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ELDER MUSIC: Sun Records - Part 2

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.

category_bug_eldermusic According to myth, legend, fable, story, Fantale wrapper, what-have-you, apparently inspired by hearing the Prisonaire’s song Just Walking in the Rain (featured last week), a young truck driver was inspired to wander into Sun records and record a song for his mum.

Yeah, you know who it is, the most famous person who recorded at Sun, or anywhere. When Sam heard what went down he thought, “Hmm, this kid’s got something,” and suggested he come back and cut a few more numbers. And the rest, as they say (whoever “they” are), is history.

Have you heard the news, there’s Good Rockin' Tonight.

Elvis Presley

♫ Elvis - Good Rockin' Tonight

Sam sold Elvis’s contract to RCA for $25,000 (or $27,000, or $32,000 or $35,000 or some other number, depending on who you read). It doesn’t sound much but it was big bickies back then. Another factor was that as a one-man operation, it was getting impossible to press and distribute the quantity of records that Elvis was selling.

Carl Perkins recorded Blue Suede Shoes. Upon hearing this and seeing him perform, an RCA executive apparently wondered if they had bought the right person. Carl was as charismatic as Elvis, played the guitar better and wrote his own songs.

Unfortunately, on their way to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show, Carl and his band were involved in a car accident, killing the driver and Carl’s brother. Carl was hospitalized for some months and his momentum was stalled and Elvis took off.

Carl Perkins

♫ Carl Perkins - Blue Suede Shoes

There’s little I can add to your knowledge of Johnny Cash, so I won’t try. At Sun, he recorded such songs as I Walk the Line, Folsom Prison Blues, Guess Things Happen That Way.

He was such an artist he could make a piece of dross like Ballad of a Teenage Queen sound good.

Johnny Cash

♫ Johnny Cash - Ballad of a Teenage Queen

Jerry Lee Lewis was the next performer who was going to be bigger than Elvis. He blew into Memphis and around the world like a tornado. His career did rather take a bit of a nosedive after he married his 13-year-old cousin. “That’s pretty normal where I come from,” he said at the time. Not elsewhere, though.

We all know the famous songs Jerry Lee recorded at Sun (Whole Lotta Shakin’, Great Balls of Fire), so I’ll include one of his others from back then. Jerry Lee will leave you Breathless.

Jerry Lee Lewis

♫ Jerry Lee Lewis - Breathless

Charlie Rich was yet another contender for the next Elvis. He had a great voice, wrote his own songs, played the piano (maybe a guitar would have been better considering the time, although Jerry Lee and Little Richard managed to make it work). His main problem was that he came along too late. Lonely Weekends was recorded in 1960.

Charlie Rich

♫ Charlie Rich - Lonely Weekends

Sun Records folded in 1963. The music scene had changed, with more emphasis on albums rather than singles. Sam Phillips didn’t really believe in releasing albums as he refused to issue inferior filler product as often happened on albums at the time. Good for him.

If you’ve ever wondered what that song was that Elvis recorded for Gladys, well wonder no longer, here is the actual record: My Happiness.

Elvis & Gladys1

♫ Elvis - My Happiness

GRAY MATTERS: Obama's Deficit Reduction Commission

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. Links to past Gray Matters columns can be found here. Saul's Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, also appears at Time Goes By twice each month.

This time President Obama, in his obsessive reaching across the political aisle, may have gone a stretch too far. For the Republican he picked to co-chair the so-called deficit reduction commission, former Senator Alan Simpson, has been a harsh critic of Social Security and Medicare. And he sought to destroy their most powerful defenders, especially AARP.

That was 15 years ago, but as recently as 2005, Simpson, a conservative from Wyoming who left the Senate in 1997, supported attempts by President George Bush to privatize Social Security by turning part of the pension and insurance program into millions of individual investment accounts, which by now would have lost 20 percent of their value.

Bush’s plan failed, largely because of the opposition of AARP and other advocates that Simpson sought to discredit.

Even now, Simpson, who should know better, conflates or deliberately confuses Social Security’s long term fiscal problems, which are minor, with its supposed contribution to the federal deficit, which is almost nil.

In an interview with the NewsHour after his appointment, Simpson said of Social Security,

“You have two either raise the payroll tax or decrease the benefits or start affluence testing. The rest of it is B.S. And if the people are really ingesting B.S. all day long, their grandchildren will be picking grit with the chickens. This country is gonna go to the bow-wows unless we deal with entitlements, Social Security and Medicare.”

His colorful language aside, what does one problem have to do with another? The Social Security trustees and the Congressional Budget Office have said the nearly $3 trillion trust fund will last for at least another 30 years. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said the projected shortfall after that is easily fixed for decades with a small raise (two percent split between employer and employee) in payroll taxes.

Obama also minimizes Social Security’s fiscal problem and suggests simply raising or removing the current $106,000 ceiling on salaries subject to the tax. Will his pledge to maintain Social Security as a pension program clash with Simpson?

But here’s my point: Social Security's long term fiscal problem has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with Social Security’s role in the deficit. For, as I have emphasized in my column for years, Social Security costs the budget not one cent – aside from the one percent it spends on its thousands of employees and field offices.

Indeed, Social Security helps finance the deficit by loaning the treasury money, for which it earns interest (about $700 million a year.) If what’s owed to Social Security must be cut as part of deficit reduction, will that help Social Security?

Nevertheless, Simpson’s statements help perpetuate the myth among right-wingers that Social Security contributes to the deficit. Here is former Texas Representative Dick Armey, chief organizer of the Tea Baggers and a longtime enemy of Medicare and Social Security:

“If you’re not courageous enough to look at mandatory spending the two biggest components being Medicare and Social Security, then don’t tell me you’re serious about fighting the deficit.”

Simpson’s record in the Senate raises questions about his appointment: Did the president have any notion of his background of hostility towards the twin pillars of American social insurance? Has Simpson left his right-wing politics far enough behind? Can he be an honest broker when, say, advocates for Social Security and Medicare come before his panel? Here’s why I ask.

In December 1994, when the Republicans were on the verge of taking over the House, the right-wing Capital Research Center, one of several relatively new think-tanks funded by prominent and wealthy conservatives, launched assaults on the Clinton administration and two major organizations that supported Clinton’s failed efforts to pass health care reform and resisted Republican efforts to cut Medicare funds.

The organizations were AARP and the labor-backed National Council of Senior Citizens (NCSC), which had played a major role in the 1965 passage of Medicare – over Republican objections. They were vulnerable because they held small federal contracts to train workers and also lobbied, which they were permitted to do.

According to consumer and medical affairs writer Trudy Lieberman, in her book, Slanting the Story, the conservative campaign took off when it was joined by Simpson, a rich rancher who was chairman of the Senate Finance subcommittee on Social Security and Family Policy.

A rather goofy dilettante, he was about to announce his retirement and had nothing to lose so he took on his antagonists, especially AARP, which had criticized him and lobbied against Republican efforts to slash Medicare funds and privatize Social Security. According to Lieberman,

“Simpson liked to tell stories about how he had to pay out of his pocket for his own parents’ care and believed everyone should do the same.”

Simpson’s father, Milward Simpson, had been Wyoming’s governor and a U.S. Senator.

Using what Capital Research had found, Simpson wrote an op-ed column in the conservative Washington Times in February 1995, attacking AARP’s director, Horace Deets for criticizing the Republicans and charged that AARP was illegally using member funds and the federal grants for lobbying.

Simpson also resented AARP’s opposition to the pending Balanced Budget Agreement. AARP had run afoul of the IRS for mixing its royalty revenues with its nonprofit business and was forced to pay a fine and separate its profit and nonprofit ventures.

But with the help of the press and the network of conservative groups, Simpson’s assaults –and his hearings – put AARP and the NCSC on the defensive. The latter folded and reorganized as today’s Alliance of Retired Americans. AARP’s Deets retired and was replaced by a Republican, public relations executive, William Novelli, who had become friendly with House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Novelli, in 2003, stunned congressional Democrats when he threw AARP’s support behind George Bush’s private Part D drug program, which also provided huge subsidies for private Medicare Advantage plans.

Those plans, then called Medicare Plus Choice, became the first wedge in the privatization of Medicare in 1997. Under pressure from Republicans to slash Medicare funds, AARP was toothless, and Clinton agreed to allow private companies to sell insurance under Medicare.

That was part of the 1997 Balanced Budget Agreement, which slashed more deeply than ever into Medicare and Medicaid funds and severely restricted the use of Medicaid for long term care.

The Balanced Budget Agreement, which did produce a one-year balanced budget, was shepherded through the Congress by Clinton’s chief of staff, Erskine Bowles, now president of the University of North Carolina and the other co-chair of Obama's new Deficit Reduction Commission.


Acceptance of Our (Old) Selves

category_bug_ageism.gif There are a lot of interesting comments to Wednesday's post about Liking Growing Old and I want to mention a few.

It's not giving away any secret to tell you that Darlene, who blogs at Darlene's Hodgepodge, is well into her ninth decade. She wrote:

“I don't like walking like a cartoon character of an old lady...”

Darlene – listen to geriatrician Bill Thomas, who blogs at Changing Aging, from his book, What are Old People For?:

“Compared with the fluid stride of older person can seem tentative and ungainly. This appearance is deceiving. The reality is that older people execute a highly evolved, richly detailed strategy that maintains upright ambulation into the last decades of life...

“The shuffling gait keeps the feet close to the ground and maximizes input from position sensors. The stance is widened to improve balance. The number of steps taken per minute is decreased to accommodate changes in endurance and to allow for increased reaction time.

“Keeping a human body upright and moving is a spectacular feat of coordination and reaction under any circumstances. Doing so in the ninth decade of life magnifies rather than diminishes the beauty of this achievement.” [emphasis added]

Younger people may not understand your achievement, Darlene, but you should take a bow anyway.

Marian Van Eyk McCain of elderwomanblog wrote:

"I learned years ago from the Vietnamese teacher of 'engaged Buddhism' Thich Nhat Hanh, that in order to retain optimum efficiency it is wise to limit one's exposure to pollution - of all kinds."

Chancy of driftwoodinspiration agrees. And so do I – except, that nothing changes without action and somebody needs to take on the bad guys. I seem to have appointed myself. And Marian, avoiding pollution notwithstanding, you do an awfully good job of arguing against ageism at your blog.

Following on my disgust with such phrases as “you are as young (or old) as you feel,” Rain of Rainy Day Thoughts, wrote,

“Why would I want to feel young when I am the age I am? Why would I think the young enjoy life more than the old?”

Right on, Rain. The problem with using the word “young” to describe how old people feel is that it assumes youth is the gold standard of life and, repeated thousands of times a day throughout the land, it reinforces the idea that being old is terrible, that all old people yearn to be young again.

Much better is to talk about feeling “good” as we have at all previous ages.

Elizabeth Rogers said,

“I'm not quite 'there' yet as far as surrendering all attempts to maintain vestiges of my earlier appearance.”

It is a process for all of us, Elizabeth, and it is hard work to overcome a prejudice repeated in many subtle and overt ways nearly every day of our lives from the cradle. My awakening began nearly 15 years ago and it's taken that long to reach the not-quite-yet total acceptance of age I have now.

No one tells me, “You don't look that old” anymore, but younger people I meet often say, “You don't act that old.” I silently preen while hating myself for it. Lately, I've taken to adapting Gloria Steinem's famous response to being told she didn't look 40: “This is what old acts like these days,” I say.

But let me be perfectly clear:

Every time a hair dresser urges coloring your gray hair

Every time an exercise instructor makes fun of old people in class

Every time the word “young” is used to describe an elder

Every time the word “old” is used as a pejorative

Every time a comedian trashes elders with incontinence jokes

Every time an old person lies about his/her age diminishes, marginalizes and harms all old people. Ageism, which is the source of age discrimination, is as shameful and vicious as sexism and racism. It will end when we elders accept ourselves as we are and continue to point out ageism whenever it occurs – even in ourselves, until we are fully evolved into elderhood.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: Water Aerobics (In an accident of timing, Mary's story is an excellent companion piece to my post today.)

GAY AND GRAY: Gay in South Africa 20 Years Ago

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]

category_bug_gayandgray.gif One of the odd sensations I've gotten used to while growing older is the shock of realizing that the world is marking the 20th or 30th or 40th anniversary of events that were part of my life. I want to react - hey, wait a minute, that was just yesterday! I'm sure most elders feel that.

This past month, one such event was the 20th anniversary of the release of African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela by South Africa's white-ruled apartheid regime. This momentous step portended the transition to majority rule in Africa's most developed nation and the fall of a system of racial domination unrivaled elsewhere in the modern world.

The dignified Mandela had been imprisoned for 26 years by the racist regime, yet when he stepped out of prison, he seemed the model of the free man, a head of state in waiting, while his jailers looked puny.

The release was televised live. My partner and I watched in California and marveled - something so long wished for was taking place before our eyes. Within the next few days we got an email from a technical assistance non-profit group seeking volunteers to work with a Cape Town anti-apartheid newspaper on its computer technology.

This was 1990 - "desktop publishing" was still something of a novelty then. We were only reasonably accomplished amateurs - but we were that. And we had numerous progressive friends who generously raised the funds to send the two of us for three months to support the South Africans. Within six weeks of Mandela's release, we were on a plane to Cape Town - to a country emerging from its global isolation and beginning together to imagine a non-racial, democratic future.

I have lots of South Africa and technical assistance stories, many funny, a few harrowing. But in my Gay and Gray mode, I want to share a bit about being gay in that time and place. You see, the American outfit that sent us, in a fit of political correctness, decided it had to tell our South African hosts that they were sending a lesbian couple. They thought they were being very progressive by sharing.

We two probably would have skipped this advance revelation; our South African friends would have figured things out pretty quickly. As it was, we arrived with the extra burden of being not only "girls" in a techie role in an unfamiliar country, but also a gay couple.

As it turned out, it didn't take that long for folks to decide we didn't have horns. Cape Town in 1990 reminded us of San Francisco in the 60s where every free spirit and weirdo in the country chose to congregate. It was imaginative and fun. There was no visible gay culture (as there had not been in 60s San Francisco either) but there was a great sense of openness to experiments with freedoms of all kinds. There was great snickering over anything that could suggest sexuality, but also toleration and, I suspect, experimentation all around us.

And so from this exciting perch, we had the privilege to observe something of how the African National Congress (ANC) - the political party that had led the freedom struggle and would easily win the eventual democratic election in 1994 - would deal with gay issues.

One of the first leaders of the ANC to return to South Africa from enforced exile abroad was the lawyer Albie Sachs. His assignment was to meet with groups that had worked for liberation throughout the country getting their views on what should be in a new constitution for a free South Africa. One of the groups he met with was the Organization of Lesbian and Gay Activists (OLGA).

The meeting was possible because OLGA campaigned not only for gay rights, but also was a recognized "nonracial," anti-apartheid group. Nonetheless, the quite open-minded journalists at the paper where we worked were surprised by this overture from the revered ANC to the gay community.

The newspaper we worked for got an invitation to a press conference held by Sachs and OLGA; our co-workers insisted we come along. We jumped at the chance, and were bewildered by the dirty looks we got from some of the OLGA people. Much later we understood. Every gay and lesbian in Cape Town had wanted to attend the event. OLGA members had to limit attendance; they thought we were some local lesbians crashing the party until informed that we were "press."

The statement Sachs issued that day still amazes me. Here's some of it as we recorded it at that time:

"The question of homosexuality has never been treated in an open and honest way in South Africa. The first thing that has to be done is get the question out in the open and for persons who stand to be most affected by any future dispensation to say themselves what they would like to see. This is part of a very extensive process of consultation and debate, based on the principle that people must write their own constitution...

"In the case of homosexuality in South Africa, there is a special pertinence in this phase where we are overcoming apartheid. The essence of apartheid was that it tried to tell people who they were, how they should behave, what their rights were. The essence of democracy is that people should be free to be who they are. Any full democracy in South Africa, in my view, should be such as to encourage everybody to be who they are...

"There is too much fear in South Africa in general. We want people to be free, to feel free. This is one more area, in my own view, where there appears to be oppression. We are against oppression and we want everybody to feel they are part of the nation, they are part of the new South Africa, as part of a general program against discrimination, against marginalizing people, against this idea of telling people who they are and what they are..."

Sachs and ANC were true to their principles. The new Constitution that came into effect in 1997, included equal rights for gays and lesbians. In 2006, Justice Albie Sachs wrote the legal opinion that required the country to recognize same gender marriage.

None of this is to say that today South Africa is a great place for its gay citizens. Lesbians are at risk for "curative rape" by men who think they know how to fix them; gay men are deeply stigmatized and sometimes beaten up. But the basic law stands for equality of rights.

This makes South Africa by far the most friendly place for LGBT people on its continent. An outburst of freedom was turned in that time and place toward freedom for all, not just some.

I've also written this story with a little more detail here.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jan Adams: Bethany Center Senor Housing Murals

Time Out Today

category_bug_journal2.gif I told you posting would get sketchy as events regarding my planned move across country take over sometimes. This is one of those days. The workmen finished up early Tuesday morning, and a fine job they did. On time, too.

Then I spent the rest of the day washing windows, re-hanging curtains, even packing small items I've cleared out so the apartment is mostly clutter-free for photos on Friday and Saturday.

Still more cleaning and primping to do on Wednesday and Thursday.

Apparently, clutter has more positive connotations for Ollie the cat: I put his toys in his toy box, he pulls out his favorites and places each in a different room. I'll need to police the apartment for toys when potential buyers are expected. I did confiscate all the toy mice that, if you don't look closely, can be mistaken for the real thing. Eeek.

All the above is nothing more than filler for having run out of time and not written a post; a place to put today's elder story link.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: My Life with Chickens

Liking Growing Old

category_bug_journal2.gif Our culture considers growing old to be so hateful that the daily stream of slurs from media are not even considered prejudicial.

My current peeve is hair color commercials on television. Always, among the phrases promising shine and silkiness is a statement that the product completely covers gray, a color associated with dreaded age so that the idea, gray = old = bad is embedded in our brains almost subliminally hundreds of times a day, day after day, until it is as unquestioned as the color the the sky.

Elsewhere, any of the following everyday language contains within it the idea that being old is awful:

Sixty is the new 40.

You don't look that old.

You're only as old as you feel. (Or, as young as you feel.)

The comedian, George Burns, who lived to be nearly 100, came right out and said it: “You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old.” By which he means – what?

If the people who use all these phrases think being old is sitting in a rocking chair snoozing, where do they come from? I've never met any old people who checked out of living.

Don't get old is the constant message or, if you are unlucky enough to do so, hide it from public view. The repeated admonition coming at us from all sides is to turn ourselves into facsimiles of youth through poisonous injections or surgery together with behavior more suitable to 20-somethings.

What is wrong with all this is I like being old and I don't believe I can be the only one. The angst of youth is gone. Middle-age striving has faded into the background. I've lost concern for wrinkles and sags. I don't care that I'm not skinny anymore. I've learned a lot and am confident nowadays that I can probably handle whatever comes along or can figure out who to ask for help.

I am not ignoring the downside of aging, most of which is physical. As I write this, there is hardly a muscle in my body that doesn't ache after a weekend of concentrated stretching, kneeling, bending, scrubbing, climbing up and down the ladder, moving furniture, pushing the mop and vacuum cleaner to get this place spick and span for its impending sale listing. For most of my life, I could work that hard and then go dancing all night. Not now.

My energy and stamina are gone with the years. Deep sleep is annoyingly problematic. I discovered this weekend that kneeling for more than five minutes causes an amazing amount of pain in my knees. It is becoming apparent that I have outlived my teeth. Short term memory gets shorter and shorter although the upside of that, I guess, is additional exercise - I walk at least twice as much as I otherwise would to retrieve items I forgot in the room I just left.

All sorts of new irritations show up regularly, but I am grateful to be mostly healthy so far.

As to the inevitable end to old age, I've been working on that fear since I first understood in childhood that it is unavoidable and permanent; dying is okay with me (although I'd like to put it off for awhile). I am more curious than frightened now - if there is something on the other side, I look forward to finding out what it is. If there is nothing, I won't know.

The biggest problem with getting old isn't mine – it is the pervasive cultural climate of prejudice against elders in, among other areas of life, employment, medical treatment, politicians' recurring determination to cut Social Security and Medicare, and the constant reiteration that growing old is the worst thing that can happen.

Even with all that, my sixties – of which I have one more year – have been the best time of my life.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellen Younkins: Valentine's Day (Forgotten)

Current Reading

Last Friday at The Elder Storytelling Place, Judy Watten's piece, The Enchantment of Books, received some interesting comments all from people who have been lifelong readers and share her love of books.

I have been thinking a lot about books lately, scanning the shelves in each room, making mental notes about which ones won't break my heart to get rid of to save some money on my impending move to Oregon.

When I was young, very young, my parents read to me every night before I went to sleep. I remember the anticipation on Sunday mornings, too, waiting for my Dad to read me the funny papers.

It was so frustrating being dependent on them to know what the words were and I still recall the thrill on the day when I could, for the first time, sound out the words in the cartoons for myself.

After that, there was no stopping me. I drove both parents nuts reading aloud every sign we passed whenever we drove somewhere. Fortunately, for those who have shared rides with me since then, I got over it although I do occasionally catch myself saying them silently as I go by.

Aside: When I was growing up, my mother was always knitting. None of us ever wanted for sweaters and mittens and she even made me a knit dress once. The amazing thing was that she didn't need to watch the knitting. She could do it by feel and as there was no television when I was young, she spent many evenings knitting – and simultaneously reading. Knit, knit, knit, knit, turn the page. Knit, knit, knit, knit, turn the page. I've never known anyone else who could do that.

When my brother, who is about five years younger than I am, began reading backwards – I don't think there was a word for dyslexia yet – I was the proud big sister given the task each night after dinner of “cramming” the English language into him with flashcards. I've often wondered if language “experts” today would be horrified at our family's technique, but he grew up to be a newspaper editor with as much love for books as my own so I guess there was no harm done.

With all this on my mind, I think it might be fun today to hear other people's stories about the time when they finally learned to read on their own, and what we are all reading right now.

There are four I'm currently working on. Many years late, I have gotten around to P.D. James's The Children of Men. I'm about halfway through Theodore Roszak's new one, The Making of an Elder Culture, a book that follows on his famous, The Making of the Counter Culture from 1969.

I'm skipping around through The Federalist Papers of Hamilton, Madison and Jay looking for passages that are relevant to some of the nuttier Constitutional interpretations coming forth these days from various politicians, right wingers and yes, the Supreme Court.

And I'm fascinated with Jaron Lanier's You are Not a Gadget, A Manifesto about how the internet is transforming our lives – for better and worse.

I don't think there has been a moment of my life since that marvelous day I found I could read the funny papers on my own that I have not had several books going at once and more in a stack next to the desk that I'm looking forward to.

Now it's your turn.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcia Mayo: The Closest I Come to Crazy

ELDER MUSIC: Sun Records – Part 1

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.


Sun Logo

Sam Phillips started off in radio in the 1940s. In those days, programs were often recorded on 16-inch disks and sent around to other stations. Thus, he became proficient as a recording engineer as well as a disk jockey.

Sam Phillips

Sam didn’t set out to create a record company. Initially, he recorded artists - the likes of BB King, Rosco Gordon, Howlin’ Wolf - and sold them off to other, larger labels.

He recorded the famous Rocket 88 with "Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats", a non-existent band. It was a pick-up group put together by Ike Turner and is often considered the first rock & roll record. Of course, everyone has their choice of the first (The Fat Man takes a bit of beating, and it was earlier) but we won’t get into a discussion on this (oops, too late).

This is a good place to start though. I know it didn’t come out under the Sun label, but it certainly fits in here. It was the first record that featured what later was called fuzz-tone guitar. This was because the amplifier either fell off the roof of the car or got soaked with water. You choose which story to believe.

Jackie Brenston and Ike Turner

♫ Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats - Rocket 88

Sam quickly discovered that he wasn’t receiving his monetary due from the other record companies, so he started releasing the music himself. Sun Records was born.

He continued recording the blues artists around (and traveling through) Memphis. One of the earliest records, and the first to make a real dent on the charts, was the Rufus Thomas number Bear Cat.

This will sound familiar to you as it was an answer song to the Big Mama Thornton tune, Hound Dog (later covered by another Sun Records artist). Answer songs were very popular in the fifties, as you’ll recall, this is one that would stand up in its own right.

Rufus Thomas

♫ Rufus Thomas - Bear Cat

In spite of having played with Howlin’ Wolf when still a teenager, Junior Parker’s vocal style is the antithesis of Wolf’s. He has a melodic, honey-soaked voice. He recorded at Sun in 1953 and included in the sessions was a song that was also covered by that same “other Sun Records artist”, Mystery Train.

Alas, he died of a brain tumor at 39.

Junior Parker


Little Milton, born James Milton Campbell, Jr., caught the attention of Ike Turner while still a teenager playing in local bars. Ike was, at the time, a talent scout for Sun Records. Milton signed a contract and recorded a number of singles. None of them made radio airplay or sold well, however, and Milton left the Sun label by 1955.

He is part of the Sun story so I’ve included him (because I think he should be included). This is If You Love Me.

Little Milton

♫ Little Milton - If You Love Me

The Prisonaires, as their name suggests, were prisoners. The band was formed by lead singer Johnny Bragg who had been an inmate since the age of 17 after being convicted of six charges of rape. He included Ed Thurman and William Stewart in the group, each of whom were doing 99 years for murder (99 years, that’s nearly for life) and John Drue and Marcell Sanders (larceny and involuntary manslaughter).

They were discovered by a radio producer who heard them singing while preparing a news broadcast from the prison. This tape eventually made its way to Sam Phillips. He wasn’t keen on their style of singing but agreed to record them anyway.

The group was transported under armed guard to Memphis to record. A few weeks later, Just Walkin' in the Rain was released and became a regional hit. The band became favorites of the state governor and frequently performed for assembled guests at the governor's mansion.

The members of the group were pardoned at the end of the fifties - there were serious doubts about some of their convictions.


♫ The Prisonaires - Just Walkin' in the Rain

All these records sold okay, but not stupendously. At the time Sam opined,

“Man, if I can find a white person who can give the feel and true essence of these black artists then I’d have a chance to broaden the base and get airplay that otherwise we couldn’t.”

And man, did that prove to be a phenomenal philosophy. Next week, that very person.

GRAY MATTERS: Republican Agenda

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. Links to past Gray Matters columns can be found here. Saul's Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, also appears at Time Goes By twice each month.

Thanks to the Republicans’ lurch to the far-out right, they can at last be honest in their intentions if they get another chance at governing in 2010 or 2012. They no longer need hide in sheep’s clothing; they can now be more comfortable as what they are: wolves in wolves’ clothing. And that means they will do what they say if they get the chance.

That is to say, the present Republican leadership and its young new ideologues, have put pretense aside and now openly intend to destroy, during their next watch, the twin pillars of the nation’s public social insurance system – 75-year-old Social Security and 50-year-old Medicare.

If you think I exaggerate, check out their legislation, for H.R. 4529, introduced by the top Republican on the Budget Committee, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and S. 1240, introduced by the most right wing member of the Senate, Jim DeMint of South Carolina.

Some excerpts in a moment, but underlying the proposals, “Roadmap for America’s Future,” is the belief of the now-dominant right-wing of the Republican Party that Americans should be weaned from Medicare and Social Security to reduce the national debt, permit deep reductions in taxes for the wealthy, encourage self-reliance, personal responsibility and less dependence on government and while putting the billions in Social Security taxes to work in American enterprises, the stock markets, to build individual investment accounts instead of a pension.

Republicans, of course, have long advocated self-reliance and individual responsibility - when they opposed child labor laws and opposed Social Security during the Great Depression and Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. But they’ve been disguising their opposition partly because these programs have been so successful and popular with the hundreds of millions of Americans who have been made whole with medical care and pensions. And the Republican Party was closer to the main stream.

Thus, when Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980, he calmed the fears of older Americans when he promised to cut only “waste, fraud and abuse” in government. As a commentator, he had spoken in vigorous, ideological opposition to Social Security and Medicare – as the harbingers of socialism. But as president, Reagan left Medicare alone and in 1983, he appointed a commission that strengthened Social Security to build today’s $3 trillion trust fund for the boomers’ retirement. The Trustees say the trust fund will last until 2037, unless the recession drains it more rapidly.

More background: In 1994-5, when Southern Republicans under House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, his sidekicks Richard Armey and Tom Delay of Texas took over the Congress, their “Contract with America” noted that Reagan had been unable to end many federal programs and the contract proposed a “Personal Responsibility Act,” to end welfare for poor women. But the Contract refrained from frightening the nation for it mentioned not a word about Social Security - which Gingrich called “the third rail” in American politics - nor Medicare.

But Armey let it be known at a press breakfast that the Republicans intended “wean our old people away from dependence on Medicare.” An aide quickly denied Armey meant to kill Medicare. Gingrich told health insurers that the Medicare agency would “wither on the vine.” Eventually it became clear what they meant.

Under the Republican threats to slash Medicare, Bill Clinton agreed to allow private companies to sell Medicare policies, now called Medicare Advantage, which are heavily subsidized and serve a fifth of Medicare beneficiaries.

In 2003, George Bush took Medicare privatization further with the Medicare Part D drug benefit which is wholly private. That bill also put limits on Medicare’s budget growth and instituted a means test for the first time.

Some of that has been reversed in the Democratic Congress, but Medicare is more private than it has ever been, although the proposed health reforms would end most of the $250 billion subsidy for Medicare Advantage.

In 2005, Bush sought to build on his Medicare privatization with an attempt to turn Social Security and its trillions into millions of individual investment accounts. While no one, except Bush, was burned by the third rail, his effort failed partly because even Republicans were afraid of ending Social Security’s $650 billion a year in insurance and pension benefits.

But the opposition, which continues to denigrate and undermine Social Security, has grown bolder and more radical and has not given up.

Sensing new opportunities because of the deficits they helped create and the strain the recession has put on Social Security and Medicare, the Republicans and Democratic deficit hawks have set their sights on both programs as if all “entitlements” contribute to the deficit. Social Security, for example, is self-sustaining and only its administrative costs (one percent) contributes to the deficit.

Nevertheless, the “Roadmap for America’s Future” (a more appealing name than the legalistic “Contract With America,“) would end future Social Security protection for all persons under 55 and substitute a “Personal Social Security Savings Program” - that is, investment accounts like that provided by the government (federal employees now also get Social Security).

Incidentally, the trust fund would no longer be available to loan money to the treasury and thus earn money. Instead the trillions in the trust fund, which belong to you and me, would be “liquidated” and available for Wall Street.

Instead of the guarantees of Medicare, persons who will become eligible in, say ten years, would get an average of $11,000, in vouchers to purchase health insurance on the open market. That would be available through a newly merged Federal Hospital Insurance Trust fund and Federal Supplementary Medical Insurance Fund. You tell me if that would be enough insurance to last the rest of your life even if, G-D forbid you have a catastrophic illness. Funds would be slashed for the Part D drug program, which would be means tested and voluntary.

There is no mention of restraining the costs of premiums or regulating insurance companies’ practices; that would be a restraint on free enterprise. The clever part of the proposal would pit the old against the young who will be on their own and would no longer have to pay for their elders.

But imagine grandma or grandpa, when Medicare is no longer available, having to shop for coverage if they are already ill or disabled or suffering from dementia. Ask your parents what it was like before Medicare. Consider what would be lost if there was no longer any intergenerational responsibility.

But the juiciest part of the Roadmap, the one that will bring joy to the rich and appeal to fiscally conscious Republicans are the numerous tax breaks it proposes. It would end taxes on capital gains, dividends and interest, estate and gift taxes and the corporate income tax. (Unfortunately, President Obama has caved in to the deficit fears with his creation of a deficit commission and he even praised Ryan as a person with “ideas.”)

Finally, a page from Dickens and the 19th century workhouses: The bill would end, next January 1, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which the Congress passed over George Bush’s veto. You don’t believe Americans would do this to children? Look for the bills at GovTrack or OpenCongress.

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On Moving, Scams and Dysfunctional Politics

It's getting busy around my place. The workmen sprucing up several rooms will be finished early next week, then there will be photographs for the listing which will “go live” before 1 March. The apartment on the first floor of my three-unit condominium has been sold at an excellent price after only three weeks on the market. That doesn't mean mine will follow suit, but it is encouraging.

Have you ever noticed how everything happens at once and it all takes longer than expected. You can sit on your duff for months, average daily life just drifting by and suddenly everyone wants a piece of you.

There is a whole lot of stuff to be hauled downstairs and taken to the dump before photos can be taken. My drivers license is due for renewal involving eye exams, papers signed and driving to and fro.

Taxes are sitting around waiting to be sorted and I'm missing a couple of documents that must be found. I start a massive amount of dental work next Monday which will be unpleasant and time-consuming. Every time I think I've cleaned up a room to perfection, I find something I missed – a blotch on the woodwork here, a streaked window there. And dear god, the cat just threw up on the rug again.

Meanwhile, a couple of items for you.

Time Goes By readers are way too intelligent to fall for employment scams, but desperation can lead anyone to do dumb things and perhaps you know someone who needs this information.

It sickens me that there are people who take advantage of others' hard luck, particularly in terrible times. Job scams have become so widespread that the Federal Trade Commission has issued a new video and checklist to help people avoid these criminals. Here's the video and you can find more information at the FTC website.

As noted in yesterday's post, Congress and Washington in general appear to have gone off the rails. Here's a fun commentary on the Democrats that's good for a much-needed laugh in our uncertain times – a political toga party. I can't reproduce the image here beyond this small facsimile, so click this link and be sure to mouse over each of the people in the “painting” for the full enjoyment.


Now I've got to get back to work on all these projects.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Judy Watten: The Enchantment of Books

In Our Nation's Hour of Need

category_bug_politics.gif The trend, building to a crescendo since Washington's back-to-back snow storms brought government to an honest standstill for a few days, has metastasized this week: Congress is broken, dysfunctional, gridlocked and generally out to lunch according to the media, some Congress members themselves and the American public.

On Tuesday, a CNN poll confirmed the public's opinion – 63 percent agree that federal lawmakers do not deserve re-election - to which the only reasonable question left is: what's wrong with the 34 percent who don't agree.

The country, if not Congress, appears to be united on something.

Most recently, my own two senators, Maine Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe voted with their party against cloture on the nomination of Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board leaving that agency essentially non-functional with only two members. Government cannot be run this way and no one can claim the president is not leading when Congress is still blocking most of his appointments more than a year after the inauguration.

With the health care reform bills apparently dead, President Obama announced a bipartisan summit on health care at which he will present a new reform bill for discussion. House Republican leader John Boehner demands that the bill be published online before the summit then whines, when the White House agrees, that Republicans were not included in its creation.

In a remarkably tone-deaf comment about multi-million dollar bank bonuses, the president – assuming way too much solidarity with the public – tells an interviewer, “I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth.”

Administration officials tell us bailout of the banks was necessary to see keep the economy from sinking into a depression and that it worked. Yes, well, it worked for the already wealthy, but growing numbers of Americans continue to go hungry, lose their homes, postpone needed health care and sink into poverty while Congress doesn't even pay lip service to the devastation throughout the country, and the executive branch seems not to realize how dire the situation is for millions of people.

Nothing I hear or read from the president and Congress – all of whom are either wealthy themselves or live like the rich due to their ability to write off lavish expenditures - leads me to believe they haven't the least understanding of the country's pain.

• The administration touts a tiny drop in the unemployment rate, but we all know it has been way undercounted all along and remains closer to 20 percent – near Great Depression levels.

• Average wages have not increased in more than a decade.

• The jobs bill in Congress - only $15 billion – is too small by magnitudes to have an impact. If Congress passes the bill, it will create no jobs. None. (And renewal of the abominable Patriot Act is buried in that puny bill.)

• One in eight Americans (including 14 million children and nearly 3 million elders) are going hungry.

• Foreclosure filings increased 15 percent in January over a year ago, and have been at more than 300,000 per month for 11 consecutive months – real people in 3 million 300 thousand homes forced out in just one year.

• Large private health insurers are raising premiums by more 39 percent (!) this year. Tens of thousands of people barely hanging on will have no alternative but to drop their coverage.

• As a small, personal example of corporate gouging in the worst economic times in 80 years, Time Warner increased my cable TV/internet fee by more than 11 percent, and a credit card bank imposed a $60 annual fee this month. I canceled the card.

Now forget all those numbers and think about the people behind them, make them real and picture yourself and your family in these straits. Stomach growling but no money for food today. Packing up what belongings you can stuff in the car and moving in with a relative who probably doesn't have enough room for you. Or perhaps you are one of the homeless living out of your car or – I don't know how people do it – on the street hoping there will be food left when it's your turn in the soup kitchen line.

Even if you avoid that extreme, imagine your prescriptions for heart disease or asthma or diabetes running out and no money to buy more. How about telling your kid you can't afford college for him/her this year. And if you're unemployed, the horrible daily grind for months on end of sending out resumes with never even an acknowledgment that they are received.

What is missing in our leaders is any sense they know this is happening as they bicker and posture over arcane procedural rules to block any forward movement. One senator who high-mindedly announced he is opting out of the re-election campaign this year because he can no longer tolerate the inactivity in Congress then refuses to rule out hiring on as a lobbyist.

(Apparently, lobbying has become the only growth industry in the country. Corporations and interest groups spent $3.47 billion on lobbying the federal government last year and one wonders which greedy bank Evan Bayh will sell his soul to.)

No thinking person expects our economy to turn around in a year or even two or three. But we should be able to expect the people we hire to run the day-to-day business of the nation to step up when there is a crisis of emergency proportions and do something useful.

I want them – Republicans and Democrats together - huddling in their committees producing workable solutions. If they must earmark bills, I want those millions going to feeding and housing people who need it so badly right now – not building bridges to nowhere. FDR is the obvious example for Washington to heed.

Most of all, we need some legislators who believe in our form of democracy, who choose politics because they want to serve their country and its people, who go to Washington to make a positive difference. What have we got instead?

There is a marvelous line in the opening of the TV show, Burn Notice: “You know spies – a bunch of bitchy little girls.” It applies equally to Congress.

At The Elder Storytellling Place today, Norma Shore: Crows in February

Elder News: 17 February 2010

Several readers sent suggestions for real estate agents in Portland, Oregon. I engaged one of them over the weekend, so thank you all for that help and for all your other suggestions about Oregon.

I spent most of yesterday deep in the details necessary to get this home ready to put on the market, so here are a couple of nice things that caught my attention recently that you may like too.

Cat Cafes in Japan
Imagine renting time by the hour to hang out with a whole bunch of cats. For about $9 an hour, you can do that in any of 79 cat cafes scattered throughout Japan. Apparently, most landlords do not allow pets, so young Japanese have made cat cafes a popular phenomenon.

Here's a short video:

There are more cat cafe videos at YouTube and you can read a fascinating story about them at Vice magazine with a lot of photos and interviews with patrons.

Omnibus and Leonard Bernstein
Back in the 1950s when television was new and all, my family regularly watched Omnibus together on Sunday afternoons. Your family probably did too. One of my favorite parts was the regular appearance, for a period of time, of Leonard Bernstein explaining music – all forms of music.

This past Sunday, The New York Times published a story about the release of these Bernstein/Omnibus shows on DVD. I rushed off to another website to purchase the set before I finished reading. Here is a short clip from a show on jazz:

There are several more of these wonderful Omnibus/Bernstein clips at YouTube.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellen Younkins: Writer's Block

REFLECTIONS: On Objectivity

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the twice-monthly Reflections column for Time Goes By in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation. His other column, Gray Matters, formerly published in Newsday, appears each Saturday.

Category_bug_reflections One of my less talented editors in my early days in the news business would gather the staff and say things like, “ Always be on the lookout for a good story.” I kid you not. Then he would look over at me and say, “and always play it down the middle.” He knew that I had trouble with that from the beginning.

How can you “play it down the middle” when the victim of a horrendous crime is a child? Or, for that matter, how do you keep yourself out of the story when you’re sent, as I was, to interview a kid dying of leukemia but hoping he would live until the baseball season? How can you write such a story with objectivity? If there are no tears on the page (we used paper then) you’ve done a lousy job.

Somewhere I read that Theodore Roosevelt, who called some of the best reporters of his day “muckrakers” but admired them for their trust busting work, told the press once that there was no way to “play it down the middle” of competing assertions that the natural color of grass is red, not green.

Today, Paul Krugman has told us, it’s the style of too much of the main stream press to give equal weight to nonsense as in, “on the one hand all the facts tell us Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, but here is another view” usually from a self-serving nut who is barely challenged but simply quoted. As if that fulfilled the reporter’s responsibility to tell the story, if not the truth.

A digression: Why is it news at all to give voice to verifiable nonsense? It may be useful if the reporter grills the subject and calls out his/her false statements. Isn’t the job of the reporter to tell the truth as best as he/she can learn it? You may not be able to call someone a liar, but you can expose the lies if you’ve done your homework before the interview.

Why, after all this time, are we Americans the only people on earth who are obliged to defend Darwin? Is it honest journalism to report seriously, as fact, that the earth is 6,000 years old and man walked with the dinosaurs?

At the Grand Canyon, where some rocks are two billion years old, one Park Service guide was obliged to represent the creationist view to provide both sides of the story. No wonder a large percentage of Americans, don’t know that the earth revolves around sun instead of the other way around.

I have been over this ground before, but I’m interested in making a further observation – that too many mainstream reporters, especially the careerists who earn too much money, don’t really care about the story they’re covering and the outcome. Outcomes matter, as in two elections in which the Democratic candidates – both good men – were trashed with the help of the press that stood by.

I wonder, for example, if Ceci Connolly, the Washington Post reporter who helped kill single payer health care by refusing to write about it early on, really cares about how this health care fracas turns out. Are reporters pulling for Obama’s success, or will they be glad to pounce on the President because it would be a good story if the reforms die? Will they care about the effect on people who, unlike themselves, will be without health insurance? And is this kind of objective, uncaring good for the country or journalism?

I was called to revisit this subject by a fine, lengthy piece by former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges. Posted February 1 on Truthdig, it was entitled “The Creed of Objectivity Killed the News. And it quoted one of the best journalists I knew, the late Molly Ivins, a friend from my Texas days. While we search for the middle as if the truth lies there, Molly wrote,

“There is no such thing as objectivity, and the truth, that slippery little bugger, has the oddest habit of being way to hell off the one side or the other; it seldom nestles neatly halfway between two opposing points of view...It’s of no help to either readers or the truth to quote one side saying ‘cat,’ and the other side saying ‘dog,” while the truth is, there’s an elephant crashing around out there in the bushes.”

Hedges calls this unthinking objectivity an “abject moral failing [that] has left the growing numbers of Americans shunted aside by our corporate state without a voice...The elitism, distrust and lack of credibility of the press...come directly from this steady and willful disintegration of the media’s moral core.”

I can’t disagree, but the mantra of objectivity is not solely to blame. The trouble and the amorality lies deeper. It may surprise you, but the best reporters for the best newspapers (and television) no longer carry the torch of objectivity. It’s not even held up in journalism schools as an ideal. As I’ve told journalism students, only a tape recorder can be objective, but a human reporter must listen to it and decide (subjectively) what is important and what is not.

What most reporters say they try for are accuracy, fairness and honesty. But that too can be a way to dodge finding out and reporting the truth. After Katrina, CNN’s Anderson Cooper became, and deserved to be a star, when he exposed the failings of the government in getting help to the people dying at the Superdome. He spoke the truth for those people and the rest of the country and there was no other side to the story.

Consider, in the extreme, the sham of the Fox network’s “fair and balanced.” It will ignore the truth, that elephant out in the bushes, to entertain the like-minded loonies who enjoy cat fights that get some precious space and air time. It’s not news or the truth, for weighed in the balance, the cat that can scream the loudest with the most outlandish, outweighs the elephant. Nevertheless, fairness and balance, as practiced by the most responsible main stream reporters, often become copouts for dodging the moral judgments about the stories they cover.

Robert Fisk, one of the best reporters in the Middle East, says that too often balance comes down to this: “Record the fury of a Palestinian whose land has been taken from him by Israeli settlers, but always refer to Israel’s “security needs” and its “war on terror.” If Americans are accused of torture, call it abuse...”

Once in 1991, I witnessed a heart-breaking scene at the Allenby Bridge, watching Palestinians crossing from Jordan to the West Bank, which technically does not belong to Israel. The Palestinians, especially the women were subjected to humiliating open air searches by armed Israeli soldiers.

My office told me to be fair in the story and note the threats to Israel’s security. I’ve been cautioned by an American editor not to describe the wall of separation between Israel and what’s left of the Palestinian territory as “apartheid.” But Israel’s more aggressive press calls it just that.

The best and most credible information a reporter can bring to a story is what he sees with his own eyes; too often that has to be balanced. But as Hedges said, “this becomes more of a way to obscure the truth.”

If reporters for the mainstream newspapers vigorously searched for the uncovered, controversial truth in a story, and exposed it with the same alacrity we probe and endlessly report on a congressman’s sexual transgressions, perhaps we could intelligently sort out from the barrage of news, the truth of what it means.

I suppose the bigots, nuts and know-nothings will always be with us, ignoring the facts and reason. But their voices and their enablers are amplified by modern journalism. Without some guidance from a reporter who knows his/her beat and points to the truth, we are left open to the ridiculous, lying rantings of right-wing talk shows. That, in turn, has prompted commercial television to bring us more liberal talk shows. But their elephants cannot compete with screaming cats, and Rachel Maddow’s solid reporting gets scant mainstream coverage compared to the stream of unconciousness raving of Glenn Beck.

Finally, the American people have never had more free communications sources for news. Yet they are among the most politically ignorant. According to a new Daily Kos poll of Republicans in the party of Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower, 68 percent think Obama should be impeached or are not sure. Fifty-three percent believe Sarah Palin is more qualified to be president than Obama; another 33 percent were “not sure.”

The poll also found that nearly half of all Americans believe, after 26 years of polling, that God created human beings pretty much as they are 10,000 years ago. Author Frank Schaeffer, a former Republican who has been at war with the fundamentalist rightists of the Tea Party movement, whom he calls “village idiots,” notes as a preface to Hedges’ piece, “A village cannot revise village life to suit the village idiot.”

My question is why and how did they get that way?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Brenda Verbeck: On Life and Love and Stuff

Slowing Down the Speed of Time

My friend wanderingstan (he of the snailmail letter with beautiful calligraphy), who recently reached his 36th year, sent an email note a few days ago about the phenomenon of time appearing to speed up as we get older.

“This scares me,” he wrote. “It's one thing to realize I am solidly approaching (some would say 'firmly in') middle age. It is another thing altogether to realize that the second half will be flying by at increasing speed. I feel it already.”

Several years ago here at TGB, we explored some popular theories about that feeling of time speeding by. You can read one of them here.

What prompted Stan's musings on this mystery of life is an All Things Considered story on NPR about it. They cover two well-known theories and another I hadn't heard before about old brains. You can read a synopsis of the show or listen to it – it's 8:37 minutes and very good.

NPR - All Things Considered

The theories discussed on the NPR story are:

  1. Slow brain theory - old brains lose ability to measure time accurately so the world appears to move faster

  2. Proportional theory – one year is one-fifth of a person's life at age five, but only one-fiftieth at age 50 so a year seems to go by more quickly

  3. Novel experience theory – when experiences are new in youth, the brain works hard to record them in detail; when experiences are familiar in age, the brain doesn't bother to record details so events seem to speed by

These are, however, only theories. Science doesn't know why time appears to accelerate in old age.

My experience last week seems to support theory number 3. Although I had made the decision to sell this home only six days previously, by Friday it felt like a month had passed. Perhaps that is because it was packed with new experiences.

In addition to my normal routine and tasks (completely discombobulated now), I was arranging for some rooms to be painted; there were four workmen coming and going each day; much discussion of scheduling, paint colors and such; many phone calls; research and long hours running numbers to estimate costs and where money can be saved; making to-do lists and revising them; tracking down information necessary to the apartment sale; noting all your many suggestions, thoughts and ideas about the move; and so on.

Nothing I did was entirely new. I've sold and purchased homes in the past, but not in so short a period of time and without the stab of fear I'm experiencing two or three times a day wondering if I can't pull this off without making myself a pauper - one expensive surprise and I'm doomed financially.

Well, probably not, but it won't be pretty.

The swift passage of time in our old age is an old complaint among elders. If the NPR story and my experience mean anything, perhaps the solution is to pack our days with new events to slow down the perception of time. But there is problem with that too.

One of the things I like about retirement is the time for contemplation and quietude. It's not just having the time, but there is also more inclination now than when I was younger to work at putting some perspective and context to my life. To make connections between experiences then and now. To try to find a thread, if there is one, that runs through the years and decades.

That quiet time is not possible when the number of new activities is high, and I don't think I have the energy – physical or psychic - for so much new stuff even if I were inclined.

As serendipity would have it, just as I got to this point in writing today's story, Stan, who is living in Germany for awhile, answered my request to quote his email and included some additional thoughts. He too has concluded that one way to “slow down” time is to flood oneself with new experiences. I'll give him the last word in our theorizing:

“But this becomes increasingly a burden as one grows older,” writes Stan, “since you also feel the responsibility to keep all your old experiences around. It seems there is only so much space in my brain, or so much space in myself for self-defining experiences. I can't keep having life-changing, time-slowing experiences forever. Or at least, I'm afraid it looks that way!

“In any case, I'm looking forward to what you have to say and your many commenters.”

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, William Weatherstone: Alzheimer's: Part 9 – Separated

ELDER MUSIC: Some Musicians You May Not Know

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.

category_bug_eldermusic This is in contrast to the Musicians You Should Know About previously published here. With these today, I don’t expect you to run out to your local store and buy these (mostly, because they may be difficult to find).

This is a category some of you are going to go “Hey, I know them.” I’m thinking of you, Tony. Others may be saying “Huh? Who the hell is that?” or “Why are you playing that?” That’s okay too.

Emitt Rhodes

Emitt Rhodes

I discovered this album in 1970. I discovered a lot of interesting albums that year. A lot of other interesting things too, but that’s for an entirely different blog.

When I first heard this, I thought it was the first Paul McCartney album, only better. It’s still better than any of Paul’s solo albums. Now, that should get the comments going.

Emitt wrote all the songs and played all the instruments on the album. Talented little devil. This is With My Face on the Floor from his first (self-titled) album.

♫ Emitt Rhodes - With My Face on the Floor

Marc Cohn

Marc Cohn

A wonderful line in this song is when Marc describes listening to Al Green. The woman next to him asks, “Tell me, are you a Christian, child?” and he answers, “Ma’am, I am tonight”. I feel the same way listening to Al or The Fairfield Four or the Blind Boys of Alabama or Mahalia Jackson. That’s about as long as it lasts though.

Here is that song - Walking in Memphis.

♫ Marc Cohn - Walking in Memphis

Speaking of the Blind Boys of Alabama, they first formed at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind at Talladega, Alabama in 1939. The three main vocalists of the group and their drummer/percussionist are all blind. Founding member Clarence Fountain still tours with the group when his health allows.

Blind Boys

Check out their wonderful version of Amazing Grace from their “Spirit of the Century” album.

♫ Blind Boys - Amazing Grace

Willis Alan Ramsey

Willis Alan Ramsey

My friend Tony introduced me to this album a long time ago. A long, long time ago. We thought, “This is pretty good,” and wondered what his next album would be like. Way more than 35 years later, we’re still wondering.

Many songs from that first album have been covered by others ranging from The Captain and Tennille and Jimmy Buffett to Jerry Jeff Walker and Waylon Jennings. This is one of those songs, Muskrat Love.

♫ Willis Alan Ramsey - Muskrat Love

Linda Jones

Linda Jones

Sometimes during the talkie bits of this song, Linda speaks so quickly it’s difficult to understand what she’s saying. It’s understandable as it seems to me she was trying to fit as much in as was possible. She died at the age of 28 after going into a diabetic coma from which she didn’t recover. Legend has it that she collapsed at the Apollo Theater, but her son refutes that saying she was home when it happened. Legend usually wins out over truth.

Here she is doing an extraordinary version of Your Precious Love.

♫ Linda Jones - Your Precious Love

Martin Sexton is a singer/songwriter from New York. However, he’s not in the usual mold for this category - his songs are infused with soul, gospel, country, rock, blues, and R&B elements.

Martin Sexton

I don’t remember buying his album. That’s a bit odd as on the cover of my copy there’s Martin’s signature with a note to me.

Anyway, The American is a really interesting song.

♫ Martin Sexton - The American

This is a category that could go on for years.

GRAY MATTERS: Depression

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. Links to past Gray Matters columns can be found here. Saul's Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, also appears at Time Goes By twice each month.

For those of us along the East Coast, flooded by weeks of rain and buried by five feet of snow since December, this surely is our winter of discontent, or worse. Add to that the state of the economy and the stock market, and as I warned during the approaching winter after 9/11 2001, older people need to be very aware of the danger of depression.

That desire to crawl under the covers and hibernate can be more than the winter blues. I know; I had a brush with depression only because of a fall and a bump on the noggin, which laid me low for a few days and nagged at my thoughts: “Why wasn’t I bouncing back faster? Will I regain my strength?

When last I wrote about depression, an unprecedented surgeon general’s report on mental health in 2000 pointed out that depression, in one form or another “is strikingly prevalent among older people,” too often accompanied by alcohol or drug dependence. But many older people tried to ignore their symptoms as simply a sign of age.

Coincidentally, just after my fall, Ilaina Edison, a vice-president and researcher for the superb Visiting Nurse Service of New York, the nation’s leading home health care provider, told me that ten to 20 percent of older people seen by primary care physicians “have critically significant depression.”

Moreover, many of these physicians, not specializing in geriatrics, don’t diagnose or they under-treat depression. Edison wants home health care nurses, who know their patients best, to be able to diagnose a case of depression before it takes root.

In one of her papers, Edison says that depression “places a significant burden on the health system” and impedes a patient’s ability to comply with medical treatment. The classic symptoms – sad, empty, hopeless feelings, trouble concentrating, a lack of energy, trouble sleeping, a loss of interest in what you like to do, and even vague or passing thoughts of suicide – can complicate getting better from even a routine illness.

The surgeon general’s report noted that there is no need for older people to put up with depression and risk their health further because there are modern and relatively safe drugs, among other treatments. And since the report, Medicare has led the way in recognizing and paying closer to parity for the treatment of mental as well as physical illness.

However, Medicare has been slower in understanding how its regulations can become a barrier to home health care for depression which, in a sense, is the front lines for the discovery and treatment of depression. Says Edison, ”Mental health status is not being addressed by hospitals when discharging a patient, even if he or she is taking an antidepressant.”

When I was discharged from a fine hospital after my fall, a doctor prescribed home health care for my physical problems, including physical therapy. But no one asked after my emotional well-being.

“Another barrier,” said Edison, “is the way Medicare reimburses for depression and mental health services in home health care.” Medicare has been demanding a positive diagnosis before it will pay. But if a home health care nurse discovers a patient’s depression, mild or severe, during a visit for other purposes, reimbursement may be complicated.

Thus she believes Medicare should allow and train the visiting nurse practitioners to diagnose depression and help guide a patient’s treatment with guidance from a psychiatrist.

Medicare Part A helps pay for inpatient mental health care; Part B covers outpatient visits to mental professionals, subject to the yearly deductible ($155). For a visit with a doctor to diagnose your problem, Medicare pays 80 percent of the cost. But to get treatments, such as psychotherapy, the patient now pays 45 percent and that will decline to the parity of 20 percent in 2014.

But to return to the surgeon general’s report, it recommended getting help from modern drugs that can treat and even prevent anxiety and depression. And if you feel you need something, a pre-emptive strike to get you through the winter, consult with your physician but be very careful about what you choose.

The surgeon general reported that certain widely used anti-anxiety drugs, called benzodiazepines – Ativan, Lorazepam, Librium, Valium, Xanax – are immediately effective but have been misused by many older people because they are chemically addictive over time, which means the more you take, the more you need. Some Medicare Part D drug plans are not required to provide these drugs.

These drugs are often over-prescribed and withdrawal from these drugs is likely to be difficult and could be dangerous. Similarly, sedatives and sleeping pills such as barbiturates, including Butisol, Nembutal and Seconal are highly addictive.

Less dangerous or addictive, although they take longer to work, are the anti-depressants including the granddaddy, Prozac, along with Zoloft and Paxil and other newer compounds such as Celexa, which are purged more quickly from the body and present fewer problems for older adults. These are a class of anti-depressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which can prevent mild depression from getting worse.

Other new anti-depressants (SNRIs), including Cymbalta, are being advertised for more serious problems.

However, all these drugs may produce unpleasant side effects and dependency. Your physician can fit the drug to your needs – if you need drugs at all. A pet that you can care for where you live, or perhaps a trip this winter to somewhere sunny could give you the lift you need.

What we’ve been calling the winter blahs has been given an appropriate name, SAD, for Seasonally Affective Disorder. And if you use a computer (which can be a great help in keeping you mentally fit (I play freecell or spider solitaire to check on my mind.), you can find sources for special lamps and lighting which, according to many legitimate-sounding claims, helps brighten those dark days.

You may want to visit the Medicare website and search for “mental health care and Medicare.” To learn more about the services of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, visit their website.

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Shopping for a Real Estate Agent

When looking for a real estate agent, I do interviews. I want to know their experience in the market, get a sense of how they operate and I most definitely want to hear some enthusiasm for helping me find a home.

The biggest problem when I began house shopping here in Portland, Maine, was making a choice among agents because all the half dozen I spoke with seemed to be just right. The one I selected is now selling this apartment for me and I would think agents would keep that in mind.

So far I've spoken with eight agents in Portland, Oregon and none of them will do. One woman said she thought she might be able to check online listings for me. Huh? I can – and expect to - do that.

Another told me that there wasn't much to be had in my price range in the neighborhoods that appeal to me. I know that's not true; I've checked out a couple of hundred already and marked a dozen I'd like to know more about.

All eight of these agents sounded like they weren't much interested one way or the other in having me as a client, and none made an effort to sell me on signing with them.

Very frustrating and given the housing market these days, surprising. I suppose they are all looking for that million-dollar-home client but the reality is, they'll make their living on a lot of smaller deals.

Remember yesterday when I told you posting at TGB would be sketchy during this moving project? Today is one of those days. With all the workmen here yesterday (a great bunch of talented young men who are fun to be with), tracking down more real estate agents to call, meeting with the condo insurance agent and a couple of other condo issues to field (why do these things happen all at once?), there wasn't much time to devote to TGB.

Thank god for Saul Friedman and Peter Tibbles who will have posts of more substance for you on Saturday and Sunday. I know you will show your appreciation in the comments.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Memory Piece

Upcoming TimeGoesBy Schedule

blogging bug image It feels like a month, but it has been only five days since I made the decision to sell this home for a move to Portland, Oregon. Already the joint is jumping. Today, there are three workmen in three different rooms making some cosmetic fixes and they will be back tomorrow.

I'm also interviewing real estate agents in Oregon, scheduling a massive amount of dental work that must be done over the next month and starting to sort my “stuff” at least on paper and talking with people who have various kinds of expertise I need.

I've jumped into the details of this project immediately because I know I'm slower now than when I moved from New York City, four years older and I can feel the difference. I tire by mid-afternoon both physically and mentally so I need to spread out the work over a longer period of time. Also, I have never liked rushing around at the last minute; pacing it what I am trying to establish.

And as you can see from the postings here this week, the pending move has pretty well taken over most of my brain cells leaving room for little else.

All that is to say that publication of Time Goes By may be sketchy for the foreseeable future. There will be something here every day, as there always has been, but there may be times when it's only a link to the day's Elder Storytelling Place post. And, I probably won't be able to do many stories that require any amount of research. Think “lightweight” for awhile. It's easier and faster to write a story like this, for example, than to do the work required for serious elder issues.

On one of the earlier posts this week, Ellen Younkins wrote, “Hopefully you will continue Times Goes By when you move.” You won't get rid of me that easily. Cyberspace is everywhere, so TGB will go on, just from a different coast. Think about this: if I'd not told you I'm moving, how would you know?

Regarding a couple of other issues you mentioned in comments:

Susan: If I remember correctly, I'm supposed to bury a statue of St. Joseph upside down in the garden so the apartment will sell quickly, right? Do you think Joe will care that I'm not Catholic?

Mage B: Regarding your note that you always felt I was in the wrong Portland, you're right. When I was choosing a place to move to four years, the final decision was between the two Portlands. This was one of the larger mistakes of my life, but there is nothing to do now except – well, move on.

Many of you recommended that I rent for awhile in Portland, Oregon, and in some circumstances you would be right. But. Ahem. Do you think I'm made of money? Like so many of us, I lost more than a third of my savings in the 2008 crash. This home will not sell above what I paid for it, so my move is being budgeted to the penny, terrifyingly so, and I can't spend on rent what is needed toward purchase and the inevitable fixes a new home requires.

Counting parental moves in my childhood, this will be my 44th move. I'm pretty good at it. I'm even better at triangulating my requirements and wish list for a home with the necessary compromises. To the horror of friends and my accountant, my apartment in New York City was the only one I looked at. I liked the neighborhood, the size and the attractive amenities so I made an offer 30 minutes after I walked in. I was never unhappy there.

When that apartment finally sold, I had three days to find a home here and did it. Now I'm ready to leave this city, but I so love this apartment, I have been so comfortable in this space, that if I could, I'd haul it with me and plant it in Oregon. Not counting the awkward location of the bathroom in both homes, I've done well in my choices.

I'm still combing through the neighborhood suggestions you've left and comparing them with my sense of where I want to live, homes currently on the market, prices, etc. and I appreciate all of the good advice from so many of you. But for renting, there isn't enough financial wiggle room to risk it. I'll just need to be as good at choosing as I have been in the past.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Felis domesticus

Letting Go of Stuff

The Macklin Intergenerational Institute is a non-profit organization that, among other programs, teaches younger people what it is like to be old through its “xtreme aging training” sessions.

In one of the exercises, attendees are given 11 sticky notes and asked to write down five possessions, the names of three loved ones and three privileges they enjoy – one on each piece of paper. As the training continues, these are removed one-by-one until only three remain, probably one in each category. That's all you can take when you move to a nursing home.

When I first read about this training exercise several years ago, I tried it for myself. Even on paper, it was painful. With each successive removal, it felt like I was reduced in physical size as though I'd eaten an Alice in Wonderland cookie, and that I was closing down like the iris of a camera until I felt small, unimportant, empty. No, it was worse: I was devastated that my entire life came down to so little.

Maybe that is what the accumulation of stuff is about: expanding our footprint in the world, reinforcing our existence, telling the world, "I'm here!" And, perhaps, without our stuff, we don't feel like other people know that.

Okay, I'm not ready for a nursing home yet. Aside from a noticeable loss of energy and stamina over the past few years, I'm healthy, capable and fit. But this aging exercise came to mind during the past few days as I contemplate and begin to prepare for a 3000-mile move to the west coast. It's a good opportunity to get rid of a lot of stuff to reduce moving costs and help make a fresh start in a new place.

To get you in the mood for the rest of this post, here is George Carlin's famous take on Stuff:

It is astonishing how attached I am to my stuff. But...

Half the books can go; nobody needs 3500 books and perhaps the public library here will want some of them. I'll never read most of the fiction again, so that's relatively easy. I recently counted up 30-odd teeshirts at least half of which I haven't worn since I moved from New York nearly four years ago. There is other clothing in the back of closets I never wear.

I'm surprised at how little furniture I have – just the normal stuff: dining room, a sofa and chair in the living room, desk, two beds, a dresser, some end and occasional tables, a sideboard and lovely little cupboard. Oh, the filing cabinets; I'm sure at least half the papers in them can be tossed. One friend has suggested selling furniture before moving and buying new once I've bought a home in Oregon. Unlikely; I like what I have.

There is a large number of framed pictures of various kinds most of which have never been hung here in Maine because there is a dearth of wall space given the 13 windows and 12 doors. I haven't missed looking at them, but there is sentimental value and perhaps a place for them in my new home. Should I ditch them or not? And what about all the gardening pots of various sizes?

There is a huge collection of china from my aunt and grandmother – without question, that goes with me. And an extensive amount of good cooking equipment collected over a lifetime. I surely don't need it all, but you never can tell when you might want a 19-inch-in-diameter frying pan or a bowl big enough to hold the dough for four loaves of bread. (I'm being silly about those two things, aren't I?)

This isn't going to be easy.

Some people, when they retire, downsize to smaller homes. In my case, I upsized from what was a fairly typical New York City one-bedroom (not much bigger than many suburban family rooms), and I will undoubtedly choose a home in Oregon of similar square footage as I have now.

So your assignment today is a discussion of stuff, our attachment to it and how to choose what to lose. What are your personal experiences with it from retirement downsizing to just cleaning out the detritus. Was it easy to make choices or not? Was there anything you later regretted getting rid of? And how does growing old change your attachment to stuff?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Madonna Dries Christensen: Celtic Runes

There's No Place Like Home

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Another blogger, Gaea Yudron, has submitted a photo of her photo blog space. You can see it here. Others who would like to post their workspace, instructions are here.

category_bug_journal2.gif I considered yesterday's “announcement” that I've decided to move to Portland, Oregon, to be a personal indulgence, not something that really belongs on this blog about aging. But I'd been busy thinking through some of the details of selling and buying and all, and by Sunday evening I had not written another post for Monday.

And look what happened – wow! I had no idea so many of you would have so much to say about it. I'm taking seriously all your various kinds of advice, and I thank all of you for your good wishes on this project.

As any of you who have moved in your life know, it is important to run the numbers, accounting for fees, expenses, commissions, taxes, etc. to arrive at the smallest offer you can or are willing to accept in a sale to net what you need for your move and new purchase. What are the moving costs? What costs are attached to buying in the new city? How much new home can you afford? How much fudge room is there? Ship the car, sell it or drive? Not to mention the timing so you're not homeless for too long.

All that kind of stuff makes me grind my teeth, so I took a lot of breaks from the calculator yesterday to think about the idea of home and how we find it.

Ben Franklin said, “A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body.” A couple of thousand years earlier, Cicero put it more simply: “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” There is also Robert Frost's well-known dictum: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in,” but you can't count on it.

Even after her adventures in Oz, the feeling of home was easy for Dorothy: Kansas.

It's easy for me too: Greenwich Village is in my bones as deeply as if I'd been born there. I've made peace with leaving, but not easily and I don't have much chance of finding a pair of ruby slippers to take me back.

On the other hand, I love this apartment in Portland, Maine. I have been more comfortable in this physical space than anywhere else. It suits me and that may have something to do with why it took so long to decide to leave. I wish I could wave my magic wand and take the apartment with me to Oregon.

(A lot of wishing going on here...)

A number of people yesterday agreed with the comment left by Marian Van Eyk McCain (elderwomanblog) about my decision to move:

“The image I've had ever since I met you, Ronni, is that you dug yourself out of the soil of NYC and carried yourself to Maine in a pot, intending to re-plant yourself, but that your roots are still in the pot.”

It makes me laugh to picture myself hauling around a miniature Ronni potted up like a geranium. Marian proves a point I've often made to new bloggers: over time, there is no way you can present yourself as anything other than what you are; whatever that is, it will always come through your words. Apparently you, readers, knew Portland, Maine might not be my final resting place before I did.

Probably the best quote about home is one of the simplest: Home is where the heart is. My heart will always be partly in Greenwich Village, but it lives in Oregon too. And not in Maine. It's a nice enough place, but it doesn't feel like home even after nearly four years.

So tell us today what home is to you - and where.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Shirley Karnes: Humpty Dumpty