Posts Tagged ‘Rita Pavone’

The Ghosts Of Downtown

December 21, 2011

Originally posted February 9, 2009

I misplaced a long-gone store in Saturday’s post. I talked about spending parts of some childhood Friday evening looking through the shelves of books at Fandel’s and said the building was on Fifth Avenue. Not long after, an email from former St. Cloud resident Yah Shure got me thinking. And I realized that Fandel’s was on Sixth Avenue, a block west of where I had placed it.

(If in fact, the bookstore/interior store had been on Fifth Avenue, it likely would have been right in the middle of a bar called the Red Carpet. It would take some years for me to find myself in the middle of the Red Carpet, but I have been there, too.)

When I realized my error, I was struck by the vividness of my memories of Sixth Avenue in St. Cloud in, oh, 1964. And I spent a few minutes thinking about the ghosts of downtown.

On St. Germain – St. Cloud’s main street – there was Dan Marsh Drug. We got our prescriptions there, had our photos developed there, bought greeting cards and giftwrap, discount records, pipe tobacco and pipe cleaners (Dad smoked until he survived a heart attack in 1974) and so much more. There was a restaurant/grill at the back of the store, a place that during the workweek’s daytime hours must have been home to lunch specials for the many folks who worked in what was a pretty bustling downtown.

After school and on Friday evenings, though, the restaurant was a gathering place for kids who gulped down French fries with cherry Cokes, chocolate Cokes, lime phosphates and other seemingly exotic potions. And on Friday evenings, as the clusters of kids came and went from Dan Marsh Drugs, other kids would drive up and down St. Germain, some revving the engines of their cars and others just looking at the other kids looking back at them.

Sometimes a cop directed traffic at the intersection of St. Germain and Sixth; other times, the police just put the four-sided portable sign, the one reading “No Left Turn,” in the middle of the intersection, and let the drivers and pedestrians otherwise fend for themselves. (For a few years in the early 1970s, the city made St. Germain a pedestrian mall for three blocks downtown and did as well some stupid things with traffic flow, and that pretty much killed downtown’s traffic . . . and a lot of businesses.)

North of St. Germain on Sixth was, I think, a funeral home. I recall clearly, however, the book and stationery store, a place of pens and pencils, ledgers and typing paper, erasers and sharpeners, the kind of place that entranced me then and can still do so today.

South on Sixth, Fandel’s and Herberger’s, two department stores, took the corner spots. Fandel’s is long gone, and Herberger’s – in an insane attempt at urban renewal during, I think, the 1980s – was allowed to build a mall across Sixth Avenue, so Sixth is now blocked at St. Germain. Herberger’s continues in business, but the other stores and restaurants in that mall haven’t thrived over the years.

Beyond Herberger’s, on the east side of Sixth, is a blank for me. I cannot recall what stood there. Beyond Fandel’s on the west side of Sixth was the building that held Fandel’s bookstore and interiors, the place where I got my copy of Born Free after seeing the movie, and where I bought Dad a copy of Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim for his birthday.

All of those businesses except Herberger’s are gone. Most of the buildings are gone as well. And next to the Fandel’s book and interiors building stood another lost gem, the Eastman Theater, with its blue and white marquee. It was one of three movie houses in St. Cloud at the time. (There are none in the city these days; we now drive west into the adjacent city of Waite Park for a movie, although films are occasionally screened in the refurbished Paramount Theatre). I went to numerous movies at the Eastman, not many of them memorable. What I remember most clearly is waiting for the movie in the theater, with a series of colored lights projected from somewhere, walking their way up and down the theater on the side walls.

I do remember one film I saw at the Eastman, though: The Longest Day, the tale of the June 6, 1944, invasion of Normandy during World War II, was released in 1962. It came back through town during early June in 1964, and my parents okayed my request to see it. So one day – a Saturday? I’m not sure – I bicycled across the Mississippi and into downtown, to the Eastman. I locked my bike to the rack and then, as I bought my ticket, asked the woman there if the film had come back out because of the twentieth anniversary of D-Day, the Normandy Invasion.

She blinked and looked down at me, a short and bespectacled ten-year-old. “How do you know about that?” she asked me.

I might have shrugged. “I dunno,” I likely told her. “I just do.”

“Okay,” she said as I handed her my quarter and she handed me my ticket. “Enjoy the show.” I did.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, June 6, 1964)

“Today” by the New Christy Minstrels, Columbia 43000 (No. 18)

“Wish Someone Would Care” by Irma Thomas, Imperial 66013 (No. 32)

“Yesterday’s Gone” by Chad & Jeremy, World Artists 1021 (No. 64)

“The Girl From Ipanema” by Stan Getz/João & Astrid Gilberto, Verve 10323 (No. 87)

“Remember Me” by Rita Pavone, RCA Victor 8635 (No. 94)

“Dang Me” by Roger Miller, Smash 1881 (No. 126)

What? No Beatles? I can hear readers wondering as I write. There’s no doubt that they dominated the charts in 1964, especially during the week of April 4, when they held the top five spots in the Billboard Hot 100. (In order: “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Twist and Shout,” “She Loves You,” I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “Please Please Me.”) And the Beatles did have a considerable chart presence during the first week in June, with three singles in the Top 40, an EP “bubbling under” at No. 105, and “Sie Lieb Dicht,” a German version of “She Loves You,” also bubbling at No. 108.

But there was so much more going on in 1964, at least in this chart. The British Invasion that the Beatles and the Rolling Stones triggered was underway, with Peter and Gordon, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, the Dave Clark Five and Gerry and the Pacemakers in the Top 30. And there was more. In fact, just look at the Top 20 for June 6, 1964, and you’ll see a snapshot of a time when popular tastes were in flux:

“Chapel of Love” by the Dixie Cups
“Love Me Do” by the Beatles
“My Guy” by Mary Wells
“Love Me With All Your Heart” by the Ray Charles Singers
“Hello, Dolly” by Louis Armstrong
“A World Without Love” by Peter and Gordon
“Walk On By” by Dionne Warwick
“Little Children” by Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas
“(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet” by the Reflections
“P.S. I Love You” by the Beatles
“Do You Love Me” by the Dave Clark Five
“People” by Barbra Streisand
“Every Little Bit Hurts” by Brenda Holloway
“Diane” by the Bachelors
“Cotton Candy” by Al Hirt
“It’s Over” by Roy Orbison
“I Get Around” by the Beach Boys
“Today” by the New Christy Minstrels
“Once Upon A Time” by Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells
“Tell Me Why” by Bobby Vinton

Wow! Girl groups, R&B from Motown and elsewhere, tunes from Broadway, pop instrumentals, British pop-rock, teen idol pop, folk and more – all of it underscored by the “skritch-skritch” of Warwick’s “Walk On By” and capped off by Orbison’s operatic finish as the Beach Boys rev the engine and head to the drive-in.

And in June of 1964, I waited to turn eleven late that summer, knowing – oddly enough – more about World War II than I knew about pop and rock music. Some of the songs in the Top 20 were familiar, certainly: I knew “Hello, Dolly,” “Cotton Candy” (though it’s one of the few Al Hirt tunes I’m not all that not fond of), and “Today.” And I might have known about “Walk On By.” The most fondly remembered is “Today,” with its sweet melody and its lyric predicting nostalgia, presented in a ersatz commercial folk style that owes more to Mitch Miller and the Fifties than to any folk music that ever came from the likes of Pete Seeger. Knowing all that now doesn’t diminish my affection for the recording because when I hear “Today,” I’m not hearing the record. I’m hearing the soundtrack of a time when a ten-year-old kid could bicycle by himself to a movie theater in the downtown of a small city, see a movie and get himself home safely with nothing greater to worry about than a flat tire. We have gained much in the past forty-five years, but we have lost much, too.

Anyway, “Today” marked the last bit of chart success for the New Christy Minstrels, as it happened. The record went as high as No. 17 and was the last of three Top 40 hits for the group. (“Green, Green” and “Saturday Night” were the others.) It’s of interest, too, that among the members of the New Christy Minstrels – organized by Randy Sparks – were Kenny Rogers, Barry McGuire and Kim Carnes.

Irma Thomas is still singing soul and R&B today after almost fifty years in the music industry, starting with her first single, 1960’s “You Can Have My Husband but) Don’t Mess with My Man” on the Ron label, based in her native Louisiana. “Wish Someone Would Care” was her only record to reach the Top 40, peaking at No. 17.

“Yesterday’s Gone” is pleasant folk-pop: light and insubstantial candy for the ear. It also serves as a reminder that not all the performers who followed the Beatles and the Stones across the Atlantic rocked. (The best/worst example of that might be Freddie and the Dreamers.) “Yesterday’s Gone” went only to No. 21, but its follow-up, “A Summer Song,” went to No. 7 in the autumn of 1964. After that, the two singers – who had been credited up to that point as Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde – gave up their last names and became Chad and Jeremy, scoring five more Top 40 hits into August 1966.

The story about “The Girl From Ipanema” says that the charming and somewhat affectless vocal by Astrud Gilberto was one of those happy accidents that sometimes happen in the studio. As I understand it, sax player Stan Getz and singer and guitarist João Gilberto were working on the track for their Getz/Gilberto album (1963) when they decided that “The Girl From Ipanema” needed a vocal. Gilberto’s wife, Astrud, who spoke no English, learned the words phonetically, and an international hit was born. The record went to No. 5 and won the Grammy for 1964’s Record of the Year. (That’s the story as I understand it. Anyone out there have any corrections or clarifications?)

I know next to nothing about Rita Pavone, only that I found one of her albums in a box of LP’s I bought in bulk at a flea market in February of 1989. I listened to it and was not impressed, but I figured it had little resale value, so I stuck it in the stacks. And there it’s stayed for almost exactly twenty years. But when I saw her name at No. 94 on the Hot 100, I went to the stacks and learned that the LP – titled simply Rita Pavone – in fact included her single. It’s a girl group-kind of tune, although Rita seems to often intone the lyrics rather than sing them. But there you are.

“Dang Me” was the first of twelve Top 40 hits for Roger Miller, reaching No. 7 during the summer of 1964. The record – and several of his others – are tagged in the Billboard books as novelties. I’m not sure that’s right. Miller’s style was quirky, but it was refreshing. Those of his hits not tagged as novelty records – “England Swings,” “King of the Road,” “Engine Engine” and more – are not that far removed from what he was doing with “Dang Me,” “Kansas City Star” and more. It doesn’t matter, I guess. Miller is long gone, having died in 1992.