Thursday, September 29, 2016

Looking and Sounding Fab

You didn't have to grow up in a rancher or split level, but it definitely upped the sense of deja vu if you had.

Modern Richmond was doing a pop-up of a 1960 split level in Maymont and by pop-up, that meant no one was going to speak about the house built by local architect Louis Stephenson, which is what usually happens at these events.

But visitors were welcome to traipse through - sans shoes, as usual - all four levels and marvel at its near-museum state and period-appropriate furniture.

Because I'd also grown up in a house built in 1960, there was a hella lot to relate to for me, along with plenty I couldn't because this was a custom built house (ahem, intercoms in every room) and my parents' house was just another suburban tract house.

Walking toward it just as a light rain began, my first impression was pure Brady Bunch; it just had that look with a wall of windows in the front, a shared balcony spanning several bedrooms and blue and white diamond panels next to the front door.

Apparently the original owner had recently died and her children are selling off the family homestead, so we were treated to a staged house using - with the exception of some living room pieces - the owner's mid-century modern furnishings.

See: diamond-shaped mirror over the dining room credenza.

In the downstairs rec-room, I was immediately at home with the wood paneling but my Dad's modest Formica bar couldn't compare to the extensive curved bar with alternating blue and yellow stools and we sure didn't have a fireplace in our rec room.

In the entrance way was possibly the grooviest element of the entire house: a Nutone built-into-the-wall stereo/high-fidelity/radio/intercom system that consisted of four units including reel to reel player and turntable, each jutting from the wall in brown and gold glory.

Even the kitchen had a long stretch of windows, but also an amoeba-shaped built-in table, a tall cabinet with pegboard lining ("My grandparents had the same thing," Mac observed) and, wonder of wonders, a Hot Point range with a knob labeled "Supermatic" (we hadn't a clue) and where the fourth burner (electric, of course, this was 1960 and gas was old-fashioned) was actually a deep fryer.

As in, a hole where the burner would've been with a fry basket resting inside, their very own built-in Fry Daddy.

Praise be the days before we were collectively nagged about eating fried food.

Hardly surprisingly, nearby on the counter was a metal grease can with inside strainer exactly like the one my Mom had had, except hers had looked a little greasier than this one.

You know, because cooking for a family of eight, it was probably hard to have nice things.

The oven, just so you know, was that distinctive shade of aqua that defined the late '50s and early '60s and hanging it from its lower oven was a cloth tea towel with a 1967 calendar on it.

Classic stuff, I tell you.

In the dining room, atop a Danish modern-looking sideboard was an electric Presto-Pride percolator with settings spanning "mild" to "strong."

In my house, the percolator was always set on "strong" and the boys my sisters and I brought home judged by whether they drank their coffee black.

Upstairs, I opened a closet that still held linens and assorted junk, only to find a small red volume, Peg Bracken's "On Getting Old for the First Time," and while the title wasn't familiar, the author was.

My favorite grandmother was a huge fan of Bracken's smart-assed writings on cooking and housekeeping and even had a copy of her "I Hate to Cook" book. As a kid, I recall reading some of her articles and thinking she was hilarious.

Stir and let cook five minutes while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink.

Come on, she was Betty Friedan with a cocktail and without the sermonizing.

In one of the upstairs bathrooms, we were delighted when Mac discovered a shiny, stainless steel square over the sink that, when touched, swiveled to reveal a hidden toothbrush and glass holder.

Above it was a generously-sized medicine cabinet ("They don't put these in houses anymore," Mac commented with disdain) with more than enough room for cold cream, cake mascara and Dexedrine.

The four bedrooms were not only familiar for their compact size, but a reminder that our notion of personal space has grown way out of proportion. You should've seen the tiny rooms I shared with another sister.

Honestly, how much bedroom does one kid - or even two - really need?

More than once, we heard other guests saying some variation of the same thing: "This place is like a museum" and "This is all so familiar."

By the time we left, my head was firmly planted in the '60s, exactly the right place to be to go see the documentary, "The Beatles Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years" at Movieland with others of an age.

I hadn't become a Beatles fan until the '70s, so there was plenty I didn't know and hadn't seen.

Because it was a Ron Howard-directed project, I was counting on great archival footage and obscure finds, and that's exactly what we got. Beatles obsessives might have seen some of this stuff before, but a lot of it was fresh to me.

The sheer joyfulness of the early performances and how well they managed to sing despite non-stop screaming offered a glimpse into the bizzaro world they more or less created.

Since the documentary only told the story of a very specific period - essentially 1961-66, although it ended with the 1969 rooftop concert - it didn't deal with a lot of the band's deeper issues, just the steamroller effect of Beatlemania and how it wore the four lads down eventually.

In one fairly early sequence, the band introduces itself.

I'm Paul and I play bass guitar. I'm George and I play solo guitar. I'm John and I play better guitar.

No friendly rivalry there or anything.

It was fascinating hearing a young Paul insist that they wouldn't play the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville if the concert hall was segregated and seeing the contract where that was stipulated, but the really impressive part was hearing that from then on, stadium shows were no longer segregated for anyone.

As a history lesson, I learned that they took flak when a concert in Japan was planned for Budokan because it was a scared place. My first thought was that apparently the Japanese got over that by 1978 when Cheap Trick recorded an entire album there.

What mainly came across was what a lark the band considered the whole experience, at least at first. When a reporter asks Paul about the Beatles' affect on the culture, Paul corrects him, saying they weren't culture, they were just a good laugh.

And they were, at press conferences and interviews, using bad puns, quick quips and sarcasm to make the endless round of press stops not only tolerable but fun for them.

During a recording session, John tells George Martin, "Keep that take! It sounded fab!"

One thing that surprised me was that in the present day interviews with Paul and Ringo, it was Ringo who came across more robustly and less old man-sounding.

When the film ended, we got a surprise screening of the Beatles historic 30-minute set at Shea Stadium, but not the scream-filled audio I'd heard before but a remastered version that put the band's vocals high in the mix and the endless screaming far in the background.

That alone was worth hearing, if nothing else than for the marvel of how these guys managed to stay in tune when they couldn't hear each other at all. Ringo used to watch Paul and John's backsides to know when a song ended.

But my main takeaway was what a pivotal period in women's liberation the arrival of the Beatles was. Watching those girls in the audience swoon shamelessly, cry with desire for these log-haired lads and all but climax in their seats had to be an empowering thing after the buttoned-up Eisenhower years.

It's like they were conveying, we are sexual creatures and we will display that in public if we want to.

Do you want to know a secret? Staring at a guy's backside beats the hell out of staring sullenly at a sink.

We've come a long way, baby, from aqua ovens.


  1. All the horrible things in mid-60s life (how could people really live like that?)—to the Beatles, the greatest thing from the sixties. Great post, Karen!

  2. Thanks, Prof B! From a relic to a remembrance, it was a blast of an evening!