History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

My song about Jerry Koosman celebrates 1969

Here's the image I use with my song, on YouTube.
The 1994 baseball season might have been a blessing for me. The players' strike of that year was like a dagger for many fans. The silver lining was that many of us broke our emotional bond with the game. I definitely felt those emotions back in 1969.
The 1969 World Series is part of that special tapestry of boomers' memories. It's up there with the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. It's up there with the first walk on the moon. In fact, that stroll on the moon was in the same year as the "Miracle Mets." One of the most important players on that Mets team was Jerry Koosman.
You're familiar with the Met Lounge in Morris, aren't you? How many of you know the background behind the name? It's directly connected to that 1969 Mets team. Koosman has his roots out here in West Central Minnesota. He's a graduate of the West Central School of Agriculture, the predecessor to today's UMM.
Let's keep alive those golden memories of the 1969 Mets and Koosman. A parade was held here in '69 to celebrate him. I played in the high school band. Our director was John Woell. I remember Woell saying "you may never be in the national news again." It was a grand day. Halsey Hall was here.
The Met Lounge took on its name to hopefully keep alive the memories. It has been a long time. I have written a song to celebrate those joy-filled days in the fall of 1969. It was the year we reached the moon and when the New York Mets threw off the shackles of "lovable loser."
Us boomers grew up equating the Mets with futility. That's why our eyes bugged open wide as we noticed in late-summer of '69 that something quite fascinating was happening. Those Mets in their light blue-colored uniforms had turned from a frog into a prince, as it were. We were fascinated seeing "Koosman and His Mighty Mets" advance through the playoffs and into the World Series. The World Series! The Series still had special allure in '69 - it was something that everyone on the street and in the coffee shops talked about.
"Koosman and His Mighty Mets" is the name of my song. I wrote it in the winter of 2015. I had it recorded at the Nashville TN studio of Franklin "Frank" Michels. Frank can play just about any musical instrument. I invite you to give a listen to my song by clicking on the link below. The song is on YouTube.

Koosman pitched the concluding Game 5 in the '69 Series. He actually was not the marquee pitcher for the '69 Mets. That distinction was owned by Tom Seaver. Seaver had the All-American boy image. Koosman had the country hick in the big league image.
Jerry didn't mind at all being known as a country boy. Our WCSA campus was in the pastoral setting of West Central Minnesota. As a Met in '69, Jerry was at the pinnacle, producing heroics in the biggest, most abuzz population center and media hotspot in the world! There he was, our Jerry Koosman. I so remember the calm and resolute look on his face as he prepared for the next pitch. I assume that Curt Gowdy was at the TV microphone. Probably with Tony Kubek. I believe Mickey Mantle was on the pregame show. I remember the theme music.
It might be easy to forget that our Minnesota Twins won the American League West title in 1969. In 1968 the pitchers dominated everywhere, prompting some concern and changes for '69 including a lowered pitching mound. The bats made more noise in 1969. Cleon Jones was an outstanding hitter for the Mets. My song includes infielders' names but doesn't get out to the outfield. I also write about catcher Jerry Grote who I understand has been a lifelong personal friend of Koosman.
A summer of leaping forward
How dramatic was the Mets' rise in 1969? Consider: the Mets had never finished higher than ninth place in a ten-team league in their first seven seasons! As an expansion team, they went 40-120 in 1962. The Mets never had been over .500 after the ninth game of any season. They started out 18-23 in '69. They took off with an eleven-game win streak. Starting with their 42nd game, they went 82-39, an impressive .678 winning percentage.
Many fans thought it was "the year of the Cubs." The Mets were in second most of the season behind the Cubs. They were in third, nine and a half games back, on August 13! They won 14 of their last 17 games during August, and 24 of their 32 games during September and October, to surge past the Cubs. They finished 100-62, eight games ahead of the beleaguered Cubs with manager Leo Durocher. The Mets' manager was Gil Hodges.
Note: This was the first season of the divisional format.
I seem to remember an aftershave commercial set in the Mets' locker room, in which we saw both Gil and Jerry. The Mets played their home games at Shea Stadium. Many of the surviving members of the '69 team gathered at Citi Field for a reunion in 2009.
I mention Donn Clendenon in my song. Clendenon was named the 1969 Series MVP on the strength of his .357 batting average, three home runs and four RBIs. My song acknowledges infielders Clendenon, Ken Boswell, Bud Harrelson and Ed Charles. I acknowledge Charles' contact with Jackie Robinson when Ed was a young boy. No doubt some special inspiration was gained. Ed as a boy is portrayed in the movie about Robinson, called "42."
Koosman supplied inspiration for all those farm boys out there. I remember Jerry saying at the time: "You can take the boy out of the country but you can't take the country out of the boy." I suggest in my song that Jerry acquired a lot of his strength "pitching hay." I have no idea if Jerry ever actually pitched hay. Songwriter's license.
I totally enjoyed this endeavor of writing the Jerry Koosman song. I wrote most of it in a very short timespan. Two other verses came to me later, including the one with Jerry Grote's name. I really wanted to work Grote in. "The name of Jerry Grote makes me pine for those old times, when a pack of baseball cards would cost me just a dime." Yes, and it was before the strike, or work stoppage, or lockout, or whatever it was in 1994.
I think of major league baseball in the past tense.
Jerry has had some adversity in his post-baseball life. We'd all love to trade places with him anyway. Oh, to have the whole Big Apple mesmerized by your talents! Being president of the U.S. couldn't be any better. For the record, Richard Nixon was our president in 1969. "Koosman and His Mighty Mets" was the headlining attraction in 1969, ahead of the moon walk and certainly ahead of "Tricky Dick."
If only we could wave a magic wand and have the Viet Nam war disappear from reality and our history books.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"Star Trek," the original series, endured baby steps

We remember so fondly.
I had a roommate in college who imitated the opening to Star Trek but with a lisp: "Space. . .the final frontier." What a hoot. At that time, Star Trek hadn't been seen as a current series for six years. Star Trek as a current series? There was a time when the William Shatner version had a fresh new episode every week. It seemed no big deal. Had it been a big deal, its ratings would have been higher.
Today the William Shatner version is firmly in the archives. It is retro Americana. We recognize it as iconic. Re-runs will go on forever. And yet it existed as a current product for only a short time. And to even exist that long, it needed some deference or special favors.
Had ratings alone been the determining factor, its lifespan would have been shorter. It got saved for the short term by "demographics." Star Trek's relatively small audience was what's called a "desirable demographic." "Gunsmoke" had good ratings but the audience was less desirable for advertisers. And let's not even mention "Lawrence Welk."
Trotting out Lawrence Welk makes us remember the generation gap. Young people of today might not believe it, when told about that generation gap. It couldn't be that bad. It really was. Bland, predictable and safe entertainment had a big advantage in the 1960s. Entertainment of a more creative or edgy nature had an uphill climb. Like the Monkees.
Believe it or not, a science fiction idea with a racially diverse cast was not consistent with what America wanted. "Star Trek" had subliminal messages about society, conflict and social progress. All quite tame today. Programs with subtle messages and sub-plots are quite in the mainstream today. Could you imagine "Bonanza" with sub-plots? Much of the TV entertainment up through the middle 1960s seems rather like caveman paintings today.
Saddle up and let's go
Westerns on TV? Oh, how they ruled at one time. The stories were simple and ponderous. They were moral tales. They were a framework for understanding right vs. wrong, this at a time when the U.S. was prosecuting and escalating the Viet Nam war. Oh, the irony. It is amazing we ate up so much of the western genre then.
We might wonder why the western ever reached such a prominent perch. I have one theory: the setting of the American West in the late 19th Century was a way of escaping the memories and residue of the Civil War. It was like creating a whole new country.
As entertainment, the TV western grew stale. Why did it take so long? I'm sure creative people were champing at the bit to try to make creative inroads. They must have been monumentally frustrated. TV in the 1960s was a one-size-fits-all proposition. Add to that the generation gap in which the older folks were put off greatly by anything smacking of social commentary.
Demographic analysis began persuading the TV industry that it needn't be ruled or intimidated by the older folks. The older crowd was Richard Nixon's "silent majority" who mostly sat silent as the horrible revelations about the Viet Nam war began coming out. This was the John Wayne crowd. "America, love it or leave it."
Many young Americans did in fact flee America but they got amnesty to come back in the years following. I wrote an article on a Cyrus MN school administrator who fled to Australia. I remember Chris Ledoux recalling his aversion to the military draft. Chris was a country music musician who seemed to have a permanent cowboy hat. The late LeDoux was the type of man, immersed in country music, who you wouldn't expect to speak skeptically about American military aims. The time came when he could speak openly and not be frowned upon within his field. When the country music crowd is good with criticizing an American war effort, you can be sure it was folly.
The war was a backdrop to all the TV entertainment we consumed in those 1960s. Creative people desperately tried crafting stuff that was original and thought-provoking. Today in this age of niche television, it's no big deal for original fare to push through. The '60s were Neanderthal times by comparison. The Big 3 networks ruled.
The visionary: Gene Roddenberry
Gene Roddenberry was one of those determined souls trying to make the future "now." He was ahead of his time. Roddenberry's first produced sci-fi story was "The Secret Weapon of 117," which aired way back in 1956 on the "Chevron Theater." It was a fleeting accomplishment. It was dues-paying. In '63 Roddenberry got to produce his first TV series but it was conventional fare, called "The Lieutenant." That was an MGM project.
The "Star Trek" concept had been in Roddenberry's mind since 1960. MGM was willing to listen. As "The Lieutenant" wound down, Roddenberry prepared a Star Trek draft and shared it. The studio listened but did not act. Indeed, Roddenberry had to labor to get the concept finally accepted, a concept that today is iconic.
Here's the lesson: the vicissitudes of the entertainment marketplace and entertainment profession can be huge and inscrutable. The most popular songs aren't necessarily the best songs written - the most popular songs are good but they are done by the right people at the right time.
It was like pulling teeth for Roddenberry to get "Star Trek" established at all. Once established, it was under pressure from disappointing ratings. The scheduling was an issue. On what day and in what hour would it run? That was an important aspect back then. Today if you miss any show in its first run, you can probably catch it not long thereafter. One can watch TV 24/7. When I was a kid, the "broadcast day" would end and we'd hear the National Anthem. We'd see stock military footage and the flapping American flag. Early in the morning we'd see the "test pattern" complete with its Indian headdress on the screen.
"Star Trek" was like the "Wagon Train" TV series only in space. The concept was familiar to me, as I had consumed the "Space Family Robinson" comic books when I was a kid. A crew in space encountered "new life and new civilizations." I was fascinated. "Space Family Robinson" gets confused with "Lost in Space." The Robinson story isn't nearly as well-known or remembered today. I was transfixed. The space station story actually told us how the space travelers got their sustenance - it was from "hydroponic gardens." Thanks for enhancing the plausibility.
Realistically, of course, such space travels would be cut down by new bacteria on those discovered planets. (Suspend reality.)
Roddenberry plodded forward and got a three-year deal with the Desilu company in 1964. "Star Trek" got pitched to CBS. No-go. CBS wasn't exactly yawning about sci-fi but it went in another direction with "Lost in Space." It was a painfully campy show. It was sci-fi in name only. America wasn't ready, apparently, for Roddenberry's cerebral approach.
Finally, daylight for the concept
There was a breakthrough in May of '64: An NBC vice president agreed to give Roddenberry the chance to write three story outlines. NBC would choose one for a pilot. It chose "The Cage."
Roddenberry assembled a creative team. It was a daunting task: to create an elaborate vision of the future. "Star Trek" got its feet on the ground. Desilu produced the series in 1966 and '67. I actually remember when I watched the very first episode. I would have been in sixth grade at East Elementary in Morris MN. I remember on the day after that historic first episode, discussing it on the playground with classmate Dean Anderson. We had actually watched history: the first little baby step by an entertainment "brand" that would become huge.
At the time the series proceeded haltingly. Iconic, it was not. Call it an experiment. The old folks were by and large not receptive to this at all. To be blunt, I think the very diverse cast (racially and with women in solid and meaningful roles) was unnerving. This wasn't "The High Chaparral" where the woman simply gave support to her heroic husband (Leif Erickson).
"Uhura" was a black woman with an important role on the spacecraft. There was a Russian: "Chekov." An obvious Russian as a friend or ally? This was the cold war days. I remember watching a pro wrestling exhibition where a guy presented as a Russian tried shaking hands with an opponent, to "make good." It was a ruse, of course. "You can't trust the Russians!". Of course, the common Russian citizen was never any different from us.
"Star Trek" was ratings-challenged throughout its 1960s run. It aired on NBC from September 8, 1966, to June 3, 1969. So, it would have been September 9 of 1966 when I had that chat with Dean Anderson on the playground.
A famous "Saturday Night Live" skit shows the scene where an NBC executive announces the canceling of Star Trek. Elliott Gould was the executive, remember? His "1968 Chrysler" showed up in the observation window. At the end the Shatner character says "Live long and prosper - promise." That was a takeoff on the commercials Shatner did for Promise Margarine.
A re-birth after cancellation
Star Trek was canceled after three seasons and 79 episodes. Can you imagine: the Star Trek TV series canceled! Canceled for lack of an adequate following?
Could anyone have predicted the growth of this incredible Star Trek brand in the years after cancellation? And yet in 1969 the series couldn't even survive.
Star Trek burgeoned in our popular culture. Syndication gave it a huge re-birth in the 1970s. Eventually we got new TV series inspired by it - five in all. Oh my, there were 12 films, numerous books, games and toys. Roddenberry had planted the seeds for a timeless phenomenon.
Roddenberry apparently was not influenced by "Space Family Robinson," at least not according to background I've read. He was influenced by the film "Forbidden Planet" from 1956. Also, by a TV series about which I have no knowledge: "Rocky Jones, Space Ranger," from 1954. We learn that series had many of the same elements as Star Trek.
Roddenberry even drew from the "Horatio Hornblower" novels by C.S. Forester. The Hornblower stories were at sea. Didn't Jimmy Carter once refer to Hubert Humphrey as "Hubert Horatio Hornblower?" Hornblower was a daring sea captain.
We should note that Roddenberry's background included extensive experience with westerns. 
Roddenberry compared his sci-fi idea to the show "Wagon Train." In both, each episode is a self-contained adventure story, set within the overarching structure of a continuing journey. Hats off to the "Wagon Train" paradigm, although I frankly found that series to be rather boring.
For the record, Roddenberry's original hero/captain was named "Captain Robert April" and he was at the helm of the "S.S. Yorktown." Named for the WWII vessel at the Battle of Midway? "April" morphed into "Captain Christopher Pike," played by Jeffrey Hunter.
TV execs just couldn't get the "cerebral" aspect of the show off their minds. It was a nagging worry in a nation that still accepted Lawrence Welk. We had a leadership class who demanded we accept the assumptions behind the Viet Nam war. Again: "America, love it or leave it." What if Star Trek gave credence to a pacifist philosophy?
NBC wasn't closing the door on Roddenberry and his pioneering ideas. NBC decided to underwrite a second pilot episode - unusual in those days. The name of the second pilot was "Where No Man Has Gone Before." The second pilot made all the difference. NBC moved forward. "Star Trek" became reality in that fall of 1966. William Shatner had come on board for the second pilot. How iconic he would become.
James Doohan and George Takei emerged for the second pilot. Leonard Nimoy had been on board since the first pilot. DeForest Kelly came on board as the ship's doctor when the first season got going. Shatner, Nimoy and Kelly were quite the threesome, attaining that perfect chemistry. What is it about three men? Remember Leslie Nielsen, George Kennedy and O.J. Simpson in the "Naked Gun" movies?
The African-American actress Nichelle Nichols had a truly pioneering role.
Star Trek nearly got nixed by Desilu Productions in February of 1966. Can you believe it? Demographics were invoked to keep it going. I remember Mitch Miller bemoaning demographics. His show was of the Lawrence Welk ilk. "Gunsmoke" was canceled despite overall ratings still being good. Demographics were invoked.
Third season: show declines in some ways
"Star Trek" suffered in its third season. Its budget was cut. Thus we got fewer outdoor location shots. Nichols recalled Star Trek's cancellation as a "self-fulfilling prophecy." The last day of filming for Star Trek was January 9 in 1969. I was 14 years old. It was the year when we reached the moon. It was the year when the New York Mets won the World Series, seven years after their miserable start.
Star Trek's third season may have been disappointing, but the show attained enough total episodes to set the stage for its syndication life. Star Trek became totally huge through syndication. Typically it aired in late afternoon or early evening. The Associated Press called Star Trek "the show that won't die" in 1972.
Star Trek never really seemed new to me, as I had consumed plenty of sci-fi previously, most notably "Space Family Robinson." It's amazing that such imaginative storytelling was considered idiosyncratic or "at the margins" at one time. An African-American woman in an important working role on a spaceship? Shame on us for ever thinking such a thing might be edgy. Context: the color line wasn't eliminated in baseball until the late 1940s.
There is no substitute for the original series of "Star Trek." All the other stuff since, just rides its coattails. Oh, and there's never been any substitute for the 1969 New York Mets.
We will be viewing William Shatner forever and not in margarine commercials. "Live long and prosper," indeed. Call up Leonard Nimoy's song "Bilbo" on YouTube. You will be transported to the 1960s. I know, it's impossible to forget about the war.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, April 4, 2015

As a legal/business matter, inclusion trumps everything

I had the pleasure of checking out the movie "42" from our public library a while back. It reminded me of the famous video "When It Was a Game." We are reminded of the times when major league baseball was whites-only. It wasn't just the players, it was everyone. And in the scheme of things, it wasn't that long ago.
I recently completed writing a song that includes a reference to Earl Battey. Earl played in the 1960s. He was the African-American catcher with the Minnesota Twins. The racial barricade had officially been pushed aside in the late '40s. But change like this does not happen suddenly.
American League teams were slower than in the National League to really accommodate players of color. African-American players like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Bob Gibson became among the most exciting players in big league ball. They shared their excitement in the National League.
The American League came to lag in popularity. It's no coincidence that the American League gave us the designated hitter. The A.L. was groping to generate some more excitement.
Calvin Griffith, owner of the Twins, did not exactly exude a progressive image. But he was quite content opening the door wide for African-American and Cuban players. I know what you'll probably say: "Yeah, and that was because he figured they'd work cheap." Rimshot.
Whatever, we were treated to grand thrills here in Minnesota due to the likes of Earl Battey. He was catcher for the '65 team that won the pennant.
Discrimination lurked in the background even during the 1960s. In high school I wrote a paper that touched on this, and for my supporting data I turned to the book written by Jim Bouton: "Ball Four." Mr. Bouton even had numbers to illustrate his point. While a number of stars were African-American, there weren't nearly so many backup players of color. My teacher was skeptical of my use of "Ball Four" as a source. He made sort of a backhand comment: "I question some of your sources." It was obvious what he was referring to.
"Ball Four" was a totally avant garde type of journalism. It is a lens into a time when players really were treated as employees with very little rights or leverage. That began changing rather suddenly with the Curt Flood case. In the '60s, players had motivations other than money, to play. They played because, well, they had been outstanding players through their youth and it was simply a way of life. As athletic heroes they had always gotten recognition. Where else could they find that? Selling real estate? They played because of ego and the intangible of fame. Because they might find an especially attractive mate.
Players were notorious, of course, for getting divorced. You could say players were exploited back then. With time, sports card and memorabilia shows gave those players - the ones that made a decent mark with their play - a chance to "cash in." Denny McLain never had to engage in criminal activity. All he had to do was "be Denny McLain."
The video "When it Was a Game" includes a segment where an older man looks back. With sorrow he remembered the times when fans hardly noticed there were no blacks. He found it strange that he had no impulse to "object." It was a status quo we lived with, even though if we were to be pressed on the subject, we'd feel uncomfortable. People in the Deep South felt uncomfortable about slavery toward the end.
Inevitable forces at work
I have written before that the barriers of Jim Crow simply had to come down. We'd like to think it was all because of principle. Surely principle should have trumped everything else. How nice if that were the explanation. Could you imagine trying to keep baseball segregated into the 1950s? The race barrier along with Jim Crow simply had to come down. The legal community could no longer live with it. Increasingly our society did not follow the neat dichotomy of white/black or Negro/Caucasian. Increasingly we would be multi-racial and multi-ethnic.
I had a friend once who had a friend who lived in Tallahassee, Florida. The Tallahassee gentleman, a college professor, shared a story about an incident where a dark-skinned person went to use a tennis court that was whites-only. Someone called the police. It was learned that the dark-skinned person was from India. He wasn't African-American, was not descended from slaves. The story ends on a note that seems humorous. The police asked "where's your turban?" Of course it's not funny.
Today, major league baseball would love to get African-Americans back. African-Americans have largely deserted the sport. When I was young, many of the players I admired most, like Earl Battey, were African-American.
The song that I recently completed is about Tony Oliva. It's called "We Called Him Tony O." Herb Carneal was fond of referring to the spectacular Cuban star as "Tony O." Calvin Griffith had scouts who worked Cuba well.
Vic Power was another early Twin with black skin who was not "African-American." He was from Puerto Rico.
Jim Crow had to die because of the problem of defining who, legally speaking, was a black or colored person. The law demands consistency. Yes, even in the Deep South - grudgingly or haltingly.
A parallel movement at present 
Today we are seeing a new chapter in the history of beating back discrimination. The headlines now focus on the gay population. Many of the same forces are at work. Again, the legal community demands consistency. How do we define, for legal purposes, gay people? How do we really know someone is gay? If they say they are, we can be certain. But what about people who simply have close friends or roommates who are same-sex?
Fundamentalist Christians are clinging to the notion they can turn their backs on gay people, to refuse business. That's tough. What if you live in a town that has just one grocery store? What if the owner of that business decides not to allow you as a customer? Based on what? Based on a rumor out and about in the community that you're gay? That's not legally actionable. And if you can't shop at the store, how can you get enough to eat?
Joe Scarborough of MSNBC teased fellow panelist Mike Barnicle. What if Mike and Willie Geist (another panelist) held hands while walking into a convenience store? What if they just wanted to buy a Big Gulp? What if the owner of that business was some Bible-thumping Christian? Could there be a conflict? Is holding hands proof you're gay? Do you need to wear a turban to prove you're not African-American? You see, that's the kind of problem we run into, when these outdated principles are applied. These are the principles embedded in these "religious freedom" laws.
I attended church here in Morris for Good Friday and had to wonder as I was seated there: How many of these people would side with Governor Mike Pence in Indiana? Conventional wisdom in Morris has it that a whole new church got created in Morris because of the gay ordination controversy in the Lutheran church. Don't say these issues aren't being bandied about here. Don't think there aren't a number of "religious freedom" advocates in Morris MN. Yes, the freedom to discriminate and reject other human beings. It persists here just like racial exclusion was still a reality in major league baseball into the 1960s.
Vic Power had problems with his personality. He was rather a "character" with his personality. He could be thoughtful and humorous. Back then, many white people would refer to such blacks as "uppity." Oh, it still happens. Power noticed there could be a problem with getting served in restaurants. In response, he'd often just buy his food in grocery stores: things like bananas and summer sausage.
As a practical matter, discrimination against gays is simply not going to be enforceable. Business leaders all know that inclusion is good for business. Smart business owners will seek to do business with the gay population. Business interests can solve a lot of things.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com