45

No, not that 45. Today is my 45th birthday. It’s also the day after graduation for what has been an extraordinarily busy year. I feel like it’s been a really wonderful one, though.

On the personal side of life, things couldn’t be better. I feel like I need to focus more on reflecting on that, but when I do I’m just massively appreciative. My kids are healthy, loving, and brilliant. My wife and I are frequently overwhelmed but we make a great team.  We were lucky enough to move last summer, enjoy some special trips, and watch three amazing people grow up a little more.

Work has been crazy. I served as department chair this year and, while there is some satisfaction in the work I’ve done as a result, it is pretty demanding. It made it hard to be the kind of teacher I am used to being.  At the same time, this year also involved stepping into a new position as mentor to a group of 11 amazing first-years (now sophomores!!). They’ve really made my year fulfilling in ways I can’t even express yet.

I got to present my new work on Vietnam to a non-academic audience.  I got to bring some of that work together in a public history exhibit–my first time ever doing that kind of work.  As I continue to work on the book, I also got funding to put together a public stage performance based on the oral histories I’ve collected.

In short, I feel lucky, fortunate, even blessed.

Reaching 45 is less traumatic than I thought it was going to be. I’m solidly and undeniably middle-aged, but that’s nothing new. I feel productive and unproductive at the same time, the challenges of midlife and masculinity. On the plus side, Sinatra was 45 when he left Capitol Records and started Reprise and he put out a whole bunch of great albums then.

So I got that to look forward to.

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They Made it to 2017

Happy 2017!

As we meet the new year, it’s time for me to revisit my annual “They Made it to ____” post. This post is meant to recognize the careers of three entertainers who are still with us but, because of advanced age or the passage of time, are kind of forgotten. As I’ve said in the past, I think of it as a chance to think “I didn’t know s/he was still alive” before I read their obituary.

A lot of the names I’ve written about in previous years are still around.  Folks like Carol Channing (95), Hal Holbrook (91), Little Richard (84), and former “Lollipop Guild” member and oldest living “Munchkin” Jerry Maren (96) deserve some mention here.

There are also quite a few noteworthy stars who are making it to their 80s and 90s and also still maintaining some presence through media, social media, or even their continuing work.  Betty White (who turns 95 later this month) probably tops the list . Carl Reiner (94), Dick Van Dyke (91), Jerry Lewis (91),  Max Von Sydow (87), and Bob Newhart (87) come to mind. When screen legend Kirk Douglas passed the century mark last month it was also well represented in the news.

So, let me spotlight three Hollywood stars (or “former” stars) who you might be surprised to know are still with us.

Olivia de Havilland (100)
I’ve written about Olivia de Havilland in previous years but I feel she still too big and too applicable to my goal here not to include yet again. Simply put, she just might be the oldest bonafide “star.” de Havilland is one of the stars of the legendary film Gone With the Wind (1939). She won two Oscars for Best Actress–for To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949)–and starred in such classics as Captain Blood (1935) (with Errol Flynn, whom she starred with eight times), Santa Fe Trail (1940), and the campy disaster classic Airport ’77 (1977). She was even best friends with Betty Davis! When she turned 100 last summer there wasn’t much mention of her, I suspect because her stardom is such a distant memory to the present generation. Heres to hoping she makes it to 101.

Henry Silva (88)
Noted character actor Henry Silva is still with us. One of Danny Ocean’s original eleven in the Sinatra-led classic Ocean’s 11 (1960), Silva actually began his Hollywood career as an unbilled player in the Viva Zapata! (1952) before gaining admission into the legendary Actor’s Studio. He was in classics like The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Cinderfella (1960) before leaving the U.S. to start in a slew of “international” films. In addition to television, he also played a tough guy in a lot of movies in the 80s and 90s, including Dick Tracy (1990) and Ghost Dog: the Way of the Samurai (1999). Silva will turn 89 in September.

Doris Day (92)
Singer, actress, and and animal activist Doris Day is 92. [There is some dispute about her birth year. While Day “officially” lists her year of birth to be 1924, a birth record for her has been found listing her year of birth as 1922. The reclusive Day has done nothing to clarify the situation. Of course, it would have been common for stars in her time to lie about her age for the purposes of advertising. Her studio might have committed to a later birth at some early point to make her younger than she was.] Doris Day was a multifaceted talent who was also one of the biggest box-office draws in cinematic history. She acted alongside legends like Carey Grant and Rock Hudson and graced the screen in films like Pillow Talk (1959), Send Me No Flowers (1964), The Thrill of it All (1963), and Teacher’s Pet (1958). Her last film was in 1968. Though I’m not sure she ever “officially” retired, she did in fact do so, at least from Hollywood. She started her animal activism in the early 70s and has been a notable figure in that movement since.  Because of her reclusiveness, I’m not sure many folks know she’s still around. Day will turn 93 (or 95) later this spring.

Here’s to a healthy 2017 for us all!

Friday Five: November

Fall is in the air. Thanksgiving is around the corner. Here are five songs from five albums that were all released in November.

5. “The Girl is Mine” (Michael Jackson)
Thriller was released on November 30, 1982. This duet with Paul McCartney was the first single released from the album. It’s not quite what you’d expect from what would become the biggest selling album of all time. In some ways it’s a homage to the Jackson of the 70s.

4. “You’re No Good” (Linda Ronstadt)
This is the first track on Linda Ronstadt’s breakout album Heart Like a Wheel, released in November 1974. Ronstadt was one of the most successful performers of the 1970s, and there’s lots of reasons why. When I listen to some of her work (like this song, a reinterpretation of an old R&B tune) I’m surprised she’s not more well-known today.

3. “Bombtrack” (Rage Against the Machine)
The self-titled debut album of Rage Against the Machine was released on November 3, 1992. This is the first track. I remember when a friend first put this CD in the player and pushed play. It’s a memorable opening for a band that would become a voice for some of the best parts of my generation.

2. “Thinking of You” (Tony! Toni! Toné!)
One of my favorite albums of the 1990s was released on November 19, 1996. The fourth album of Tony! Toni! Toné! is something of a comeback album, with rumors of their break up bolstered by their individual success behind of host of hits in the interim. The sound they captured was a homage to 60s soul wrapped up in a 90s way. It’s best felt in this song, the first track on the album.

1. “Candy Man” (Roy Orbison)
A year before Roy Orbison died, a bunch of music stars (ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Tom Waits) and a killer back up band (including the great Jim Burton) accompanied the legend in an evening of his greatest hits. Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night aired on Cinemax in early January 1988. In December Roy would die. A year later, in November 1989, the album of this historic evening was released.

Friday Five: Boo!

Happy Halloween!

It’s a testament to my wife that my kids get more excited for putting on their costumes than they do eating candy. It’s a testament to their father that they know Michael Jackson’s Thriller as well as anything by Taylor Swift.

Here’s five more songs they’ll know by the end of the weekend.

5. “Monster Mash” (Bobby “Boris” Pickett & the Crypt-Kickers, 1962)

4. “Dead Man’s Party” (Oingo Boingo, 1985)

3. “People Are Strange” (Echo & the Bunnymen, 1987)

2. “Halloween” (The Misfits, 1981)

1. “Werewolves of London” (Warren Zevon, 1978)

Friday Five: Silly Love Songs

I have few actual memories of 1976. I was only 4, after all. I developed a deep love for the entire decade later in life, though, a mix of the sights and sounds I do remember with my later interests. 1976 is a great representative slice of that.

As I’ve written before:

It was the bicentennial (I love US history); Taxi Driver, Network, and All The President’s Men came out (I love 70s cinema); and “What’s Happening!”, “Laverne & Shirley”, and “Charlie’s Angels” all premiered on TV (all were big for me in syndicated repeats). One of my favorite movies ever–Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993)–takes place on May 28, 1976!

Wing’s “Silly Love Songs” was a hit in 1976. I like the song okay, but Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles life isn’t my favorite stuff. It was a good year for love songs, though.

So here are 5 love songs from 1976:

5. “Sweet Thing” (Rufus, featuring Chaka Khan)
If you want to know why a certain segment of baby boomers is crazy for Chak Khan all you have to do is listen to songs like this, when she was the lead singer of Rufus. She pulls off what only she could do.

4. “Beth” (Kiss)
Kiss is one of thos love-hate things, mostly because in an era of “artistic” album rock they were a commercial juggernaut who didn’t hide their desire to make money. That said, they hit it more than a couple of times. This is one of those times, a snapshot into the life of a rocker.

3. “Isn’t She lovely” (Stevie Wonder)
Stevie Wonder is a genius who was at his most genius in the 70s. This is one of the best songs of all-time, from one of his most amazing albums.

2. “Sara Smile” (Hall & Oates)
Damn but these white boys could sing some soul!

1. “Somebody to Love” (Queen)
So beautiful. The loneliness contrasted with the operatic the energy is amazing as a studio production, but remained amazing in its many live performances, too. It’s my favorite Queen song ever.

Lucky Guy

Today is the start of the 2016-17 academic year!

This year marks the start of my 15th year as a professor and 21 years since I first taught at the college level (as a TA at UC Berkeley). To look at it another way, since I started college in the fall of 1990 and didn’t take any time off between college and grad school and my two tenure-track jobs, this is also the start of my 27th year in higher education.

More than a quarter of a decade!

I’m coming off a year-long sabbatical, where I spent my time researching and writing about the Vietnam War and Mexican Americans. So I haven’t been in the classroom for awhile. Truth be told, I’m excited and a little nervous. But that’s part of the norm for me anyway.

No matter how you cut it, I’m a lucky guy. I get to read and write and teach for a living. I get to spend my time learning more and more about subjects I’m still passionate about. I get to work with young people–smart and eager young people–who help me develop a greater appreciation for the subjects we learn about.

It’s good stuff. I wouldn’t change it for the world, and I remind myself daily how lucky I am to be able to say that about my work.

So happy new (academic) year!

Friday Five: Rick Rubin

Whenever I take a look at the life and career of producer Rick Rubin I’m reminded of how diverse and impressive his catalog of music is. I’m also reminded that I need to start working on my beard length and my casual pants collection.

Here are five of my favorite songs he’s had a hand in making:

5. “Angel of Death” (Slayer, 1986)
4. “Chop Suey!” (System of a Down, 2001)
3. “Under the Bridge” (Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1991)
2. “Walk This Way” (Run-D.M.C., with Aerosmith, 1986)
1. “Hurt” (Johnny Cash, 2002)