Listening to the same music for over 50 years is not necessarily something to be proud of

My iPhone is connected via Bluetooth to my hearing aids. The phone’s “accessibility” features manage the connection.   For example, when I get a call or if Siri is giving me directions, I hear it through my hearing aids and other active apps get muted.  I talk to the phone in front of me rather than holding it to my ear.  It takes a bit to get used to but is very helpful.

My hearing aids are tuned to the amount of my hearing loss associated with specific frequency ranges.  The volume of each frequency range is adjusted so I hear the frequencies at the correct volume relative to the other frequency ranges.  It is not perfect but it is far better than just making everything 30% louder.

When I use my phone to listen to music, my hearing aids effectively become professionally tuned custom stereo ear buds.  From my perspective, the sound is incredible.  I have had poor hearing since the 5th grade so this is a way cool thing for me.

Several weeks ago I subscribed to the on Amazon Music Unlimited with its “Tens of millions of songs”.  It might have millions of songs but for the first couple weeks I listened to the popular music from my teen-aged years.  The depth and breadth of the Amazon Music collection of oldies is impressive.  The sound quality I heard made me smile, a lot.

The first draft of this post was about how connected technology made it possible for me to hear my music better.  I choose “Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel as my example only because it came up next on the playlist I was listening to.  I then wrote the following sentence: “I have listened to the same version of this same song for over the past 50 years on radio, albums, 8-track tape, cassette tape, CD, windows media player, iTunes, YouTube, Pandora and now Amazon Music Unlimited.”

I could not put my finger on it but something in that sentence gave me a bad feeling. I tried reworking the sentence a dozen different ways.  Each re-write did not work.  It took some time but finally I came to the realization that I literally have spent over 50 years of my life and lots of money on albums, tapes and CDs so I could listen to the same versions of the same songs over and over again for those 50 years.  I did not know if I should laugh or cry.  At home, in the car, at work, while shopping, etc. for 50 plus years I have pretty much listened to the same set of songs.

Most people think the music they listened to between ages 12 to 22 is the best.  There are all sorts of theories why, but for whatever reason, we all pretty much love the music of our own teenaged years.  Sure the songs of my youth sounded better to me now because of my current hearing aids, but the scary thing to me is that there have been 50 years of songs which I have not been paying attention to.  Have I been living in the past?  I literally had to stop writing for a couple days to think about the answer.

When I started this post, I thought music streaming services were cool because they had all of the music from my teen-aged years.  Now I think streaming music is cooler because I am able to try out all sorts of other music for the same monthly subscription fee.  It is about time that I listen to music other than the golden oldies of my teen years.   You have to leave your comfort zone if you want to live a full life.

I started by listening to the Amazon playlist called “The 50 most Played Songs of 2017 – So far”.  Ed Sheeran has several songs on the list.  There is Hip hop, country, pop, and other genres represented.  The lyrics for some songs are explicit

but I am an adult and can handle hearing a swear words in a song.  Kendrick Lamar’s, “Humble” was surprisingly good.  The chorus includes the refrain “Bitch, sit down, be humble” which shocked me at first, then made me smile and then made me think.  Which, as I thought about it, is probably why it is one of the 50 most played songs in 2017, so far.

It was time to re-write this post.  It is now about how connected technology makes things practical that were not practical without the technology.   Connected technology allows me to hear songs better but also makes it easy for me to explore a whole range of different songs from different genres.  .

I like lots of music but have a limited budget.  Amazon Music Unlimited has over 10 million songs and costs me $7.99 per month.  There are other streaming music services, Amazon is just the one I am using now.  They all have numerous ways to access and discover a wide variety of music.  What makes streaming music so cool is that you can discover and listen to all sorts of music.  The artists get paid when you stream but it does not cost you more to stream more.  Sure you can listen to the oldies but you can listen to millions of other songs.  Not only are there the songs but there are lots of ways to access the songs.  Try a playlist.  Try an artist.  Try an album. Try a song.  Try a genre.  Try a station.  Try the song of the day.

I tried some hip-hop.  More interesting than I first thought.  Give me time I will figure out what type of hip-hop I like and dislike.

I tried some opera, the 3 Tenors were good not great to my ears.  Will listen to some more opera but suspect it will not end up as my favorite type of music.

Tried old country.  George Strait is very good.  Thinking some outlaw country will be next for me.

Polka? When I worked as a pizza cook at Cicero’s at Har Mar and riding in a boat with my father-in-law, I heard lots of polka.  I just listened to “Too Fat Polka”.  It was terrible and included the words: “I don’t want her, you can have her, she’s too fat for me” but I listened to it all the way through.  Probably will not revisit polka for a while.

Show tunes?  The Hamilton cast recording is great.  I like show tunes.

Classical, which kind?  Guitar is great to have in the background while I write.  I will investigate more classical music.

I looked up music from the following:  My nephew was in the Selby TigersDan Cavanagh is a neighborhood kid who became a jazz artist, professor and omposerBuddy Rich was a great drummer.  If you like a punk cover of popular songs, try the group: Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.  A friend suggested I try Celtic Thunder.

I am on a mission to discover interesting music.  I am not in a rush but I have a sense of urgency for some reason.  I still like the oldies but there is lots of very good music that is not oldies.


We live in a connected world with access to incredible things.   I ask my phone for directions to a half remembered restaurant and my phone not only figures out what restaurant I want, but gives me their hours and directions to get there.

I have no excuse not to try that interesting sounding place which that person at the party told us about.  I don’t need to know how to get there, my phone knows.  I have no excuse not to listen to some of the music mentioned by that kid or a friend or whoever.

The past is a nice place to visit once in a while but not a place to live.  Life is about creating new memories by living in the present with an eye to the future.  Connected technology makes it much easier to create those new memories.

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes – Over the Rainbow

When a 9th grade teacher figured out I was functionally illiterate and what he did about it

This story is essentially true.  It happened 50 years ago and I think only my best friend in high school, Harry, knew the story because he lived it with me day by day.  Many years passed before I realized how profoundly it changed my life.  However, by then enough time had passed that I wondered if I had just made up this mental narrative.   When I saw Harry a couple years ago, he validated my recollection.  The basic story is true, but it was 50 years ago and some of the details may be miss-remembered.

I generally did poorly in school.  From elementary all the way through high school, I got poor grades.  I lost (last place) every spelling contest in elementary school.  To my knowledge, nobody thought something was mentally wrong with me.  It was not only academics.  I could skate well but was poor at most sports.  They always picked me last for the neighborhood ball games.  I had friends but not lots of them.  I did poorly a lot and was encouraged to try harder, a lot.  In my head and by my grades, I was a below average student.  I could do some math problems in my head.  I was reasonably good at geometry but I flunked out of Algebra twice in middle school.  I wrote poorly.  My sentence structure, word choices and spelling were terrible.  I assumed most kids were just smarter than I was.  I knew a couple kids dumber than I was so I did not worry about it too much.  I knew I was not stupid but I also knew I was not very smart.

My next-door neighbor’s grandmother, “Grandma Hughes”, was a very smart woman.  She used to call me “the professor” and talk to me as if I was an adult.  On the other side of our house was a geology professor at the University of Minnesota, who would teach me about geology but I never saw him do the same for other kids.  I did not realize, at the time, that not every kid could understand and talk concepts to adults.  The point being there was evidence I was less dumb than I thought I was, but I did not understand what that evidence meant at the time.  I knew I was a poor student because there was an overwhelming amount of evidence that I was.

So there I was, 14 years old in 9th grade English.  Mr. Hanson (I think) was the teacher.  The class was reading Romeo and Juliet aloud.  Each student read a small section.  When it was my turn, I had a tough time reading.  It went on for only about a minute and the teacher had the next kid start to read.  I do not remember if I was embarrassed at not being able to read the words.  I do not recall anyone laughing or snickering.  What I do remember is at the end of the class, Mr. Hanson asked me to stick around because he wanted to talk to me.

He told me that I was functionally illiterate.  I could read, but very poorly.  He did not give me a long explanation of what that meant.  He just said I was functionally illiterate.  I assumed he was going to give me the same advice every teacher gave me, “try harder”.  Instead, he asked me what kind of things I liked to read.  I told him occasionally I would look at car magazines.  He then wrote a note to my parents that I was to buy several car magazines for a school assignment. Then he gave me a form assigning me to study hall.   He told me I was to read those car magazines every night for an hour and every day in study hall.  The next day instead of his English class, I went to study hall.  The study hall monitor, a teacher, did not believe I was supposed to read car magazines so he called the English teacher to double check.  Once a week, at my convenience, I was to stop by Mr. Hanson’s room and tell him something about what I read.

I really did not know what was going on.  By that point in my academic career, several teachers had kicked me out of class.  This felt different.  Secretly, I felt I was the luckiest kid ever because I did not have to endure English class.  I never gave the note to my parents; I just walked to Har Mar Mall on my way home from school and “acquired” the magazines: Hot Rod Magazine and Motor Trends from one of the stores.  A couple days later, I” acquired” a Road and Track magazine.

I was a teenager.  Every night I would go up to my room before bed and listen to the radio.  The only difference was now I would read a car magazine while lying on the bed listening to the radio.  I would look at the pictures and do my best to read.  Every day instead of going to English class, I would report to study hall.  No big deal, there were several other kids in study hall for lots of reasons.  Nobody, including me, thought too much about me being there.  He told me to be there and I was.

After a couple days, I had “read” the Hot Rod magazine a couple of times.  I still remember that the main article was about how to rebuild a small-block Chevy engine.  Each time I went through the magazine, I understood a little more than the time before.  After a couple weeks, I had gone through each of the magazines several times.  At the next check-in meeting, Mr. Hanson suggested I go to the Roseville library (Hamline and County Rd B) and checkout more magazines.  I walked to the library after school, got a library card and checked out several back issues of car magazines.  Every week I went back to the library, return the ones I had and got more.  Occasionally I would check out some Popular Science magazines.

Every day in school and every night at home for over six or seven months, I would read car magazines with permission.  I never had to take a test in English that year.  Nobody ever asked me to read aloud.  I never had to write a paper about what I was reading.  All I had to do was check in and tell Mr. Hanson what I was reading.  As I recall, we did not have conversations about cars or reading.  I would show him the magazines and he would nod.  Then he would say keep it up, see you next week.

At the end of the year, Mr. Hanson announced he was leaving for a new job in Washington DC working for an organization helping increase literacy.  For those 6 – 7 months, I never felt punished nor did I think I was special in any way.  Other kids interacted with Mr. Hanson more than I did.  I only saw him once a week for a couple minutes.  The rest of his students saw him an hour a day, five days a week for the whole school year.  That year I did not learn any of the stuff the other kids learned in English class.  I read car magazines.

From the point of view of everyone but Mr. Hanson, Harry and myself, I just had study hall one hour a day.  Nobody missed me in English class near as I could tell.  My parents never noticed I did not go to English.  Mom would ask how school was and I would tell her but never mentioned English class, there was no English class to mention.  In study hall lots of kids did things like read magazines instead of doing homework.  Everyone thought I was just being the under achiever I was.  However, there I was for most of the school year, reading car magazines, every day.  I think he gave me a C for a grade each of the three quarters.

At the end of the year, I do not recall that there was any special goodbye between Mr. Hanson and myself.  The year just ended and I went on with my life.   It was years later when it finally dawned on me how life changing what Mr. Hanson had done for me really was.  I was 14 years old and could hardly read.  Then six -seven months later, I was almost 15 years old and could read.  Turns out you learn to read by reading.  If the topic you are reading about is of some interest, you are more likely to stick with it.  The words in car magazines are just as good as words in textbooks or great literature.  It does not matter what you read when you are learning to read.  It is just important that you do a lot of reading.   I thought I was dumb but the reality is, I was just a very poor reader.

The first real book I ever read was The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton, which had just been published (April 1967, I looked it up).  I do not remember but I suspect Mr. Hanson recommended it to me.   For a kid like me, it was a life-changing book.  I do not remember for sure, however, my recollection was, for the next year (my sophomore year), I read mostly only my assigned reading.  By the time I was a junior, I started to read also for my own pleasure (not assigned by a teacher).  I think I read a couple books from the library.  We got Life magazine at home and I started to read those also.

Between my junior and senior year I worked at the mini-golf course at Como Park.  I probably read several dozen books that summer.  The library and I became friends.  I still love libraries however; I now prefer to read from an iPad.  I was aware that I had a lot of catching up to do, so I did what I could, but I was not obsessed with catching up.  I was a confused teenager.  Expectations on me were low and I met those expectations.  I suppose I have read thousands of books since then.

I read very little until age 15.  Teachers assumed we all had read assigned reading from previous years.  If I had heard stories discussed, sometimes I had the gist of the stories but mostly I did not.  In college when some professor would reference children’s stories to illustrate a point, I often would not have a clue about the reference until years later when I read that book with one of the kids.

I still tend to read a book more than once.   I make up all sorts of excuses but the real reason is that is the way I taught myself to read and it just feels right.  I did not all of a sudden become a good student.  I did better because I could read the questions and maybe had at least glanced at the text.   My high school senior year French teacher took pity on me and gave me a red D- rather than the F, I deserved.  If she had not done that, I would not have graduated high school with my class.  I had done all right on my SATs.  Went to college and finally passed algebra (I could read the questions).  All of this is more complicated than that but I will save that for other posts.

In hindsight, there were many consequences for not having read much until age 15.  Children’s books and juvenile fiction are one of the ways we learn about the nuance of life.  I felt different from other kids for lots of years.  Maybe if I had read children’s books and juvenile fiction I would have realized I was far more normal than I thought I was.


The basic factors of how fast a car can go is about the weight to horsepower ratio and proper gearing.  A powerful engine in a light car is the trick.  The Cobra is an excellent example.  Handling on a car is about keeping the center of gravity as low and centered as possible.  Also keeping the tire tread level on the ground is important.  The Corvette did that very well.

Racing is really about the fastest car around the track that meets the requirements of that class of cars.  Racing is not about the fastest car possible.  Racecars are not good cars for the streets.  They have very stiff suspension.  They have stiff seats.  They do not have heaters or air conditioners.  They are very loud.  They do not run well at low speeds.

Streetcars made to look like racecars sells lots of streetcars but they are not racecars.  Car manufacturers support racing to give the illusion that the car you buy is like those racecars.  A cool paint job with a Chevy or Ford logo does not make a car go faster or perform better in any way.

What makes a great car is the things you do and the places you go with your car, not how cool the car looks.  When I read many car magazines in a short period, it did not make me desperately want the coolest car.  It made me want to do cool things.