Happy New (Academic) Year!

Today is the start of the 2018-19 academic year at Pomona College!

This year is the start of my 17th year as a full-time professor.  It’s the start of my 23rd year in the world of college teaching (I started teaching at the college level as a TA at UC Berkeley).  Overall, this is my 29th year in higher education.

The kid that began his undergraduate career back in 1990 would have been pretty pleased to know that someday he’d be writing the above paragraph.  Not many days go by that I don’t think and feel how lucky I am to be in my line of work.  I get to learn new things on a daily basis.  I get to write and read.  And I get to spend time connecting young people to their own journeys of discovery.

I’m a lucky guy.

I’m looking forward to this semester.  I’ll teach my “Intro to Chicanx/Latinx Studies” class, my greatest pleasure and the reason I do what I do.  I’ll also teach my “Latinx in the 20th Century” seminar, where we get to go more into depth.  As if that wasn’t enough, in a little more than two weeks, the play I wrote based on my oral histories with Chicano Vietnam vets will hit the stage.  It’ll be a busy start but I got nothing to complain about.

So happy new academic year from me to you!

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Friday Five: 70s mixed tape

Let’s pop in a tape and go for a ride…

5. “D’yer Mak’er” by Led Zeppelin (1973)

4. “Dance, Dance, Dance” by Steve Miller Band (1976)

3. “Domino” by Van Morrison (1970)

2. “Peg” by Steely Dan (1977)

1. “My Sharona” by The Knack (1979)

Friday Five: 80’s dance

Here’s part 3 of my homage to 80s R&B, my selection of some of the best dance hits of the decade:

5. “Let the Music Play” by Shannon (1983)
Too much 80s here but it’s all the right kind.

4. “Lovergirl” by Teena Marie (1984)
The soulful Teena Marie.

3. “Come Go With Me” by Exposé (1987)
I had a high school, lunchtime conversation once where we debated which member of Exposé was the sexiest.

2. “Don’t You Want Me” by Jody Watley (1987)
Her music had so many of the elements of 80s club tracks that they don’t get played much today. At the foundation, though, they were good beats from a great performer.

1. “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston (1987)
This is one of my favorite songs of all-time. My kids have been instructed to play it at my funeral.

Friday Five: R&B in 1986

I finished 8th grade in 1986 and started high school. That meant going from a fairly homogenous (Mexican American) 1st through 8th elementary school of a bit more than 200 to a very diverse (by race and class) school of more than 1700. This was my soundtrack for that change.

5. “The Rain” by Oran “Juice” Jones
Aside from the really long monologue at the end of the song, the claim to fame for this one hit wonder is that it’s the first #1 song for the Def Jam label.

4. “Rumors” by Timex Social Club
If I had a personal soundtrack for the summer of 1986, it could have this song on it and be done. The dad of a grade school friend gave me a lift home that summer and he sang along with the song when it came on the radio. In my mind he was instantly and forever the coolest dad ever.

3. “All Cried Out” by Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jame (with Full Force)
It’s early fall 1986 and a big group of our freshmen class (boys and girls) are building and decorating our class float for homecoming. This song comes on a boom box and it becomes a mass sing-a-long, girls singing Lisa Lisa’s parts and boys becoming Full Force.

2. “Word Up!” by Cameo
This is a good song. It has a great beat and an assortment of interesting sounds. But it’s Larry Blackmon’s odd phrasing and outfits that made this the memorable treat that it is.

1. “Nasty” by Janet Jackson
No my first name ain’t baby / It’s Janet / Miss Jackson if you’re nasty.

Elvis Day, 2018

Today is the 41st anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. I made my first post to the original “Latino Like Me” blog (hosted on Blogspot) on this day 11 years ago.

To mark the occasion, I could go on about why I love Elvis so much; or make my argument why he is the greatest rock ‘n roll star in history; or play clips of his best performances. Instead, I’d like to share one of his most historic performances, one that captures his position as a cultural phenomenon.

This is Elvis’ “Welcome Home” performance from 1960. Fresh out of the Army, Elvis made his first television performance in three years as part of the fourth (and last) Frank Sinatra Timex Show, this one subtitled Welcome Home Elvis.

Wikipedia tells a little bit of the story:

On March 26, at 6:15pm, taping for the show took place at the Fontainebleau Hotel. It was Presley’s first appearance on television in over three years, and his first serious performance since 1957, making Presley nervous about how he would be received. Colonel Parker, perhaps due to nerves of his own, had arranged for as many Presley fans as possible to fill the audience, although at least half of it was still made up of Sinatra fans. For the occasion, to fit in with Sinatra’s “rat pack” persona, Presley wore a tuxedo.

Sinatra and Elvis were kind of rivals in the 50s. Sinatra represented the kind of music and vocals which were the antithesis of rock ‘n roll, while Elvis. . . well, he was the king. Sinatra had once said rock ‘n roll was “sung, played and written for the most part by cretinous goons” and “manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth.” But here, the two are friendly and complimentary in every way.

As they say, it was a big deal. Here is the long clip of his appearance.

Aretha

Word is that Aretha Franklin is “gravely ill.” I’m saddened to hear the news.  There’s no disputing the argument that she is the greatest female singer of the 20th century.  Perhaps aside from Ella Fitzgerald, there is none more significant.

I’m sure an avalanche of thoughtful and loving pieces commemorating her life and legacy are on their way. I’m spending my work day with her music. If you’re in a listening mood, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (1967)–her first with Atlantic records–is one of the best albums ever. Here are my other favorites of her albums and collections:

Lady Soul (1968)
Aretha Now (1968)
Young, Gifted and Black (1972)
Soul ’69 (1969)
The Tender, the Moving, the Swinging Aretha Franklin (1962)

Aretha is a much more powerful single track artist than an album one, so compilations of her work are often the surest way to go. Here are my favorites:

The Very Best of Aretha, Vol. 1: the 60s (1994)
Aretha Sings the Blues (1985)
Queen of Sou: The Atlantic Recordings (1994)

And here’s a killer live performance that always stands out in my memory:

Friday Five: 80s R&B

I grew up in the 80s.  Even though I listened to a lot of oldies, rock, and pop, I probably spent most of those years listening to music that could be categorized as R&B.

That’s a diverse category, I know.  It also shares a lot of space with Top 40 music, both then and now.  So for the next few weeks I’ll make a list of some of my favorites by breaking down the genre a bit. This week I’ll focus on love songs, both those we might think of as “slow jams” but also some of the stuff that was more Black adult contemporary.

5. “On the Wings of Love” by Jeffrey Osborne (1982)
This song is a perfect example of the intersection of R&B love songs, gospel-tinged lyrics, and late 70s/early 80s pop instrumentation. It was also on the tape that played and played at Taco Bell, the site of my first job. I have fond memories of my co-worker Freddy Dew belting it out every time it came on.

4. “Love You Down” by Ready for the World (1986)
Unlike the above song, this was young person’s music in the mid-80s. It had everything we loved then, too. It never fails to transport me back to freshman year of high school.

3. “If Only For One Night” by Luther Vandross (1985)
I always imagined Luther Vandross would be the music I’d play if I was a grown up having a romantic evening with someone special. Alas, such nights only existed in my imagination back in the 80s. Still, Luther is the man. While the arrangements of some of his music can be a bit much, his voice and phrasing was beyond compare.

2. “I Want to Be Your Man” by Roger (1987)
If I had my way I would’ve walked down the aisle to this song on our wedding day. No hard feelings! It was a great ceremony. But it could have used more talk box.

1. “Shake You Down” by Gregory Abbott (1986)
At the time everyone talked about Gregory Abbott as a “former teacher” with an R&B smash hit. I always figured he was a grade school teacher who one day walked into class to thundering applause from his students who now knew him as a singing sensation. It wasn’t until later that I learned he just taught one or two writing courses at Cal while working on his MFA in creative writing. The song–which is overwhelmingly 80s in every way–still occupies a big soft spot in my heart.