Posts Tagged ‘Sammy Davis Jr.’

A Minor Mutiny

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

Forty-five years ago tomorrow, I walked across a barely raised stage in St. Cloud State’s Halenbeck Hall, wearing a purple gown and mortarboard with braided black and orange honor cords draped around my neck, and graduated from St. Cloud Technical High School with the rest of the Class of 1971.

There were about 450 of us finishing up our high school years that evening; on another evening that week – I forget if it were earlier or later – the 450 or so members of the first graduating class of St. Cloud Apollo High School would make the same walk.

I don’t think I saw high school graduation as a major event; it was another step along an educational path that would continue in about three months when I started my freshman year at St. Cloud State. But I imagine that for, oh, maybe a third to a half of my classmates, graduation from Tech High was where education stopped, and their entry to the world of work began the next morning or perhaps the following Monday.

Well, in a sense, so did my entry to that world, too, as it was the following Monday when I reported to the Maintenance Building at St. Cloud State to begin what became a summer of lawn mowing and janitorial work (especially scrubbing floors). But that was a temporary gig, and I know that for some of my classmates, full-time permanent work began shortly after graduation. So for them, the graduation ceremony might have felt like a rite of passage; for me, it was just one more thing to get through.

There’s only one thing I really remember about the ceremony. The Concert Choir performed, with we gowned seniors making our ways from the long ranks of chairs to join the juniors – who would be seniors in less than ninety or so minutes – on the risers near the stage. There, we completed a minor mutiny in which we thwarted the plans of our director. The gentle rebellion began a few days earlier after the spring choir concert, during which the sophomore choir – it had a more formal name that I’ve long forgotten – sang “A Wonderful Day Like Today” from the 1965 Broadway musical The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley.

We in the Concert Choir loved the tune when we heard the sophomores sing it. When we met for rehearsal the next day, about five days before graduation (I think), many of balked at practicing the piece that our director, Mr. Ames, had selected for us to perform at the ceremony. It was stodgy and serious, and we wanted to sing instead “A Wonderful Day Like Today.” I think our wishes surprised him, but he wasn’t at all resistant. All he wanted to know was if we’d work hard to learn the Broadway tune well enough to sing it for graduation.

We did work hard, work that wasn’t at all a burden because we loved the song and wanted to perform it well, which we did. And looking back this morning, maybe there was an object lesson in there for us as we headed to the world of work, either in the next few days or after more years of education: If you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t always seem like work.

Here’s the song as performed by Sammy Davis, Jr., on his 1965 album Sammy’s Back On Broadway.

‘We Read In The Papers . . .’

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

Based on the evidence in my slender collection of 45s, Leo Rau – the vending machine and jukebox jobber who lived across the alley from us when I was a kid – must have given me a box of 45s sometime late in the summer of 1967. He did so every once in a while during the mid-1960s. The records were a mix of pop-rock and country, stuffed into sleeves that rarely matched the record inside (I recall a surplus of Sandy Posey picture sleeves), and – as I’ve noted before – not being a listener to either pop-rock or country radio, I happily used most of the Rau 45s as targets for my BB gun.

Maybe fifteen of the Rau records survived, however. (That’s a guess, and I’m not going to dig through my two hundred or so 45s to get any more accurate). Among them are three that came to mind this morning when I saw them listed in the Billboard Hot 100 released on June 24, 1967, forty-seven years ago today.

I’ve written about Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” and its flip side “Lime Street Blues” and I’ve also written about the Fifth Estate’s “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead.” But I’ve evidently never mentioned the third record whose title I spotted this morning.

Sammy Davis Jr. was a cool dude, sort of. He ran with the Rat Pack – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and the rest – and when the 1960s turned psychedelic, he wore Nehru jackets and medallions and flashed the peace sign and all that. He wasn’t the right age to be able to do that stuff and carry it off, really; he was born in 1925, and he should have come off as the embarrassing dad trying to be hip with his kids. And maybe he did. I’m not sure. But I have a sense that he pulled off the Hollywood/Las Vegas version of hippie chic in a less cringe-worthy manner than did his contemporaries. Whether that’s succeeding or not is likely an open question.

Still, as a member of several minorities – asked on a golf course one day what his handicap was, Davis famously replied, “Handicap? Talk about handicap! I’m a one-eyed Negro Jew!” – Davis seemed to get the Sixties a great deal more than did his Rat Pack pals. I say “seemed to” because that’s the way it felt at the time. And I suppose it felt that way at least a little bit because of my memory of the third record I spotted this morning, Davis’ “Don’t Blame The Children.”

Written by Ivan Reeve and H.B. Barnum, and cradled in a Vegas-worthy production, the spoken word piece with an over-the-top vocal chorus was sitting at No. 38 forty-seven years ago this week and peaked at No. 37. So the kids were listening a little. But Davis’ audience – given the lyric and the production – wasn’t the kids; it was their parents (and other adults). And by the only measure I have at hand this morning, the record failed, not making it into the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart at all.