SSQQ Travel Newsletter
July 2012, Issue One
Written by Rick Archer
Don't forget: "Sad Song Saturday"
at the Chandelier to the Bobby Flores Band
Saturday, June 30, 8 pm. Just show up!! (details included
in this newsletter)
Encore Dance Classes in July - We begin this Sunday, July 1 at 3:30 pm
I haven't said much about Encore since I
announced its opening in June. I did this deliberately because I
wanted a chance to get comfortable in my new surroundings.
Marla and I are very pleased to be at Melody
Club. The owners, Trish and Donn DeGeorge, have gone out of their
way to make us feel welcome.
We love the easy parking, the great
air-conditioning, the large dance rooms, and the wonderful wood
dance floor. We have found Melody to be a comfortable, relaxed
place to hold our classes.
I can say without hesitation that Encore and
Melody Club are going to friends for a long time.
Our Tea Dance from 5-6 has been cute, but
nothing exceptional. I am biding my time on this event. It is
FREE. When our classes get bigger and our program gets more
established, I expect our Sunday afternoon event to become very
popular. For now, I am content not to push it too hard. I have my
eye on September.
Encore classes cost $40 for four Sundays of 90
minute classes. To register, just show up at Melody Club before
class starts. We don't have a complicated registration process, so
the wait in line is usually about one minute. If you are patient
enough to handle that, you will enjoy your class afterwards.
Encore classes in July are as
1 - Intermediate Foxtrot and Waltz
This class had 20 people in June. They
enjoyed the class so much they requested a follow-up.
2 - Advanced Western Swing
with Gary Richardson.
I would like to welcome my long-time friend
and computer guru Gary to Encore. Just so you know, Gary wrote a
very important warning about computer viruses that you will want to
read at the end of the Newsletter. There is a new problem that you
need to be informed about.
As many of you know, Gary has been teaching
Western dancing at Westwind on Monday evening for the past two
years. In addition, Gary has sponsored weekly dance parties at
Westwind on Tuesday and popular
Friday dance events at the Pavillion on Gessner. Gary is a welcome
addition to our staff!
Gary will teach Advanced Western Swing
patterns for Twostep and Polka.
Gary's class will target the many dancers who
have Western Swing experience. Gary plans to start easy the first
week with Polka Dot Profusion, a classic Intermediate Polka pattern
that covers useful moves such as Crossovers, Lariat, Side Travel,
Paddycake, and Russian Roulette.
From there, Gary will follow up with
Sweethearts of the Rodeo, a Western Swing pattern that combines
Sweetheart, Cuddles, and Skaters dance moves into one continuous
When we say "Advanced", that means this class
will be tougher than Beginning Western Swing, but not as tough as
Once Gary determines the median skill level of
his class, he will adjust accordingly.
Gary expects the ladies to know how to double
turn and the men to know how to lead those turns in advance. If you
can do that much, then this class should be right up your alley.
3 - Beginning Western Swing
I learned the Western Swing during the Urban
Cowboy Era back in 1980. Over the years, the dance has changed
little. The guys still like to double turn the girls and the ladies
like to spin.
The only problem is that the dance is tricky
to learn. I love to teach Western Swing. If you ladies want to
learn to double turn without losing your balance or getting dizzy,
please take the class. If you guys want to learn the leads with
precision and understand the fundamentals, I'm your guy. A
knowledge of Twostep would help, but I can catch you up.
I understand that my Newsletter goes out
mainly to experienced dancers, but if you have a friend who is a
beginner, bring them over to my Beginning Western Swing class and
take it with them. I can't make the same offer for Marla's or
Gary's class, but you can my class for free if you take the same
class with a friend who pays (assuming of course you have taken Beg
Western Swing in the past). I understand that your friend will
surely be braver with you by their side. Maybe this offer will help
you talk them into participating.
4 - Intermediate Synchronized Polka
with Rick on Mondays at
This class will start on Monday, July 9,
I taught a very successful Synchronized Polka
class at Encore and Chapelwood in June. We had 30 students. In
July, I will follow up our June class with "More" Synchronized
The nice thing about this class is you do not
need to take the June class to participate. You are welcome to
start in July. As long as you know how to Polka, Synchronized Polka
patterns do not depend on taking the previous class.
Aloha! The 2013 Cruise to Hawaii
September 23 - October 4, 2013
Hello Cruise Friends!
We have some very exciting news to share with
you! All the details for our return to Hawaii Cruise in 2013 are
ready for publication.
I must tell you all that of all the cruises
that I have sailed on, Hawaii is my all time favorite destination.
I have sailed on over 30 cruises, so I don't make this claim
lightly. There is no doubt in my mind which spot captures my
imagination when I think of my dream vacation.
We almost went to Hawaii in 2012. When I did
my poll of "Where Do You Want to Go in 2012?" I received 22 votes
for Hawaii. Russia and Hawaii finished in a virtual tie, so I gave
the nod to Russia because we had never been there before.
However, all year long I have had a heavy
heart because I really miss Hawaii! So do a lot of other people.
In fact, I already have 10 people signed up for the 2013 cruise! In
addition, last week following our "Save the Date" for Hawaii, I had
another 8 people tell me they want to go too.
Next year's Hawaii Cruise is very unusual. It
is different than any cruise we have ever taken before. For
starters, it is the longest cruise I have ever booked... 11 days.
The first five days of the trip are all sea
days. The next six days are spent cruising the Hawaiian Islands.
So what's going on here? I had a choice
between Pride of America departing from Honolulu or the Celebrity
Solstice departing from San Diego (sort of).
One ship is a Three Star. The other ship is a
Five Star. The Solstice is hands down the best ship I have ever
booked. Oh my, we will be living the life of luxury!
One ship costs more money for seven days than
the other ship costs for eleven days.
And you aren't going to have to take out a
second mortgage to be able to finance the trip. This trip is very
affordable. You can cruise for as little as $100 per day.
We are basically getting a longer vacation on
a better ship for less money. The only drawback is that not
everyone can get away for 11 days. However, at least you have
plenty of warning... you have 15 months to save up enough vacation
time for the best trip you will ever take!
Here are some of the details:
Fly into San Diego
Depart from Ensenada, Mexico - Friday, Sept 23 at 11:59 pm
(Celebrity bus transportation provided from San Diego)
Cruise 5 days to cross Pacific - Saturday (Sept 24), Sunday, Monday,
Tuesday, Wednesday (Sept 28)
Hilo, Hawaii - Thursday, September 29th -Arrive: 8 am Depart: 6 pm
Mount Kilauea - Evening Sail by to see the lava flowing to the ocean
Kailua Kona - Friday, September 30th - Arrive: 8 am Depart: 6 pm
Lahaina, Maui - two days! Sat., Oct 1st - Sunday, Oct 2nd, Arrive: 8
am Saturday Depart: 6 pm Sunday
Honolulu, Oahu -- overnight stay on Monday, Oct 3rd - Arrive 8 am.
Disembarkation on Tuesday, Oct 4th
Inside Category 10 Deck 8 $1150
Oceanview Category 8 Deck 3 $1240
Balcony Category 2A Deck 7 $1415
Balcony Category 1C Deck 8 $1435
AquaClass Balcony A1 Deck 11 $1840 (spa
All rates are quoted per person double
occupancy. Air fare is additional. Multi Destination air estimate
is $800. (Houston to San Diego and then Honolulu to Houston.) Of
course you can always come early and visit San Diego and stay on in
Hawaii following the cruise.
For detailed information please click
Feel free to email or phone with any
BTW, Celebrity has already raised the rates on
this sailing to the general public. Prices are anywhere from $100 -
$200 higher than my group rates. The good news is that I locked in
the lowest rates available as soon as the sailing was released.
The not so good news is that I was only able
to reserve 90 spots. If you know you want to go, please let me know
early, so we can reserve the type of cabin you prefer.
I hope you will join us for our return to
Sad Song Saturday at the
SATURDAY, JUNE 30TH - BOBBY
FLORES AND THE YELLOW ROSE BAND
8 - 11:30 pm, $20 person
Feel like dancing to some great old-time
Western music? Then put on your dancing boots and your party smile
for these guys. If you like the Western Swing Sound, you will love
the Bobby Flores Band.
I have been sitting here at my computer typing
away with the music from the Bobby Flores
website. They play his newest album over
I had never heard of Bobby Flores before, so I
looked him up on the Internet. In addition to his website, Flores
has a ton of music listed on Youtube, so I clicked a few.
At first I just liked the music. Bobby Flores
can really sing. This guy is quite the Country Crooner. Then I
started to listen to the lyrics.
Whoa! Every song he sings resounds with
heartache and loss. I must be in a strange mood... these songs were
so depressing I began to smile. Is it really possible for people to
suffer that much? I can't wait to dance to these sad songs!!
Here's an old joke about Kicker Music:
"What do you get when you play country western
Answer: You get your wife back, you get your
job back, you get your truck back, and you might even get your dog
Just for fun, I tracked down a bunch of Bobby
Flores songs on the Internet. Just look at some of those titles!
I'm Still Not Over You
I've just Destroyed My World
Just Someone I Used to Know
The Last Letter Waltz
My Shoes Keep on Walking
The One You Hang Around
Too Many Rivers to Cross
Way to Survive
your House is not a Home
Shoes to Fill
Guess what all these songs have in common?
Someone is miserable!!
Hey, misery loves company! Let's have a big
turnout! Let's all get together and cry on each other's sleeve!
sad my heart is weary
I'm wrong or right
To dream about
you though you've left me
I wonder where
you are tonight
The rain is
cold and slowly falling
Upon my window
your love was even colder
I wonder where
you are tonight
Your heart was
cold you never loved me
often said you cared
And now you've
gone to find another
know the love I've shared
"I Wonder Where you are Tonight"
If you like dancing to classic "Done Me Wrong"
songs, you are bound to be deliriously sad-happy dancing to this
band!! It is the perfect manic-depressive opportunity!
Bring a friend. By the time this night is
over, you might need a shoulder to cry on. Beginners are welcome.
Who cares about a boo-boo when you are wailing boo-hoo?
I cannot wait. What I like about
the music is that it flows as easily as the tears do.
Join Marla and me at Tables 27, 28, and 29.
Just show up. Don't forget to bring your crying towel. Might want
to bring a bottle of wine as well. I cannot imagine making it
through a night like this completely sober.
I never caught
you cheating; If I did I wouldn't say
wouldn't do for me to see you walk away
I just keep it
to myself and never say a word
I know that's why you stay with me; that's what I heard.
Now and then I
find you out where you shouldn't be
I have to find
a place to hide; I don't want you to see
Someday I fear
you'll find me out while I'm out finding you
Then I'll no
longer be the one, the one you come home to.
I know what
they're saying all over town.
I'm just the
one you come home to, not the one you hang around.
someone new for you, someone new you found
I'm just the one you come home to, not the one you hang around.
One You Hang Around" - Bobby Flores
COAST SWING THIS TUESDAY WITH MARIO ROBAU
TUESDAY, JULY 3rd - WEST
COAST SWING DANCING AT ADDIX
7:30 - 11:30 pm, $5 cover
Mario Robau is sponsoring a night of West
Coast dancing at Addix. This location is a very attractive new bar
in the Washington Avenue district. Addix is located two blocks
south of the corner of Washington Avenue and Waugh Drive on a little
street called Raymond. I assume the name of the club refers to
Addicts, not Attics. For dance addicts surely.
I will be there. I had fun dancing at Addix
when they did this event in early June.
WEEK: A BALLROOM DANCE DATE AT THE
SATURDAY, JULY 7TH - THE
8 - 11:30 pm, $11 person
Join Marla and me at Tables 27 and 28 for a
night of Ballroom Dancing!
A couple weeks ago a man fell to his death
from a mountain I have been writing about.
Long-time readers of the SSQQ Newsletter may
remember that I have been talking about a mountain in China known as
"Hua Shan" for the past five years.
If you type "Huashan" into Google, you will
discover that my story about this sacred Chinese mountain is the
third most read website in the English-speaking Internet. Seeing as
how the top two places go to Wikipedia, I will settle for Third.
The actual name of the mountain is 'Hua'.
'Shan' is Chinese for 'mountain'. So 'Mount Hua' becomes
"Huashan". Huashan is a holy mountain in the middle of China that
is about 12,000 miles away from Houston
And why is Huashan important to me? During the Christmas Holidays
of December 2006, I wrote an article about Huashan for the SSQQ
One month earlier in November 2006, an SSQQ
student named Milt Oglesby had sent me an email with images of
people climbing sheer rock faces and cliffs without any kind of
mountain climbing equipment.
Seriously, it looked like these people were
committing suicide. The pictures were scary. Pretty soon I will
tell you where you can see for yourself.
I was really curious about those pictures, but
there was no explanation. So I took it on myself to begin looking
for the story behind those pictures. I had one word to go on from
the email - "Huashan".
That was all it took. I used Google searches
on "Huashan" to discover that there was a hiking trail on this
mountain that was rumored to be responsible for many fatalities.
After seeing those pictures, this came as no surprise to me. That
mountain trail looked like an accident waiting to happen. I bet
even the mountain goats couldn't climb that thing!!
So I published the pictures and wrote an
article about Huashan to share with the Newsletter readers.
Then one day an American couple that had
visited Huashan sent me an email. Their letter contained the
harrowing details of their visit to Huashan several years earlier.
I assume they found my web site using Google.
I received permission to reprint their story
on one condition - they were to be left anonymous.
It was a really good story. Anyone who read
it soon had their eyes bulging at the danger involved in climbing
Based on this story and the pictures from
Milt's email, I came to the conclusion that climbing this mountain
The problem was that I offered my opinion
without ever having actually visited the place myself. This would
come back to haunt me.
Three things happened as a result of my
Since I was the first Western person to ever
write a story in English about Huashan, my article instantly shot to
Number One on Google. Since the pictures were incredible and the
story from that couple was riveting, throughout 2007 my story became
an Internet sensation. I think the term is "viral". People from
all over the planet were clicking in to my website because the SSQQ
article was based the first in-depth story ever written in English
Meanwhile, thanks to the 2008 Olympic Games in
Beijing, thousands of Westerners were researching China for places
to visit while they were over there.
Throughout 2008, especially during the summer
leading up the Games, Huashan became a must-see visit for many of
these people thanks to the hype generated by my article. One
Internet writer had this to say about the phenomenon:
"Hua Shan mountain gained some amount of
notoriety years back when an article appeared on the internet
sharing one hiker's harrowing experience. The article might seem
hyperbolic at times but it is believable for experienced China
Nevertheless, the original author
has updated the site, saying that a number of people have
reported the safety conditions vastly improved.
I visited the mountain in 2009. Although
it is quite imposing for a tourist hike that sees large numbers of
visitors, careful hikers in good condition needn't worry."
Take a guess who which "original author" they
were referring to. So there you have it - I helped make a Chinese
mountain I have never seen in my life famous. That was the fun
However, there was a very negative aspect as
well. To my knowledge, I have only been referenced in Wikipedia one
time in my life.
That reference basically called me a liar.
How did I ever get to be so lucky?
Here is what the Wikipedia reference said:
Rumours of Deadliness
Rumours of the
Hua south peak being the most dangerous hiking trail on earth seem
to have risen from a story put on the web page of a person called
Rick Archer with the title "The Deadly Huashan Hiking Trail".
claims it was written by an American couple who visited the trail in
The origin of
the story is not known and is assumed by many Hua Shan visitors to
be purely fictional. The spread and popularity of the story was
aided by many videos showing the most dangerous parts of the
In 2008 the website author was
faced with criticism on the authenticity of the story, who in
absolutely everything based on accounts I found on the Internet
(some of which gave contradictory information)."
"At the time,
I never expected this particular page would be an Internet darling
for thousands of Huashan fans.".
story bears similarities to the KiddofSpeed story which rose big
attention on the net until it was revealed to be fantasy, except for
the fact that Rick Archer hasn't tried to benefit financially from
the story on his site.
it should be noted, that even though Hua Shan stairs are a popular
tourist attraction and safety equipment is provided and obligatory,
the trail is still risky due to strong winds, changing weather
conditions and the physical condition required to pass some parts of
A man named Chong Dae Park put that listing in
Wikipedia under Huashan in 2008. However a year later I visited and
it was gone. Hmm.
From that point on, many Westerners who have
visited Huashan have felt compelled to write me either in defense of
my original claim of danger or to criticize me for my position.
One day I finally figured it out. Practically
at the exact same time that I wrote my critical story in January
2007, the Chinese were dramatically upgrading the safety features.
However I had no way of knowing this.
So I have to admit my story was inaccurate to
some extent. My story was indeed correct before the safety features
were added, but clearly the mountain was safer to climb RIGHT AFTER
I PUBLISHED MY STORY. It was this disconnect that led to all the
The mountain was still "risky" to climb, but
it was no longer "The Most Dangerous Hike in the World" as I had
From: Louise Daniel
Wednesday, April 11, 2012 8:21 AM
All I would
say is you should go there yourself before writing about it... how
can you write articles like this when can't verify the truth of what
I did the hike
in 1988 and it wasn't dangerous or scary.
On the other hand, maybe people shouldn't take
this mountain for granted.
June 10, 2012 8:53 AM
I am a 23 year
old American recent-graduate teaching in Xi'an, China. I just came
across your website and decided to write to you.
climbed Hua Shan for the first time and witnessed someone fall to
I was on a
school-sponsored trip to Hua Shan and made it to the top of the East
Peak with another foreign teacher. There was a group of three
Chinese people at the same spot. One wanted a picture with me and
the second friend took it.
At the same
time, the third friend, a man probably early-40s, was taking a
picture of the view. We were in a completely-allowed tourist section
of the mountain and the man was on the correct side of the rail. He
was just standing there.
slipped on the edge of a worn-down rock and I looked up just to see
his feet go over.
is a morbid detail but I feel like I have to include it when I
relate this story because it's the last thing I know about what
happened. He didn't make any sound, but we heard his body hit the
mountain three times a few seconds apart (I suppose only one second
apart, it felt like a few), and then that was all.
From the east
peak, the mountain is straight down. There is nothing to grab,
nowhere to land except the bottom. It must be a full 10 second fall
to the bottom. My friend and I left the peak almost immediately
after ensuring the other two Chinese people who had come with the
man and would make sure someone knew what happened.
An hour and a
half later we had descended back down to where the cable car leaves
from, where about seven of the mountain police staff were sitting
around chatting and snacking. I began to wonder if they even knew
what had happened. How many deaths go unreported?
I came across
your website as I was trying to find news about the accident, but
have found nothing. Probably nothing will be done, although to be
fair probably nothing can be as it would be almost impossible to
find the body. I will certainly never return to Hua Shan in my life
or allow anyone I care about to visit either.
of the letters about it being safe are reasonable, it's only safe
until something happens--and things really do happen there.
Trust me I am
not a crazy thrill seeker; I couldn't even be bothered to do the
whole mountain but instead took the cable car. I was there in the
middle of the day, doing what I was supposed to, with my school.
This man was exactly the same. Tourists should absolutely not be
allowed on that mountain.
Feel free to
do or not do anything you want with my letter, but please don't use
my name or email as I perhaps should not be writing this from China.
I'm not interested in influencing your page but just felt like
writing to a sympathetic listener. Hope all is well in your part of
The Dangerous Hiking Trail at Huashan
Those Were The Days, My Friend... Another Get Rich Quick
Rick's Note: In last week's
Newsletter, I wrote about George Ballas, the dance teacher who
invented the weed eater and became a millionaire.
This week I have another story for you. This
story is about song writing. Until I learned about this story, I
had no idea how valuable it could be to write a hit record. Write
one good hit record and you are set for life!
As many of you will recall, a couple months
back, when I was considering making my comeback as a dance teacher,
the song "Those
Were the Days" resonated loud and
clear in the back of my mind. "Those Were the Days" deals with the
importance of maintaining friendships through the passage of time.
One day I realized I had forgotten some of the lyrics to the song,
so I looked them up on the Internet. In the process, I discovered a
very curious story that I will now share with you. During my two
year break from teaching, I realized how much I missed my friends
and the camaraderie we all once had.
While I reviewed the lyrics, I noticed in
Wikipedia that "Those Were the Days" had been translated from the
old Russian folk song "DOROGOI DLINNOYU".
That title translates into either the "Endless
Road" or "By the Long Road" depending on who is translating it into
English. Most people simply call the Russian version "The Long
"Long Road" indeed. The story of how this
song became an international hit is pretty much an "Endless Road" in
and of itself.
The song first came from a song created by a
Russian teenager named Boris Fomin back in 1918. This means he
wrote the song right in the middle of the Russian Revolution. His
soulful song about lost romance was impressive considering Fomin was
a mere teenager at the time. As it turned out, this song presaged a
man with enormous talent. Fomin was no flash in the pan. He would
become a prolific songwriter with 200 songs to his credit.
I am not sure why, but apparently
Fomin's first draft was then reinterpreted by Konstantin Podrevsky,
a well-known Russian poet. Fomin's original tune remained the
Alexander Vertinsky was a leading Russian
singer at the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917. He was as
famous in Moscow as Rudy Vallee was here in the States.
Vertinsky was impressed by Fomin's
song, although he preferred the slightly revised lyrics done by the
Vertinsky first performed "The Long Road" at a
benefit concert on October 25, 1917. Vertinsky was not the only
artist who liked the song. Soon many different Soviet singers
performed the song. For
example, a recording of the song based on Podrevsky's rewrite by
Georgian singer Tamara Tzereteli sold over 10,000 copies in 1925.
That was an impressive total back in those days.
However, it would be Vertinsky who would
introduce the song to the world outside of Russia, making it one of
the few Russian popular songs to ever gain success in the West.
Vertinsky was no fool. Russia had become a
very scary place under the new regime. He knew artists were
regarded as dangerous gypsies. It was hard to think of his
peace-loving artist friends as enemies of the State, but no one
wanted those dangerous "free thinkers" loose to share their
degenerate influence. Despite his popularity, Vertinsky knew all it
would take would be some over-zealous apparatchik to send him to his
doom. Too many people were dying in Russia thanks to the
So in 1920 Vertinksy decided to sing his way
across Europe. He headed first to Poland, then to Germany, then on
to France in 1926. He quickly became a favorite in Paris singing
Russian songs nightly to wealthy Russian émigrés. Vertinsky's
version of "The Long Road" became a much-requested song. This
lively gypsy tune with its nostalgic air would bring tears to the
vodka-infused homesick boyars. "Sing it again, Komrade Vertinsky!"
Encouraged by the song's popularity, during
his stay in Paris, Vertinsky made a recording of "The Long Road" in
1926. Although he sang it in Russian, his version sold very well in
France nonetheless. You can actually listen to Vertinsky sing the
song in Russian on
youtube. You won't understand the words,
but you will certainly recognize the tune.
Copies of Vertinsky's song eventually made it
back to the homeland where it became very popular in Russia as
well. However, the song didn't stay long on the Russian pop charts
because in 1929 a certain pjoophead named Josef Stalin banned all
sentimental ballads for being anti-revolutionary. At the 1929
All-Russia Music Conference the romance genre as a whole was banned
as "bourgeois" and decadent.
Interestingly, Adolf Hitler made a similar
move about the same time by banning Swing music in pre-war Germany.
This story became the basis for the Nineties movie "Swing Kids".
Those fanatic dictators didn't appear to like anything that made
However Stalin's reach didn't extend to
Vertinsky. He was safe in France. So it was Fomin's fate to face
the State's wrath instead. Overnight Fomin found himself persona
non grata for creating such evil and insidious music.
In 1937 Fomin was arrested on trumped-up
charges of "slandering Soviet reality". Fortunately, he was not
sent to the gulag, but allowed to remain in a Moscow jail. Fomin
was released after just a single year in prison. Rumor had it that
Fomin got off lightly because the dictator Stalin was secretly fond
of his music. Seeing as how Stalin murdered approximately 20
million Russians during his purges, apparently 'good fortune' in
Stalin's Russia meant you didn't suffer as much as the others did.
On the other hand, maybe Fomin didn't get off
so lightly after all. Thanks to the frigid Russian winter and his
cold jail cell, Fomin contracted tuberculosis during his year in
jail. He died in acute poverty in 1948. It was a cruel fate for a
man who had written 200 songs.
Once Stalin passed away in 1953, his grip on
the music scene was gone. The song "Long Road" quickly regained its
original popularity. In 1953, the Russian song was featured in the
movie 'Innocents in Paris' sung by the celebrated Russian chanteuse
In 1958, the song appeared again in the movie
version of "Brothers Karamazov". "The Long Road" was sung in the
movie by Maria Schell. I am unsure whether Ms. Schell sang the
lyrics in Russian or English, but since the movie was an
English-speaking movie, I guess it is safe to assume she sang the
lyrics translated into English.
From here our story takes us to Greenwich
Village and the Beat Generation.
Greenwich Village is a largely residential
neighborhood on the west side of Lower Manhattan in New York City.
Home to upper middle class families, 'The Village' as it is called
by the locals has long been famous as a haven for artists and as an
East Coast bohemian capital.
Have you ever heard of Beatniks? Greenwich
Village was the East Coast birthplace of the Beat movement starting
in the late Fifties. The Beatniks were basically the precursors to
the Hippies. Greenwich Village served as the gathering place in
much the same way that Haight-Ashbury would attract people with
flowers in their hair ten years later.
You know how those artists resent hanging
around normal people. Fleeing from what they saw as oppressive
social conformity, a loose collection of writers, poets, artists,
and students known as the "Beat Generation" began to migrate to
Many famous writers of the late Fifties/early
Sixties called The Village their home. The list is impressive -
Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, James Baldwin,
Truman Capote, Marianne Moore, Maya Angelou, Rod McKuen, and Dylan
Not surprisingly, Greenwich wasn't just home
to the writers. Musicians and singers found Greenwich Village an
attractive place to live as well. The Village played a major role
in the development of the folk music scene of the 1960s.
Practically every well-known folk singer of the early Sixties called
Greenwich Village their home.
Leader of the Pack was none other than Village
resident and cultural icon Bob Dylan. By the mid-60s Dylan had
become one of the foremost popular songwriters in the world. If
you were a musician and interested in folk music, the Village was
the place to be.
Dozens of music icons got their start in the
Village's nightclub, cabaret and coffeehouse scene during the 1950s,
1960s, and early 1970s. The list is a veritable Who's Who of
Sixties Music. There was Barbra Streisand, Peter, Paul, & Mary,
Bette Midler, The Lovin' Spoonful, Simon & Garfunkel, Liza Minnelli,
Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Eric Andersen, Joan Baez, The Velvet
Underground, The Kingston Trio, Carly Simon, Richie Havens, Maria
Muldaur, Tom Paxton, Janis Ian, Phil Ochs, Joni Mitchell, and Laura
Nyro. The list goes on. For example, three of the four members of
The Mamas & the Papas met there as well. Even Jimi Hendrix, not
exactly most people's idea of your typical folk singer, was linked
to the Village.
Operating just beneath the surface of the Folk
Music Superstar level was a man named Gene Raskin. Raskin and his
wife Francesca were fixtures in the Greenwich folk music scene, but
their act couldn't seem to break through to the level of their
Raskin (1909-2004) had once been an adjunct
professor at Columbia University (1936-1968). He was the author of
three books on architecture. However, it seems that Raskin's true
interests were somewhere else. The passion of his life was his
moonlight job playing folk music. He and his wife Francesca played
all the small coffee houses in Greenwich Village during the
Apparently Gene and Francesca as they were
known were pretty good. Their shows were popular and
well-attended. However, was that enough? Was Gene Raskin content
being one of the lesser lights? Imagine how you would feel being
surrounded by so many famous artists like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell
and Joan Baez. If you have any sort of ego at all, you would burn
to move up in the ranks to the first tier. All Raskin needed was a
song. One great song would probably be all it would take to play
with the big boys.
Raskin left no stone unturned in his search
for inspiration. One day in 1962 by chance he viewed the movie
"Brothers Karamazov" with Yul Brynner. After listening to Maria
Schell's haunting version of "The Long Road" in the "Brothers
Karamazov", Raskin was intrigued. He knew this song. Now that he
thought about it, he realized he had grown up with this song.
Raskin had been raised in a tri-lingual New
York household. His father was the artist Saul Raskin and his
mother, a Russian-born Jew, was a journalist for the New York
Raskin recalled his mother singing this same
tune to him as a young boy, but in Russian. That's why it took him
a moment to realize where he had heard the song before.
In a 1991 interview with The Morning Call, a
Lehigh Valley newspaper, Raskin recalled, "I could speak English,
Russian and Yiddish at the age of 3. I got the inspiration for the
song from my mother. My mother would sing it to me. After I
studied the original Russian version, I tampered with it a little
and wrote new words. Francesca would make suggestions. Together we
came up with lyrics that were completely different from the Russian
Raskin's wife Francesca was a free spirit long
before anyone had ever breathed a word about Women's Liberation.
Francesca Raskin heard her first Russian songs on a trip to
Palestine in the 1930s. Her mother, Rose Leonard, was an early
Zionist, and often took Francesca and her younger brother Herman, a
well-known jazz photographer, along with her. Their first trip was
"I attended Allen High (near Philadelphia) for
a year, but Allentown was too stuffy for me," said Francesca Raskin.
"I went to boarding school in Palestine, first in Haifa and then in
Tel Aviv. I came back and went to Muhlenberg Prep before I left for
New York. I remember when I was living in Palestine that there were
a lot of Russian Jews and they always sang Russian melodies as well
as Yiddish songs. Among the songs I heard was the Russian version
of 'The Long Road'"
The Raskins entered show business relatively
late in life... Eugene was almost 50, his wife almost 40. Taking
the unconventional path was nothing new to them. The Raskins had
met in 1934 when Francesa was 16 on a cruise ship. Francesca was
crossing the Atlantic with her older brother Ira Leonard.
The following year (1935), Francesca moved to
New York. Five weeks later, she eloped with Raskin, who was a
26-year-old college professor at the time.
In the late 1950s, Raskin suddenly gave up his
teaching position at Columbia University. "Life was too short, so I
grabbed my guitar and my pretty wife, and ran off to the world of
show business," said Raskin. "My mother was horrified. Imagine what
a blow it was for her son, the well-respected professor, to go off
with a guitar. Oy vey, my son the educator has become a gypsy!
It was a good decision. We had a wild time
for more than 15 years. We performed in London, Rome, Lisbon, Tel
Aviv, and New York."
Once he became reacquainted with his childhood
song, Raskin visited a nearby record store in the Village and found
the original recording of Boris Fomin's song.
Raskin immediately was struck by a desire to
modernize the song to his own life. Why not take the Russian song
and place it in Greenwich Village?
It was no accident that the first line of
Raskin's rewrite said, "Once there was a tavern..."
The White Horse Tavern, a Greenwich Village
watering hole that is still around today, became the inspiration for
Raskin and his wife Francesca hung out at the
White Horse Tavern all the time. They were regulars. According to
one Internet article, singer Liam Clancey said, "We all hung out in
the back room of the White House Tavern-- Bob Dylan, Richard Farina
and Carolyn Hester, Theo Bikel, Tom Paxton, Van Ronk and Terry Thal,
Logan English, Paul Clayton, Oscar Brand, Gene Raskin and his wife,
Raskin visualized the sadness that would come
if he were ever forced to be separated from this marvelous group of
friends. He wrote a complete new set of melancholy lyrics centered
on the theme of keeping one's friends near at all times. Despite
the changes, Raskin also made sure to keep the addictive combination
of mournful verses and singalong chorus for his adaptation. He also
had the sense to retain the original song's lovely gypsy melody.
However, if the melody wasn't playing in the
background to give you a clue, you would never know it was the same
song. Compare the original lyrics to the remake.
Here are the lyrics of "The Long Road" sung by
Vertinsky translated into English
You rode on a
troika with sleigh bells,
And in the
distance lights flickered...
If only I
could follow you now
I would dispel
the grief in my soul!
By the long
road, in the moon light,
And with this
song that flies off, ringing,
And with this
ancient, this ancient seven-string,
That has so
tormented me by night.
But it turns
out our song was futile,
In vain we
burned night in and night out.
If we have
finished with the old,
nights have also left us!
Out into our
native land, and by new paths,
We have been
fated to go now!
...You rode on
a troika with sleigh bells,
long since passed by!
Now compare the lyrics above to the lyrics to
the song "Those Were the Days".
Once upon a
time there was a tavern
Where we used
to raise a glass or two
we laughed away the hours
And dreamed of
all the great things we would do
those were the days
Then the busy
years went rushing by us
We lost our
starry notions on the way
If by chance
I'd see you in the tavern
We'd smile at
one another and we'd say
those were the days
Just tonight I
stood before the tavern
the way it used to be
In the glass I
saw a strange reflection
lonely woman really me?
those were the days
door there came familiar laughter
I saw your
face and heard you call my name
Oh my friend
we're older but no wiser
For in our
hearts the dreams are still the same
Those were the
days my friend
they'd never end
We'd sing and
dance forever and a day
We'd live the
life we choose
We'd fight and
For we were
young and sure to have our way!
La la la la...
Those were the
days, oh yes those were the days
As you can see, thanks to Raskin, the song had
undergone quite a transformation. Gone was the 'troika', a carriage
drawn by three horses. It was replaced by the 'tavern'. Gone was
the sad loss of a failed love affair, replaced by the loss of a
group of valued friends.
Raskin renamed the song "Those Were the
Days". Thanks to the rewrite, he considered it his song now.
Raskin made a shrewd move - he had his version copyrighted. His
experience with publishing his books had taught him the value of
protecting himself. Of course, at the time - 1962 - Raskin never
dreamed his rewrite would become one of the hit songs of the decade.
Now Raskin and Francesca began singing their
new song as part of their act. The two of them could see people
noticeably reacting to the sad sentimentality of the song. They
decided it would be their signature song, so they moved it to become
their concluding song of each act.
Meanwhile the poignancy of the new song was
not lost on the singers in the audience. Raskin received lots of
encouragement to record the song from his fellow artists. In fact,
he and Francesca did cut an album which included "Those Were the
Days", but it didn't sell. Raskin was frustrated. So much for
their big breakthrough attempt.
Surrendering his dreams of being a recording
artist, Raskin began to market the song through his agent to other
Village artists instead. A folk group known as the Limeliters did
add the song to one of their albums. Unfortunately they did a
pretty lame job with the song and it went nowhere.
If you wish, here is the
Limeliter's 1962 version of "Those Were
Next up was a new British artist known as
Engelbert Humperdinck. He included the song on his 1967 album.
However, the two breakout songs on the album were "Release Me" and
"The Last Waltz". The number 15 song on the album, "Those Were the
Days", remained hidden in obscurity despite the fact that
Humperdinck did a good job with the song.
Raskin was bitter. He thought the song was
special. "I wrote that song in 1962. For four years I couldn't
sell it to anyone," Raskin recalled during a 1990 interview in his
New York City apartment.
"My own publisher said it was unsellable, so I
gave up trying. One night in 1965, we were singing in the Blue
Angel nightclub in London. Paul McCartney of all people was in the
audience along with his wife Linda and heard us sing it. I knew
McCartney was in the audience, but we didn't speak. I had no idea
he liked our song. I didn't give it another thought.
Then a few years later in 1968 he wrote me a
letter. McCartney said he had just started his own record company,
Apple, and wanted some unknown named Mary Hopkin to record it. Out
of the blue, lightning had struck. It's still bringing in the
royalties 22 years later."
An excerpt from the book "Paul McCartney: Many
Years From Now", tells the same story from Paul McCartney's point of
was determined to get Apple Records off to a good start. After
writing 'Hey Jude' for the Beatles' first Apple release, he looked
around for other music and other singers.
friends with the well-known British model Twiggy. Twiggy and her
manager had just driven up to Paul's house in Liverpoool in May
1968. They were eating pudding when the conversation turned to
television talent-discovery shows. Paul smiled and wondered if
anyone ever actually got 'discovered', really discovered on these
that she had seen a great singer on "Opportunity Knocks". There was
a 17 year old Welsh girl that had a wonderful voice. Named Mary
Hopkin, she was pretty in a wholesome way. Twiggy grinned and said,
"The lass sang Pete Seeger's 'Turn Turn Turn' so beautifully on the
show. She's too young for the sexy stuff, but perfect for a ballad.
You'll like her, Paul. She's good. She's won the bloody show
note. The following week he turned on the TV to see the girl for
himself. On the screen was a shy, provincial girl. With her long
blond hair and winsome smile, McCartney agreed with Twiggy's
assessment that she had both the voice and the looks to go
somewhere, but that she should stick with folk music till she aged a
thought to himself, "Okay, quite right. We should sign this girl
for Apple; maybe we can make an interesting record with her."
brought her name up at the office the next day. Several other
people who had seen the program agreed the girl had made an impact.
McCartney was pleased they agreed with his initial assessment.
Some in the
office called to get the young woman's phone number from the
television company. Derek Taylor rang her up. Apparently Mary
Hopkin answered the call herself. Taylor heard her say in a soft,
quiet voice, "Yes?"
responded, "Paul McCartney for you. He smiled as the woman gasped.
"It can't be! Oooh, is it really? Well, I never!"
picked up the phone. "Paul here."
recollected, "So this beautiful little Welsh voice came on the
phone. I said, 'This is Paul McCartney with Apple Records here.
Would you be interesting in driving down here to record for us?"
There was a
moment of silence. Mary Hopkin replied, "Well, er, would you like
to speak to my mum?"
conversations later, Mary and her mother came to London. We had a
nice lunch, then went to the recording studio on Oxford Street. She
sang for us and I thought she was great... she seemed to mean what
she sang. Most impressive. I thought she was very Joan Baez. A
lot of Joan's influence showed. We chatted and I said, 'Look, it
would be nice, we should maybe sign if you like us and you like the
look of the whole thing.' Well, obviously we looked all right
because she signed before she left."
needed material for the girl to sing. He had always had a good ear
for a catchy tune. Once he had heard a song, it stayed with him.
Three years earlier he had heard Gene and Francesca Raskin, an
amateur cabaret act, sing "Those Were the Days" at the Blue Angel
cabaret club in Berkeley Square. The song stuck in his mind.
tried to get someone to record the song at the time because he
thought it was so good. He suggested it to the Moody Blues but
nothing came of it. Later in India he played it to Donovan, who
loved it, but never got around to recording it.
decided it would be perfect for his new protégé. He played it to
her and she liked it.
didn't remember the names of the singers, so he called Blue Angel
and they were able to look it up for him. McCartney wrote to Gene
Raskin and sent a tape of the tune to make sure he was talking to
the right person. Raskin was a tad chagrined to learn the song was
going to be sung by an unknown rather than McCartney himself, but
soon got over it. So he phoned McCartney back to talk it over.
asked Raskin, "Who wrote that song?"
replied, "Well, we did (referring to himself and Francesca). It's a
Russian melody but arranged by us. We put the words to it."
David Platz at
Essex Music, publishers of the song, had no lead sheets or demos, so
he contacted Raskin who quickly wrote a lead sheet. Paul McCartney
decided to produce the record himself.
They went to
the studio in mid-July 1968. Paul showed Mary how he thought the
song should be done.
reflected, "I thought the song was very catchy. It had something to
it, a good treatment of nostalgia. Mary picked it up very easily as
if she had known the song for years. I liked the arrangement so
much I even volunteered to play the acoustic guitar in the
For years people have debated the different
talents of the Beatles. For all the criticisms aimed at Paul
McCartney... too pop, too commercial, lightweight compared to
Lennon... this story reveals that he had brilliant business
In his role of producer, McCartney sensed the
foreign 'gypsy' feel of the song's tune should be emphasized. He
immediately looked around for an "arranger", someone to put together
the unusual instruments necessary to evoke a sound that few people
were familiar with.
They settled on Richard Hewson. Here is an
excerpt from Hewson's memoirs:
"Apple was a funny old place," says
Hewson. "It was very haphazard. Nobody really knew what anybody else
was doing! Peter Asher didn't know anything about arrangers. All he
knew was he knew me, and that I'd been to the Guild Hall and studied
classical music. And he thought, 'Okay, so Paul wants some
orchestra on this. Richard probably knows how to write classical
orchestra arrangements, let's try him.' That's how I got the job,
'cause they didn't know anybody else. That was lucky for me. If
they'd looked around, they could probably have found a real
To give "Those Were the Days" that "old
Russian country feel", Hewson concocted a simple arrangement
consisting of an acoustic guitar played by McCartney, upright bass,
tuba, banjo, drums, a clarinet section, violins & violas, trumpets
and an Hungarian instrument called a 'cembalon'.
"The cembalon was an unusual instrument
played with hammers, like a dulcimer. There was only one guy in
England who could play one - one of my professors, Gilbert Webster.
So that's who plays on the recording.
For good measure, I had the song topped
off by the addition of a boys choir."
McCartney's decision to go all out on preserving the ancient Russian
feel to the song really paid off. This song had a much different
feel to it than people were used to hearing. The Russian origin of
the melody was accentuated by an instrumentation which was unusual
for a top ten pop record. The recording including a clarinet, a
hammer dulcimer and the boy's chorus to give a klezmer feel to the
Besides giving the song the finest background
accompaniment possible, McCartney also had the sense to record Mary
Hopkin singing "Those Were The Days" in four other languages for
release in their respective countries:
In Spain, "Que Tiempo Tan Feliz"
In West Germany, "An jenem Tag"
In Italy, "Quelli Erano Giorni"
In France, "Le temps des fleurs"
The single was released simultaneously with
the Beatles' "Hey Jude" on August 30, 1968. Overnight Europe and
the US were inundated with "Those Were the Days".
The results were shocking. "Those Were the
Days" instantly knocked the Beatles' "Hey Jude" out of #1 in the UK
Fortunately for the Beatles' pride, the
situation was reversed over in America. "Hey Jude" was #1 for nine
weeks in the US with "Those Were the Days" right behind at #2 for
four of the weeks. Not a bad start for the first two single
releases of Apple Records.
McCartney's saturation in different languages
paid off. For example, in the Netherlands it topped the charts for
2 consecutive weeks.
The resulting single topped the U.K. pop
charts for six weeks in the autumn of 1968. "Those Were the Days"
sold eight million copies worldwide. It became Apple's biggest hit
outside of the Beatles' own recordings. "Those Were the Days" would
finish as the #7 hit for all of 1968.
The song went on to make millions of dollars,
making a lot of people very wealthy in the process.
Once the song did well, Mary Hopkin went back
and recorded a rendition in Hebrew even though she didn't know a
word of Hebrew. Over time, the song would be recorded in over
twenty languages. The song became such a huge cash cow that it was
subsequently released in many versions by anyone who could hum the
tune or play a jew's harp or even stamp their feet and clap their
hands in proper time.
Every single recording would put more
royalties into Eugene Raskin's pocket.
However, one company went a little too far.
At the peak of the song's success, a New York
company made a commercial using the melody to Raskin's version but
used their own lyrics, "Rokeach Ga-filte-fish, Rokeach
Raskin took them to court.
The company said that the tune was an old
Russian folk tune and was in public domain. Raskin sued and won his
case and a settlement, since he had altered the tune a bit to fit
his lyrics and had taken out the valid new copyright. It was an
interesting decision given that Raskin had borrowed the song
himself. But according to the courts, now he owned it.
Indeed, only Raskin was given a writing credit
on the single. To this day the music is popularly attributed to
him, as well as McCartney - just about anyone but Boris Fomin, who
remains little more than a footnote.
Following the success of "Those Were the
Days", almost immediately Gene and Francesca Raskin went into
semi-retirement. They had just become fabulously rich.
For example, one time, Raskin opened his mail
and found a letter containing a check for $26,000. These were the
royalties just for the US mechanicals for that particular month.
Raskin gasped. $26,000 in just one month.
Better yet, the money kept rolling in. Pretty soon, he and
Francesca could live off the interest.
The Raskins bought a home in Pollensa,
Mallorca. Mallorca is a small island in the Mediterranean not far
from the east coast of Spain. This sun-kissed isle is next to the
wild party island of Ibiza. Both islands are legendary as refuge
for the super-rich. From this point on, the Raskins would split
their time between New York and Mallorca.
With more money than he knew what to do with,
Raskin next bought a Porsche "Spider" to drive around the island.
Soon he added a yacht so that he and Francesca could sail over to
Rome or to the French Riviera whenever they pleased, maybe gamble at
Monte Carlo or attend the film festival at Cannes.
Raskin was about 60 when his good fortune
hit. Francesca was 50. They never worked another day in their
life. The royalties would continue to keep them comfortable for the
rest of their lives.
Gene Raskin died in 2004, Francesca in 2007.
Thanks to "Those Were the Days", the two had spent the final 40
years of their lives in total luxury.
As an interesting footnote to this story, I
noticed hints of bitterness towards Raskin in some of the comments.
Here are a couple of examples:
"The song written by Boris Fomin was
stolen by Gene Raskin, who used the melody for the song 'Those were
the days' for his own gain. This song made Gene Raskin rich, but
the true writer Boris Fomin died in poverty in 1948."
Were the Days", Gene Raskin had found a Russian tune of composer
Boris Fomin, which he had grown up hearing and for which he wrote
plagiarized lyrics in English, then put a copyright on both tune and
I have heard the music industry can be a
cutthroat business. This story certainly lends support to that
rumor. Raskin was a man who took the tune and the theme from
someone else, changed the words, and made a million dollars.
As I wrestle with the ethics involved, I guess the lesson here is to
put your stamp on whatever you create. You never know when someone
might come along and change some of your words. Suddenly your
creation becomes their creation.
I think the only reason Raskin got away with what he did was that
Boris Fomin, the original writer, had been dead for twenty years.
Meanwhile, I noticed Marla has been writing
new lyrics to "Achy Breaky Heart".
I asked her what we would do if it was a big
hit. Marla said she didn't know, but she would try to write me a
letter from Mallorca.
Comedy Routine regarding a Motorcycle Accident
Contributed by Leroy Ginzel
Ordinarily you would not think anything about
a motorcycle accident would be funny, but the genius of Mark Lowry
turns his wicked sense of humor on his own misfortune.
I knew I was going to enjoy this when Lowry
began to talk about not wearing a helmet.
"What would it hurt if I didn't wear my
helmet? We have a law in Texas; you don't have to wear a helmet!
Texas doesn't care about its stupid people! You're stupid enough
not to wear a helmet, hey, go right ahead, ride that bike!!"
Mark Lowry Comedy routine
Well, that's it for today. Only 26 pages.
Thanks for reading,