Dear Mssrs. Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman:

I didn’t have cable television growing up; we lived in the middle of the woods with a driveway longer than the cable company’s ability to bury a line up its length. My brother and I were relegated to what we could get to come through the rabbit ears on channels 3, 6, 10, and our beloved PBS station, WHYY. Sometimes, if it was raining and particularly windy, or, weirdly, one of us was sick, we could catch grainy movies and syndicated Gilligan’s Island reruns on channel 17. It was on fuzzy station that I squintingly watched 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Incredible Mr. Limpett, and a little film called Mary Poppins.

We started taping it halfway through, hastily shoving a blank videocassette into our pop-up VCR, about the time Mary, Michael, and Jane meet Burt in the park and are admiring his paintings, not quite believing what we were watching (and no, I’m not referring to Dick Van Dyke’s accent or make-up). By the time Mary and Burt were dashing through “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” I thought I might never watch another movie again. You know how there’s those drama kids in high school who live in Phantom of the Opera t-shirts? You two were my elementary school Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Richard and Robert, the music you wrote together and separately was the soundtrack of my childhood. Shortly after that jolly holiday with Mary, it seemed like you two were everywhere. Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, Snoopy Come Home, all those Winnie the Pooh movies… you were everywhere my little ears turned. The premiere of The Disney Sunday Movie on channel 6 in 1986 really ratcheted up your exposure in my little world, but it wasn’t until I had kids of my own that I put it all together with a little help from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

My older son was pretty obsessed with old-fashioned race cars when he was three, but I had no idea what I was getting our family into when I innocently dropped a Chitty Blu-ray into my Amazon cart close to Christmas. We watched it on Christmas day. We watched it again on Christmas night. We watched it again on Boxing Day. And so on. A friend made him an old-fashioned racing cap and upcycled a set of pool goggles to resemble driving goggles. We watched Chitty while he wore those. Sometime close to his fourth birthday, he slipped on one of the toy race cars he used to line up down our long hallway, cutting his lip on a heating grate. While we waited in the ER for him to get stitched up, he climbed up on a bench and gave the entire waiting room a performance of his own Chitty revue.

I, too, got pretty obsessed with Chitty (I also have a bit of a thing for Dick Van Dyke, to add another layer to this whole thing); my husband and I routinely quote it (a slight squeeze on the hooter is always a good safety precaution); and now both of my kids point out “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” cars whenever we see a classic car out for a Sunday drive. It’s a masterpiece because of you.

I was so saddened to learn that Robert had passed away in 2012. I have no idea, but I want to believe the funeral was joyful, filled with music and love, reuniting old casts, and everyone sang “It’s A Small World (After All)” at the end. It only seems fitting.

It’s A Small World (After All)

With love,
Jenn

Flashback Fives: A (brief) History of Music Obsessiveness

Along with our letters, we will also publish “Flashback Fives”—a list of five moments when each writer fell in love with a song, album, artist, genre, et al. This one was submitted by April from Pittsburgh, PA.

One. As a kid I owned one of those portable record players that featured the lovable combo of junky sound and far out graphics (mine looked like denim on the outside and had a rainbow on the inside). At some point, my parents found some of their old 45s and gave them to me and my brother. My brother, who is 4 years older than me, kept them to himself for the majority of our childhood. He enjoyed solo projects including, but not limited to, painting small military figures, and/or adjusting the trees on his train set to match the current season, and/or putting together intricate car models and then going to great lengths to ensure that the paint job was accurate to colors offered at that time in automotive history. As a result, we didn’t play together much. Which is probably why I have a very distinct memory of the two of us listening to “The Sound of Silence” on 45 on the beloved denim/rainbow record player in my bedroom. I was probably around the age of 5 or 6 which would place him around age 9 or 10. I’m not sure if it only happened once, or we did this a couple of times, but we invented a game that involved dancing manically to the Beach Boys “Be True to Your School” and then quickly switching over to the Simon and Garfunkel 45. For Paul and Art’s tune we would move slowly, seriously, the carefree wildness of the Beach Boys behind us. Even at such a young age I recognized that the song managed to simultaneously address something known but unexplainable. We did this manic/depressive musical switcharoo repeatedly because it was fun, and also because picking up the record player arm and placing it back at the start of the record was somehow easier/faster and more accurate than rewinding a cassette tape. Today whenever I hear this song I always think of my brother. Fun fact: “The Sound of Silence” was a total flop until it was remixed by Tom Wilson.

Two. My Cyndi Lauper obsession probably hit its full stride when I was in 9th grade and I started listening to the entire She’s So Unusual album on my walkman while commuting on foot to school. Upon further recollection, I suspect the seed of this obsession was probably first planted when I went to see The Goonies in the movie theater with my family. I was 6 or 7 years old and I did not listen to pop radio and was not allowed to watch MTV. BUT, there is that split second shot of Cyndi Lauper on the TV in the scene when Brand has been tied up with his chest expander and I remember thinking “Whoa! Who is that being so bold and colorful and weird?” Cyndi, you are a hero.

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Three. In 2nd grade I watched A Hard Day’s Night with my aforementioned brother. It was after watching this movie that I became completely and utterly obsessed with the Beatles. I read all of the books at my local library about the group, as well as anything about Paul and/or John. I watched Help! I bought Beatles posters, a Beatles t-shirt and a Beatles watch (this was pre-internet people, so Beatles merchandise was not as readily available as it is today) to openly advertise my Beatles fandom. In college I went to see A Hard Day’s Night in the theater and realized that the thrill I felt in 2nd grade had not diminished in the slightest (I also realized that my boyfriend at time sort of looked like a B movie version of Paul….gulp!). Let it be known; Beatlemania was not confined to the 60’s only.

Four. A few years ago I went through this period where if I found any “oldies” compilation on vinyl for $1, I would buy it. I was listening to one of these compilations and “For All We Know” came on by Jackie and the Starlites. I immediately stopped what I was doing to determine the artist. I had never heard of Jackie and the Starlites despite years and years of oldies and doo-wop fanaticism. Immediately I was in the love. Jackie’s voice and delivery is like a bolt of lightning. Even more amazing, almost every song they recorded sounds better than most of the played out oldies/doo-wop songs everyone knows and loves. Jackie LaRue forever!

Here’s another unknown hit by Jackie and the Starlites

Five. In April of 2012 (truth: my memory is not that good, but I found the exact year through a Google search) I traveled with my friend Amanda to Washington D.C. to (1) see Ezra Furman (and his new band at the time….The Boyfriends) open up for Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s (2) visit Amanda’s brother and (3) to celebrate my and Amanda’s joint enthusiasm for being born in the month of April (go Aries!). The show was at the Rock n’ Roll Hotel and the opening-opening band was Writer. I had never heard of Writer, but all good obsessive consumers of music know that the opening band or performer will often be the one to give you the most bang for your buck regardless of the size of the venue, crowd, etc. That night at the Rock n’ Roll hotel this was most definitely the case. Writer consisted of two guys who set up on the floor (not the stage!) and they just totally banged out every song with a beautiful combination of 100% gusto and zero pretension. It was loud and you could feel the sound, like a big rock n’ roll wave rolling over the small but receptive crowd. It sounded a lot like this (watch the clip) and I loved it.

To Adam Horovitz, Michael Diamond and Adam Yauch,

1992. I was twelve years old. My compact disc collection was infantile, my room still being full of cassette tapes. Music was always such a mood lifter for me that when I got grounded, it would be taken away from me and that was horror in my mind. End of the world, apocalyptic heart attack serious. In this day, akin to throwing away my hard drives and removing all wifi. Deserved, though, as I was a huge pain in the ass. That got the point across. The refreshment of getting back what means the most to you is indescribably elating. What meant the most to me in 1992, other than little girls and trouble, was my microcosm of a music collection. My first discs were Nevermind and Check Your Head. Monuments. 

Starters, I can still listen to this album today and thoroughly enjoy it. Not because of pure nostalgia, more so due to the awesome amalgamation that was/is Check Your Head. I had been a huge fan of Licensed To Ill and Paul’s Boutique, but never saw this coming. LTI was a trumped up braggadocio, bravado, intentionally in your face parade of hormones and hedonism. Paul’s was a total departure, and pretty much overlooked by most until further listening. Leaving Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin was a definite turning point, and opened up creative endeavors. The bouillabaisse at the end of that album should’ve prepared me.

As soon as the first track starts, I get goosebumps. You can feel the passion, angst, purpose, and love immediately. No major hip-hop acts were doing anything like this at the time. I was floored. So much so that I purchased this twice on VHS…

…and I still don’t have a copy due to pilfering after viewing, like the way loaning books means they’ll never return. The artwork alone sold me on this album. Browsing through music shops was much like grocery stores—design and packaging would lure me in. The design of this, prior to listening, made me want to grow up fast and create aesthetically pleasing things. Basically how you eat with your eyes first.

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This was one of those meals that looked terrific and did not disappoint. Everything was about shedding light and peace and happiness, whilst sounding badass. Which, in my opinion, is as essential as altruism. I did not have a chance to be present for this tour but got to see the Ill Communication tour with A Tribe Called Quest. I get the polar opposite of douche chills just recollecting that.

(This is a taste, although a few years later:)

The energy and uplifting spirit of your output, particularly on this album, inspired millions. Most importantly, myself. The letting go, and just doing what you felt like doing in your hearts, comes through incredibly. Kicking expectations and outside judgments to the curb, and letting each member coalesce, conveying much in such little time, resonates to this day. Harmony. The thing everyone searches for. Somehow, my budding naïve mind could feel that, and still does.

You made me grow as a person, and I am forever grateful.
Dan

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Pass the Mic

Gratitude

So What’cha Want

Dear Bill Stevenson,

In the early 90s, there were few better places to discover music than the used cassette section of Record Connection. At $3 a pop, this was a cost-effective method to keep your ears busy in the pre-streaming era. I managed to dig up Fugazi Repeater, Bad Religion Against the Grain and NOFX Ribbed before finally stumbling upon one that really clicked: Descendents’ I Don’t Want To Grow Up.

After my first listen, I was hooked. A single and love thirsty teenage girl, I nearly always flipped to side two and started with “Silly Girl” and fell in love with Milo before “Good Good Things” ended. I listened to him in the morning on the bus, on the way home from school and eventually in my car. Milo was the perfect counterpoint to my nerdy, somewhat angsty art girl persona. He sported the thin, bespectacled, slightly disheveled emo look long before it came into fashion. He was in a really cool band yet somehow managed to seem accessible. AND HE SANG ABOUT GIRLS.

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“I think about you every night and day, and when I could have asked I let it slip away. I’ve got to get to know you, but I’m so afraid. Well it’s so hard to be a friend and be in love this way.” COME ON! How could I resist? Maybe someday, I thought, a guy like Milo would fall in love with me.

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So why is my letter to you, Mr. Stevenson, and not to Milo?

Descendents are one of those bands from which I never felt compelled to disassociate myself (I’m looking at you, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy). It’s a badge of honor to be a fan. People who like Descendents like them with all their heart—not only nostalgic gals such as myself but actual punk dudes.

I’ve always wondered why that was the case, and a recent viewing of Filmage answered my question. You are the man behind the magic. It seems almost obvious that someone with your passion and energy would produce music that stayed with me for decades. You poured everything you’ve got into the music and are deserving of all your loyal fans (and particularly the one who brought you back to health). My fandom has reached new levels, and I even bought my baby girl (and a friend’s baby boy) an I Don’t Want To Grow Up onesie.

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So, now that I have your attention, here’s a quick anecdote:

In 10th grade, I participated in a class trip to see Macbeth at a local playhouse. Jackie sat next to me on the bus. Jackie was captain of the soccer team, tall, thin, peppy and blonde—everything I was not. Did she want to talk? Even though I was weirdly excited someone actually wanted to sit next to me, my walkman and trusty I Don’t Want To Grow Up cassette were waiting for me.

Jackie didn’t exactly want to talk, but asked if she could listen to my music on the way back to school. Considering the contents of my walkman, I politely warned her that it might not be her thing. My warning lead to her increased curiosity so I set it up for side two (of course) and reluctantly handed it over. After side two ended, Jackie seemed a bit nonplussed and asked “Do you really like listening to stuff like that?” Perhaps she thought I was pretending in order to be different. I was not, and I’d let her into my world exactly long enough to feel exposed, embarrassed and wondering why I didn’t bring a different cassette with me. What about the Cranberries—something I enjoyed that was safe, feminine and mainstream?

I could feel my face getting red and my self-consciousness increasing by the second. Would she tell people what happened, ensuring that my classmates continued to see me as an outcast? Most likely yes, and although it stung like hell at the time, the very thing that made me an outcast as a teen makes me special(ish) now. A Milo bobblehead sat on my corporate desk for years. Everyone who came in asked who it was, and I was delighted to tell conservative men in dark blue suits all about the Descendents.

me-n-milo

Descendents are a reminder of how happy I am to be unlike everyone else, and for that, Bill Stevenson, I owe you a great big thanks.

Much respect,
Christine

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Silly Girl

In Love This Way

Good Good Things