Tag Archives: Detroit

Cranberry sauce.

The Beatles -- Abbey RoadI’ve always prided myself as a person who doesn’t fall for hoaxes or give way to conspiracy theories. But a recent article made me realize that I indeed had once been sucked in by one of these far-fetched rumors. It happened in October 1969, around the time I turned 11.

Maybe I was home from school that afternoon, or maybe it was a Saturday, but I remember being home alone when I heard the announcement on my favorite radio station, WKNR-AM (Keener 13) in Detroit. I don’t know precisely what the announcement said, or how long it lasted, but it was enough to propel me downstairs from my bedroom to pull out the most recent Beatles albums we had. I spent a good while tracking down the clues the radio had said pointed to the conclusion that Paul McCartney was dead.

Paul was said to have died two years before and the Beatles were using a McCartney double to hide the tragedy. Despite the cover up,  the Beatles had laced their recent work with clues that revealed the truth about Paul:  There on the back cover of Sgt. Pepper was Paul, his back turned to the viewer, separated from his front-facing, living bandmates. There he was on Abbey Road, crossing the street barefoot, past a Volkswagen whose license plate read “28IF” — Paul would have been 28 years old if he had lived. At the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” John Lennon seems to be saying, “I bury Paul.”

The house felt creepy, as if I had just woken from a bad dream.

Over time the Paul is Dead phenomenon faded, then ceased to be relevant. Along the way, John explained that he was saying “cranberry sauce” on the record, not “I bury Paul.” And a few years back I learned that Keener 13 (which in the early ’70s I abandoned for FM radio) was instrumental in spreading the rumor nationally.

In October, an article appeared in Michigan Today that detailed the role a mischievous University of Michigan student named Fred LaBour played in energizing the Paul is Dead rumor. LaBour wrote a full-page story in the student-run Michigan Daily, offering details of McCartney’s death in a car accident. He repeated the clues then circulating and offered more of them, saying the Beatle’s death was fact, not rumor. Many of the clues LaBour made up.

Today the whole thing seems like a quaint heirloom from the increasingly distant 1960s, nothing more than a feverish alternate reality no longer populated by truth seekers. The truth is pretty obvious now.

But I still don’t think John was saying “cranberry sauce.”



Filed under music, popular culture

How much for that memory?



That’s how much a memory costs at Liberty High School, outside Dallas. Well, a package of memories. Pictures and words on paper and bound between two hard covers.

A yearbook. And last week, an article by Jessica Meyers in the Dallas Morning News pointed to the yearbook as another victim of the decline of print.  It hadn’t occurred to me that the yearbook has many of the same weaknesses as the newspaper — and some the newspaper doesn’t have — before my friend Sarah pointed out this article. But it makes perfect sense.

Add to the $60 price tag the fact that moments can now be captured and stored with such ease at such little cost — and multiply that by the fact that, unlike older Americans, high school students have no loyalty to print and, well, you do the math; it was never my specialty. Half of Liberty High’s students bought yearbooks this year, but according to the article, that’s way above average.

My favorite quote from the story, included to illustrate the mindset of today’s iPod-packin’ teens, is surreal:

“I don’t think memories should cost anything,” said Liberty senior Paul Tee.

(We know that memories don’t really cost anything. On the other hand, listen to Sinatra sing “One For My Baby.”)

My high school memories go back to the mid-’70s. I don’t remember how much our yearbooks cost, but recently they got a second life. In January, two schoolmates set up an alumni site on Ning. One of the first things my friend Giselle (we go back to 5th grade) did, was reach for the yearbooks. Then she scanned a mess of pictures and posted them on line.

If even we print-bound boomers are launching our school pictures into the cloud, how much more so those high schoolers who think in digital terms anyway.

[EDIT: I wondered what would happen if scanners disappeared. I checked with my friend Lori, a designer at a big Philadelphia newspaper. She believes that “any designer worth her salt needs to have a scanner for archival photos and certain other things. I don’t think we’ll see their complete extinction any time very soon.”]

So what it comes down to is the medium. Maybe it won’t always be a book. Schools are starting to  put yearbook content on DVDs. I read someplace that a DVD yearbook costs $10. Not sure how people would sign your yearbook, but there’s probably some ways to to that, too.

While I was surprised to learn that yearbooks are in decline, I’m not going into mourning for them.  Nor am I moved by the correlation between yearbook demand and the odd, virus-like thing called school spirit.

On that score, the article quotes Linda Drake, the Journalism Education Association’s yearbook adviser of the year who is also on the National Scholastic Press Association’s board of directors. “But I have issues with kids saying they can’t afford [a yearbook] and then buying a pair of $100 jeans. I don’t see the school spirit. I don’t see the school camaraderie. ” she said.

Linda may not see it because the kids have a choice. Tarleton State College in Stephensville, Texas, isn’t making that mistake. To raise camaraderie, school spirit and yearbook sales,  it “imposed a mandatory $25 fee to all undergraduate students,” the article said.

Maybe it was because I went to a Quaker school that we weren’t harangued about school spirit. The Quaker way is to wait until the spirit moves you and, until then, please keep quiet. Besides, it was the ’70s and there were other things on our minds.

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Filed under books, communications, popular culture, print

How I became a Luddenite.


When I was a kid, I had a friend who lived in the Old House. Inside it were old phones, old radios, old clocks. If my friend’s family had it, it was old.

It’s not that I wasn’t acquainted with old things. My parents had only at rare intervals bought a stereo to replace our one-speaker hi-fi system, covered our bedroom floors with shag carpeting, and and brought in some Danish Modern furniture. Whatever they didn’t replace, I suppose, was old.

The difference was that everything in the Old House seemed of a piece. It wasn’t the 1970s there, but the ‘50s, or even earlier. Time had forgotten everything behind those pulled roller shades. Visiting my friend’s house contributed to my youthful belief that, at a certain point, every grownup stops updating.

The ensuing decades have lent me a more nuanced view, and when I think of the contents of that house I no longer think old. I think swank. Would it be possible now to gather those antiques in one place at any price? And what would possess anyone to unload them? My view now is: whatever it is, hold out a little longer.

So I was surprised that when I recently announced I had just bought my first cell phone, several of my friends called me a Luddite. I suppose that was a put down. The irony is they were telling me this on Facebook.

I have an uneven relationship with technology. I’m unenthusiastic about electronics that are small. Or expensive. But if I’m anything,  I’m a Luddenite. While our old furniture was getting older, I was in front of the TV watching  Password.  That Alan Ludden, he sure could host .


Filed under TV

I didn’t recognize you standing up.

Hank Rosenfeld spent the better part of six years interviewing Irving Brecher, one of the last of the old Hollywood writers.

The result of their escapades is the as-told-to memoir “The Wicked Wit of the West” (a nickname Groucho Marx gave Brecher). Brecher died last November at 94, two months before the book was published.

Rosenfeld is all L.A., but while interviewing him for my article about him and Brecher,  “Boy Wonder,” I learned that not only did he grow up in Detroit like I did, he also lived one street over from me, on Fairway Drive. There was more. In addition to sharing a crazy adulation for Groucho, we both had E. Bryce Alpern as a pediatrician.

Irv had an adulation with Groucho as well as a friendship. He wrote the Marx Brothers movies At the Circus and Go West, where he gave Groucho this line: “Lulubelle, it’s you! I didn’t recognize you standing up,” and as his brothers try to revive him after a fight: “Forget the water. Force brandy down my throat.”

Rosenfeld is touring to back the book, mostly in California, but I’m sure he’d love you to bring him to your favorite book store, watering hole or house of worship. Perhaps all three are the same place.

For more on Rosenfeld and Brecher (or is it Brecher and Rosenfeld?), click here.


Filed under books