Music was as ever present in our daily life as television. When we were little, our mother listened to country music. Jimmy Dean, later famous for sausage products, was her favorite then. He had a TV show for a while, and we teased her about him a lot, making fun of his big ears or making up nonsense lyrics to his songs. We may have heard a bit too much of him, but I still like his Christmas album. However, the song Diane and I liked best- Please Pass the Biscuits- was more spoken word than singing, about a kid who couldn’t eat without bread, and this was extra funny to us because our dad was the same way- there had to be bread on the table.
We had a small record player in our bedroom and played child-friendly records like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer or Old MacDonald Had A Farm, but we also put classical on the turntable. Bolero was an early favorite of mine; I guess I always had a taste for dramatic music. Sometimes we’d pretend to be ballerinas and dance around, though we had to be careful not to bounce the needle on the record player. We’d also play Khachaturian for background music for the spook houses we’d make in our room; these usually featured a sort of lights out obstacle course with some glow in the dark toys. There was also a piano in the living room that my mother could play quite well. However, it was difficult to keep in tune, and I think that may be why she didn’t make a serious effort to teach us. We did goof around on it though.
Some time in the early to mid-sixties, my dad put together a serious stereo with a radio receiver and big powerful speakers. Most of what he listened to was Latin or classical. All that classical exposure influenced my first record choice of my own- Bach’s Easter Oratio. I think I picked it for the Michelangelo on the jacket though! That one was still purchased with my parents money. We also saw the musicals at our local high school, free admission since my dad was faculty. I remember seeing Flower Drum Song and Annie Get Your Gun. Later, when I was in high school, I got to be part of the productions, either chorus or stage crew, of Oklahoma!, The Music Man, and Brigadoon.
Neither of our parents were into rock and roll, but we were all aware of the Beatles. Sometimes I’d brush my mother’s hair out to look like Ringo! Rock music even had a slight influence on church, with one service becoming a guitar mass to appeal to the younger generation. This made church a bit less dreary for us, and my dad had one of the guitarists as a student, so he was able to arrange inexpensive lessons for us. We picked it up pretty easily, and performed folk songs at a variety show once. I still have a guitar around and occasionally tune it up to play Christmas carols.
Rock was also our background music of choice once we had more evening homework to do in junior high. We had a smaller kitchen radio for that so we weren’t blowing the whole house away. At some point the larger stereo system moved into the basement, and that’s where we listened to our rock music records when we started buying them. We bought the Beatles’ White Album together since it was expensive for us at the time, and somehow I ended up with custody of it later. Another of my first records bought with my own money was Dreamboat Annie by Heart. Vinyl LPs were still dominant at this time, though cassette tapes were around, too. I liked those for recording off the radio, or for mixed playlists of songs off of different LPs. It was a lot more work than making a playlist on a streaming service!
My first rock concert was Hot Tuna and Santana at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. I didn’t tell my parents where I was going since they would have thought it was dangerous, but I was with several male friends, so I was not worried. I got to see a few more great acts in my teens like Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and my record collection kept growing.
At about the same time Diane and I were turning to rock, my mother discovered opera. Jimmy Dean was replaced by Luciano Pavarotti as her favorite singer, and we made a little fun of him, too, but really did appreciate his talent. She made tapes of many of the albums she collected, and I was happy to inherit the opera tapes when she passed on.
Another constant in my youth, besides music in the house and bread on the table, was a green salad at supper. I am pretty sure this was my dad’s choice, since the salads were more in the French style. Though my mom’s relatives also served green salads, they were not quite the same. We improvised a lot when making the salad dressing, so this recipe is only a rough guide, but this is what I wrote down to refer to when I left for college.
Salad Dressing- French Vinaigrette
Recipe by Pierre Simonian
2 1/2 tablespoons oil; all or part extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons Vinegar; cider, wine or balsamic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 small Garlic cloves; pressed or minced
1 tablespoon Onion; minced, optional
1 pinch Dried thyme, marjoram, tarragon; pinch of each that you choose to use
dash Black pepper; fresh ground best
Combine all ingredients thoroughly in the bottom of the salad bowl or in a jar. Toss with mixed green lettuces. Can be kept for a day or two if you make a larger quantity.