When I was a wee tyke we had a record player that sat in the living room of our tiny apartment in Roselle, NJ. It was located on the bottom shelf of a book case and we had, I believe 5 records. A classical box set of Tchaikovsky ballets, the Guys and Dolls soundtrack, a compilation of standards that was put out by the supermarket for which my father worked in the warehouse (Food Fair) and this one.
I listened to it daily. I learned how to operate the phonograph player as a 6 year old. (Which, now that I think of it, means that I was learning how to use the tech of the day much in the way that our kids play with phones today)
AB-cadefghi-jekelminopquer-stew-witzes was how I learned the alphabet. Thanks, Big Bird.
As I was thinking about this record and noting that it’s not available on the major streaming services I was suddenly hit with a flash of a memory. It’s vivid and it’s also very brief: I’m standing in a room, surrounded by older and very much taller people than myself. How could they not be? I was no older than 4. I can still see the plaid pants of the man standing in front of me. And I have no memory of other kids. Which, in retrospect, is strange because this was an event to debut handheld puppets that were about to debut on a new tv show. How we got there, I do not know. I asked my mother over the years but she was too old and infirmed to recall the experience much less any specifics. What I do recall was an elevated dais and a man with a beard, standing in front of us (There could’ve been no more than 30 people present) his hand inside a big, green frog and telling us that they were both (Kermit, the Frog and himself) excited that they were, along with many other “muppets”, going to be appearing on a new program on public television. That’s the memory. That I was there when the Muppets were announcing to a select group of friends that they were going to be on a new tv show.
And, of course, I watched that show. Sesame Street was an attempt to show that the techniques of advertising could be used to teach kids the alphabet & mathematics as well as how to be a kind citizen and accept those who are different as though we are all the same. Which we are.
My parents weren’t consumers of pop culture. We didn’t have a lot of money. We never went without but the fear of being poor loomed large over me, my father having been raised in a two room clay house in Jerusalem. He was the 6th of 8 kids and, for much of their lives they all lived in that tiny home. Bombs going off on the front porch were not an unknown occurrence (I will get to that story when we get to The King) but it didn’t prevent him from dreaming of a better life one day. But, informed by a home experience on the edge of poverty (my father’s father, Chanania, was a tchockie seller on the dusty Israeli streets when it was still Palestine) my dad lived his life holding on to every dollar until it had to be spent. But he was also very generous with his kids. Committed to making sure that our lives were filled with all we needed and all we could want to enrich us. I am sure that my mother had much to do with that. She being a perpetual teenager who also wanted better for her kids than she had, I never was denied what was any true desire but they both taught me that I really didn’t need much to make myself happy.
Music, however, was everywhere. We only had a few records but we listened to them. The radio was always on. I would get called out of bed to see “Hold That Tiger” performed on Hee Haw. Dad took me to my first concert, which had to have been torture for him since it was David Cassidy performing solo at the Garden State Arts Center. Mom bought tickets, on a whim, for a Cheap Trick concert at Radio City Music Hall and spent most of the time petrified that we would all get contact highs. They didn’t have a lot of but they gave me a love of music.
One of the deepest pleasures of parenthood has been streaming records like this one on my Sonos speakers for my son, Zachary. He was 4 at the time I exposed him to the songs of Sesame Street. Although he was already able to read, watching him laugh at the ridiculousness of that same song was like zipping through a time warp and hearing it through his ears, new to music, new to discovery reminds me that to be a parent is to be a time traveler. And that journey has been filled with joy.