Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Reminisce Your Age

A few days ago I was surfing YouTube, reminiscing as I occasionally do about cartoons, etc. (see prior article, here). By chance, I came across a video about Crystal Pepsi (if you're not sure what that is, see a summary here ).

The guy in the video was describing Crystal Pepsi from both a marketing point of view, and an experiential point of view. The thing that struck me as odd, however, is that the guy in the video seemed to be no more than 25 years old -- if I am estimating to the high end, and I think the video is no more than 1 year old.

If you're one of my high school friends, you may remember that odd/eventful day that a Pepsi truck parked in front of OHS, and every student got a free bottle of Crystal Pepsi. I emphasize "bottle" because that's all it was -- a bottle. A sealed, empty bottle (somewhere in my parent's house I think I still have it). I'm not sure what the thought there was -- maybe they weren't allowed to give out free pop at school? Maybe it was cheaper? Or maybe just a marketing ploy?

So, according to my research, there was only one year that I was both in High School and Crystal Pepsi was still being made, and that would have been Fall of 1993 -- my freshman year. That also means that the poster in the video was at most age 7 in 1993 -- 2nd grade. How much could a 2nd grader remember about a soft drink? That it existed, yes, certainly. Buying it at a gas station -- that is possible. But the marketing of it? The over-hypedness of it? Come on, there's no way you remember that. You may have read about it, researched it, heard about it, but that's probably all.

For some reason, that bothered me. I can't really explain it, but it obviously bothered other readers, too, as the most popular comment was one suggesting that the author was too young to have really experientially understood it.

We've all heard the saying "act your age;" I think there is also an unwritten rule that could be called "reminisce your age." Meaning this -- you need to be careful to distinguish between things you have experienced, and things you have just researched and have some degree of expertise in.

For example, I really like learning about the presidents. I was born in March of 1979, so I was alive during the Carter administration for about 1.75 years; but it would be a bit presumptive to say, "yeah, remember the Carter years? Man, "we" sure went through a rough patch there." Frankly, I didn't really understand much about politics during the Reagan or Bush 41 years either. I can write about those things from a point of view based on research, but not "memory," more than a few glimpses.

So I was thinking of things I genuinely do remember enough to understand -- or at least partially understand. And based on that, here are some things I would like to see if you remember along with me.

January 28, 1986 -- Challenger Disaster

At 10:38 AM (central) on this date, I was in Miss Kosman's 1st grade class at Horace Mann Elementary School. The small, grainy TV had been turned on only perhaps 5 minutes earlier so that we could watch teacher-turned-astronaut Christa McAuliffe teach a lesson as part of NASA's new "Teacher In Space" project. This is probably my earliest memory of a national event.

Now, of course I didn't remember the exact date and time, and I didn't remember the name of the teacher or the NASA mission. I didn't know or understand the cause and consequences until I read about it years later. But I do vividly remember that for several days beforehand, we were told that we would be watching a teacher teach a lesson of some kind from outer-space. Of course that would be memorable! I remember that when the shuttle exploded, we were all stunned and not exactly sure what had happened. Miss Kosman turned off the TV almost right away - probably trying to shield us from seeing something we shouldn't see - but it was clear from her reaction that something had gone terribly wrong. Several students were outwardly emotional/weepy. Oddly, I don't remember what happened next. I don't know if she gave us a "heart-to-heart" talk, or if she just ignored it and moved on to the next subject. Either way, can you imagine being a lower-elementary teacher in that situation?

1989-1990 - One-Hit-Wonders

During 4th grade, (the '88-'89 school year) my neighbor and friend Abe moved away. Roughly one year later, he came back to Ottumwa for a visit. I don't know why, but I distinctly recall being on the playground at Horace Mann, just the two of us (it must have either been summer or a Saturday), when he asked me, "Hey, have you heard about these two cool new music groups: M.C. Hammer and Vanilla Ice?" Of course, my parents never would have allowed me to own that kind of tape . . . nor did I really care to. (Abe also came back to visit for my kickin' 11th (or 12th?) birthday pool party at the "new" Super 8 in town. Our birthdays were both in March, I think.)

1991-1994 - Channel One

The '91-'92 school year was the first year that Channel One came to Ottumwa, at least to Evans Jr. High. Channel One was a 10-15 minute "news program" that students in grades 7-12 were forced to watch each morning during 1st period, in exchange for free TV's in each classroom (it was supported by commercial advertising during the program). Lisa Ling & Anderson Cooper were on during this era. I remember a lot of Pepsi commercials and Michael Jackson singing "Black or White." Also, in 7th grade I still remember doing the pledge of allegiance each morning in Mrs. Beisch's reading class (which was 1st period for me) right before (or after?) Channel One. I don't recall that in any subsequent years. [Note: even though I didn't graduate until '97, starting in 10th grade I had band 1st period, and we were exempted from watching it. That is why I listed the end year as '94.]

April 19, 1995 - Oklahoma City Bombing

It occurred around 9:00 AM, and Mr. Hansen, my 1oth grade History teacher, turned on the TV and we watched the news coverage of the happenings for the whole of 2nd period.

October 3, 1995 - O.J. Simpson Verdict

Early in 11th grade this time . . . the verdict was read at lunch time, and I had just walked into the basement cafeteria (I looked it up online, it was at 10:00 Pacific Time, which would have been noon our time). Someone - probably a school employee - had set up a TV along the south wall. Everyone I spoke with was shocked.

1996-97 (approx.) - SURGE

This time it was a Coca-Cola truck that parked in front of the High School one day, and we all got a free can of SURGE (full, this time). Yuck!

Obviously, I could go on with more, but now we're closing in on college, so that seems like a good stopping point. Please share your own memories with me in the comments below!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Julie Bigler (clap, clap, clap clap clap.)

OK, admit it -- 7 or 8 of you are singing it in your head right now.

For the rest of you: think of the popular chant at basketball games, "Let's go Falcons! (clap, clap, clap clap clap)" ["Falcons" could be replaced with any other two-syllable team name.]

I don't know very much about Julie Bigler. I do know that she is about the same age as me, give or take 2 years, and she played basketball for some high school team in Southeast Iowa -- perhaps Fairfield, Keokuk, or etc. She was fairly good at girls' basketball, as I recall.

So, in high school, basketball pep band was a lot of fun. Really - a lot lot lot of fun. You'll have to take my word for it. In one attempt to "get in the heads" of the opponents - or, maybe just be goofy - we started chanting "JULIE BIGLER!" during a game.

Well, Ottumwa tended to play the same teams fairly often. Probably a year or so after the chant was invented, another game with Julie's team came up. The girls' game ended and all the members of said team came out and sat behind the boys' team during the boys' game (girl-boy double headers were common). Someone dared me me go say something to Miss Bigler. One fellow band member dared me to go kiss her (I think) -- of course, I wasn't that bold, so I negotiated down to a high-five if they would give me some money. (One of those, "I'll give you $x if you can convince Julie Bigler to give you a high-five!" things.)

So, during a break of some kind, I mustered up my courage and did it. I walked up to the girls' team from the visiting school, and asked Julie if she would give me a high-five. She briefly hesitated, but then I just told her it was for a dare. She gave in, we had the high-five and I went back to the pep band balcony [where my peers were viewing my every move] and collected my $22.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Most Memorable TV Theme Songs (From Childhood)

Remember theme songs?

You know, back in the day when a song played at the beginning of each episode? Some had words, others were just melodic, but they seem to be disappearing. Now you mostly just have a 3-second splash of the logo perhaps with a guitar riff, etc.

Below I have listed my top 10 most memorable TV theme songs from Childhood. Now, you should note that when I say "most memorable" I don't mean "best show." Far from it, actually, these are just songs that stuck in my head and I liked.

[Disclaimer: To sample each song, it links to a website I found called "Television Tunes," that plays the song but it looks like the purpose is to sell you cell-phone ring tones of the songs. I know nothing about this site other than that -- use at your own risk.]

(The best way to hear each song is probably to right-click on the link and then open in a new window or tab. Just my suggestion.)

10. The Adventures of David the Gnome

I know, I know, this probably seems like a very weird show to put on any top-whatever list; it was a hoky show that was (at best) mediocre animation. However, for whatever reason I easily remembered the theme even to this day, and I kind of liked it. Perhaps it was just the complete and utter fantasty nature of it -- pure escapism: "Trolls, and witches, and fairy kings (??), birds that talk and fish that sing."

9. Magnum, P.I.

I really don't have all that many memories of the show itself, but the theme is an undeniable classic. As a kid, who wouldn't want to go on the kind of adventures that Tom Selleck  experienced once per week? He had access to fast cars, boats, helicopters, cool sunglasses, etc. Not to mention an awesome moustache. Of course the fact that this was a pep-band song in high school helped, too.

8. G.I. Joe

If you were born between roughly 1974 and 1986, this should require no explanation. G.I. Joe was the classic male cartoon: Guns, lasers, jets, tanks, good guys vs. bad guys, and the complete toy line to go along with it. I liked shows with "lots of named characters," and this one was one of my favorites. The theme was not as good as the show itself, but still "good enough." (Of the two different themes, I remember the "Cobra the Enemy" version more than the "Cobra and Destro" version.)

7. Airwolf

Like Magnum, P.I., here is a show where I have very few memories of the show itself, but enough to know that I thought it was awesome. As I recall, it was basically about a rogue seudo-government agent with a helicopter who went around doing good in a general sense. The awesome airborne helicopter combat sequences made it for me at the age of 5-7 or so. I have gone back and watched some clips of the show on YouTube, and in retrospect it was pure 80's hokum. The theme, however, with it's synthesized flugelhorn goodness, stands the test of time.

6. Matlock

Although Andy Griffith holds heroic status in the mind of many "mature citizens" in his Matlock role, I didn't really care for the show itself. The theme song, however, was pure genius. I often remember watching the theme song and then changing the channel. If I ever became a lawyer, I would want them to play this song every time I entered the courtroom.

5. Heathcliff

Heathcliff: the generic equivalent of Garfield. The show was about a feisty housecat and his misadventures in his neighborhood. Also featured were the alleycats - a rag tag band of 5 (?) cats led by a cat named Riff-Raff who lived in a junkyard. The show was OK, but the theme was very memorable: partly for the tune, but even more so for the words.

It was one of those songs, as a kid, that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't make sense of the words. Here is MY version of what I thought the lyrics were in the middle part, flowed by a link that demonstrates the dilemma:

"There's a race to be on top,
The competition doesn't stop
Mixing with the ladies there,
Me and Johnny never dare."

"The gang will race a bridge,
And no one can deny-y-y-y,
To make the mystery,
And always have an alibi."

4. Ducktales

If push came to shove, I would say that Ducktales was my favorite cartoon of all time. The theme was very memorable too.

3. Knight Rider

When I was quite young, I had a Knight Rider Big Wheel. It was the bomb, needless to say. For this reason and others, I thought the show was cool. Also, at some point we (my family) saw the Knight Rider car, KITT. (Whether of not it was the "actual" car, I don't know, but it looked the part, and had the unique red running light across the front bumper. I also remember it had a cord - plugged into an outlet. I think this was at the State Fair or something.) I think most of us can easily get the song stuck in our heads. It was a very memorable song, and deserves third place status.

2. The Mysterious Cities of Gold

Not only are the cities mysterious, for a long time in my mind the show itself was mysterious. I always had a memory that as a child I saw a show about cities of gold. In my mind, I was 7, 8, or 9 roughly. I remember there was an anime type show (before any of us knew what anime was) about three children whom ran around South America looking for lost cities while being constantly chased by dumb villains. Along the way, they used a giant solar-powered flying bird and a solar-powered ship. It was only on for one season. It was one of very few shows I remembered that had an actual "end" to it -- eventually they find one of the cities.

Until the rise of YouTube, Wikipedia, etc., I wasn't even sure that my memory was true. Did this show really exist? The only reassurance I had was that one time my friend Brian Jackson told me that he remembered the same thing on Nickelodeon.

Then I saw this:

Memories flooded back in a bizarre and slightly emotional "It's real!" type way. That theme is both haunting and epic. I dare you to find anything that good in the last 15 years. I'm very anxious to get the set on DVD, once it becomes halfway affordable. 1st vs. 2nd place was a VERY close call. But . . .

1. M.A.S.K

M.A.S.K. - which stands for Mobile Armored Strike Kommand (yes, "Kommand" with a "K" - I suppose M.A.S.C. wouldn't hold the same ring) - was a T.V. show created for the sole purpose of selling toys. It was basically a show that took good elements from other shows like G.I. Joe and Transformers. Remember above how I mentioned that I tended to like shows that had a lot of named characters? Well, this one not only had a lot of named characters but also had a lot of named vehicles: vehicles that transformed into ... [wait for it...] a different vehicle. A jeep turns into a boat, a motorcycle turns into a helicopter, a helicopter turns into an airplane, a car turns into a flying car, a truck turns into a more awesome truck with guns, etc.

The theme song itself was a combination of both epic storytelling and electronic coolness. Undoubtedly it was the "wah wah wah wah" sound effect that pushed this over the edge. Another thing that sells it is that the song perfectly explains the concept of the show. There is very little ambiguity. Here are those nifty words:

Masked Crusaders!
Working overtime; fighting crime - fighting crime!
Secret Raiders!
Who will neutralize as soon as they arrive (at the site).

Tracker's gonna' lead the mission,
And Spectrum's got the supervision!

Is the mighty power that can save the day,
No one knows what lies behind the masquerade,
Always riding hot on Venom's trail.
Come see the lazerade,
Fire Away!

Tracker = Matt Tracker, the leader of the good guys
Spectrum = the technology that allows their masks to work
Venom = the bad guys
Lazerade = an impressive show of lasers (I guess...)]

Honorable Mention: Look these up on your own.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Gummi Bears
The Super Mario Bro.'s Super Show
The Real Ghostbusters
Bionic Six
Get Along Gang

Please share your memories along with me!