Monday, March 09, 2020

A Hole In The Universe

My sons loved a podcast they found on gimlet, #158 in the series /reply all/ "The Case of the Missing Hit." I expressed skepticism that I would find a story about a man who remembered a song but could not find anywhere it was remembered to be that gripping, as I have had much the same experience myself several times.

The man quickly became obsessed, because he remembered the complex lyrics vividly, yet they did not show up on search engines.  It was a radio pop song from his junior high years in the late 1990's, now completely vanished, with only faint traces of what it might have been.  I can see why they would be interested, as that is their popular music era, and they could easily identify with that obsession of memory. As they inherited that from me, I can also see why they thought I would greatly enjoy it as well.

I gave the identifying information above because it was somewhat interesting to me, and I wanted you to be able to find it for yourselves if you desire. But it wasn't fascinating. The man went to great lengths, contacting anyone he could find who might help him identify it, and eventually the podcast writers took up the trail with him, sharing his obsession.  They got him into a studio to recreate the song with professional musicians, and it was fun to hear about the excellent memory and skill the non-musician had in getting the musicians to understand what he remembered from his dum-dimmy-dimmy-dum descriptions of guitar and flute solos. The ended up contacting Rolling Stone, whose brain trust did not recognise the song, but were able to pass him on to persons of encyclopedic memory who might help.  Genre and recording experts also weighed in, explaining how such a hole in the universe might happen, with songs recorded but vanishing.

Finally discovering the artist who recorded the hit was somewhat interesting as well.

The part about it being my son's era is important beyond the references to bands and style of their teen years, however.  Throughout the podcast, I was bemused that this was occurring at all.  Granted, obsession does not follow logical rules, but the internet element seemed to be driving the frustration of these younger people.  They expected that something which had been on the radio in the internet era must still exist somewhere.  I suspect this is a great cultural change that my children share, even though they intellectually realise that things get lost all the time.  This specific sort of information should not be disappearing.  It was a Hole in the Universe.

For me, I am used to be one of the few, and perhaps even the only, person who remembers something, even in popular culture. My favorite has been "Hank," a TV show that played my 7th-grade year, about a young man who was dropping-in to college, taking courses in disguise to get his degree for free because he is an orphan with no money, raising his kid sister to boot.  I remember the theme song exactly, because of course I do.  I remember the Super Chicken theme song, and Big Brother Bob Emery on his ukulele, a Boston local children's show. I doubt I am the only one who remembers "Hank," because I have met people who have this sort of memory as well.  They tend to be my friends.  Google put us out of business.  Before search engines, you asked us, and we either knew or could put you on to someone who might know when the Charlotte Bobcats were started.

He's up with the sun, and he's got the college ringing
As he goes about another swinging day.
With jobs to be done or errands to run
He's A-number-One okay.
He'll dry clean your coat, be a butler or a porter
If it means another quarter in the bank.
He'll get his degree, his Phi Beta key
And get 'em both for free!  That's Hank. (Lyrics by Johnny Mercer)

As I recall, there were only three references to this on Bing a while ago, and one had very scant reference.  Now there will be four. This is the best of them.

Things like this were always vanishing when I was growing up.  There are estimates that Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain regularly blocked ten shots in a game (averaging  two per game is extremely good), but we can't know because there aren't films of those games.  I remember my outrage when I first learned this, perhaps in the 1980s. How can this be!  These are NBA GAMES we are talking about! I just assumed that the league, or a network had them somewhere.  But they were filmed locally, if at all, and went into storage at the station.  When it got bought out, or moved, or had to make room for new storage, things got tossed or left behind or sent somewhere that everyone forgot, in favor of keeping the shows from Ring-A-Ding the Clown. Or maybe the clown got the axe.

With music I am even more familiar with it.  I remember a song by folk musician Greg Greenway that he no longer does, and part of one by Lew McGehee that he has forgotten.  I wrote over a hundred songs from 1967- 1977, and a few more after that for special occasions. I don't remember most of them. I have the lyrics to what I thought were the best of them written down somewhere - unless it got culled in a cleanup. A bandmember referenced a lyric to me when we were on Facebook together a few years ago.  I barely recognised it, and could only vaguely recreate the song that I wrote.  He remembered what I had forgotten. I had reel-to-reel tapes of an entire folk opera about the Grail quest, which my brother digitised for me.  I uploaded it to the internet and posted the link to it for all of you here in 2011.  It is gone now.  I do think it's on my computer someplace. I think I could still remember those.

Yes, yes I should have taken the trouble to record all of these songs - a few of them were good, anyway, and my father offered to foot the bill for using his neighbor's studio, a guitar instructor at Berklee. The guy was even going to play along and help out. But life is like this.  Many things disappear.  I looked long for the old African-American story "Peasletree" before learning that it was only a recording, never written down. Even the link is to a different story of the same type. Yet it was used in speech competition by Bob Shea in 1969, and as I was competing against him, I heard it and remembered it. I doubt there is anyone else alive, except maybe Bob, who remembers it.  I am used to this.  I am not the only one.  There are lots of guys like me who remember things that have almost gone beneath the waves for good.

 All sorts of music is only half-remembered now, with scraps of verses and disputed origins, as anyone who has tried to track down a folk song knows. Wikipedia is great because it relies on group memory in such cases. A guy from Minnesota I will never meet can add a verse to something I remember from YMCA camp.  And yes, I have songs from camp in the 1960s that even people who were there shake their heads at. Books disappeared. Movies disappeared.

And my era was far better at preservation than the one before it, and they were better than the one before that.  If one had gone around in 1937 saying "there was this song that was playing on the radio a few years ago, but I can't find it anywhere" people would have expected the opposite.  They would be surprised if you could find it anywhere. It's an enormous change in cultural expectations that we don't much remark on.


Christopher B said...

It doesn't help that what seems important changes from era to era. In my little niche interest, lots of people saved railroad timetables from various eras. While they are interesting, later it became apparent that a timetable actually tells you very little about how traffic moved on a railroad. There were other records that would have provided much more information about how trains were made up and what routes they served but those had already been thrown out as trash.

Doug said...

If you have some time to take a deep dive into an "internet rabbit hole," I suggest reading up on the Mandela Effect. Sounds a bit similar, although in many cases it turns out the lost memory is due to mixing up memories rather than no record.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

That the song was a hybrid of two memories was one of the possibilities discussed near the end. Such things do happen a lot. In fact, the more often you remember something, the more likely it is that elements from another event will creep into it.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

People swear they remember a picture, or even a video of Krushchev pounding his shoe on the rostrum at the UN in 1960. The incident happened, but there was no photo of it. There is a picture of him sitting at his seat with a shoe in front of him, untouched. There is a still photo of Nikita with his hand raised at the rostrum. I think the episode in the comedy album "The First Family" in which you can hear a sound effect of him pounding his shoe, is also part of the memory.

RichardJohnson said...

For me, I am used to be one of the few, and perhaps even the only, person who remembers something, even in popular culture. My favorite has been "Hank," a TV show that played my 7th-grade year... I remember the Super Chicken theme song, and Big Brother Bob Emery on his ukulele, a Boston local children's show.

When I get together with old friends, I am usually the one who remembers something from our elementary or high school years. I don't recall Hank or Super Chicken, because by then I was in high school and homework obligations limited my TV viewing. I didn't say stopped my TV viewing- I liked Get Smart, among others. I do recall Big Brother Bob Emery, and Hail to the Chief. A college friend was on Bob Emery's show when a kid, which reminds me of seeing my LA cousin on Art Linkletter's House Party as one of the child interviewees.

Had I realized that there was going to be no record of how many shots Bill Russell had blocked, I would have kept a tally from the Celtics games I watched on TV.

We didn't get a TV until I was 8. The son of family friends, who was a ham radio whiz, built a TV for us. All I recall from those initial TV-viewing days were old cartoons from the 1930s, and a show about William Tell. Did that show on William Tell spark my interest in history? And Boomtown - of course.

sykes.1 said...

Back in the Russell era, the local games were televised locally. The Russell-Chamberlain matchups were epic.

Chamberlain is still my best player, better than Jordan (whom Auerbach liked for no. 1) or Le Bron.

However, the Celtics and the NBA were not that popular. Most games in the Garden did not sell out. Sellouts generally required the Lakers or Knicks or 76's, or a playoff.

On the other hand, the Bruins, who typically finished 7th or 8th in an 8-team league, regularly sold out: 13,909.

The Red Sox were terrible in the late 50's and early 60's, and there were plenty of empty seats in Fenway for almost every game. The Yawkeys often filled the 3rd base grandstand with nuns, gratis.

Grim said...

the comedy album "The First Family"

This was one of dad's favorite things, and we had a copy -- in fact I probably still have it, in with his old records. But it puts me in the mind of other things that I know of that have fallen into 'the hole.' I heard a lot of comedy albums growing up because they amused my father, and many of them don't seem to be available any longer. I think the humor has become forbidden over time. With some things like Blazing Saddles, they continue to exist because they are too well-known to be vanished; but many of the old comedy pieces have been declared unworthy for public consumption, and have vanished from the earth.

Linda Fox said...

It's perhaps our first indication of what will happen over the next 50-100 years. First, many of our memories are just lost - where we went to school, who our teacher was, our report cards, our first crush. Oh, sure, we told the stories to our kids and grandkids, but, over time, the details - so rich in our mind - became fuzzy.

Then, little by little, the people who remembered us well die off. They may had told some of the more memorable stories about us, but those memories would be linked to a person not known to the listener. You become just a 2-dimensional person on a faded piece of photo paper. Gradually, more and more of our essence fades.

It's one of the most captivating parts of - you look, and - hey, there's great-grandad's WWI army discharge papers! Or a handwritten will of some distant great-great uncle. From such few memories, a vivid picture begins to build up in your mind of that little-remembered person.

But, the e-data will fade long before the hard copy. Already, old 8-inch floppies are just about unreadable. Same with many proprietary tape formats. The machines that could read the old data are corroded and broken - missing parts that are no longer made.

In the end, we are all ashes and dust.

Thos. said...

Ah yes, things that disappear. I was recently amazed to discover that there is a huge amount of television programming out there that more or less vanished. Entire series of shows that no one bothered to save, and if they weren't noted on some actor's filmography somewhere, all knowledge of them would be only in the memory of a handful of people.

As for music, I distinctly recall a song that my daughter and I heard while on a drive one Saturday morning - a reggae song with the lyric "two piece of toast and a one fried egg." Numerous internet searches over the years have not turned up anything.

Sam L. said...

As I often say, my memory is not what it never was.'s getting worse.

james said...

I remember looking for material by The Refreshment Committee, and discovering that pretty much all of it was lost in a van fire.