amy Biancolli (2015). Signed to me, my wife and our daughter. About surviving the suicides in her life, including that of her husband, the aforementioned C Ringwald

O Albany – William Kennedy (1983). The greatest writer out of the city. Both he and Biancolli worked for the local newspaper, the Times Union, and both were honored by the Albany Public Library Foundation


Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II – Douglas A. Blackmon (2008) – signed to me in 2009 at an event arranged by Bill Kennedy

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness – Michelle Alexander (revised 2011). Because it makes sense.

The Sweeter the Juice – Shirlee Taylor Haizlip. when I wrote a blog post about it, I got an email from her!

Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII’s Forgotten Heroes – Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Anthony Walton (2004). Dod you know Kareem was on JEOPARDY! for the first time the same month I was?


The Nearly Complete Essential Hembeck Archives Omnibus – Fred Hembeck (2008). I remember helping friend Fred unload boxes of these at a comic book convention in Saratoga Springs, NY

Xerox Ferox: The Wild World of the Horror Film Fanzine – John Szpunar. It premiered at FantaCon 2013. I got it signed by the author, plus subjects such as Steve Bissette, Tom Skulan, Dennis Daniel and Jim Whiting

Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book One – Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, John Totleben (2009), art plate signed by Steve; I met Steve at FantaCo in 1987

FantaCo book publications, almost all of which have stories; I know I was quoted in the Washington Post about Splatter Movies (1981)

Elfquest books – Wendy and Richard Pini, the original 20 issues in four volumes, Wendy and Richard came up to FantaCo for signings thrice a year


Blues People – LeRoi Jones (1963), before he became Amiri Baraka, he wrote about “the Negro experience in white America and the music that developed from it.”

Soulsville USA – Rob Bowman (1997). The story of STAX Records

Never A Dull Moment: 1971, the year that rock exploded – David Hepworth. I wrote 10 or 11 blog posts on this book

Across the Charts: The 1960s – Joel Whitburn (2008), This a book that shows the power of songs that cross over among the pop, soul, country, and adult contemporary charts.

Plus a slew of books on the Beatles

This post is getting LONG – more books soon.