Rich Wilhelm

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Origin Story: My Fascination with “Clambake”

In Elvis Presley, Elvis Presley movies, Uncategorized on August 10, 2017 at 5:24 am

Every fascination has an origin story. Here’s the story, as best I can remember it, of the beginning of my fascination with the 1967 movie Clambake, starring Elvis Presley, Shelly Fabares, Bill Bixby, and — let’s not forget — Will Hutchens.

It all started with a toothache. It was the fall of 1986. I was living in Temple Towers, an on-campus apartment at Temple University in Philadelphia. It was getting later in my college career and I may have been beginning to lose the plot. I wasn’t adapting well to apartment life, after three years in the dorms. For several weeks during that semester, Temple’s professors were on strike, leading to massive bouts of confusion, ennui, and general disarray on campus. If I was doing anything other than spending copious amounts of time at the school newspaper office and eating from lunch trucks, I sure as hell don’t remember what it was.

In the midst of all this, my wisdom teeth started to hurt, as my gums began to grow over them. At least, I think it was my gums. I probably tried to ignore it at first, but before too long, I found myself taking the Broad Street subway north, to Temple’s dental school. There, future dentists, presumably under the watchful eye of their professors, would do basic dental work for cheap, mostly for Temple students and North Philadelphia kids.

It was quickly determined that my wisdom teeth had to go. And so it was that on two successive Fridays I again headed north on Broad and sat in a cubicle to have the pesky wisdom teeth removed, two at a time.

After the first of those Friday appointments, I found myself in my friend Greg’s dorm room, in some degree of pain. It hurt bad enough that I took Advil for the first time ever. I do not remember if it helped or not, but I do remember that taking my first Advil felt like a momentous occasion.

Despite that fact that I wasn’t feeling great, Greg and I, and I don’t remember who else, decided to go “where the hippies meet,” according to the Orlons — South Street. While South Street was certainly a hot spot for Philadelphia college kids to both drink and eat — I remember a delicious aroma around Fifth and South throughout my college years, though I never specifically pinpointed the restaurant of its origin — for me, the whole point of South Street at that time was to buy weird records.

Weird records were easy to find in the mid-1980s, mostly because, at that time, “weird records” were not yet the irony-laced hot commodity they became in the 1990s. But, I like to consider myself at least a bit of pioneer in the art of appreciating weird records and places like the Philadelphia Record Exchange and Book Trader on, or just off, South Street were gold mines.

I got lucky that toothachey fall Friday night on South Street. Or, at least I got lucky in the sense of finding weird records, since I scored two key Elvis Presley albums, the soundtrack to Clambake and an odd German RCA compilation of Presley film songs, which included both the title track to Clambake, and his other clam-related song, “Do the Clam.”

My reason for wanting these songs was simple: I believed, and continue to believe, that the word “clam” is one of the best words in the English language.

Now,  by the fall of 1986, I had not seen Clambake, or any Elvis movie. Seeing the movies wasn’t really the point anyway. I was all about the records. But, eventually, I did seek out a VHS tape and got hip to the cinematic wonder that is Clambake. It is my favorite cheesy Elvis movie and I have watched it several times over the years. It always makes me smile.

While I typically don’t plan on watching Clambake — as you might imagine, it’s better when Clambake just happens — I do have two viewings on the horizon. Clambake is playing this Sunday, August 13, at the Colonial Theater, right here in Phoenixville. I’ll watch it again on November 22. That will be the 50th anniversary of the release of Clambake, and it also happens to be the day before Thanksgiving. I hope to spend my time between now and then orienting my life to the point where I can settle in on that Wednesday night with a glass of my “best sipping whiskey” and a special 50th anniversary celebration of Clambake.

Here is the plot of Clambake:

The plot of Clambake is that it’s an Elvis Movie.

That’s the plot of Clambake.

I could say more, of course, but I’m no spoiler.

Now, of course, some serious Elvis fans despise the movie years, and that is completely understandable. But, if you turn your brain down to “simmer” for awhile, try to forget that Elvis was bored silly by the time he finally broke free of Hollywood, and accept that the Movie Years were simply an interlude between the raw talent of the Sun/early RCA records and the mature artistry of the post-“Comeback Special” Memphis recordings, then you’ll probably enjoy Clambake just fine.

In case you’re wondering, before too long my teeth felt fine again, the Temple professors went back to work, and South Street continued on its steady path to become just another haven for many faceless franchises that you can find just about anywhere else. I survived my year at Temple Towers and eventually graduated.

Life moved on, as it inevitably does. But Clambake will always be Clambake, and I guess that’s why I will always love it.

 

52 at 52: Week 01

In American history, history, Music/Memory, Uncategorized on June 10, 2017 at 1:44 am

On my 52nd birthday, one week ago today, I contemplated the idea of posting a weekly column here on Dichotomy of the Dog from now until my next birthday. Each column would compile bits and pieces of my handwritten journal that week. Fifty-two columns at 52. Time to begin.

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George Washington slept here. No, really, he did.

D-Day, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania

I spent a few minutes walking around George Washington’s headquarters at Valley Forge on Tuesday, which happened to be the 73th anniversary of D-Day. The bravery and perseverance of those who endured the winter encampment at Valley Forge and of those who stormed those beaches in France in 1944 is so self-evident that it almost seems like a cliché to comment on it. But the truth is that it is impossible to imagine just how brave and how persevering the soldiers of Valley Forge and D-Day needed to be.

Think also of Washington and Eisenhower.  Neither man can quite live up to the enormous mythology surrounding them, but these two generals were exactly the men required for the demands of the American Revolution and World War II.

Clearly, we’re living through some weird times right now. It would be easy to give up hope on the promise of the United States. But the stories of Valley Forge and D-Day give me hope that we will find our way through the current darkness and move on from it. But we need to face up to the darkness with a little bit of bravery and perseverance of our own, and do something positive to combat the weirdness.

A Brief TrumpNote

Honestly, I don’t want to fixate on our current president, who is about as far away in terms of character and integrity from Washington and Eisenhower as can be imagined. But, if I’m going to be true to myself in these weekly columns, then comments on Mr. Trump will emerge. But I’ll try to keep them brief. In this case, I read the following in a CNN article on Trump’s reaction to the recent British terrorist attack:

His tweets on the London attacks may delight his supporters, but they raise questions about whether he is besmirching the decorum that is inherent in the Presidency itself.

As far as I can tell, that train, the Presidential Decorum Besmirchment Express, left the station months ago. Around January 20th.

Thoughts on Al Stewart

Earlier in the week, I rolled my uber-geeky 20-sided Mystical Dice of Random Musical Experience and was directed by them to listen to the three albums I own by the ever-so-slightly proggy British folk/pop/rock singer Al Stewart. As anyone familiar with Stewart’s work might imagine, my repeated listening sessions with Past, Present and Future (1974), Year of the Cat (1976), and Time Passages (1978) led to all kinds of deep thoughts and revelations, some of which I’ll share with you now.

  1. The Time Passages album was one of three free albums I received when I used my powers of persuasion to convince this guy named Steve to join the Columbia Record Club roundabout 1979. We used to deliver newspapers together and I cajoled him with the promise of oh-so-many records for just one penny. The other albums were Steely Dan’s Aja and the inevitable Pieces of Eight by Styx. Because “Renegade” rocked.
  2. Even as an adolescent, I aspired to the kind of melancholic wistfulness embodied in the title track of Time Passages. Sure, I was only a 13-year-old kid pining for the days of being an eight-year-old kid, but my melancholic wistfulness would not be denied, and no song from the late ’70s captures melancholic wistfulness better than “Time Passages.” Other than “Disco Duck,” that is.
  3. That extended instrumental passage in Stewart’s big hit, “Year of the Cat”? It’s all about sex. Specifically, the guitar-into-sax solo continues the narrative set up in the lyrics. The guy is feeling like Peter Lorre in a Bogart movie when he meets the girl, who comes from the year of the cat. As the lyrics give way to the instrumental, the guy and girl are ready to spend the night together. Then, as the last sax notes fade, we hear, “Well morning comes and you’re still with her…” Ooh la la.
  4. This makes me wonder how many other sax solos are about sex.
  5. The sax solo in “Time Passages” isn’t about sex though. It’s about wistful melancholy. However, it does occur to me that the last verse of “Time Passages” could be about the “Year of the Cat” couple. But that’s pure speculation on my part.
  6. Al Stewart has a toe-tapper of a tune called “Warren Harding” on Past, Present and Future. I believe I read that the lyrics contrast Harding’s downward spiral while in the White House with the ascent of an immigrant bootlegger. As a guy who is mentally compiling a list of songs about presidents, I appreciate Stewart’s ode to Harding. I also noted with satisfaction that more recent Stewart albums have included songs about Dwight Eisenhower and William McKinley. I am going to track down those songs.
  7. Al Stewart name drops many historical figures. Everyone from Nostradamus to Henry Plantagenet to Buddy Holly to Warren Harding to Thomas More to Peter Lorre. These days I appreciate anyone who is cognizant of history.
  8. Al Stewart’s song “Song on the Radio” is about a guy driving around, listening to the radio and thinking about a lover who is on his mind like the song on the radio. So, if you happened to be driving around thinking of your lover when “Song on the Radio” came on the radio, then it would be your song on the radio. How meta is that?
  9. There is a sax solo in “Song on the Radio,” but I don’t think it’s about anything specific. Sometimes a sax solo is just about being a sax solo.
  10. Al Stewart might be the “proggiest” of the ’70s singer/songwriters, but that might be because of the trippy album covers, particularly the Time Passages cover, designed by the ubiquitous Hipgnosis. Those sax solos are kind of proggy too, in a Supertramp kind of way.

A Visit to the Maurice Stephens House

 

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Maurice Stephens House, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, June 9, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

52: An Introduction

In Uncategorized on June 4, 2017 at 6:07 am

And so it came to pass that 52 began with an empty gas tank. I pulled the Old Jeep out of our driveway and it immediately shut down on me. The warning light essentially told me to check the other warning lights, but I knew what was happening, which was this: the low gas light that had been shining for me the evening before had not been kidding.

In the pantheon of problems that could greet a new trip around the sun, running out of gas wasn’t that big a deal. After all, it happened right in front of our house, within walking distance of a gas station, and a hardware store, which is where I wound up buying a new empty gas can, once I discovered that the gas station did not sell empty gas cans.

An empty gas tank is kind of like a blank slate. I am in favor of starting a birthday with a  blank slate, so my quest to fill the gas tank fit my need for a symbolic birthday morning moment wrapped up in a wacky misadventure story.

Once the tank was filled, my birthday was a pure delight. I drove the Old Jeep to work, where my lovely co-workers greeted me with a Twin Peaks-themed celebration, complete with homemade cherry pie, coffee, a Funko Special Agent Dale Cooper and even a Twin Peaks birthday card. So thanks to Cicely, Maryann, Chris, Dan, and Nate for that!

As it happens, this was one of those occasional years when our organization’s staff appreciation day falls on my birthday, so I spent the better part of the day playing bingo, eating ice cream, watching other people play volleyball, and socializing with my co-workers.

Later, after the workday was over, Donna, the boys and I headed out to the All Star Sports Bar and Restaurant in Gilbertsville, where we ate and listened to my friend Michael play and sing many cool tunes. It was great to have all four of us together to celebrate one of our birthdays and it was wonderful to see Michael and Teri and Marley as well. The perfect end to a cool birthday.

And so it is that I am welcoming 52 with open arms. Why the hell not, right? I could resist, but that just seems silly.

I had a moment of clarity this week in which I realized that I was going to turn 52 and that there are 52 weeks in a year. That has given me the impetus to launch a series of weekly blog entries here, called “52 at 52.” The idea is that I’ll attempt to write some actual pen-to-paper journal entries during the week and, once a week, I’ll collate some of the thoughts contained within those entries into a somewhat coherent column. As the years pass, I seem to return to the idea that having a weekly newspaper column would be a bucket list entry of mine, so I might as well just do it right here, you know what I’m saying? I think you do.

I am not sure what I’ll have to say on a weekly basis, but something will come to me. It usually does. I’ll try to keep TrumpTalk to a minimum, though I won’t make any promises.

Thanks to everyone who made my transition to 52 just swell. Stay tuned.

 

 

217 Words about Donald Trump (# 2)

In Uncategorized on May 10, 2017 at 2:58 am

NixonPeople say that we need to fight the substance of Donald Trump’s proposed policies, not his style. While I certainly agree that the substance needs to be confronted, the problem is that, when it comes to Donald Trump, style equals substance. How could it be otherwise when the man has made a huge commodity out of that amorphous intangible product known as the “Trump brand?”

This is why, in certain circles, Trump’s blasé attitude toward American history isn’t considered that big a deal. It’s just Trump’s style, goes this theory, to cherry pick the bits of history that suit his narrative. And if he gets those bits wrong? Well, who cares? It’s not like Trump’s fuzzy interpretation of the Civil War is going to keep him from making America great again, right?

In other news, I recently found the old Nixon campaign pin shown above at a flea market. It struck me as funny and sad that bringing the scandal-ridden Nixon back from the dead would indeed be an improvement over the current administration. After all, the EPA started under Nixon!

But, now, the day that Trump fired FBI director James Comey, I’m seeing the dichotomy of the pin: now more than ever, Trump seems trapped in a corner, just like Nixon was. The investigations must continue.

217 Words About Donald Trump (# 1)

In Uncategorized on May 8, 2017 at 1:55 am

The first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidential administration have come and gone. I have been relatively quiet. Giving him a chance, I guess.

Being quiet ends for me tonight. From now on, I will be occasionally post my thoughts on President Trump. I suppose my main reason for doing this is selfish: once this surrealistic nightmare is over, I want to be able to look back and see the evidence that I spoke out against Trump and his ideas.

At the same time, I don’t want to spend my life rattling on about Donald Trump, so I plan on limiting each entry to 217 words. Get in, express my dismay, get on with my life.

So, let’s get to it: Donald Trump’s garbling of United States history is appalling to me.  I realize that many people feel that a working knowledge of history is not necessarily a prerequisite for “making America great again,” but I disagree. Trump has not shown any real inclination to learn much American history, and this disinclination makes itself agonizingly clear when he says things like, “People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”

Don’t be surprised when I return to this topic. It’s a huge Trump pet peeve of mine.

 

Living in America?

In Uncategorized on January 28, 2017 at 8:55 pm

I dropped by the local McDonald’s today for a quick lunch. I should avoid fast food, but McDonald’s has a new menu item that I had to try. The Mac Jr. To understand why I need to try this burger, I have to go back a few decades, to the early 1980s.

During those years, I worked at McDonald’s. When I’d go on breaks, I’d often make what I called (at least to myself) a “Li’l Mac.” Basically this was a single burger Big Mac and, at the time, I found it to be delicious. Just the perfect burger, particularly if I wasn’t working long enough hours that day to qualify for a complete Big Mac during my break time.

Incidentally, during my Li’l Mac-making years, President Ronald Reagan was talking tough about Russia. Remember when Reagan joked that he had just signed legislation that would outlaw Russia forever, and that bombing would begin in five minutes? That was cute, right?

While I sampled the Mac Jr. (not bad, but it’s no Li’l Mac),  the muted overhead television was showing CNN coverage of President Trump’s freshly signed travel ban executive order. You know the one, in which people from certain Muslim-dominated countries, are not going to be admitted into the United States. Of course, excluded from the travel ban is Saudi Arabia, the country from which most of the 9/11 hijackers emerged, but also a country with which Trump has done a fair amount of business. But I’m sure there is some other, alternative reason, having nothing to do with Trump’s business interests, that led to this exclusion.

As I watched the reports of uncertainty over which huddled masses are actually allowed to be in this country right now, James Brown’s 1985 hit song, “Living in America” was playing over the sound system. A song that was a huge hit back in Reagan’s America.

This is not some alternative fact that I cooked up to insert irony into this essay. It actually happened.

James Brown did not write “Living in America,” but one of the key lyrics (written by Charles Kaufman, Charlie Midnight and Dan Hartman) notes,

“You may not be looking for the promised land/But you might find it anyway/Under those old familiar names, like…”

Brown then shouts out the names of nine major American cities. Some of which may even be “sanctuary cities” today.

It’s probably worth noting at this point that “Living in America” was featured in Rocky IV, the movie in which Russian boxer Ivan Drago kills American boxer Apollo Creed in the ring. Rocky then steps in the ring to avenge Creed’s death. Cold war metaphors abound.

Speaking of which, Trump plans on speaking with Russian leader Vladimir Putin today. I’m sure that will go well, given that both Trump and Putin are upright, decent guys.

So what’s my point? I’m not even sure that I have one yet, other than thinking that, as much as I did not love Ronald Reagan or his policies–and I will not pretend I did–I don’t think Reagan would recognize the dark, cold, and pessimistic vision of the United States that Donald Trump endorsed this week each time he signed an executive order. This is in no way “morning in America,” and in the end, these actions will not “make America great again.”

Living in America? I’m not so sure that I  am right now.

 

 

 

16 Posts from 2016

In Uncategorized on December 29, 2016 at 7:03 am

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A late December evening, 2016. I add a little stronger peppermint to my peppermint mocha, listen to the most recent works of Wilco, Bob Dylan, and the late great Leonard Cohen, and contemplate my year by strolling through the last 12 months worth of entries in this blog.

Earlier today, the editor of the magazine for which I write (ASTM International’s Standardization News), created a list of the Top 16 stories in this year’s issues. This has given me the idea to do the same with my 2016 blog entries.

As it happens, I sat down at my laptop nearly 40 times this year to say something via Dichotomy of the Dog, so I had to stop and consider which 16 entries might be my favorites, the ones that sum up the year. But the 16 that I link to below–in Casey Kasem countdown format–tie my 2016 together about as well as anything else could.

There is a fair amount of introspection going on in many of these entries and I’ll be the first to note that I am not, of course, the first to note these sentiments. But getting all this down in writing seemed to take on extra importance for me this year, and I’m glad I did it.

If you happened to read some of these entries as I posted them this year, thank you! I truly appreciate your time!

Finally, a warning: a few of these entries are silly. But now more than ever, maybe we need silly.

16. Knee Deep in Knee Deep in the Hoopla. The first entry in a ridiculous and abandoned series of entries written while listening to Starship’s infamous Knee Deep in the Hoopla album. Just because I abandoned this idea does not mean I won’t return to it someday.

15.There Is No Way In Hell I Will Ever Vote for Donald Trump. My political statement of the year. I stand by it, and always will.

14. MonkDay 002. My first blast of post-election weirdness.  More weirdness lies ahead, I’m sure.

13. raspberry strawberry lemon and lime what do I care (Happy Birthday Bob Dylan)  Just a quick few lines, dashed off on Bob Dylan’s birthday. I was happy to be writing about a living musician for a change.

12. Too Much Thyme on My Hands. Originally written years ago, this resonated enough with me this year that I wanted to revive it.

11. I Dream of Hall and Oates. I may have offended John Oates.

10. Sunday Morning Beury/Sunday Morning Lorraine. Chris and I visit cool old buildings, take photos.

9. Shiny Happy People Revisited. Or, “Why I’ll Never Hate ‘Shiny, Happy People’ the Way Some Hardcore Fans Hate ‘Shiny, Happy People.'”

8. Row.And.Stop. Memories of my ninth grade typing class, one of the most useful classes I ever took.

7. Bono at WaWa. Self-explanatory.

6. Laurel Hill Tales #002: Augustus Goodyear Heaton. Some thoughts on one of my favorite “permanent residents” at Laurel Hill Cemetery. Author of “The Amorous Numismatist.” If you like this entry, try William Duane, an early American journalist whose story is relevant to our current sorry state of affairs.

5. Oh What A Week That Was. The week Jimmy graduated high school and Chris was promoted from middle school to high school. A big week.

4. The Somewhat Better. Trying to figure things out and learning to live with a life that might not be the “best” it can be, but is better than it was.

3. Kids Take You Places. In which Chris and I visit abandoned spots and I think about other places he and Jimmy have taken me.

2. The Moments. A song by my friend Cliff and the removal of an ancient tree remind me to “hang on to the moment.”

1. Dear Eighteen-Year-Old at the David Bowie Concert. Of all the celebrity deaths this year, Bowie’s hit me hardest. Though Bowie was so much more than a “celebrity,” of course. Writing this just after Bowie’s January death paved the way for everything else worthwhile that I wrote this year. Also, devastating to think that I needed to write this way about both Prince and Merle Haggard this year as well. Don’t let anyone convince you that the death of an admired artist of any sort won’t have an effect on you.

HooplaThon Day 1: Just the FAQs

In Uncategorized on September 12, 2016 at 12:51 am
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HooplaThon Day 1: Just dipping one set of toes in the Hoopla.

Welcome to the HooplaThon. You probably have questions. I have answers.

For reasons that I will attempt to delineate, I have decided that for the next bunch of days, I am going to attempt to write a journal entry while listening to side 1 of the 1985 Starship album, Knee Deep in the Hoopla. Then, while playing side 2, I will craft the journal entry into a casual essay on this blog.

Why, oh why, do I want to take on this ridiculous task? Glad you asked.

I have my reasons, the first being as a way to confront a statement that I often hear, but don’t really believe: “Life is too short for bad music/bad movies/bad books/bad art/bad sports/etc.” I feel like this Hoopla experiment is a way to test that theory with a daily dose of Knee Deep in the Hoopla, an album that contains the song “We Built This City,” which often tops polls as the worst song ever recorded.

So my thought was, why not spend some time with this musical product (the use of the word “product” is quite deliberate) that is often deemed “bad” and see what results from my nightly listening experience. Will I find that life really is too short for bad music?

But that leads to another question: Is Knee Deep in the Hoopla truly bad music and is “We Built This City” really the worst song ever recorded? Or do the album and song simply have bad reps?

The fact of the matter is I could be listening to Coltrane’s A Love Supreme every night. Maybe that would inspire some glorious damn prose to come flowing out of my mind. But that’s not the point. The point is: where will prolonged exposure to Knee Deep in the Hoopla lead me?

Also a question: what exactly is “hoopla” and can it really be quantified? How does one get knee deep into it and does one in fact know that they are precisely knee deep in it?

Some readers might wonder: is there some kind of political agenda going on here? The answer is a unequivocal, “Well, yeah, now that you mention it, maybe there is.” After all, has any American year been more filled with political hoopla than 2016? Actually, I am thinking about hooey here. Clearly no year in American history has been filled with as much political hooey as this year. But hoopla is happening too, and we’re all knee deep in it at the very least, whether we want to admit it or not.

Trump is the king of hoopla and the king of hooey as well. Contemplating a Trump presidency awhile back, I realized that I’d rather be compelled to listen to “We Built This City” every single morning for the next four years than to wake up knowing the Donald Trump was president. So there’s that.

What else is this about? It could be about anything really, as long as the tangents wind their way back to Knee Deep in the Hoopla. It’s about spurring me to write every night and its about figuring out a way to avoid the early evening naps that end up wrecking my sound sleep hours later. Maybe writing these entries will be a way to “rock myself to sleep,” as Grace Slick sings, with the help of Quiet Riot’s Kevin DuBrow, on Knee Deep in the Hoopla.

So, finally, how will this work? As I stated at the beginning, each evening, I’ll scribble thoughts in my specially designed Knee Deep in the Hoopla notebook, provided to me by my sponsor for this blog series, Rich’s Really Cool Notebooks. Then, while listening to side 2, I’ll type up the journal entry I just wrote, hopefully crafting it into something semi-coherent.

If there is a point or points to this project, perhaps, it or they, will emerge as I compile the entries. To quantify the project, I’ll add a new Hoopla to the official HooplaMeter (see photo above) with each new entry.

So, join me if you’d like. I hear Marconi is about to play the mamba.

 

Sunday Morning, North Broad Street, Part 2: The Divine Lorraine Hotel

In Divine Lorraine Hotel, Uncategorized on September 4, 2016 at 10:28 pm
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The sign atop the Divine Lorraine Hotel on North Broad Street in Philadelphia. The only other sign in the city that is arguably as iconic would be the PSFS sign.

Part 2 of 2 of Rich and Chris’ Sunday morning exploration of North Broad Street.

After Chris and I had taken our last photos at the Beury Building, I thought it might be fun to visit the Divine Lorraine Hotel as well. There is a simple way to get from the Beury to the Lorraine: turn left on Broad Street and drive until you see the can’t-miss-it hotel looming above you on your left.

I chose a less-simple way, for one good reason: if I had straight down Broad Street, I would have passed Johnson Hall at Temple University. This is where my older son Jimmy is currently residing and I am quite frankly not certain he would have appreciated a drop-in visit from Chris and me at 8:30 this morning, as he was probably sleeping off the effects of the first day of the Made in America festival, in preparation for today’s second installment of that Jay-Z curated mega-jam concert on the Ben Franklin Parkway.

Therefore, to avoid the temptation to wake Jimmy up–and thus, annoy him–I drove north on Broad to the Roosevelt Boulevard. Turned left and drove to the Ridge Avenue exit. Left onto Ridge, past Laurel Hill Cemetery–where Beury Building namesake Charles Beury is buried–and continuing on Ridge until it intersects with Broad Street, at the exact spot where one can find the Divine Lorraine Hotel.

But that’s not the only reason took the lesser-direct route. There is also this: as someone who has lived around Philadelphia my entire life, I know certain places. In this case, the Beury Building. Temple University. Laurel Hill Cemetery. Divine Lorraine Hotel. But, aside from looking at a map, I don’t really know how these places are spatially related to each other until I start driving around, driving from one place to another along routes I may not have taken before. That kind of connecting the dots is fascinating to me and it reminds me of how fascinated I am by the neural connections each of us can sometimes make from one seemingly unrelated idea to another.

But I digress.

I easily found a spot to park behind the Lorraine and soon Chris and I were busy taking photos of it. Perhaps at this point, some history is in order.

The building that has become known as the Divine Lorraine Hotel was completed in 1894. The ornate Victorian style of the building was actually going out of style at just the time the building was completed. In 1948, the building was purchased by Father Divine, the well-known leader of the Universal Peace Mission Movement. Father Divine soon made the Divine Lorraine the first higher-class hotel in the United States to be fully racially integrated, though guests had to agree to special rules dictated by the tenets of Father Divine’s religion.

Since the movement sold the building about 20 years ago, it has gone through a period of serious deterioration, but is currently being renovated, with a completion date of March 2017. This explains why much of the building is currently covered in scaffolding. With this renovation, the Divine Lorraine appears to have a stronger lease on continued life than the Beury Building does, but only time will tell how either building will fare in the coming decades.

For now though, here is what the Divine Lorraine looked like today, September 4, 2016.

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View from behind. Not only I had never walked around the Divine Lorraine area before, I had really seen the building from this angle, even in a car.

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You GO GiRL!

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UR Divine.

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Just like the Beury Building, Chris had been wanting to see the Divine Lorraine up close for a while.

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Detail, Divine Lorraine Hotel.

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Detail, Divine Lorraine Hotel

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Father Divine established the Divine Lorraine as the first major racially integrated hotel in the United States.

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Chris has been visiting Pennsylvania Historic Markers, such as this one for Father Divine.

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I wasn’t as serious as I appear to be here.

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Current state of front door, Divine Lorraine Hotel.

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South side of the Divine Lorraine Hotel. Most of the rest of the building is currently under scaffolding.

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Finally, here is Chris taking photos of the Divine Lorraine Hotel with his tablet. Soon after I took this photo, we headed back out Ridge Avenue, with a quick stop at Laurel Hill Cemetery, before heading back home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Rock Shows

In 1980s, 1982, 1983, concerts, high school, memoir, Music/Memory, R.E.M., Uncategorized on August 21, 2016 at 12:46 pm
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Blondie, JFK Stadium, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, August 21, 1982

This is a tale of two rock shows that happened almost exactly one year apart, back in the days when every kid in the Philadelphia area knew that the words “JFK Jam” were an invitation to a rockin’ good time. The anniversary of each of these shows is this weekend, so I thought I’d take a moment now to remember them. Starting with…

August 21, 1982

This was the line-up for the first of five shows I attended at the crumbling JFK Stadium during the 1980’s:

  • Robert Hazard and the Heroes
  • A Flock of Seagulls
  • Blondie
  • Elvis Costello and the Attractions
  • Genesis

I don’t remember when I first heard about this show. It was, however, exactly from that moment that I knew I would be there, no matter what. The third act on the bill was my motivation. I was going to see Blondie, my favorite band at the time, at any cost. It had to happen.

Making this crazy rock’n’roll dream of mine a reality wasn’t as easy as it sounds, but it turned out to not be that hard either. I don’t remember my parents putting up much resistance, even though this was the first big rock show I was planning on attending. I rounded up a posse of five and tickets were purchased, though I don’t remember where or how. I wasn’t driving yet, but one of the five was, so I felt safe in the all-important question of How Will We Get There?

The thing is, back then, you could never really feel safe in the all-important question of How Will We Get There?, at least not until you’re there. At some point, our driver informed me that he wasn’t going to the show. There may have been extenuating circumstances, but the way I remember it, he had decided that he just didn’t feel like going. In any event, the whole venture was now in peril.

The fix was easy enough: one of the other of the five of us had an older brother who could go to the concert and drive us. In the end, this worked, though it turned out to be a drama-inducing solution that ended with us having to leave before Genesis was through with their awesome light show/concert, as well as with our driver tossing his brother out of the car after we arrived at our meeting place ten minutes late.

But this isn’t a story of my steely determination and Machiavellian machinations to be in the presence of Deborah Harry. Well, now that I think of it, it is kind of that story, but we’re going to move along with the show itself.

We arrived at JFK to a scene of general depravity the likes of which I had only witnessed once when I stood outside a Yes concert after leaving a Phillies game. It was only around 2:00 in the afternoon, but clearly some of  concertgoers that we encountered immediately upon entering the stadium had already partied way too much. I remember suddenly wondering if coming out to this huge rock show was such a good idea after all.

We missed the opening set by local legends Robert Hazard and the Heroes, thereby missing our chance to see the band perform the epic, “Escalator of Life” in front of a festival crowd. Years later, I met Hazard and told him that “Escalator of Life” loomed large in my high school musical memories. He often heard that, he replied. He seemed pleased with this knowledge, but I didn’t get to hear him play “Escalator of Life” that night either.

We hit the stands just as A Flock of Seagulls were wrapping up a short set. Even as that ghostly final guitar chord of the Seagulls’ hit, “I Ran (So Far Away)” echoed throughout JFK and floating away into the South Philly sky, I was anticipating the upcoming appearance of Blondie.

My patience was eventually rewarded and I am sure I greeted Blondie with rapturous applause. I don’t remember if the rest of the audience matched my enthusiasm, seeing as the crowd was baking in the late August afternoon sun, but I was there, my favorite band was there, and all was right in my world at that moment.

Blondie did not disappoint, delivering a performance that Philadelphia Inquirer music critic Ken Tucker described as “peppy,” despite that fact that the band was touring behind its tepid album The Hunter, which had long since flopped by the time the band hit the JFK stage. I certainly enjoyed the show, maybe even more than the band itself: at some point after their JFK performance, Blondie canceled the rest of their tour, essentially fell apart, and never played again in their classic line-up.

Elvis Costello and the Attractions were up next and, wow, did they ever perform that day. It was Ken Tucker’s opinion that Costello and company won the day with their set and, Blondie bias aside, I can’t disagree. I remember being compelled by Costello, even when he and the band weren’t playing a song that was immediately familiar to me.

Decades later, I discovered that someone had videotaped the Attractions’ show that day. At least 17 videos from the performance (along with a few from Genesis’ show later that evening) are now in YouTube. Here is one of them, Elvis & the Attractions opening their show with “Accidents Will Happen.”

 

As for Genesis, well, Genesis was Genesis. I’ve never loved Genesis, and Genesis was not my reason for being at JFK that day. At the same time, I’ve also never hated Genesis and this was just before that period in the ’80s when you couldn’t trip over a radio without hearing a Genesis/Phil Collins song. In short it was a good time to see Genesis. It was the new wavishly Abacab period of Genesis and I could easily get behind that. If you’ve ever heard the band’s Three Side Live album, you’ve heard exactly how Genesis sounded at JFK on August 21, 1982. All you’re missing is the wicked awesome light show.

Oh, also “Supper’s Ready.” You’re missing “Supper’s Ready,” the early, lengthy epic that Phil and the boys played at JFK that night. The thrilled exclamations among hardcore Genesis fans when the band launched in “Supper’s Ready” were a joy to hear, let me tell you.

Finally, a post script on the photo of Blondie that appears at the top of this entry. I did not take this photo. I took the “no cameras” policy of ’80s rock concerts very seriously! It was years later, when I was working as a media services guy at a local college, when I found this picture in a stack of photos from past student events. It was the only photo from the JFK show in the stack, but I recognized the event immediately and snatched up the photo.

August 20, 1983

So there you have it. A JFK jam, circa August 1982. I started my senior year of high school, Blondie and Costello songs still rattling around in my brain, soon thereafter. Nearly one year later, on August 20, 1983, I reentered JFK and this is who I found:

  • R.E.M.
  • Madness
  • Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
  • Police

This show was much different for me than the one just a year before. For one thing, there was no drama, aside from the fact that, again, one of the guys who was going to go, suddenly could not. That was certainly not cool, but my other friend and I did go. We found ourselves at a show that seemed much more organized, and much less decadent, than the previous year’s JFK Jam. But maybe I just just slightly more used to the big rock concert scene by then.

This was one efficient rock show. Started at noon, ended by 6:00. Everyone was home long before sunset. I am not sure if it was the Police’s Sting who demanded such efficiency, but if so, he got it.

Speaking of Sting, he remarked about the weather that day, “It is 98 degrees. That is the temperature of blood.” Could he have possible said something more Stinglike? I think not.

All of the performances rocked that day. Madness was all kinds of good fun; Joan Jett rocked hard, just as she continues to do; and the Police were riding high on Synchronicity. But, for me, the day turned out to be all about the “breakfast act,” R.E.M.

R.E.M. had released their debut album, Murmur, earlier that year; in fact, it was released–to much eventual critical acclaim–the exact week of my senior prom. I wasn’t fully clued into the band at the moment Berry Buck Mills and Stipe hit the JFK stage that afternoon. I don’t even remember if I owned Murmur at the point. I think I did, but still hadn’t full delved into it. But R.E.M. at JFK won me over, utterly and completely. When I entered college two weeks later, I was the archetypal–to use a word the Jung-loving Sting would appreciate–college kid R.E.M. fan. And I suppose I have been ever since.

But that was then, and this is now, the present. The present is all about my son Jimmy, just days away from starting college; and my son Chris, who is headed into high school, but who right at this moment, mostly just wishes I’d go grab him some breakfast. Therefore, now is about a quick trip to the supermarket for donuts, as well as dog food for Jolie, who also wishes I’d grab her breakfast. Now is about now, and not about the long-since-demolished JFK, back when it was just crumbling in ’82 or ’83. But don’t be surprised to find me humming some tunes from those long ago JFK Jams as I negotiate my way through now. Because, generally speaking, they’re still damn good tunes.

 

 

 

Patrick F. O'Donnell

writer, editor, general wordsmith and scribe

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