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Mr. Oldies Has Decided to Fall Back to Standards Time

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For the vast majority of you who will come to wonder why I’m going on and on about this, my apologies. But for those of you--and I’m thinking mostly of fellow baby boomers--who are experiencing the same thing, what does it mean?

It came out of nowhere but has been going on for the last few weeks, so it can’t be dismissed as a passing thing. I’m not even sure I realized I was doing it, but now I’m hooked. I wonder if I’m ever going back. Frankly, I’m not sure I like what it says about me.

I’m an die-hard rock ‘n’ roller. I came of age musically in the early 1960s, and, next to my baseball glove, a transistor radio was my most prized possession. In eastern Nebraska where I spent my teens, radio station KOIL, “The Mighty 1290,” was the local rock station. Disc jockeys like Frank “Coffee Head” Allen and Joe Light were as well-known and important to me as Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente. Many was the night I fell asleep, well beyond the appointed hour, with the radio on and an earplug in place, listening to the Top 40.

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In the 30 years since, my radio tastes seldom strayed. If I tried to explain how much rock has meant to me, you’d alert the mental-health authorities at once. Let’s just say that in a world of shifting alliances, those three-minute records have never betrayed me.

Even as I aged and the rock music of the moment began to appeal less and less, “oldies” stations arose to keep my generation forever in touch with our ‘50s and ‘60s musical roots. Without missing a beat, King KOIL in Omaha was supplanted over the years by FM oldies stations in other places where I moved and, most recently, by KRTH out here in California.

Now, I’m acting goofy. Prompted by no crises, epiphanies or unexplained blows to the head, I spend most of my time listening to KLAC-AM, 570 on your dial.

Its playlist features “standards” of the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. Rock music is nowhere to be found and, for the first time in my life, I don’t seem to mind. I get through entire days without it.

I haven’t renounced rock. It’s just that for reasons I haven’t figured out, I’m getting satisfaction not from the Rolling Stones but from Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. I’ve dumped the Ronettes for the McGuire Sisters. Herman’s Hermits, make way for the Mills Brothers. Yes, it’s occurred to me more than once that I’m listening to a station Bob Dole would like.

The latent fear, of course, is that this is a sign of age. Rather than more obvious signs like creaking bones or losing my keys, I’m tuning in to Jerry Vale and Al Martino.

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But why?

Obviously, great is great and Sinatra has always been around. You could listen to him in any decade or century and pretty much have to concede he’s tops. I’m just trying to figure out why his style now warms something inside me, whereas before I didn’t let him.

Is it because the world is noisier than ever, making restful music more appealing? Listen to talk radio for 10 minutes on any given day, and you’ll need a little Henry Mancini Orchestra too.

Maybe I’ve subconsciously tried to get myself as far from the modern-day clatter by retreating as far back into radio musical history as I can go. I don’t recognize a lot of the songs from the ‘40s or early ‘50s, but they share a common element: They’re soothing. I used to need to hear guitars to sustain my musical interest; these days, a tinkling piano and a torch song is doing the trick.

I keep expecting to tire of my new station and return to my rock roots. Yet, every time I’ve switched over to the FM side for a while, I’ve soon come back to KLAC.

I don’t know if this is what Bob Dole meant by his “bridge to the past,” but maybe he’s on to something. It’s hard to listen to Nat King Cole and remember there were problems in the world. It’s easy to listen to him and pretend there are none now. Give him three minutes, and the man can take you away from all this.

All this would shock and gratify my late father, but, who knows, maybe he’s got something to do with it. He had a terrific singing voice, and all four of us kids spent our younger years listening to him croon tunes. Long before we migrated to the rock world that he never embraced, Dad could mesmerize us at bedtime with standards like,

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“Down by the old millstream,

Where I first met you,

With your eyes so blue,

Dressed in gingham too.”

What I wouldn’t give to hear that song on the radio, because you know why?

They just don’t write ‘em like that anymore.

Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at the Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.

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