movies

I watched 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days again yesterday… it reminded me of why legalized abortion is important.

Yesterday’s reposts made me want to watch a Romanian movie I’ve seen a couple of times already. I have discovered that Romania has put out some truly excellent films, even though I have to watch them with subtitles. But I’ve seen several now, and have even purchased a few for my library. The first time I had ever seen the film I saw yesterday, entitled 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, it was a random Netflix DVD I rented some years ago. The first time I saw it, I was astonished by the movie, which was made in 2007.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is set in an unnamed university town in Romania during the year 1987. Communism is still alive and well in Eastern Europe. Nicolae Ceaușescu is the president of the country, and rules it with an iron fist. In 1987 era Romania, Ceaușescu has forbidden abortions in almost every case. Contraception is also forbidden, and women are forced to visit gynecologists regularly to check for pregnancies. Viewers hear that rule referred to as Otilia talks about when she had her last period. However, even though abortion is punishable by years in a prison cell, women still access it by way of enlisting the services of illegal abortionists. Otherwise, they may find themselves raising children they can’t afford. In the 1990s, Romania was notorious for the number of babies it had in orphanages. Many of those babies grew up to be unable to assimilate in society because they were never properly socialized or cared for when they were infants. And some were born with diseases like AIDS. Women in Ceausescu’s era were expected to have children– at times, up to four or five of them– so that Ceausescu’s regime would always be supplied with fresh souls. It didn’t matter that there wasn’t enough available to support all of those babies being born into his regime.

A trailer for Four Months, Three Weeks, and Two Days…

Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) and Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) are roommates at the university in the unnamed Romanian town. They share a drab dormitory room on a co-ed hall. Gabita is pregnant. She’s shy, and seems to need looking after by Otilia, who seems to be more of a motherly type. Otilia takes care of her roommate, buying her soap and cigarettes from the campus shop, and bringing milk powder to a friend who has found kittens in the dorm’s boiler room. She’d like to take one, but Gabita is allergic to cats.

Gabita complains about a toothache, while Otilia tells her she’ll survive until after Saturday, when they’ve done the deed. The abortionist, a man named Viorel Bede (Vlad Ivanov) has given explicit instructions to Gabita on booking a room at one of two hotels in town. He has also told her what to bring with her. However, Gabita fails to get a room in the right hotel. Otilia ends up booking a much more expensive room at a different hotel. She deals with the unfriendly receptionist at Bede’s preferred hotel, who tells her the rooms are completely booked. Otilia also meets Bede, in Gabita’s stead, which makes him very nervous as he explains that if the authorities ever find out what they are doing, all three of them will go to prison.

At the hotel– the one Bede didn’t prefer– they’ve all left their identification with the front desk. They are told to leave the room key when they go out. The decor is strictly 1987, complete with primitive looking rotary dial phones. I had one in my first Armenian apartment that looked just like the one used in this film. Bede examines Gabita, realizing that she’s much further along in her pregnancy than she had told him. He explains that he will have to do a different procedure that will cost more. Since the women don’t have enough money to pay Bede, he says both women must have sex with him to make up the difference. When they balk at that idea, Bede reminds them that he’s not the one who needs help.

Otilia goes first, and we see her come into the bathroom afterwards, naked from the waist down as she climbs into the bathtub, looking wan and sick as she hoses herself off. Gabita has neglected to bring the plastic sheet Bede told her to bring, so she must cut a plastic bag and use it to protect the bed as Bede performs the abortion. After he’s finished, Bede gives Gabita instructions. He tells her to be very careful of infection, and if one should develop and she needs to see a doctor, not to deny having been pregnant. Lying about the pregnancy is a surefire way to land in prison, while claiming she didn’t know may result in the authorities looking the other way.

While Gabita waits, lying perfectly still and waiting for the fetus to die, Otilia visits her boyfriend and his family, who are having a party. Otilia is not in a good mood and doesn’t want to visit her boyfriend or hang out with his family. She’s just been through something horrific. But she can’t tell him about it. After staying just long enough to be polite, Otilia leaves. Her boyfriend is confused and upset when Otilia goes, but Otilia must get back to her friend. She’s a motherly sort, and concerned that Gabita needs her.

When Otilia arrives at the hotel, Gabita is covered up, sound asleep in bed. Otilia wakes her and Gabita says she got “rid” of it. Otilia finds the tiny, bloody, fetus lying on the bathroom floor. I will warn that this is not an easy scene to watch, and it lasts about fifteen seconds. Otilia is horrified by the sight of the dead fetus, but Gabita just seems relieved that the abortion is over. Gabita still asks her friend to bury the fetus for her, and Otilia obliges. She comes back to find Gabita in the restaurant, “starving”. There’s a wedding going on, so the food in the restaurant is what was being served at the wedding. Otilia is completely sickened by what she and her friend have been through… and Gabita, who had been the one to have the abortion, just seems numb.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is an interesting film for so many reasons. First off, it’s set in a time that wasn’t that long ago, but seems like it was ages ago. I was fifteen years old in 1987, and at that time, it seemed like communism would go on forever. Ceausescu was still very much in charge of Romania, and the threat of prison for abortion was very real. No one could know that in just two years, the Ceausescu regime would suddenly fall with the bang of the guns used to execute both Ceausescu and his wife, Elena.

Although this film is set in 1987, it’s still a useful subject for the present time. Today, in 2021, there are still people trying to stop women from having abortions. Governor Greg Abbott, of Texas, just signed a “heartbeat law”, which bans abortion for any woman who is more than six weeks along in her pregnancy. I find it interesting that a man who presides over a state that is very proud of its record on executing people on death row is claiming that Texas is a “pro-life” state. I also find it interesting that when a fetus is in utero, a heartbeat is a signal of life, whereas in people who have been born already, it takes brainwaves to prove life. But I digress. Texas’s new law allows private citizens to sue abortion providers who offer services to anyone more than six weeks pregnant, in which the fetus has a detectable heartbeat. The person suing would not have to have a connection to the person who had an abortion to sue.

There was a time in the United States when women who wanted to have an abortion had to sneak around and find someone like Bede to do the job. There’s no telling how many of those women were also coerced into providing sexual favors, too. I think about all of the heartbreaking situations a pregnant person might find themselves in that would make them want to seek to terminate a pregnancy. I think of how many of those situations are simply no one else’s business at all… actually, I would say that 100% of those situations are no one else’s business. But we still have so many politicians– many of them men, who will never have to deal with the consequences of an unintended pregnancy– trying to push these laws that will victimize women and endanger their health. And so many of these same politicians don’t want to do a damned thing for those babies, once they’ve been born.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is not an easy film to watch. It’s entirely in Romanian, so you have to pay attention to the film if you don’t know the language. The setting is bleak; there is no musical score; and the subject matter is depressing. However, I think it’s a very powerful film. Regardless of what I think of abortion on a personal level, I believe that people who want them will be determined to get them. They will put themselves at great risk and contribute to criminal behavior. And the babies born that survive botched abortion attempts may end up being a burden to society. Perhaps most importantly, the women who have money will still be able to have safe, legal abortions and will access them. Poor women– the one’s least able to support raising a child– will be the ones who suffer the most under this legislation. They will be the ones who might find themselves in the hellish situation Otilia and Gabita were in, as a man who provides abortions demands sexual favors from them before he does the procedure in less than hygienic and safe surroundings.

A link to the full movie.

I would recommend 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days to anyone who is interested in Romanian cinema. But I would also recommend it to those who need a reminder of why it’s best to let pregnant people make decisions for themselves, whether or not they wish to continue gestating fetuses. But if you do choose to watch this film, be prepared for the heavy emotional message. It’s definitely not a cheerful film, despite its powerful and necessary message. In any case, this story is one that reminds me of why I will always be in favor of contraceptives and legalized abortion.

Incidentally, since abortion and contraception have become legal in Romania, the number of women seeking abortions has gone down exponentially.

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education, memories, nostalgia

“Aggressively influenced” by the public TV of my childhood…

Growing up in the 70s and 80s was an interesting experience. It seemed like back in those days, things were evolving somewhat. Computers were becoming more popular, as were synthesizers, and we had all these cool movies about outer space, like Star Wars and Flash Gordon. I don’t think I’ve ever watched Star Wars in its entirety, but I have seen Flash Gordon many times. I used to watch it on HBO all the time, even though I wouldn’t call myself a science fiction buff. I actually love Flash Gordon for its campiness and funny British humor moments.

One thing I remember a lot from being a kid in the late 70s was how much public television I watched. In those days, we’d watch educational TV in school, especially when I lived in Fairfax County. I remember being in first grade and exposed to The Electric Company for the first time. Of all of the public education shows I used to watch at school, that one was definitely my favorite. A couple of days ago, I had “Silent E” running through my head…

This song, and many like it, helped me learn how to read as I watched every episode of The Electric Company and other shows created by the Children’s Television Workshop.
This song still gets stuck in my head.

Tom Lehrer is a genius. He just turned 93 years old on the 9th, and his witty, entertaining songs have helped so many children, particularly of my generation, become better people through education. Lehrer is probably best known for his witty songs for children’s shows on PBS, but he was also a brilliant mathematician and satirist. After the 1970s, he got out of public performances to focus on his love of teaching math and musical theater history at the University of California, Santa Cruz. When I listen to Tom Lehrer’s entertaining songs and realize that he had so many other, diverse interests, it kind of makes me feel humble. How can just one person be that gifted?

What brings on this topic today? Well… for one thing, it’s Monday, and I don’t feel like writing about the depressing state of current events right now. I figure we don’t need another article about social justice, my (many) pet peeves, my personal problems, or the pandemic. For another thing, I woke up with a song stuck in my head. It’s been stuck for years and I’ll probably never figure it out. Technically speaking, it’s not even a song, since I don’t think it has any words. In the late 70s, it was played all the time on PBS… basically funky “groove” music that serve to prevent dead air caused by a pause in programming.

During that time, my family lived in Northern Virginia, where over the air television was easier to watch, because we were near Washington, DC. There was a lot of money in Fairfax County, too, so the public television stations as well as the local independent stations, WDCA (channel 20) and WTTG (channel 5) got a lot of support. There was some good TV on in those days… probably better than what I saw on British TV when we lived in England. Although we did live in base housing at Mildenhall Air Force Base, I distinctly remember getting British TV instead of AFRTS (or AFN, if you prefer), which is a conglomeration of American TV shows condensed into a channel and made available for government and military Americans living abroad.

I always liked watching TV, but I really got into it in Fairfax, and I specifically remember loving PBS… along with this psychedelic identification flourish…

Hearing this brings back so many memories of being a young kid in elementary school.

According to the comments on this particular video, this particular identification flourish was composed by Paul Alan Levi. He wrote a comprehensive and technical explanation of the musical components of this creation:

Paul Alan Levi

4 years ago I am the composer of the PBS logo. I created it using a Putney VCS3 Synthesizer, not a Moog, as is claimed on various websites. The final chord is a G major 9th (major triad, major 7th, major 9th). I was working in a music/sound effects editing studio; all the equipment was in mono. No multi-track recorders. The descending scale was probably a sine wave (can’t remember exactly 46 years later) frequency modulated by a square wave to create the trill effect, then that sound frequency modulated by the descending part of a sawtooth wave from a low frequency oscillator. In order to synchronize the 6 final notes with the video, I had to record each note separately, then use a Moviola to synchronize each one with one of the popons. The result was 7 analog tracks all running at once, which multiplied the hiss that Glen Tindal remarked on earlier. It was odd for many years to be a composer whose music was heard by millions of people, none of whom knew I had composed it. There has always been a small subset of people who were terrified by the logo, which mystifies me. My two-year old daughter would hear it before or after Sesame Street and say happily, “Daddy’s tune.” My theory about this is that the sounds of the pure sound waves produced by the Putney were quite aggressive, and some people reacted to the intensity of those sounds.

Based on his explanation, I can only assume that Paul Alan Levi is some kind of a genius, too, who not only knows music, but is also a technology wiz. Or, at least he was a wiz in the late 70s and early 80s! I got a kick out of the comments from people who wrote that this thing “scared” them. I can kind of understand why. It has kind of an aggressive tone to it… harsh, loud, and unmistakable. When that thing came on before a program, you knew it was time to shut up and sit still… and maybe eat a Hostess Ho Ho or something. We were allowed snacks at Oak View Elementary School, and in those days, no one cared if they were full of chemicals. To this day, when I hear the PBS psychedelic chimes, I think of the processed snack cakes kids ate back then. No wonder so many of us are fat!

I ‘ve always loved the theme song for 3-2-1 Contact. It reminds me of “Goodbye Stranger” by Supertramp.

I remember watching 3-2-1- Contact at school, but I never enjoyed it as much as I did The Electric Company. I liked science, so I don’t know why I didn’t love this show more beyond the awesome theme song. I still remember the video montage shown during the credits, as well as the musical intro for the Children’s Television Workshop– again with the synths! We loved synths in the early 80s!

I especially remember this one.
See?

And I think I liked Sesame Street’s funky horn infused end credits even more than the official “Sesame Street” theme song. They hold up well even in 2021!

I love the opening credits and theme…
From 1:53, you can hear some funky music as the end credits roll!

Today’s youngsters have so many things to occupy their attention. I wonder what they’re going to be like when they’re in their 40s? One of the things I like about my generation is that so many of us had very similar experiences, simply because the Internet didn’t exist. We were all allowed to run wild in our neighborhoods and people weren’t calling CPS at the drop of a hat, every time some kid dared to venture beyond the front or back yard. I can remember doing things as a young child that I would never dream of allowing a child of today to do, like walk to a mall by themselves. When I lived on Portsmouth Road in Fairfax, I used to walk to University Mall by myself all the time. I was six or seven years old! I’d collect old glass bottles and turn them in for money, then hit the High’s Convenience Store and buy a candy bar for 26 cents. Nowadays, a child wandering the mall that young would be picked up by the police.

A memorable tune from The Electric Company… this one sounds a little inspired by Jim Croce.
Glad I don’t wait tables anymore.
I once shared this video on my original blog and got a blatant spam comment from a plumber. At least he took the time to try to make his comment someone on topic, remembering this from his childhood, too. I notice the person who uploaded this got spam links from plumbers, too.

When I wrote a post about The Electric Company on my original blog, I was inspired to do so because the sink in the kitchen of our rental house was not putting out hot water. The property management company sent someone over to check into it. He was in the middle of a spiel about how cheap the plumbing fixtures were when finally, after about five minutes, we got somewhat warm water. The property managers billed us $80 because they said it was our “responsibility” to check the water before complaining. I remember calling them up and chewing them out, since we were in Texas and there was a pretty severe drought going on. I asked them how long I was expected to let the water run, waiting for it to get hot, when the city was telling us to conserve. Then I bitched at them for not fixing the garage door, which was dented when we moved in.

The original property managers who set up the rental had said it was going to be fixed, but two weeks into our lease, another company– one that I had tried really hard to avoid– took over. They lived up to every one of their bad reviews, and tried (and failed) to screw us out of money at the end of the lease. I was so glad to get out of that house a year later. Of course, I didn’t know that when we moved to Germany, we’d be running into the first landlady we’d have to sue. She is now officially the worst landlord we’ve ever had, but prior to our experiences with her, the rental company in San Antonio was. If we ever do move back to the States, I hope to God we buy our own home. It may suck just as much to own a house, but at least it will be ours!

Cool theme song!

I never did get into Mister Rogers Neighborhood. For one thing, I was probably too old for it. For another, I found Mister Rogers annoying. He was probably too nice, and the way he spoke got on my nerves. Of course, in these troubled times, a lot of people probably would love to still have him around. He was gentle and calming, and he promoted being good to others. Same as Bob Keeshan as Captain Kangaroo, although I never watched much of that show. It always came on during early school hours. And The Great Space Coaster did, too, although that show wasn’t on PBS. It just had a groovy theme song and a cool animated intro.

Supposedly, this aired on PBS… it’s a little ridiculous. We sure were scared of the Soviets back in the day.

I see one of the kids in the show above was Leslie Weiner, who played a young Nadia Comaneci in the 1984 movie, Nadia. And the little girl in the still is Toni Ann Gisondi, who played Molly in the 1982 film version of Annie. April Lerman is also in this (ETA: I don’t see April listed anywhere, but on IMDB)! She was also in Annie, as well as a guest on Growing Pains, and a terrible Schoolbreak Special about bulimia called Little Miss Perfect. I remember that in the early 80s, everybody was afraid the Soviets were going to invade and turn us all into communists. Fourteen years later, I lived in Armenia, which was once a Soviet country. It’s now an independent country, and putting out some very fresh ideas. Having had that experience, I can say that our fears were probably a bit overblown.

Well… I have probably journeyed along the nostalgia path long enough. Guess I’ll get dressed and take the dogs for a stroll. I could watch these videos all day, though. I miss being young.

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bad TV, celebrities, nostalgia

Repost: The evolution of Lifetime TV and the regression of Kirk Cameron…

This post was originally written on December 5, 2017. I am reposting a slightly edited version of it because it’s about a fun subject that has nothing to do with current events.

Back in the 1980s, when cable television was still fairly new, we had some very interesting programs to watch.  The mid 80s saw the birth of the now female friendly network called Lifetime.  Many people recognize Lifetime as a channel for women with lots of women centric television shows and movies about bad men.  But if you were around in the mid 80s, you might remember that Lifetime used to be a health channel. 

February 1, 1984 marked the first day of Lifetime TV.  Prior to that, it was known first as Daytime, which was a channel dedicated to “alternative” women’s programming.  Then, for about nine months, it was called Cable Health Network.  Then, in November 1983, it was Lifetime Medical Television.  I remember the programming aired on that network was mostly medical stuff… I mean, stuff doctors would be watching.  I remember the channel’s logo featured an apple…  an apple a day keeps the viewers away, I guess.

Some of the clips in this video came from Lifetime Medical Television.

Something had to be done…  the new network was losing a lot of money.  Some people even thought it was a religious channel.  That’s when Lifetime started its incarnation of what it is today.  It was around 1985 that it started featuring Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the tiny German sex therapist who hosted a call in sex advice show on Lifetime.  Her show was called Good Sex!  With Dr. Ruth Westheimer.  In the 80s, it was cutting edge stuff… scandalous, even.  The tiny woman soon became a huge star.

I don’t know why, but for some reason, I thought of Dr. Ruth last night.  It was right before I read a nauseating story about Kirk Cameron, also an 80s icon who underwent a massive makeover (and in his case, not for the better).  Kirk made a statement about how wives are to honor their husbands…

“Wives are to honor and respect and follow their husband’s lead, not to tell their husband how he ought to be a better husband. When each person gets their part right, regardless of how their spouse is treating them, there is hope for real change in their marriage.”

I made the mistake of sharing the story and immediately got a comment from someone wanting me to know about the Bible verse from which this directive comes.  For the record, yes I know that the Bible says women should follow their husbands the way their husbands follow the church.  However, I think many “Christian” men misunderstand or misuse this passage and end up abusing their wives.

I’m not so sure Cameron or others like him do a good job of explaining it.  Moreover, my initial comment was more about how Kirk Cameron changed from a goofy, boyish, funny, likable guy to a religious zealot.  He probably could use some advice from Dr. Ruth.

Dr. Ruth’s show was saucy!  Even in the 80s, she had progressive ideas about homosexuality.

I didn’t watch Dr. Ruth’s show because it aired at 10:00pm and I was about 12 or 13 years old.  Although my parents probably would neither have noticed nor cared that I was watching her program, at that age I found it boring viewing.  Most talk shows that would probably fascinate me today were dull when I was much younger.  I couldn’t be bothered to sit and listen to anyone who wasn’t a musician.  However, she did become very famous when her show was on Lifetime.  I think she and Regis Philbin helped put the then fledgeling cable channel on the map.

Here, Dr. Ruth counsels Richard Lewis, whom I well remember as Rabbi Glass on 7th Heaven.  God, he looks so young!  

For some reason, I used to love to imitate Dr. Ruth’s voice.  It’s so distinctive.    

This poor guy is a 21 year old virgin.  I was a 30 year old virgin, so I can relate to his angst.  He seems kind of sweet, though.  It was brave of him to be on Dr. Ruth’s show.  I hope he has since gotten laid.

Dr. Ruth was born in 1928, which makes her quite elderly.  She still has a channel on YouTube and, if she’s the one who is actually running it, appears to have a pretty good sense of humor.  I notice she favorited one of Robin Williams’ routines about her.

Bwahahahaaha!  This is pretty damn hilarious.

Anyway, I can’t help but miss the good old days sometimes.  Sure, the Internet is great and television has even become somewhat obsolete.  But I do miss some of the stuff that made it on the airwaves back in the day.  Lifetime and other cable channels like Nickelodeon used to be fun to watch.  Then they kind of evolved into crap… but then, that’s kind of the way of the world.  Radio used to be cool, too.  

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bad TV, celebrities, music, nostalgia

Kelly Ripa as a teen…

Last night, just before retiring for the evening, someone in a fun Facebook group I’m in posted this poofy video…

This video was from a show called Dance Party USA. It must have been a local series, since I never saw it in Virginia.

I think the person who shared this did so because of the song. It’s Debbie Gibson singing her hit, “Only In My Dreams”, which was a hit when I was a teenager. I was never a Debbie Gibson fan, but a lot of my friends were. I was familiar with the album this song came from, as well as Ms. Gibson’s formidable talent. Her music wasn’t my favorite, but like me, she has perfect pitch. Unlike me, she plays piano and composes her own songs. At least back in 1988, when she was about 18 years old, she had an appealingly girlish voice.

I got a kick out of this video. The fashions and hairstyles, while cringeworthy in 2020, were quite familiar to me. Some of the dance moves were good. Some were pretty hilarious. And then, there she was… the great Kelly Ripa.

Isn’t this cute?

I’m not a big Kelly Ripa fan, but I do recall seeing her in ads and hosting morning TV shows. I’ve never been one to watch those shows myself, but my parents did. And I know that Kelly Ripa, also two years older than I am, has gone on to become a television presenter and talk show host. Wasn’t she famous for taking over Kathie Lee Gifford’s spot with the late Regis Philbin?

I thought the above clip would be thrilling enough, but then I spied another upload featuring the great Rick Astley of “rickrolling” fame and huge hits like “Never Gonna Give You Up” and “Forever Together”. I actually kind of liked Rick Astley when he was popular, although it didn’t escape my attention that his songs all sounded quite similar.

Oh my dear LORD!

Rick seems kind of low key, especially compared to Kelly Ripa’s hair, which is permed to poodle perfection. Seriously, kids, if you want to know what we looked like in the late 80s, here ya go. Jesus Christ! And I thought the Bradys were tacky!

Ooh… Bobby Brown is showing off his moves!

I actually liked Pretty Poison. I wonder what happened to them.

I’m sure this was fun at the time. It’s kind of embarrassing now.

Here’s a more recent look at Kelly Ripa. She’s aging nicely. It helps to have professional makeup artists and hair stylists fixing her up. She now hosts Live with Kelly and Ryan.

I think those choppers have been used to sell toothpaste, too.

Ordinarily, I would post this on my music blog. Maybe I will post it there eventually, although I’ve kind of lost interest in that blog recently. Besides, Kelly isn’t a musician. She’s just a cutie pie who presents stuff on TV. I was pretty shocked to see her on Dance Party USA, though. I guess people have to start somewhere. I’ve read that that show was taped in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Camden, New Jersey. They had a lot of cool celebs on there. According to their Wikipedia page, it looks like none of the hosts ever went on to the big time, unlike Kelly, who was apparently an occasional guest star.

I just can’t believe how quickly the past 32 years have flown by. It seems like yesterday, I was a teenager mucking out stalls and impatiently waiting to launch my life. It just goes to show that before you know it, you’re an old bat like me, with an aching back and lots of memories. Maybe shows like these took off after Sarah Jessica Parker, Helen Hunt, and Shannen Doherty made Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.

I’ve never been one for dancing. Well, except for maybe slam dancing… a good slam dance was fun, especially when I was in my 20s and inebriated. I don’t dance anymore, so don’t ask me. I wonder if Kelly still does.

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nostalgia

Bruce Springsteen always reminds me of high school…

Last night, I decided to download a comprehensive album of Bruce Springsteen’s music. I had just listened to his latest album, Western Stars, and then one from the pinnacle of my youth, Born in the USA. I had a sudden urge to hear “Hungry Heart”, and rather than fetch my iPod or move up to my office, where my whole, vast musical collection is stored, I decided to just order another Springsteen compilation. Bill and I sat there and listened in our German Eckbank Gruppe (corner booth) and I was suddenly transported to my 14th year.

This NEVER gets old… even as I do. “Hungry Heart” was released when I was about 8 years old.

When I was fourteen, Springsteen was at the top of his game. I got my dad to buy me his Live 1975-1985 box set for Christmas. I had it on cassette tape and, along with Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms album, I used to wear out those cassettes, riding my bike to and from the barn where I boarded my horse, Rusty. It got to the point at which I had the whole box set memorized, right down to the stories Springsteen told about facing the Vietnam draft, and fights he had with his father over his rock n’ roll lifestyle. I was definitely a true fan.

As the years passed, I stopped listening to Springsteen so much, especially when his sound changed. I think it happened in the early 1990s. I was in college and had started discovering new music, thanks to my stint as a radio DJ and unofficial music studies. The faculty members of Longwood University’s music department kindly gave me the opportunity to study voice privately and join their auditioned choir, The Camerata Singers, even though I wasn’t a singer until I came to college. Being in a choir and studying voice introduced me to music I had never heard. I had limited time and even more limited funds, so old interests went by the wayside. Prince, another one of my obsessions during adolescence, suffered a similar fate. I stopped listening to him at around the same time I quit listening to Springsteen.

When I was a high school senior, this was probably my favorite song.

When I got older, I had more time and more money… and I started listening to and buying those old albums I missed. Last night, as I heard Springsteen’s familiar, evocative lyrics, and the familiar cadences of his best known songs. I was suddenly reminded of being fourteen, in the traumatic tempest of adolescence. I remember fourteen was a particularly stormy year for me. I was a bucket of emotions. One minute, I was cracking off-color jokes. The next minute, I was in tears for some reason. People literally thought I was crazy. The evidence is in the inscriptions left in my yearbooks.

As a teenager, I really related to Springsteen’s stories about his parents. He had a contentious relationship with his dad, just like I did. Bruce’s dad harassed him about his hair and his life choices. Mine harassed me about my weight and my outspoken personality. He would have preferred me to be more demure. It’s not me. But there was still a lot of love beneath those fights.

In those days, I remember people asking me if I was bipolar. In the 80s, they didn’t refer to bipolar disorder as such; it was called “manic depression”. No, I am not bipolar, but I was very moody in those days. In the midst of crying jags, temper tantrums, and hysterical laughing fits, I was riding my horse and my bike, struggling with school, writing short stories, and loving music. I loved more music than I could possibly purchase. It surprises and, frankly, kind of depresses me I never made an effort to study it seriously when I was growing up, although I’m pretty sure I was like that because my parents were/are musicians. I wanted to do my own thing, without pressure from my parents to do what they were doing. I’d rather ride my horse, who was the best company and never judged me for being who I am.

I have always had really eclectic musical tastes. I think it comes from having three much older sisters who introduced me to the stuff they liked. My oldest sister was mostly gone from our house by the time I was old enough to know what was going on, but I seem to remember she was a fan of Stevie Wonder, Barbra Streisand, and… actually, I don’t know. I’ve never really gotten to know Betsy that well. She’s thirteen years older than I am and an extremely high achiever. When I was growing up, she lived in other countries: France, Morocco, Egypt, India, and she visited so many others because of her work.

My sister, Becky, was more of a hard rock/alternative fan. She introduced me to groups like The Who, Roxy Music, Dead Can Dance, and The Police, and singers like Eric Clapton, Dan Fogelberg, and Kate Bush. She also introduced me to James Taylor, who is probably my favorite of all of them, besides Kate Bush. I used to raid her record collection the most. We shared a room for awhile, even though she’s eleven years older than I am. I’m probably closest to her.

Sarah, who is eight years older, liked “urban” music. She liked funk, R&B, and white soul, like Hall & Oates. She introduced me to Earth, Wind, & Fire, The Commodores, and Rose Royce. I remember she also introduced me to Pat Benatar. The very first album I ever purchased was Benatar’s Crimes of Passion, which came out in 1982. I even remember how much it cost… $7.86. For a kid who got $2.50 a week as an allowance, that was a lot of money to save up. I remember walking from my house to Murphy’s Mart, which was a shitty discount store in a strip mall near my home in Gloucester, Virginia, and plunking that money down at the cash register. I wore that album out.

I used to buy a lot of 45s in those days, since they were much cheaper and I usually just wanted to hear one or two songs. I also used to tape music from the radio. Now I routinely download entire albums, sometimes without even having heard any songs on it. I often do that when I’ve been drinking. I have surprisingly good taste when I’m drunk, too. Bill and I often refer jokingly to my “drunken downloads”. They’re usually a pleasant surprise.

I switched to cassettes when I got a Walkman, because I liked listening to music while riding my bike. Also, cassettes never skipped, although they could be damaged in other ways. I remember one time, I left a copy of Zenyatta Mondata on the dashboard of my car, in direct sunlight. It was warped when I came back. Anyone who has ever listened to cassettes knows that sometimes the tape jams and makes a squiggly mess that requires a pen or pencil to correct. I had a few tapes break, too. I was glad when CDs were a thing… and even gladder when MP3s were a thing, even if I do miss the magic of opening a new album and looking at the artwork. Sometimes there would even be special gifts in those LP records. I got a Prince and the Revolution poster in my copy of the Purple Rain soundtrack. That doesn’t happen with downloads.

So anyway… there I was last night, listening to Springsteen and remembering being a teenager. My home economics teacher actually went to high school with Springsteen. She was from New Jersey and a few years younger than he is. She was a freshman in high school when he was a senior. I took her class when I was a freshman. I remember being kind of an anomaly in her class. Most of the people who took it with me weren’t bound for college. I took the class because I like to cook and it hadn’t occurred to me that I should have explored music. Ms. Kulnis, who had married a Gloucester local, told us that back during his high school days, Springsteen was kind of “gross”. In 1986, he was definitely not gross. He was a huge star in his prime. But as a teen, he was unkempt, greasy, had super long hair, and, she said, kind of skinny because he didn’t work out. She said he wasn’t appealing back then, musical talent notwithstanding. She had no idea he would someday be a megastar.

I’ve always loved the slower, live version of “Thunder Road” than the album version, which is more upbeat. I heard it for the first time when I was 14.
Above is a link to my favorite version of “Thunder Road”, which doesn’t have video footage.

It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that I was fourteen. I have some good memories of that time of my life, though I sure as hell wouldn’t want to repeat it. I would not want to be an adolescent again for anything, although I might have made some different choices knowing what I know now. The nice thing about the passage of time is that it tends to smooth out the worst memories. I remember being chronically upset during my teen years. Mostly, I got yelled at by people. I had a short temper and a foul mouth. Sometimes, I was kind of impulsive, but never to the point at which I did anything that got me into serious trouble. Most people seemed to think of me as a “good kid”, although I probably wasn’t as good as some of my friends were… or appeared to be. On the other hand, some of my friends were being naughty behind closed doors. I never had a need to sneak around, because my parents mostly didn’t care what I did, as long as it didn’t embarrass or involve them.

Original version of The E Street Shuffle. He’s changed it significantly since then.

Springsteen’s older music is like a soundtrack to that time of my life. It takes me back every time. The 80s seemed so modern at the time, but now it seems like such a quaint time. One thing that remains constant is the staying power of certain artists. I can tell a truly gifted musician if their music stands the test of time. Springsteen’s definitely does, for the most part. Most artists have an off album or two. Springsteen is no different. I don’t think I cared much for his Human Touch or Lucky Town albums, for instance. Some people don’t like his 2009 album, Working on a Dream. I have only heard one song from that album… a freebie I got from Amazon. No one can bat 1ooo every time. But here I sit in 2019, listening to Springsteen’s 1973 album, The Wild, The Innocent, & The E Street Shuffle, released the year after I was born. It’s still very solid.

A more recent version of The E Street Shuffle.

By contrast, Western Stars, which is a brand new album, is very different than Springsteen’s early stuff is. I like it, but listening to Born in the USA (which I only JUST added to my collection) took me back to the 80s. I had to hear “Hungry Heart”. I ended up listening to a panoply of Springsteen’s hits from over the years. It was fascinating. I suddenly realized how far we’ve come. Springsteen doesn’t have Clarence Clemons anymore. He’s entered a new phase, just like all great musicians do at some point. I haven’t seen him in concert, nor have I seen Billy Joel… both are acts I’d brave the crowds and pay big bucks to see, just because I didn’t have the money or wisdom to see them when I was younger. I hope I can catch them before one of us dies.

I dare you not to dance to this one.

Thank God we still have the ability to take a carpet ride back to our youths through nostalgia. Maybe not everyone is whisked away by an old Springsteen song. I’m sure today’s young people have other artists that take them back.

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