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Memories are Made of This…

by Diana Mavetz Petrich

“Summer breeze makes me feel fine…” is a phrase that many around my age will recognize. Those words were in a song by Seals and Crofts written and released in 1972. I was in 5th grade when the song hit number six on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the U.S.  In 2013, it was ranked number 13 in Rolling Stones “Best Summer Songs of All Time.”

Hearing “Summer Breeze,” brings forth memories of a different time in Ely. Nights of many cars driving up and down the main drag on warm summer evenings, tuning into WELY on Saturday night request radio and times at Kawishiwi or Burntside beaches.

There were so many people in town, the streets were alive with activity at most any time of the day or evening. The population of Ely in the mid-70s was nearing 6,000 people, which was a little less than double the amount that resides within the city limits as of the 2000 census. During these years was when mining and forestry were strong.

If you had an 8-track tape deck mounted in your vehicle, you had something pretty special that would deliver uninterrupted tunes for 80 minutes without the need to flip it over. At the end of an album, the tape would start again at the beginning.

While reading about the intro of the 8-track, I found out it was created in 1964 by a consortium led by William (Bill) Lear, of the famed LearJet Corporation, along with Ampex, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Motorola, and RCA Victor Records. The 8-track popularity ran from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s with the peak year in 1978. Cassette tapes became more popular because of their diminutive size and enhanced quality of the music delivery.

With the growing market of portable music came unending opportunities to make both music delivery and quality better. In 1982, enter digital music via compact disc technology (CDs), which pretty much led to the end of the 8-track, cassette, and vinyl record businesses.

In the 70s, in many remote areas, radio signals and reception were not strong for tuning into radio stations. In Ely, older cars didn’t have the capability to access anything but AM radio stations. Late evenings, when there were clear skies, you could pick up WLS from Chicago. Did we think we were something when we were able to listen to airwaves from that huge city to the southeast of us! Closer to the mid and late 70s, with FM radio accessibility, we frequently listened to the Duluth Station WAKX, which everyone called WAX.

There was more variety in music in the 1970s than ever before. Music listeners had dozens of genres to choose from and many of them rose to popularity at different points. Some of the best rock ‘n roll of all time was recorded during that decade.

The 70s were a golden era for vinyl records. They were affordable to everyone and most everyone had a record player. We had a small portable record player that was always being used, and my parents had a “stereo” system in the living room that had an automatic arm that when turned on would start at the edge of a 7”, 10” or 12” record depending on where you turned the dial. These records were better known as 45s, 33 1/3 or 78s.

Those numbers stood for the revolutions per minute. If you ran a 33 1/3 record at 78 speed, it sounded like the Chipmunks singing, “Christmas Don’t Be Late.”  If you aren’t familiar with that song, it’s on YouTube or Google when you search for “Alvan and the Chipmunks: A Chipmunk Christmas.”

If your stereo had the ability to put a stack of records that waited in que and dropped after the previous album was done, you had an over-the-top setup. That feature meant you could have uninterrupted music for hours upon hours.

Most recently, vinyl records have made a huge comeback and those long ago tossed albums make their owners wince when thinking how they disposed of their collections. Turntables are readily available at many retailers.

Tween birthday parties always included records being played by The Osmond Brothers – most notably Donny Osmond, Michael Jackson/Jackson 5, Fleetwood Mac, Bobby Sherman, David Cassidy, Jim Croce, John Denver, Abba, Meatloaf, James Taylor, America, The Carpenters, Chicago and so many others. Music back then was a delight to listen to with your friends.

Maybe I am showing my age, but I don’t understand rap or hip hop. The few words I can understand would make most adults over 50 blush. The “F word” and the “N word” are so frequently used that acceptance has evolved to the point it is equal to stating the sky is blue. What happened to ending the use of the “N word?” The use of it is rampant by rappers so how does one explain this to the younger generations?

I bartended on New Year’s Eve in 2020 at a red-hot venue in the North Loop in Minneapolis. The music was provided by a DJ playing techno sounds. I wouldn’t dare refer to it as music, but the young attendees certainly were dancing and enjoying it. I laugh when I think that my father used to tell us to “shut that noise off,” and if he were alive today, I can’t imagine what would come out of his mouth.

The ”sounds” that night were so loud that I could hardly hear attendees when taking orders. I silently wished they and I knew sign language. When the event was over at 4 a.m., my ears were ringing, and I started to worry about the damage to my eardrums. I drove home in complete silence and at that moment it hit me that I had possibly slid into old age. From that time on, I turned down big weekend bar-tending opportunities and made myself available to small venues with no music. My eardrums applauded my decision.

Getting back to music sparking memories, we have all heard anecdotes about the “power of music” to reconnect us with moments from our pasts. There are videos on YouTube of dementia patients hearing a piece of music and suddenly becoming transported back to their youth. Research done supports that music can cue particularly vivid and emotional lifetime memories in more detail than photographs. In essence, music holds the keys to unlocking our memory vaults.

Music has been present during many of our important life events. These times of re-engagement with music appears to particularly strengthen memories of our teenage years. Since the teenage years are a critical period for exploring and developing one’s personal identity, this may be a link between music and self-defining memories.

The newer music of today makes one think that perhaps artists have divorced themselves from typical musical instruments and have taken to creating notes from turntables squeaking and computer-generated sounds. Maybe I just haven’t given it enough of a chance, but how can I do it when my ears scream for me to shut it off?

When listening to ballads and songs from my youth, the songwriters and musicians told stories. The lyrics made sense and were relatable. Many popular songs today are sexual in nature and consist mainly of repeating the same verse over and over again.

Music is definitely a mood booster or a time to push you to spill the tears you’ve been holding back. Exercising to your favorite rock tunes can push you to go faster. Piano pieces can relax you while lying in a hammock on a warm summer day.

In Ely, the Lamplighter Bar & Lounge (now housing Brainstorm Bakery) used to have live music like the Jack Daniel’s Band featuring Jerry Fink and Earl Bulinski. The doors of the bar would be propped open to give patrons fresh air and a cool down. Back in those days, smoking was allowed indoors, and the bar would get a bit thick with smoke. You could hear the music all throughout town, which for some was a reminder to get down there.

Many weddings were celebrated with a dance after the reception and held at the Community Center or the Jugoslav National Home. Polka dances were popular and the old and young would be out on the dance floor elbow to elbow.

Weddings and funerals were also filled with music that brought forth joy and tears. Joy at a funeral? Believers in God celebrate a life well-lived knowing the deceased person is on their way to a joyful eternity. That is a true celebration of life.

When I am writing, I cannot listen to music or the television as I suffer from slight attention deficit disorder, which I don’t have but I swear I have moments. I want to sing along or tap my toes and totally lose my sense of direction. I envy those who can listen and still concentrate on their tasks.

I have a love for old musicals like, “The King and I,” “Cinderella,” “The Sound of Music,” “Oklahoma,” “South Pacific,” and more. The romance captured on the big screen is unequalled to movies of now and I adore their sappiness. Doris Day, Deborah Kerr, Debbie Reynolds, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Danny Kaye, Julie Andrews, Gene Kelly, and others gave the Golden Age of Hollywood its rightful name.

My parents were huge fans of Dean Martin, and the title of this column reflects my love of his music as well. Listening to Dean reminds me of my dad waltzing around the kitchen while cooking and singing along with the crooning Italian. To Dean, I must say, “You can’t beat the memories you’ve given me.”

I admit I am an old soul, I probably should have been born 40 years before I was since I am captivated by vintage and antique items. But more so, the music that was accompanied by incredible dancing and glamour. The shoot and kill movies that are made today quite honestly disgust me and I wouldn’t set foot in a theatre to support the violence that have desensitized society to levels we have never seen before.

I’ll stay tuned into my XM radio stations like Classic Rock, 70s, Classic Vinyl, Yacht Radio, or The Catholic Channel. When songs of my youth are played, I will take the memory train back to my younger years when respect was alive, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance daily, and we stood with our hand over our hearts during the National Anthem.

Memories and music are a sweet pairing, and I am a thankful and frequent participant.

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