Friday, November 30, 2007

Browsing in the Harlan Wolfe's Music record store in Conway, New Hampshire, I heard a comment from a shopper who walked in and confronted all the 1960's, 1970's, and 1980's vinyl records and said, "Too much past all at once."
It was a feeling I often have when looking through vinyl record accumulations to buy. It clouds the mind, this rush of visual and audio references from long ago.
And it was a feeling that came up while listening to a record that arrived in a recently acquired collection. The record label says, "Office of Civil Defense, 'Stars for Defense,' with Vaughn Monroe, Jay Jackson and Ray Bloch and his Orchestra, Program No. 332, Do not play before Feb. 10, 1963."
Since it is well after that date, I did not think I would be prosecuted for playing this record. Typically, a product like this would be supplied to radio station turntables for the weekly 15-minute program in which listeners could learn what a good job the Office of Civil Defense was doing. Much of their task was to make Americans comfortable with buying canned and dry goods, and rotating them in and out of their fallout shelters.
Never heard of a fallout shelter?
That was the homeland security bonanza of the 1950s and 1960s, which we would construct in our suburban cellars and schools, and where we were all supposed to go in the event of an "irrational attack" or "enemy miscalculation." Those are the phrases used on the recording.
There is no mention on the vinyl of who the supposed enemy might be, but the context of the Cold War made it perfectly clear.
And what constituted an "irrational attack," or "enemy miscalculation," was not left to chance. The words "Hiroshima" or "Nagasaki" are not mentioned. But, the general idea of buying canned goods, radiometers, and geiger counters, was to survive in your own, or the community's, fallout shelter, while the holocaust of a nuclear blast played itself out on the erstwhile homeland.
The kernel of our patriotic duty in a time of nuclear tragedy, circa Feb. 10, 1963, was apparently to die slowly, underground, surrounded by empty cans and water jugs.
This is where our well-meaning (I guess) government was leading us on the preparation front.
In this unsteady light-- as I mentioned above, "too much past all at once" can cloud your thinking-- I will quote the lyrics of the song Vaughn Monroe proceeds to warble on this record, in the holiday spirit of the month that begins tomorrow:

"Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful,
and since we've no place to go, let it snow, let it snow.
Oh it doesn't show signs of stopping, and I've got some corn for popping,
and the lights are turned way down low, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.
When we finally kiss goodnight, how I hate going out in the storm,
But if you really hold me tight, all the way home I'll be warm.
The fire is slowly dying, and my dear, we're still goodbying,
But as long as you love me so, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."

Surely no irony was intended. I was also struck by the seeming influence of Vaughn Monroe on
Leon Redbone.

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