Joan’s Portrait of Roscoe on her bed
Hope this finds you well on this first day of summer, June 21, 2-14
Today is also sister Joan’s birthday. She left us many years ago and life hasn’t been quite the same since losing my closest relation and friend. But, we/I go on. Inspired by her memory and the person she was/is, we/I try to live my life as best I can with her a part of it/me.
Joan was a very unique individual, exemplifying the best qualities whether it be her ability to really listen or her empathy or her real common sense when dealing with issues often family-related or otherwise. When there was something troubling me it was often troubling her, too, and she always seemed to understand the situation; even if there was nothing that could be done it would help us deal with the issue simply thru understanding .
Joan and I had many common interests; perhaps it was in our blood – no, I think it was the bond we built up over the years often due to trials and tribulations. One such common interest was music. Joan excelled at the piano. She was one of the few kids I knew who continued her music – taking lessons for 15 years. Unfortunately, she never went back to it but she always loved music and we would often take rides together to favorite ‘haunts’ while listening to the soulful strains from Aretha Franklin to Janis Joplin to Gene Pitney to Jerry Butler to doowop . When a new record or CD would come out that I knew she would like, I couldn’t wait to bring it along and play in the car on one of our rides, or shall I say ‘cruises’to see her reaction to the new music.
One thing we did NOT have in common was art. I couldn’t draw my way out of whatever but Joan was excellent, as you can see in her attached portrait of Roscoe ‘the wonder dog’ now featured on my home wall. Roscoe was Joan’s last dog along with his ‘sister’ Pucky. I need to mention here how Joan had the knack of acquiring the greatest dogs over the years. I think part of it was that they became a product of their guardian, Joan – and she enhanced their great qualities. I would like to talk more about Roscoe and Pucky another time and how I got to enjoy them another four years after Joan’s passing in 1999.
Getting back to music, I went to hear an author speak last night and thought I’d share some thoughts about ALLAN SHERMAN, the subject of a new book. I don’t remember how Joan took to Sherman but I’m sure she would have appreciated his sometimes cynical lyrics that poked fun at Jews, if not the music itself. Joan and I had our own ‘run-ins’ with the religion in our formative years and it helped to listen to Sherman’s own versions. Dad, I know, was a big fan of Sherman’s as was Mom. It was music for all ages, really. Don was perhaps a bit young.
As a kid in the early 60s there were two popular songs that I memorized all the way through. One was the ‘Dodgers Song’ by Danny Kaye (even though I was a Giants fan at the time – and they DID beat out the Dodgers that year) and ‘Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah,’ by Allan Sherman.
A year before ‘Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah,’ there was the breakout album for Sherman, ‘My Son The Folksinger,’ which was really parodying the Jewish culture in America at the time. I remember relatives gathering around the cardtable in our living room , actually LISTENING to ‘My Zelda’ (from Belafonte’s ‘Matilda’), ‘Sarah Jackman’ (from Frera Jacques), ‘Streets of Miami’ instead of ‘Streets of Loredo,’ etc. as Sherman both celebrated Jewishness while aptly skewering parts of it at the same time. It was perhaps the first such ethnic album that became popular with mainstream America, in 1962; even President Kennedy, an Irish Catholic, enjoyed the album. I loved it, too, initially more for the music than the lyrics, most of which I did not understand at the time, but there was something very different and special about this ‘sound’ that Sherman gave us It certainly brought our family together for one of the few times, again, really LISTENING rather than trying to out-talk one another.
Sherman with President Kennedy, a big fan
If my family had ‘rough edges,’ Allan Sherman’s had many more. He may have only gotten through the many family moves, parental shifts and so forth by describing the craziness of it all through his writings, and , later, the musical parodies that would hit big .
He would go on to have three No. 1 albums within a year- My son The Folksinger, My Son the Nut and My Son the Celebrity.’ Though I have only begun the book I am already taken back to my own similar experiences growing up around the kitchen table, being encouraged to ‘eat eat’ and ‘clean your plate’ or in Yiddish, ‘ess, ess,’ while being told it’s better to be seen than heard. So, I took a back seat and witnessed the Jewish culture around me with mixed emotions – a wonderful, historical past with rich, intellectual properties yet sometimes with the less-desired aspects shoved down my throat.
Sherman’s sordid yet colorful past gave him the ideal life experiences for which he would become famous in the musical parodies he wrote. We learn that those parodies were his means of expression, throwing off the his mother’s ‘chains of bondage,’ as it were , as well as other dissatisfactions growing up- all not always Jewish ones. It was not all ethnic, either, as Sherman also mocks the new artificial suburbia that was taking over American in the early Sixties in songs like ‘Here’s to the Crabgrass.’
Mark Cohen takes a subject, Allan Sherman, who has never really been written about in any depth before, and not only brings him and the ’60s time period back to life in ‘Overweight Sensation ‘ but gives us a very detailed, well researched, documented and footnoted treatise on Sherman and that era. Cohen has been able to gain access to not only the Sherman estate archives but many of the people who knew him – while they are still with us. The only thing missing from the book are actual multi-media samples of audio and video of Sherman; of course those are obtained through various sources like Youtube; we have also put some up on our tribute to Sherman and this book http://oldiescountry.com/allan-sherman-unclassified-comic-genius-legacy-revived-in-new-book/ It was as if Sherman was right there in the room as Cohen played some of his favorite Sherman parodies and even interview clips with Sherman.
Whether you remember Allan Sherman or not, this book is a fantastic historical time capsule that will bring back memories and a real look into a man who turned his tortured upbringing into a uniquely positive contribution to society and opened doors not only for Jewish but ethnic group acceptance into mainstream culture. Allan Sherman is pretty much forgotten or unknown to most today, other than for his small resurgence due to this book , but in 1962-1963 he was the biggest thing in comedy, if not music.
Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts on this sometimes difficult day.