happy birthday, geoff

You think back to how you were influenced. My two grandmothers, one from Spain, the other from Kentucky, each passed along different things. Same with my mom and dad.

What we forget is that our siblings, particularly our older ones, exert a strong influence as well.

My brother Geoff is six years older than me. This meant that when he was in his teens, listening to popular music, I was a little squirt. And sure, I could turn on the radio. But my brother’s record collection had a huge impact on my own taste. OK, I never did come around on Bobby Rydell. But Geoff’s 45s couldn’t be beat.

Six years is a big break, and I’m sure I bugged the shit out of him ... imagine him being, say, 15 years old, and his 9-year-old brother wants to tag along. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t, but in retrospect, I don’t remember those years in a negative way at all. Without ever seeming to do it, he kept an eye on me. And that couldn’t have been easy ... I’m the kid who was already on “nerve medicine” as a youngster.

Once he got older and moved out of the house, he always welcomed me to visit, in San Francisco and later in Mill Valley. He took me to my first concert, and to my first rock concert. I think he’s the first person to get me high on hashish, although my memory’s a little foggy on that one (rightly so).

When he came back from Vietnam, there I was, just out of high school, with no ambition other than to be a hippie. I had, shall we say, few prospects. He invited me to move in with him, which I did for almost a year. He introduced me to the world outside the house I grew up in, at a time when he must have been working through a lot of things, himself. And he gave me a chance to fulfill my ambition for a short while, for which I can never repay him.

You know, when I was a kid, I felt I had to live up to Geoff’s standards. He was smart, so I had to be smart. He skipped a grade, I skipped a grade. It’s the plight of being younger. You outgrow that stuff.

Except now we’re geezers, and damn, he is still someone to live up to. There was the time he spent working a suicide prevention hotline, and I thought, thank goodness for people like him, knowing that I was always more likely to call such a place than to work at one. Hell, he’s a crossing guard now, and you know how lovable crossing guards are!

Happy birthday, brother!

Geoff and Steven Disneyland


honorifics

Honorifics are funny things. I like using them, but feel unworthy when someone uses them to refer to me.

We got married by a judge. But not just any judge ... Judge Rose and his family were friends of both Robin and I. I’ve known a couple of the Rose children longer than I’ve known Robin ... they used to live across a big dirt lot from our house in Antioch. They were and are a fine family, and Judge Rose is a fine fellow (I’m sure he was also a fine judge, but since I never went before him, I’ll have to just guess about that). We referred to the parents of most of our friends growing up as Mr. or Mrs., and there were also the various medical doctors who got the “Dr.” title. Oh, and priests or ministers were “Father”. Of all of those, though, the best was Judge Rose. Somehow, it made you feel good to refer to “The Judge” ... it’s not that he was a better person than the other parents, but he had earned his title.

When I got my Ph.D, I found my new title to be a mixed blessing. Some things changed in nice ways ... in a single day, I went from being in a ceremony accepting the title of Doctor to sitting on the stage at another graduation and reading the names of graduating undergraduates. (I also got to sit next to the Rev. Cecil Williams.) Perhaps the strangest thing about the latter was when we were in line to enter Zellerbach Hall ... an old friend, a geography professor I hadn’t seen in some time, turned around, saw me standing behind him, and exclaimed, “What are YOU doing here?” Other things weren’t as nice, because while I was proud to have finally accomplished something, I still felt funny having an honorific bestowed on me ... I wasn’t sure I deserved it.

Soon afterwards, a favorite neighbor who happened to work on campus showed up at our door with a lovely gift, an Elvis Presley quilt that she had made. I remember answering the door to be greeted with, “Is there a doctor in the house?” I was delighted, if also slightly embarrassed. But it was a bit like knowing The Judge, from the other side. My friend made me feel like my accomplishment was something the whole neighborhood could be a part of, and I was grateful.

Another friend who also lived our block worked for many years doing virtually every odd job imaginable for us. He passed away a few years ago, and remains sorely missed. He was delighted that I was a doctor ... he seemed especially impressed that I had written pieces for a lot of books, and I gave him copies of a few, which he was proud to show at his home. I think sometimes he would tell his friends, you know that guy down the block, he writes books, a slight exaggeration, but again, I think he felt a part of it all. Sometimes it got a little silly, though. He would come to me with some difficult question about science or nature or the like, assuming I’d know the answer because I was “a Doctor”. I’d always tell him he should ask Robin, who knew about way more things than I did ... I was a “Doctor of Television”, I’d say, or a “Doctor of Movies”. But he’d insist, and so I’d go in the house, ask Robin the question, she’d tell me the answer, I’d go back to our friend and pass along the information, making sure he knew that it was Robin who had the answers, not me. But no, I was a Doctor. Funny thing is, our friend could do just about anything ... he was the model of a handyman, always coming up with some unknown-to-me skill. Since I have no skills ... I am the anti-handyman ... I was at least as impressed with him as he was with me. But I had the honorific.

When I was a teacher, my students would refer to me using various honorifics. I always referred to myself as Steven, in person and in online communications. But my students would call me Professor Rubio, or Mr. Rubio, or Dr. Rubio. (“Mr. Rubio” bothered me quite a bit ... “Mr. Rubio is my father!” I would shout, until one day I made a student cry and I realized I was being an ass.) One oddity is that the various places I taught had different official job titles. At Cal, where I was first a Graduate Student Instructor, and then, for some years, an Lecturer (or Adjunct), my title was never officially “Professor”. When I taught at San Francisco State, I was a visiting professor, I guess ... to be honest, I taught there twice without ever figuring out exactly what my job title was. And when I taught at a community college, my job title was Professor, even though I was still technically just another adjunct making ends meet.

Just last weekend, at a family gathering, a cousin of mine, on finding out I was “Dr. Rubio”, started telling me about a medical problem she was having. Sorry, I explained, I’m just an English teacher.

The point in all of this is that I like offering honorifics to others, but when they are offered to me, I’m just not sure it’s right. More than once, I’ve been asked out of the blue to contribute to an anthology, and I always say, “How do you know me?” (or, in the case of one academic tome, “Are you sure I’m the person you want? Have you read my writing? Do you know my style?”). Google has been my friend ... I’ve had a couple of cases of “it’s who you know”, but more often, someone finds something I’ve written via a search engine (I guess that’s the advantage of having this decade-plus blog). My insecurities remain ... as I said earlier, I’m never certain I deserve honorifics, or other accolades. (In the case of writing, that’s particularly pathetic, since I know writing is far and away my best skill, yet I’m still surprised that anyone notices.)

You know what I really find attractive? The honorific “Champ” when it’s given to a boxing champion. I love that no one is called “Champ” unless they have actually earned it. Even more, I like that you can never lose the title, as a referent if not literally. Even after you are no longer the literal champion, you remain “Champ”. So Muhammad Ali is “Champ” ... George Foreman is “Champ” ... they will never not be “Champ”.

And I guess I’ll never not be “Doctor”. It’s not the same, though ... no one calls me “Doctor”, and I’d feel funny if they did. Manuel Rose is “The Judge”, Cecil Williams is “Reverend”, the person who takes care of me at Kaiser is “Doctor”. But me? I’m Steven.


music friday, too old edition

A recent viral hit on the Internet, the origins of which I'm having trouble finding, suggests that “we” quit caring about popular music in our 30s. This is my best guess at where the current discussion began:

http://skynetandebert.com/2015/04/22/music-was-better-back-then-when-do-we-stop-keeping-up-with-popular-music/

In this piece, Ajay Kalia uses data from Spotify and The Echo Nest to ascertain the listening patterns of users. It gets complicated, and I'm not even going to try to summarize ... one thing I think people are getting wrong is making their own assumptions about the original information. Read Kalia, and other links I’ve provided. Here is what I find to be the most important thing in Kalia’s post:

What I found was that, on average…

  • … while teens’ music taste is dominated by incredibly popular music, this proportion drops steadily through peoples’ 20s, before their tastes “mature” in their early 30s.
  • … men and women listen similarly in their their teens, but after that, men’s mainstream music listening decreases much faster than it does for women.
  • … at any age, people with children (inferred from listening habits) listen to a smaller amounts of currently-popular music than the average listener of that age.

One example of how this is being fudged is that the meme which grew out of this discussion seems to focus on the age 33, which is more specific than Kalia suggests. Kalia is also describing an ongoing process, not an endpoint to discussion.

But what I’ve noticed is that three angles in particular are most common, at least in my neck of the Internet.

  1. People who link to one of the articles, with the unstated hint that the articles tell truths about their friends.
  2. People who read the articles and immediately claim that they are not subject to this, and in fact they still listen to current pop music.
  3. People who read the articles (or not) and claim it’s not their fault the best music came in their formative years, and would you please get off of my lawn.

It’s no secret, but I’ll state this again: I like to pretend I am #2, but I’m much more like a #3 without the shitty attitude.

Call it Steven’s Theory That Data Doesn’t Lie (in this case, anyway, as I am using it). Outwardly, you could look at my love of Sleater-Kinney, which began in my late-40s, or the five Pink concerts I have attended, or even the way I am always ready to turn it up when “Tootsie Roll” comes on the air, and say hey, he’s pretty cool for an old guy. But what does the data say?

Last.fm tallies up everything I listen to online. There are limitations, and in the last few years, this amounts mainly to what I listen to on Spotify. But it gives as good a sense as anything of what I really listen to, rather than what I want to believe I listen to. According to Last.fm, these are my Top Ten artists of all time:

  1. The Beatles
  2. The Rolling Stones
  3. Bruce Springsteen
  4. Bob Dylan
  5. Sleater-Kinney
  6. Jefferson Airplane
  7. Van Morrison
  8. The Who
  9. Pink
  10. Neil Young

Seven of these ten acts come directly from the 60s. Bruce Springsteen was already making music in the 60s. I’ve seen Pink cover artists like Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin. And at times in concert, Sleater-Kinney sounds like Blue Cheer.

So much for the idea that I still “keep up”.

I can tweak the data a bit. Since I use shuffle play a lot, I listen to a lot of artists (Last.fm lists 475 artists I have listened to at least 15 times since they began profiling me). But I can't escape the truth. I listen to variants of the same thing I listened to in my formative years. And since I turned 33 (in 1986), I’ve become obsessed with very few artists.

Which is what I take from this discussion. Yes, there are plenty of people who remain engaged in contemporary pop music long beyond the age of 33. But the kind of obsession a music fan might have felt half a dozen times in their earlier years is barely possible after a certain age. As I have said many times, the hardest thing for me to accept when Sleater-Kinney went on their “hiatus” was that I knew I’d never feel that obsessive ever again. And it’s true ... at this point, my obsessions are the same old ones.

Here are a few other pieces on the topic:

https://medium.com/cuepoint/how-old-is-too-old-to-be-involved-with-music-2ec7edc6786

http://www.altpress.com/news/entry/you_stop_listening_to_new_music_at_age_33_study_says

https://medium.com/cuepoint/do-we-stop-caring-about-popular-music-in-our-30s-372b87cf9fd7

_________________________________________________________

I wrote the above yesterday, before I heard the news about the death of B.B. King. King was an important part of my musical heritage ... perhaps not surprisingly, he and I go back to the aforementioned formative years. I played the hell out of his 1965 album Live at the Regal, which is still the place I go first when I want a taste of BB. I was lucky enough to see him in concert in 1971. Here's a video of him performing his classic, "Sweet Little Angel":

 


throw it to me, dad

This picture was taken soon after June 20, 1953. I say that because, to the best of my knowledge, the baby in the picture is me. My brother would have been six years old. My mom was 25, and my dad was 29.

Mom Dad Geoff Steven I think

Today is my dad’s birthday. If he had lived, he would be 91 years old.

So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars'll be out, and don't you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what's going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.

-- Jack Kerouac, On the Road


lon simmons

Every baseball fan understands how Giants and A's fans are feeling today. Because every team has announcers that not only become part of the team, but become our companions over the long six months of a season. 162 games a year, we hear the announcers, and they are as familiar to us as our next-door neighbor ... probably more so. So if you are a baseball fan, you have a special relationship with an announcer or two or three, and if you live long enough, some of those special people will pass away.

Lon Simmons died today at 91. He was a long-time announcer for the Giants ... he was a long-time announcer for the A's. Hell, he was a long-time announcer for the 49ers, and some of his most famous calls came with them, but you don't have the same relationship with football announcers, who are only with us once a week for fewer months than baseball.

Lon didn't just disappear when he retired. He came back and did some games for the Giants in his 80s, and if he wasn't quite as good at following the action, he always had his jokes. The Giants make a big deal of honoring their past, and Lon was always welcome at the park. He won the Hall of Fame's Ford Frick Award for broadcasters, and there is a marker commemorating this at China Basin, alongside ones for Russ Hodges and Jon Miller. Lon looked older as the years progressed, although he never looked as old as he really was. And his mind never quit working, so it was a pleasure when he'd stop into the booth for an inning or two.

The Bay Area has long been blessed with great announcers. Bill King was tops in three different sports. Hank Greenwald was a favorite of Giants' fans. The current baseball announcers are all wonderful, with the unnoticed Ken Korach, and the Giants' well-known team of Kruk and Kuip, along with Jon Miller, possibly the best of his era. Kruk and Kuip are truly loved. Yet I don't think even Bill King's biggest fans would argue with my claim that Lon Simmons was the most-beloved sports announcer in the history of Bay Area sports.