Monday, December 19, 2016
Christmas in Northern New England, 1961
Here's a Christmas treat for everyone. This tape, and another one from the same family, came up for sale recently on ebay. Helpfully, there were scans of the back of the tape boxes, so I knew that, if the tapes matched the boxes, there was something pretty special on these reels. I was very happy to win that auction. And the tapes and boxes did match, and they are special.
The other tape (the one I'm not sharing today) is fun, and probably worth sharing here some day. But the one marked "Christmas, 1961", is quite a joy. A mishmash, to be sure, and at a few moments borderline unlistenable, but for most of the tape, including those hard-to-listen-to segments, it's still pure magic. We are dropping in on a family, or perhaps a family and some friends, on a very special day. These are happy, celebratory people, who are enjoying being together and making good use of what was apparently a brand new tape recorder.
I have identified this tape as being from northern New England - I'm guessing Maine, or, possibly, New Hampshire. I'm not that good with accents, but I think I recognize the ones heard here. More to the point, there are more than a half-dozen references to the classic "Bert & I" series of comedy albums. While these did become fairly well known in later years, across the country (I own three or four of them), in 1961, they were definitely a regional phenomenon, and a very small region at that. Anyone who was able to quote "Bert & I" routines in 1961 was from that immediate area - again, most likely Maine. There may be other clues here for you to pick out, as well.
The fact that the family members also trade off telling jokes and stories which they seem to find uproariously funny - but which seem like nearly pointless anecdotes to me - also fits into my understanding of the sense of humor which dominates in that area.
Also heard periodically on this tape are snippets of current and recent hit songs off the radio.
There is also a LOT of music heard here, and in a way, this sort of mystifies me. There is enough amateur-level guitar and piano playing here to indicate that some members of this group knew their way around music. And yet, when most of them sing, they seem nearly tone deaf - the rendition of Jingle Bells is virtually tuneless in places. What's more, how does one learn to play the guitar half-decently, but not know when it is painfully out of tune. And finally, does the Jew's Harp actually qualify as an instrument at all? I've heard it used well, in very limited and well placed arrangements, but here, it dominates a few otherwise pretty sweet homespun amateur musical performances, rendering them into the "unlistenable" moments I mentioned earlier.
I've written a lot here, without actually specifying very much. That was on purpose. I'll let you discover the sweet moments and enthusiastic fun of this tape for yourself.
A note about the order of the sides here. A scan of the tape box is seen, below, indicating what is on each side. I would put money on it that the sides, as listed there, are reversed. The side indicated there as "# 2", is the side that starts with microphone tests and references to the new machine. That side ends with references to a recent hit comedy record by Bill Dana ("The Astronaut - Jose Jimenez"), and more references continue (followed by the record itself) at the start of the side described on the box as "# 1". That side also ends with a goodbye. That seems clear enough to me.