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Chuck Cecil’s “Swingin’ Years”

21 Jun

I’ve taken to sweetening each Saturday morning with big band happiness and Chuck Cecil’s warm voice. (Not that I trust Wikipedia to give me all the facts, but there’s mention of Mr. Cecil having attended the wedding of Marilyn Monroe and her first husband, Jim, in his entry. Interesting.) The two were meant for each other, I’m telling you. Big band and Chuck Cecil, that is. Clearly Marilyn and Jim were not.

If you have something like this to play big band out of, all the better:

1960s Magnavox radio/turntable/record holder

Our radio is actually a bit dinged up, obviously needs a dusting, and isn’t the prettiest of its kind—but it was $25 at the Salvation Army, and it sure makes listening to records in the jazz, singers/standards, and Christmas genres enjoyable. Sometimes clear as a bell just doesn’t cut it. Who wants to  listen to Bing and Frank without some crackling in the background?

But back to Chuck Cecil and his syndicated “Swingin’ Years” program. I’m not sure what it is about listening to big band and swing that results in some sort of fabricated sense memory, as if I’d actually danced to these tunes with my honey in our living room before he was shipped off to Europe. It’s such a bizarre sensation—to feel as though you’re being transported back to a place you never were. My head dizzies in the same fashion when I listen to choral music on Classical KUSC. I’d like to think it’s a past lives thing, but I’d never have the guts—nor would I be capable of maintaining any level of seriousness for any length of time—to be hypnotized to find out. I enjoy it, though—whatever it is. It keeps me going back for more.

And, honestly, in this era when soul-touching music is scarce—at least in my opinion (of course, I am losing my sense of cool and not caring too much about it), having things like Chet Baker or Glenn Miller or Ravel to turn to is a welcome alternative. My only hope is that the public continues to generously contribute to the few remaining jazz and classical stations throughout the country. It’s tiresome to listen to one pledge drive after another, but I’d rather bear with it than face an absence of nearly uninterrupted quality music—especially over my morning coffee.

Edit, April 21, 2014:

The L.A. Times reported on January 27 that Chuck Cecil had made the tough decision to part ways with KJazz due to technical difficulties producing “Swingin’ Years,” his show that has delighted listeners since 1956. The weekend program aired on KJazz for 12 years. According to the article, “The show will continue to be available online, streaming via WPPB.” Read the article here.

A wonderfully heartwarming L.A. Times profile on Chuck from December 19, 2013.

Someone from Chuck’s camp (“Chuck” even—could it be?) commented with a link to his Facebook page, which I recommend readers check out and like—because surely you appreciate his longtime contribution to your weekends as much as I do.

Also, someone called Whit directed me to Chuck Cecil content over at shermanoaks.wordpress.com, which includes, among other tidbits, an interesting L.A. Times article from 2000, as well as some clips.

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Sound of the Crowd

10 Jun

If, in 1981, I were 19 and not 6, NewRo/Blitz Kids so would’ve been my bag. God knows I would’ve been more than eager to pair the silver-blue eyeshadow with deep mauve blush and glossy red lips. Why, I was partial to that in the mid-nineties, save for the cheek stripes. And I’ve always managed to get a bit of fringe in my eyes—and I love frilly black numbers. And it was Nick Rhodes’ photo I hung up in my room at about age 8. “He’s wearing makeup!” my mom said, mouth agape. “I think it’s pretty!” retorted the little girl with the shiny teddy bear on her sweatshirt.

My husband, who actually lived through the movement as a teen, although he was a Mod, asked me last night when I was making him listen to Dare! in what way the music moved me. Born and bred on guitar-driven music, he has difficulty understanding how anything involving a synthesizer could possibly work its way into one’s soul. And I suppose I can see his point. I responded by saying that perhaps Human League, specifically, doesn’t move me emotionally in the way that other synth-based bands—say Depeche Mode—did when I was younger. I mean “Little 15”? C’mon! Tears!

Human League (as well as various other bands of the genre) does send me a bit into fantasist mode. I imagine myself all painted to perfection, wearing a little pillbox hat with a tiny veil, some sort of corset dress and fishnets—and dancing in front of a slip of a young man with asymmetrical hair wearing a pirate shirt and some impossibly narrow trousers tucked into high boots. And I’d twirl the night away, stopping only to wing my eyeliner just a bit more or re-line my pout. It’s all very superficial, I know; but that was the scene, wasn’t it? The last gasp for real glam after punk had made its way into the world.

I recently bothered to read the captions in the great pictorial *Duran Duran Unseen, and I grew more convinced that I would’ve had tons of fun and fit right in with that heavily eyelined set. I wasn’t as drawn to, nor was I willing to immerse myself in similar scenes that were still hanging on throughout the nineties. Goth would’ve been the closest, but they weren’t visually appealing enough. Although I liked some goth music and definitely had my share of goth friends, it always bothered me that it was nearly impossible to find the actual person hidden beneath all that garb and swirly black makeup. With the NewRo thing, you could go way out (Boy George), or, as a girl, especially, you could actually look pretty, but in a Nagel painting kind of way. Unfortunately for me, the most extreme look I embraced in the nineties was grunge: some thermal leggings under my holey jean shorts with my boyfriend’s flannel over a t-shirt. Oh, and some Docs, of course. Just lovely.

Back to explaining why the synth music of that period moves me. I liken it to music for a dark party, so to speak. It’s punk meets disco, and it’s ridiculously fun to dance to without being the stuff of frat parties (although I seem to recall hearing “Don’t You Want Me” following Dave Matthews Band at more than one frat party in college). And who doesn’t like a dark party where everyone’s dressed up and made up to the nines?

For more Blitz Kids/’80s fare, this is the place you really want to go.

*Seriously the best Duran photos I’ve ever seen.

(I have to confess that this entry is lifted from of one of my other blogs. So if you happened to have caught that one [doubt it!], don’t worry—I’m plagiarizing myself.)

Charles Phoenix

7 Jun

Charles Phoenix is an American treasure in that he treasures Americana—the good, the kitschy, and the downright absurd. I haven’t read every last bit of his work, but it ranges from enjoyably easy-to-read historical non-fiction (Southern California in the ’50s: Fun, Sun and Fantasy [2001] is a fine example) to blogs about an old photo of a leopard print-wearing lady whooping it up with two monkeys (and no, not like that).

See? No monkey business here. Photo © CharlesPhoenix.com

What I really feel as though I’ve missed out on are his live shows. I mean, who better to take the masses back to the yesteryear of Disneyland than Mr. Phoenix? He’s doing just that this summer.

The Lost Mouseketeer

I know he probably doesn’t need plugs at this point in his career. He was on Martha Stewart, after all. But the care he takes in telling stories about found photographs and slides isn’t only hilarious—it’s helping keep the Wonder Years alive in this era in which everything is digitized, given a half-second’s attention, and deleted with a swift flick of the wrist. Sure, he’s usually making fun of the people in the photos, most of whom he never knew, but he’s giving them voices, showing  a glimpse of the life the way they lived it, and paying homage to simpler, less harried times.

Do check him out!