Â As Iâ€™ve mentioned in the first two pieces on â€œParadise,â€Â my goal is to catalog the extraordinary experiences Iâ€™ve had since losing my job of twenty-eight years. Exploring that lustrous silver lining that comes with life traumas helps me stop feeling sorry for myself, so Iâ€™m doing my best to document things that never would have happened if Iâ€™d still been working at Kodak.My engineering career was long and satisfying. Sadly, this week Kodakâ€™s laying off another 20% of the few folks who are left in my old group. When my boss told me I was laid off last January, he said, â€œItâ€™s the beginning of the end, Aaron.â€Â I guess he was right. There are now less than 7,000 Kodak employees in Rochester, compared to the 60,000 that were there when I was hired in 1981. Iâ€™m struggling not to relive the unsettling feelings I experienced when it was my turn to be rejected. Er. I mean laid off. Of course, the actual term is â€œinvoluntary separation,â€Â or â€œforced early retirement.â€Â Except the powers to be messed with our retirement money when they sold us and bought us back from Heidelberg, so thereâ€™s no hope of actually retiring yet. God, I wish there were, with every fiber of my being. But such is life.I hope to help my former colleagues as best I can in the weeks to come. Although I expected to have a great job by now, and to be able to bring in some of my former coworkers into the fold of a wonderful new company when they got the axeâ€¦ Umâ€¦ that hasnâ€™t happened yet. But it will. So everyone tells me.Frankly, Iâ€™m starting to wonder if anyone whoâ€™s 56 years old gets a good job. Sure doesnâ€™t seem like it. And get this – I have more energy than both of my 24-year-old daughters put together, and dozens of productive years ahead of me. (Ahem. Any prospective employers listening?)Okay, enough of this raving. The feelings are real, but itâ€™s not very helpful to wallow.If you remember, I introduced you to â€œFrank,â€Â in Paradise Part 1, and â€œBellaâ€Â in Part 2. Today, in Part 3, Iâ€™m discussing a group of people who stole my heart. I plan to return to this magical place, frequently, when I retire for real.(This photo was taken from an online collection. The expression on this manâ€™s face is priceless!)When I worked at Kodak I never had enough vacation. Much of it was spent taking family to doctors and trying to keep up with my gardens and chair caning business. Even five weeks a year didnâ€™t cut it, so I never had time to take out to volunteer, though Iâ€™d always wanted to do it.About a month ago my daughter invited me to volunteer at her summer job, a fine â€œday careâ€Â facility in Rochester, NY. Iâ€™m going to change the names of everyone â€“ from the institution to the individuals â€“ because I respect their privacy. I was honored to help out at this fine establishment that cares for and nurtures the artistic talents of disabled individuals.Each year, this wonderful facility celebrates its clients by orchestrating a special â€œsummer fest.â€Â The theme this year was â€œHollywood,â€Â and each of the individuals was encouraged to dress up in costumes from Batman Costumes suits to Cinderella gowns. My job was to play â€œpaparazziâ€Â and take photos of them as they arrived via limo and walked down the red carpet we lovingly laid for them.My heart leapt every time a new carload of people was delivered at the entrance. Whether they suffered from Down Syndrome, blindness, autism, muscular dystrophy, or a multitude of other conditions, they arrived dressed to the nines. Boas were flipped over saucy shoulders, bowties were straightened with pride, and hats were tilted in jaunty angles. The gals showed off prom gowns with sparkling tiaras, twirling around for the photos with such excitement that I couldnâ€™t help cheer them on. The pride in their beautiful faces shone brighter than the sun that didnâ€™t show up that morning.Melanie introduced me to dozens of her â€œfavorites,â€Â and I fell for all of them. They displayed such innocence, pride, camaraderie, love of music/dance/artâ€¦ they inspired the hell out of me and I honestly felt as if Iâ€™d made 50 new friends that day.After a morning of helping out in the art, dance, and music rooms, we served lunch and helped carry trays for those who couldnâ€™t manage. When everyone had feasted, we gathered for an assembly where awards were given out for most improved skills, and then various groups (blues band, musical theater, dance troupe, etc.) performed for their parents and the rest of us. Although Iâ€™ve witnessed many a performance in my day (thanks to Melanieâ€™s love of theater and music), I must say Iâ€™ve never seen performers glow with such unparalleled pride.Iâ€™ll tell you, after feeling a little sorry for myself because I havenâ€™t found a job yet, the whole experience was humbling. Here were folks with what the rest of the world called â€œdisabilities,â€Â yet in their worlds, they hardly noticed. They had circles of friends, special sweethearts, and favorite teachers â€“ just like in a â€œnormalâ€Â school. And who the hell knows what normal is, anyway? Right?I was privileged to meet Mona, a blind wheelchair-bound woman with speech difficulties. Yet this big hearted woman loves to sing, and asked Melanie every single day if sheâ€™d brought her guitar so they could go through their special playlist together. She held my hand when she sang her heart out, and her love of my dear daughter just about brought me to tears.Then there was joyful Jordan, a young man crippled physically, but with a smile that warmed the room every time he entered, couldnâ€™t wait to tell me how he played the drums. He was so proud of his skills that he practically burst.Five or six teenaged girls with Down Syndrome all danced with their princess gowns, twirling around the dance hall with such abandon that I was reminded of prom night. There was no less joy, and certainly a lot less angst.Tami wrote beautiful, sensitive poetry that broke my heart. We talked about writing, and I gave her some of my bookmarks. Thrilled to death, she asked about my books. I brought her a copy of one of my LeGarde Mysteries last week, and received one of the most enthusiastic hugs that Iâ€™ve had in a very long time.Nahum wove lovely needlepoint on his quilting patches. I stared in amazement and complimented him on his skills. He received a special award for his hard work, and although he had to wheel up to the podium, he received thunderous applause from his peers.Tony drew pictures so beautiful they sold for good money in local art venues. He loves to draw vertical strokes of mixed colors. I stood and stared at his work for a very long time. The subtle blends of hues were mesmerizing.And Reggie, who never spoke before Melanie worked with him, insisted on saying â€œHi,â€Â and â€œByeâ€Â when we left, tugging at her sleeve for attention. The enormity of the work she does with these people stunned and humbled me. Music therapy works, in ways I had never imagined.This whole experience made me wish I could start all over, get a degree in therapy or social work, and devote my life to a cause much more meaningful than designing and testing high speed digital printers. If it werenâ€™t for annoying things like paying for prescriptions and mortgages, I would do it in a heartbeat.Maybe in my next life?
Ronald Reagan, former Governor of California and Hollywood legend, became President of the US in 1981. The hostage crisis in Iran ended after 52 Americans spent 444 days in captivity. In England Lady Di marries Prince Charles, Poland witnessed the rise of the Solidarity political movement, and the wreck of the Titanic was found on the North Atlantic ocean floor. Not only was it the year of the maiden voyage of the space shuttle, but 1981 saw the first IBM PC, and the beginning of Microsoft’s domination of the market with MS-DOS. A product that we soon learned we couldn’t live without was released – Post It Notes from 3M. And of course, there was something new to watch – and listen to – in the vast wasteland of television.
What happened in 1981′s music?
The top 5 worldwide hits and the top 100 for the year showed clear evidence of a further drift from dance and disco into new territory. John Lennon, Kim Carnes, Phil Collins, Stars on 45 and Soft Cell had the really big hits, while Blondie stretched the envelope with a reggae tinged hit (Tide Is High) and the first appearance of a rap in the top 100, Rapture. Dylan and the Stones marked time with the second-rate albums Shot of Love and Tattoo You, but U2 continued their ascent with October, their second record. A strange young man known as Price put out his second album too, and similarly broke new ground. But of course the biggest trend of 1981 was the arrival of MTV.
MTV is born
On August 1, 1981, MTV showed the first video of the new age, appropriately titled Video Killed the Radio Star. Apparently the idea of playing music videos to promote new music was just lying around waiting for the right entrepreneur to take it and run. There was plenty of older video material around to use at first, notably Beatles short and feature films made by those pioneers of the form. But as soon as the music network took off and the music business realized what was going on, the flood of video music began. Soon, it was a sign of rebellion to NOT make a video for a song to promote sales of records. Video disc jockeys (VJs) became stars overnight, and something strange happened: new music was connected to a visual form, and for MTV watchers it was impossible to hear a song without seeing the video mentally. Music added a dimension, and for many critics and music lovers it didn’t seem like a very good idea. But it didn’t go away, not for a very long time – MTV was here to stay.
A Year for debuts
The number of first records from new wave and other artists in 1981 is truly mind-boggling. It was as if someone turned on a faucet and said let it flow, and debut albums came pouring out. Coincidentally – or not – all of these artists were in MTV heavy rotation as well within a year or so: Adam Ant, the Eurythmics, New Order, Depeche Mode, Spandau Ballet, Billy Idol, Wall of Voodoo, Level 42, Thompson Twins, Duran Duran, the Church, and Soft Cell. A tough little group from Minneapolis called the Replacements released their first record, and refused to make videos for a long time, but actually sold more albums due to all the publicity from that stand. And great American bands like the Blasters and the Minutemen (D Boon was their guitarist, and now a member of the Forever 27 Club) debuted as well, showing that we had our own thing to do.
Thirty years ago at this summer a young twelve-year-old blogger (me) was busily wearing out the vinyl of one of his favorite albums: Hi Infidelity, the break-through album by REO Speedwagon, a band who had achieved moderate levels of success during the 1970′s with songs like “Time For Me To Fly” and “Roll With The Changes”.
The release of Hi Infidelity catapulted the band from a local mid western act into a world-wide arena rock sensation selling an estimated 10 million copies and spending fifteen weeks at #1 on the Billboard album charts. Powered by the songs “Take it On The Run”, “Don’t Let Him Go” and the song that started the power ballad craze, “Keep on Loving You”, which became the band’s first #1 song.
REO Speedwagon has gone through a few line-up changes over it’s 44 year history (yes they’ve been rockin’ since the 1960′s) but still holds founding member Neal Doughty (keyboards/Hammond Organ) in it’s arsenal along with long time members Kevin Cronin (vocals, guitar), Bruce Hall (bass guitar) and the “babies” of the group: Dave Amato (21 years as lead guitarist) and Bryan Hitt (20 years on drums). Gone are the original members who contributed to the Hi Infidelity album: guitarist Gary Richrath (left in 1989) and drummer Alan Gratzer (retired).
Not surprisingly, the band is celebrating the 30th anniversary of this monumental event with the digitally remastered release of Hi Infidelity: The 30th Anniversary Edition.
What sets this 2 CD release apart from most other milestone reissues is what’s also included on disc two: The Crystal Demos – previously unreleased demo versions of nine songs from the album. Here, listeners actually get the opportunity to hear the “raw” sound of what was to become the biggest selling album of 1981. In addition, the CD package also contains liner notes from Kevin Cronin and long time guitarist Gary Richrath.
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