It's time for the Fall pledge drive on public TV and so PBS is airing another set of those extravagant productions intended to strike a chord with their prime demographic group, old people like me. Every year they trot out another selection of shows designed to evoke fond memories of life in the 1950s and '60s, when we were young and life was good. Their hope seems to be that we will enjoy remembering those times so much that we will make large contributions to PBS so we can relive those moments over and over, courtesy of the CDs and DVDs they will send us in appreciation of our generosity.
This year's variation on the musical theme is titled "Malt Shop Memories" and features the music of Fabian (you remember him, don't you?), Bobby Rydell, Maria Muldaur, The Drifters, Leslie Gore (It's my party and I'll cry if I want to...) and lots of others whose names I can't remember. It's the music that was on the juke box at Ray and Ola's Soda Shop, where I went to meet up with my friends every day after school in the early '60s. It was fun then and it was fun to hear it again on PBS last night, 50 years later.
But here's the thing - while I enjoyed the songs and the memories they evoked I know that was all in the very distant past and I can never go there again (I'm not sure that I would want to, either). I do not want to wallow in it over and over by watching a DVD of the show or listening to a multi-CD set of every song recorded during the era. So the "thank-you" gifts that PBS is offering in return for my generous contribution of $150 are meaningless to me. And if I really wanted a comprehensive collection of recordings from that time, Time-Life Records probably has a better compilation for less money, so no sale.
Another thing about the show that puts me off - it's an extravagant production that had to be very expensive to make, so it seems like a significant portion of any contributions it generates would have to be applied to the production costs. It reminds me of fund-raisers for fire fighters where only a small portion of the contributions go to the intended cause and most of the money goes to the fund-raising company. It's like a scam wrapped up in the respectability of the cause, and I don't like it. And that TJ What's-his-name guy who produces the shows for PBS really annoys me with his faux-appreciation of the music of the era - he tries way too hard to convince us that he's in it for his love of the music, not the money, and I ain't buying it.
The last reason I won't be sending any money to PBS for "Malt Shop Memories" is this: this show and all of the ones like it make me feel "old" - not just in years but in relevance and vitality. When the camera pans across the audience of mostly white 60-something geezers trying to clap in rhythm to the music, or shows a close-up of a performer who is clearly past his prime trying to recreate the appeal of his youth, I feel sad for them and sad for me. Those years are long gone and there's no sense in trying to recapture them or relive them - they belong in the past. Remember them, sure, but there's no going back.
PBS's other pitch is that these shows keep the music of our generation alive for future generations. Memo to PBS: future generations have there own music. Every day I tune my radio to WMPG, the station owned and operated by the University of Southern Maine. The DJs are all volunteers, mostly students, and they play music of every ilk and every age. You never know what you'll hear, but it's all good. Oldies, sure, but Rap, Hip-Hop, Bluegrass, Reggae, Irish, Blues, classic Rock, contemporary Rock, even Russian Rock - you name it, they play it! They are starting their fund-raising campaign ("Beg-a-thon") soon, and I will contribute generously because they make me feel good about the present, not long for the past.
I'll contribute to PBS, too, but I'll wait for a locally produced program to register my support. Last year I received tickets to the "Young@Heart" concert in Portland as my thank-you, and I loved it! The show was a celebration of old people who choose to live life to the fullest in the present, not yearn to regain their lost youth through "Malt Shop Memories". I want to be like them.