A Musical Blast from the Past Reminds That Some Things Haven't Really Changed
May 21, 2019 5:00 AM
by John Hook
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There was a time in my youth when I knew all things related to electronics. When I arrived at the fourth floor of Beam Hall at University Park in the fall of 1977 I brought along a true “stereo” – a separate receiver (replaced by an integrated amp and tuner a year later), cassette deck, turntable and a pair of speakers.

However, since I grew up in a small city an hour northeast of Happy Valley with no older siblings to guide me, it meant my taste in music was channeled by the pop radio stations of the time – not the best taste to have when you’re assigned to an all-male dorm floor with a diverse group of guys.

Except that assignment turned out to be a great experience.

Suddenly you had 40 or more de facto brothers the same age and older all willing to share their albums and cassettes. And they spanned the gamut. Bubba had Maynard Ferguson. Duke had, what else, Duke Ellington. Casey had the Outlaws. Stevo had Head East. Cools had Joe Dolce. Chuckie had Steely Dan. Mark had Rush. Tommy didn’t have much music but he had beer, so no problem there. And the list went on. It was your own personal music education class and library.

Over the years I’ve drifted away from my need for quality electronics (a part of me cringes when I look at the “stereo” equipment around our house). Recently though, I was indoctrinated back into music listening and had a youthful revival with many songs I haven’t heard in years.

It turns out the phone I carry has the capacity to hold music on it. A LOT of music. (I know, I know, cut me a break here. I only recently upgraded to a smart phone.) And it also turns out that unbeknownst to me our family was paying for a music service (an innocuous monthly charge hiding out in the morass of the credit card statement). That service allows you to have as many songs as you want – out of a library of millions of songs. Songs, songs, and more songs! Every other member of the family was immensely enjoying this service that I knew nothing about.

Until one day when the light bulb went on and Dad realized what he had. Of course, my daughter had to show me how to sign in to the service.

So I sat down in front of the CD stack, and went through our old albums and 45s, and used those as a guide. Within a few hours I had downloaded a hundred or more songs that I now regularly enjoy in random order. There was soon muttering around the house that, “We’ve unleashed a monster,” as I glided here and there with earbuds in enjoying the rekindled days of my youth.

“Mack The Knife.” The No. 1 song in the country the day I was born. “In the Air Tonight.” A special song with one of our bridesmaids. “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” A reminder of a very dear departed friend. “Green Grass and High Tides.” First college concert. “Born To Run.” How many times did we scream “1, 2, 3, 4” at the top of our lungs? “Jessica.” Who knew it would become our daughter’s name? “Time Warp.” A close friend’s party classic.

Then there was this song that our future best man introduced me to. It had been out for 12 years when I first heard it, and in the ensuing four decades it has been mostly forgotten. Public Enemy covered it in 2007, which, when I think about it, makes a heck of a lot of sense. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Chuck D and I was as impressed by him as I’ve ever been with anyone I’ve met. Intelligent, forthright, articulate, talented, humorous, strong, personable. And this is a song whose lyrics Chuck and Public Enemy likely realized were as true and relatable in 2007 as they were in 1965 when it was released. Now in 2019, they still have an eerily predictive feel about them.

The song? “Eve of Destruction.”

Sung by Barry McGuire and written by P.F. Sloan, I’ve found myself mentally reciting the lyrics whenever it randomly pops up on my cell phone playlist. In many cases it’s saddening how the lyrics – penned over a half-century ago – still resonate today.

The eastern world, it is explodin'

Though the original was referring to Vietnam and southeast Asia, the Middle East could easily be characterized as the most contested landmass in human history and we, and the rest of the world, continue to engage in conflicts over it.

You're old enough to kill but not for votin'

One of the bright spots in our culture since the song was written is the voting age in this country was lowered to the age of 18 by the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

You don't believe in war, but what's that gun you're totin'

Speaking of the Constitution, the Second Amendment and gun control are very much a topic of national debate these days.

If the button is pushed, there's no running away

When was the last time you had to participate in a nuclear blast drill? When was the last time you even saw a fallout shelter sign? One would think almost 75 years after the first and only use of an atomic weapon in combat that this would be a forgotten concept. Yet the “button” has been a hot topic as our current president campaigned for and then took office. His ability to professionally handle the “president’s emergency satchel,” the so-called nuclear “Football,” (which, contrary to belief, does not contain a big red button) was called into question and used to stoke the nuclear winter fear we had a half-century ago.

Handful of senators don't pass legislation

If you want them to they don’t, and if you don’t want them to they do.

And marches alone can't bring integration

Are we still having racial issues in our country? Most definitely yes, we are.

When human respect is disintegratin'

Has anyone noticed that the thing you are reading these words on – the internet – has been accused of causing a breakdown in manners and respect among people all over the world?

Think of all the hate there is in Red China!

That particular lyric reminds me of something I often forget, given the daily dose of concerning news about trade and tariffs with China: that there are technically two Chinas – the Republic of China, usually referred to as Taiwan, and the People's Republic of China, generally referred to as China. And the “Red China” is the one in the news in an adversarial relationship with the U.S.

Hate your next door neighbor, but don't forget to say grace

Is it necessary in this day to post signs in our yards that read, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you are our neighbor”? Translated into several languages? Yes.

And you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Well, whether you believe we’re on the eve of destruction or not is not as important as what you will do about it today here in Happy Valley and throughout the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Today is primary election day, and if you care to make your voice heard, then go to the polls today and cast your ballot. Take part in the democratic process to ensure that man will still be alive in the year 2525.



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