The Chipmunks vs. Chuck Berry

Most people probably think of the song, “In the Mood,” as a quintessential, maybe the quintessential song of the Swing Era, yet it was played only once by any of the five bands that I heard at the recent Big Swing Thing in York, PA. Indeed, the song was the number one selling record for 13 straight weeks in 1940 and stayed on the Billboard charts for 30 weeks, yet, according to Wikipedia, it never reached higher than #15 in sheet music sales, which was considered the most accurate measure of real popularity at the time. The Big Swing Thing orchestras dug deep into the swing music catalogue to play songs that were quite popular with dancers then and I’m sure that many folks today have never heard of most of those songs that were played.

I bring this up to illustrate that what we think are the greatest songs because they are so representative to us, doesn’t mean that the people of the time judged them the same way.

Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” is an excellent example of such a phenomenon. Rolling Stone magazine named it one of the Top 500 songs of all-time, yet at its peak, “Johnny B. Goode” only reached #8 (or #9, depending on your source) on the Billboard Hot 100. In researching what songs charted higher than what was to become one of the iconic tunes of the entire rock ‘n’ roll era, I found an interesting passage from Cecil Adams’ blog. Adams reviewed the composite chart for May of 1958 which found “Johnny B. Goode” ranked 11th for the month:

It got beaten out by the following tunes, some of which, God help me, I cannot remember, and some of which, God help me, I can’t forget: (1) “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” Everly Brothers; (2) “Witch Doctor,” David Seville; (3) “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck,” Elvis Presley; (4) “Twilight Time,” Platters; (5) “He’s Got The Whole World (In His Hands); (6) “Return To Me,” Dean Martin; (7) “Book of Love,” Monotones; (8) “Looking Back/Do I Like It,” Nat “King” Cole; (9) “Tequila,” Champs; (10) Oh Lonesome Me/I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You,” Don Gibson.

So, there you have it. At the time, “Witch Doctor,” by David Seville, a.k.a. Alvin & the Chipmunks, ranked nine spots ahead of “Johnny B. Goode” for May, 1958.

Given the way we revere him today, you would think that Chuck Berry, a man who would be placed on the Mt. Rushmore of Rock ‘n’ Roll if there was one, would have had a string of #1 hits, even if “Johnny B. Goode” was not among them. Surely, “Sweet Little Sixteen” or “Rock and Roll Music” or “Roll Over Beethoven” would have made it to #1, but they made it to #s 2, 8, and 29 respectively. The only Chuck Berry song to reach #1 was “My Ding-a-ling” in November of 1972. Not exactly a classic (even if it does still make me giggle.)

The ultimate lesson is this: The people of a certain era aren’t necessarily the best judge of things from their era. The history of “Johnny B. Goode” is just one example among songs, movies, and other works of art (or dare I say political figures?) that require time and perspective to be truly appreciated.

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Happy Feet & Joyful Hearts

This past weekend, I had the great pleasure of attending a family reunion in York, PA. Actually, the “family reunion” was the Big Swing Thing, a celebration of swing music and dancing at the Valencia Ballroom, and the only person there to whom I am genetically related is our daughter Sarah, who covered the event for ABC27 out of Harrisburg.

Sixteen people—brothers and sisters to me—from Winchester, VA (and another sister from Annapolis, MD who aligns herself with the Shenandoah wing of the family) were introduced to cousins from Pennsylvania. Our Lindy-hoppin’, show-stoppin’ cousins from Hagerstown, MD were also in attendance and put on a performance of their own during the traditional jam that occurs at most swing dances.

Lest you think I’m merely using

The faces tell the story, not the feet. This is Abby. She just met 17 new aunts and uncles at the Big Swing Thing! (Thanks to Denny Martin for the great photo.)

poetic license, I will tell you that dancers share a bond that is as strong as genetics; stronger in many cases. The interesting thing is that the dancing is the physical form which the bond takes, another name for which is joy. There is the joy of the movement, of the leading and following; there is the joy of learning that movement and creating new movement; there are the joyful sounds of the music and the laughter; there is the joy of holding one another in frame and hugging hello and embracing good-bye. There’s the joy of looking across the ballroom and seeing the same people at 10 o’clock at night who were also there at 10 o’clock in the morning and thinking, They’re hardcore just like we are!

The joy of being welcomed at 5:40—when the doors weren’t supposed to be officially opened until 6:30—and then to turn around at 5:41 and see my Annapolis sister running towards me. (Yes, we were # 1 and #1a, I am quite proud to say.)

I felt the joy acutely at this year’s Big Swing Thing, which began on Friday night, six weeks to the day after I was released from the hospital for robotic mitral valve repair. Indeed, when the surgeon asked me what was going on in my life which he needed to consider when arranging the surgery date, my immediate response was, “You may laugh at this, but this there’s this thing at the end of April that I have to get to. And I have to participate once I’m there.” Dr. Vinay Badhwar turned to one of his most able assistants and said, “Make this happen in March.”

I don’t believe that Dr. Badhwar is a dancer, but he clearly understands the effect that joy has on one’s heart. A snip here and one titanium ring later, and I was able to dance16 hours in a 28 hour stretch. (“In,” not every minute of every hour, although several of those hours were non-stop!)

I mention this, not to make this entry about me, but as a way to personalize the joy that everyone there felt. The dancers, musicians, performers and those wonderful folks who put a tremendous amount of time and effort into setting up and cleaning up all have their stories of joy. Indeed, one of my Winchester brothers has a health story similar to mine and at one point we agreed that we were very happy to be there given the events of the past year. I’m sure that there are others who found themselves looking around that beautiful ballroom experiencing the sheer joy of just being there.

So, to my family from Quakertown, Landale, and York, to Annapolis, Berryville, Winchester, and Hagerstown, here’s to the next reunion.

The midnight group shot! Still going strong (more or less) as Saturday night turned into Sunday morning.

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On Guard

I was watching an old Western recently, I think it was called, Battle at Feather Creek. Maybe it was Feather at Battle Creek . . . No, that one’s about a pillow maker in Michigan . . . No, it was Charge at Feather River. That’s it; the water feature was bigger than I thought. Anyway, this group of soldiers sneaks up on the Indian camp where two guards are posted. Do you suppose that the guards were peering out into the darkness, perhaps wondering why 15 men were crouched behind one rock? That would be a good thing for a guard to do, but these two were squatting down facing each other! I guess they were talking about a Cleveland-Atlanta World Series or something, but one of them thinks he might hear something and runs towards the danger, at which point and not surprisingly, he is knocked unconscious or traded to Boston or something. Now, if you had graduated from any accredited guard school, you would, having realized your fellow guard had met an unpleasant fate, run away from the danger toward the camp yelling for all you’re worth, “Hey! There are 15 guys crouched behind a rock out there and one of them got Larry! Everybody wake up!!” I guess he was named Larry. He looked like a Larry.

But no, this guard—I think his name was Bruce—runs toward the rock crouchers and is promptly dispatched without so much as a single word of warning to the sleeping Indians in the camp. Not a scream, not a holler, not a sigh, not a cough suggesting that someone might want to look in his direction. Nope, Larry and Bruce got themselves killed or traded or whatever without ever coming close to doing what they were put there to do.

By no means is this an Indian problem. It is a guard problem. I’ve seen American, German, Japanese, Mexican, French, British and Star Trek guards all act in the same way. I bet there’s a movie out there where two Eskimos are guarding an igloo, but are dispatched by 15 angry penguins crouched behind a snowman without so much as a “By your leave, here come the penguins!” mentioned in passing to the igloo’s inhabitants.

It’s really a writer problem. Too quickly do they run out of any intelligent plot, and so, they fill in with a stock, idiot-guard scene. There must be an entire course on this at Screenwriters College.

What we have learned here today is this: If you want your camp properly guarded, find the most cowardly person in your outfit. You want the guy most likely to run away from danger; the guy who will run screaming hysterically into camp at the drop of a hat or at least at the sight of 15 hats sticking up from behind a rock because he is most interested in being the last one killed, not the first.

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Happy Opening Day!

Ah, Opening Day! My favorite holiday of the year. There’s nothing like the first game of the season to symbolize hope.

Opening Day signals the end of winter and the beginning of spring (no matter how much more it might snow.)

On Opening Day, every team is tied for first place.

This summer, records will be broken, new heroes will emerge, and we’ll see at least one play that will elicit the delighted cry of I’ve never seen that before! from even the most veteran of baseball fans, and that wonderful journey through another season begins today.

No one can tell you how any season will turn out, especially in baseball, but I have a homemade formula for predicting team performance that is pretty accurate. Simply add up the number of “ifs” for all the teams in a division and then rank them from least to most. If you say about your team, “If we can find a closer and if that rookie has a decent year in left field, we’ll win our share,” then your team will probably have a very successful season. If you say those two things about your team, plus a dozen more “ifs,” then your team is probably destined for the basement. Some ifs are more important than others, but generally this formula works out. The most exciting summers occur when all of some team’s ifs come to pass and the team enjoys a Cinderella season.

Having said all that, I offer a few observations for a couple of loyal readers as well as observations on our two local teams:

Jerry Lane, despite third baseman Justin Turner’s broken wrist, I look for your Dodgers to win the National League West again. Even if they finish 10 games worse than last year (which I predict) that will still net them 94 wins.

Dick Snyder, your Yankees are being over-hyped. Smart fan that you are, I’m sure you’re nervous about the fact that many have anointed them American League East champs before one pitch has even been thrown. The Yankees’ “ifs” always tend to be overlooked and the East might be more bunched than anyone now imagines.

For all my Nationals fans out there, I say that this may finally be the year. The Mets will be stronger than last year, the Braves have improved, and the Phillies are much improved and this in-season competition will make the Nats a tougher, more resilient team. Because they won’t run away with the division, they will be better prepped for the playoffs.

Finally, my beloved Orioles are going to surprise people as they usuall

Opening Day makes me feel younger. I had this photo taken this morning.

y do. They’ll be better than if for no other reason, they won’t have Jeremy Hellickson, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Wade Miley in this year’s rotation. That Terrible Trio, along with Chris Tillman, combined for a 6.62 earned run average in 2018, which means that even if the Birds slotted Jerry, Dick, and me behind Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, the starting staff would be better. Just don’t ask me to cover first—I don’t think I can run that far anymore.

Happy Opening Day, everyone!

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Taking it All to Heart

I mentioned at the end of yesterday’s post that there is a definite emotional component to having heart-surgery. I could write at length about several strong emotions that I have experienced already, but one is fully formed.

That I was the recipient of such outstanding professional care is humbling in a way that I never imagined it could be. Even more humbling is the personal care of everyone with whom I came in contact at WVU Medicine Ruby Memorial Hospital, from Dr. Badhwar and his team to Paige, Ashley, and Crystal my ICU nurses and on to Barbara, Nancy, and Makenna who continued such care on the cardiovascular ward. They encouraged me, they conversed with me, and by doing so they made sure that I was never alone even when they were absent from the room. Even at the outset, Danielle, the cardiac surgery coordinator always spoke to me, the person and never me, the patient. Dr. Badhwar took very seriously my desire to complete the surgery and get me a long ways on the road to recovery before the Big Swing Thing in York, PA at the end of April.

Even more humbling is the unconditional love that I have received and continue to receive from my family, and those many whom I consider family. It is so remarkable to me that you each gave the best that you had, whether it was humor, encouragement, perspective, a simple but kind word, or an actual deed. Much of it was expressed without words or form, but it was received as clearly as if a telegram had been placed in my hands. I have no doubt that this love prepped me for a positive outcome to the surgery and that it continues to fuel my recovery. You have been quite the surgical team yourselves, albeit while operating on a different level.

Being the recipient of such love makes me wonder what I did to deserve it, but then I realize that that question is fraught with error, not the least of which is that unconditional love cannot be earned in any case. Whatever the question may be, I think the answer, at least for me is this: I have been given an incredible gift in the form of a repaired heart, and a sacred gift in the form of such unconditional love. Such gifts one does not own—one distributes. It’s as if I am this radio station which now has a vastly upgraded signal that will allow me to focus your gifts on others who need it.

As I said yesterday, it’s been quite the interesting week, and to think—life after surgery has just started.

Half of me is about this hairless once more. The ole ticker was flawed even then, according to the doc, but since it was a young ticker, it took a while for the flaw to surface.

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A Heart-felt Week

Well. This has been an interesting week. On Tuesday morning, an incredibly skilled surgeon, Dr. Vinay Badhwar, was snipping at a floppy flap in my heart using a robot, then placing a titanium ring around the problematic valve to keep it functioning as it should. And now, here I am on Saturday morning, sitting on my couch, telling you about it. Mind-boggled doesn’t begin to cover the way I feel.

That Tuesday morning began with surgical preparation, which itself began with the statement, “We’re going to shave you from your neck to your ankles.” I thought that this was some hospital hyperbole, but it turns out they were rather literal–to a point. They shaved my legs, but only on the tops, so now my shin bones look like two tonsured, Medieval monks.

When they wheeled me into the operating room, I expected to see Princess Leia washing her hands because that was the whitest, most futuristic place in which I have ever been. At that point, I remember having a pleasant and very detailed conversation with one of the anesthesiologists. Then I remember being in ICU with tubes and needles stuck in me and some gadget sutured to my neck. Once the chest drainage tube came out on the afternoon following surgery, the recovery really began to accelerate. Of course, they kept sticking me at all hours of the day and night in order to thin my blood, measure blood sugar, and inject anti-biotics, among other things that I remember. I was stuck so much that I even winced when we got stuck in a little bit of traffic on the way home.

In any case, the medical population that I fit into is “unique” as one of my excellent nurses, put it. I have a very healthy heart, which happened to have a mechanical flaw, “since birth,” according to Dr. Badhwar.

Star Wars surgery Tuesday morning, home on Friday afternoon. Beyond mind-boggling, this experience is already producing an interesting set of emotions, but more on that tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s a really cool photo. It’s like a heart-selfie.

Dr.  You can see the robot arms, center left and lower right. The one on the left has just snipped part of the valve, resulting in the slight crescent in the white tissue at center.


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Play by Play the Old-Fashioned Way

I love my high-definition television, especially when it comes to watching baseball games. I like replay and all the different camera angles and I like seeing it all from the comfort of my couch.

Despite the visual splendor that modern technology may bring to a ballgame, there is nothing more splendid than listening to the game on the radio, especially from the comfort of one’s porch. That’s how most of us of a certain age, consumed our baseball–via the masters of the microphones, those play-by-play guys who night after night, season after season brought the exploits of our favorite teams to life. We saw it all through their words and our imaginations. In my house, Oriole announcers Chuck Thompson and Bill O’Donnell were part of the family and to this day I get that warm sense of home whenever I hear their voices on old recordings. O’Donnell would sign off every Orioles’ victory with the words, “It’s been a good night, everybody,” words which I appropriated when I was fortunate enough to broadcast New Market Rebel games for several years with my own excellent partner, Charlie Dodge. I digress . . .

All of this is to say that there is a website out there with a catalog of 360 radio broadcasts of various games, including more than a few World Series games, played between 1934 and 1973. That website may be accessed here. If you live in the Mid-Atlantic, I doubt you’ll want to go out on your porch this week to listen! Nevertheless, if you’re a baseball fan or a cultural history buff or even a fan of the way things used to be, I urge you to pick a game and listen in to the days when the story was more important than the statistics and play-by-play men were baseball poets. I’m going to have some downtime this week and it’s certainly what I plan on doing.

Image result for photos of chuck thompson & bill o'donnellImage result for photos of chuck thompson

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