A writer looks at 50

By Jeff Gates For The Madison Press

February 28, 2014

Officially a golden oldie

In early February 1964, a quartet of mop-topped crooners took the music world by storm as they kick-started the British Invasion.

Just a few weeks later, an upstart young boxer named Cassius Clay scored an upset over square-ring legend Sonny Liston to set the sports world on its ear.

While the Beatles captivated a generation, the eventually-named Mohammed Ali arguably became the most popular athlete of all time.

Sandwiched in between those two landmark events, a Rochester, New York couple welcomed into this world their youngest child, their only son. Scrawny and premature at birth, the parents hoped that their little boy – placed in an incubator due to pneumonia – would eventually make a positive impact on the world as well.

My birthday has always been my favorite holiday. I also love things that mark milestones. Put those two things together – coupled with my obsessive-compulsive nature to which my wife and kids can so readily attest – this was surely a big moment for me.

Filled with emotions ranging from anticipation to anxiety to self-reflection, February 23 came and went without much fanfare. It was a nice day spent with my three favorite people – my wife and boys.

As usual, I also called my old college buddy Craig who is a college professor in San Francisco. We share a birthday, although the youngster is only 49.

Fifty years is a gigantic milestone, and one that deserves extra attention. Therefore, my curiosity was peaked to explore other things in history that were sharing that spotlight with me.

In other words, I decided to party like it was 1964.

What I found was sort of eerie as I could link many other ‘beginnings’ that year with things that have been a part of my life – part of who I am. It’s not quite the seven degrees of Kevin Bacon, but some of it is quite interesting.

Okay, at least it is to me. Give an old guy a break,

As previously mentioned, the Beatles ‘invaded’ this country two weeks before my birth. ‘Yellow Submarine’ is the first song I remember learning in grade school, ‘The Long and Winding Road’ was my solo in high school (I ironically sang it at a concert the night John Lennon was killed), and for the past several years I have been a part of the Music Men of London Barbershop Quartet. Aren’t the Beatles the most musically harmonic foursome ever?

People who know me are familiar with my affection for the city of Buffalo. From a very young age my dad took me to one Buffalo Bills game a year. There are very few longer-suffering Bills fan (at least those who admit it). I went to college at Buffalo State. And most importantly, I’m a connoisseur of Buffalo chicken wings.

Born at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, the spicy delicacies made their debut as well in 1964.

Speaking of food – Pop Tarts, Tab, Carnation Instant Breakfast, and Lucky Charms all reach the golden realm this year, as do culinary chains Tim Horton’s, Arby’s and 7-11. Many a time after a rough day in high school would I stop and get a Slurpee for the bike ride home.

It is hard to believe that the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue has been supplying the world with bathing suit-clad women for five decades. In my world, Kathy Ireland will always top the list of gorgeous ladies who have graced the cover.

I’ve never been a guy who has enjoyed, paid attention to, or followed politics, but in 1964 then-President Lyndon Johnson signed one of the most important pieces of legislation in history when he autographed the Civil Rights Act. It is a sad footnote to our nation’s story that anything like that was ever necessary. Treating everyone equally is just common sense. Enough said.

As I became involved in theatre as a kid – and subsequently started dabbling in impersonations in high school – Carol Channing was always one of my favorites. Best known for her portrayal of the title character in ‘Hello Dolly,’ Channing’s trademark show made its Broadway debut in 1964. I was in a stage version of the show in the 1990s and directed if for Madison County Arts Council in 2000. Just a few years ago I had one of the greatest thrills in my life as I had the privilege of interviewing and meeting Ms. Channing herself as she visited Springfield.

I asked her what it was like to have one of the most imitated voices, to which she responded (with her gravelly, bouncy distinctive vocal flair) – ‘I think my voice is perfectly normal.’

Normal is probably not a word to describe my first half century of life,

So after reading this, if you are so inclined and are on the hunt for a belated gift, there is one last item to mention that was also born in 1964.

The Ford Mustang.

I like the color blue.

Jeff Gates has been a free-lance writer for The Madison Press for more than 17 of those 50 years,