“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.).”
The above was an iconic passage from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech made at the Lincoln Memorial, on August 28, 1963. I used this to share something that happened in the first few weeks of my teaching career.
As I got settled in my new career as public schoolteacher in January 1988, word started to spread around campus that we had too many teachers for the number of students enrolled. As I caught wind of this, I mentally prepared myself for a transfer to another school, since I was the “new kid on the block.”
I don’t recall how the principal officially announced the news, whether it was at a faculty meeting or through a memo. Needless to say, I was awaiting my transfer, wondering which school I was going to land at and which grade level I was to be assigned.
Several days passed, and news got around that another teacher was selected to transfer. She had begun her teaching career the previous school year. She protested to the other teachers that it was not fair because there was another teacher on campus with less seniority and experience than she. Needless to say, she was not happy about the transfer. I didn’t think it was right, either.
As she left, the other teachers expressed their disapproval about the transfer to me, saying that the reason why I wasn’t transferred was because I was Asian and was a male. The majority of the teachers at Gompers at that time were white and female.
Because of this, I am not a fan of grouping people according to their respective skin colors and ethnicities. For the last few years, the District has been trying to lessen the achievement gap between African-American and Hispanic students and the rest of the student population (non African-American and non-Hispanic students). I cringed each time I heard this at a faculty meeting or at a professional development workshop. It’s not about the outside of a person, but what’s inside of his/her mind and heart.
In 1 Samuel 16:7, it says, “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’ ” When we start looking at people the way God looks at people, perhaps we can start the healing that our nation needs at the present time.
We, as a nation, haven’t made much progress since Dr. King made his speech at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. If we desire healing and unity in our nation, we need start looking at each other the way God looks at us.
June 16, 2022, marked the end of my career as public school teacher for the Long Beach Unified School District (It was also my oldest son’s, Wayne, 25th birthday). This 2021-2022 school year was a hectic one, one that I may write later in another post.
I finished student teaching in December 1987. I took my teacher credentialing classes at CSU Long Beach. I taught a 5th grade class at Muir Elementary for the first quarter and a 2nd grade class at Bixby Elementary for the second quarter. I learned quickly that I didn’t have the patience nor the stamina to teach 2nd grade and any grade lower than that.
I interviewed with Los Angeles Unified first, and then Long Beach Unified. Long Beach made the first offer, because poverty and I don’t get along very well. I lost a lot of weight while pursuing my multiple subjects credential. Top Ramen was the staple of my diet at the time.
My first teaching assignment was at Gompers Elementary in Lakewood, as a 5th grade teacher. I was taking over a 5th grade class after the Winter Break on January 1988. The previous teacher was granted a transfer a day before Thanksgiving 1987. According to the other teachers, this teacher and the principal did not get along, and she had put in for the transfer the previous school year. After the Thanksgiving Break and before the Winter Break, this class “went through” two subs. I met with the second sub the day before the Winter Break; she sounded and looked like she went through hades and back.
When I reported for my very first day of my teaching career, the class thought I was substitute #3. I told them I wasn’t the sub, but the permanent teacher for the rest of the year. These kids were tough; these were the kids that were bussed from the other side of Long Beach, the area near the Queen Mary. I think maybe a total of 4 students in the class lived in the neighborhood.
When I attended my first assembly with my class, I noticed a stark contrast between my class and the other 5th grade classes. Most of the kids in the other classes were white, who lived in the neighborhood, while my class was predominantly minority kids (Black, Hispanic, Asian). The other teachers informed that the principal intentionally did that in order to make the previous teacher’s life less than pleasant.
Needless to say, it was by the Grace of God that I hung in there with those kids. A number of those kids came from single parent homes, homes where the parents didn’t speak English, and from neighborhoods infested with gangs and drugs.
Towards the end of the year, the school had scheduled a Multicultural Celebration. So I brought my guitar and amp to school and told the kids that we were going to perform “La Bamba” at this celebration. If my memory serves me right, the movie of the same title came out at about that time. Some of the kids volunteered to choreograph a dance, while the rest of the class sang with me.
I could tell that there was some trepidation when the rest of the school saw me with my guitar, amp, a microphone, and this rag-tag bunch taking our places on the playground. After I hit that first chord, you could see mouths drop in the audience, eyes wide open as saucers. The kids singing and dancing nailed “La Bamba” to the wall, and the audience went nuts. After the performance, my class was hugely complimented and congratulated for their work and effort. No longer were those kids known as “Oh, no. Not those kids,” but “Oh, yeah! Those kids!”
That was 34 years ago. I hope those kids remembered that. Will I miss teaching? I’ll save that for another post.
I write this on Dr. King’s Holiday 2021. Whenever I think of Dr. King and the legacy he left, I am just astounded by how far we as a country have stepped backward from what Dr. King championed. I hope our nation would just pause for a few moments and go back into history and see what Dr. King stood for, what he wrote, what he said, and what he preached. There’s no doubt in my mind that Dr. King loved Jesus and viewed our nation through the lens of Scripture during his tumultuous times.
I was in the second grade when Dr. King was assassinated in 1968. I remember coming home from school, Lafayette School. We were still living on 530 S. Sutter St., in Stockton, CA, within walking distance of the train station. The first thing I’d do when I got home was to turn on the television to watch cartoons and maybe an episode or two of the Three Stooges. Yes, this was before the World Wide Web and cable tv. This was regular tv hooked to an antenna. I needed my daily dose of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies with Captain Mitch to officially end my school day.
All of the sudden, a special news bulletin interrupted the cartoons. It may have been an ABC News Special Bulletin. A voice officially announced that Dr. King was gunned down at a motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Further details were forthcoming. It certainly put a damper on any further cartoon viewing.
I vaguely remember riots going on down Main St. My uncles were talking about it. Po Po, my grandmother, lived a few blocks away from Main St. That’s where all of the stores were located. I remember vaguely my uncles saying to avoid downtown until all the violence subsided. I didn’t personally witness any of the hysteria that took place.
This was Stockton before the Weberstown Mall or any other mall. On Saturdays, downtown Stockton was bustling with people, shopping and dining, enjoying the weekend. When I drive down that section of Stockton nowadays, it breaks my heart to see how downtown Stockton has lost its former glory of days gone by.
The other memory that Dr. King triggers in me was the first time I attended summer school. The summer after kindergarten, Mom enrolled me in summer school at McKinley School, which was located at the southern edge of Stockton. In my mind, it was on the way to French Camp, but I digress. I was bussed to summer school because McKinley was not within walking distance from home.
I vividly remember this African-American lady welcoming a whole bunch of kids my age and me to her class. This must’ve been the summer of 1966 or 1967 (The Summer of Love, for some of you older hippies). She was a nice and friendly lady, with a big smile. She wasn’t young, but she wasn’t of grandma age.
She had us sitting cross-legged on the rug and started talking about a melting pot. Mind you, I just got out of kindergarten and this whole issue about melting pots was foreign to me. I’d seen and heard about cooking pots, where Po Po would boil a whole chicken and cut it up for dinner; but when it came to a melting pot, this lady had lost me.
As I look back, what this summer school teacher was trying to instill in was the idea of America as a melting pot of races. We all come from different cultural background and ethnicities, but the one thing that ties us together as a people is America, land of the free and the home of the brave. This teacher was caught up in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s in a positive way, not in a divisive manner. I think she saw the good in Dr. King and the Movement and tried to pass it on to us. I can’t speak for my classmates at that time, but she certainly passed it on to me.
Whenever Dr. King’s holiday occurs, or if someone mentions Dr. King to me, these childhood memories flood my mind. Dr. King left us a legacy to appreciate and to follow. God used him to show us how much better we can be as a people and anation. May we take a moment and view our nation through his eyes, and may God remind us of what is engraved in courtrooms across this country: In God We Trust.
After nine months of Covid lockdown, we were able to meet again as a church indoors this past Sunday (January 3, 2021). The Lord graciously allowed me to be a part of the worship for all three morning services.
My wife commented how refreshing it was to be back in the Main Sanctuary (of Calvary Chapel South Bay). Indoor services had been banned since March of 2020. There were still social distancing guidelines in place. Only people you reside with could sit together in the pews; you were not permitted to sit directly behind anyone; you had to keep your face mask on while you were indoors; fellowshipping after services was only allowed outdoors.
In Hebrews 10: 24-25, it states, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” In my humble opinion, this Covid lockdown showed how we in the Church took for granted in-person church attendance. During the first few months of the lockdown, our services were streamed, but no in-person attendance was allowed. As the weather got warmer, Los Angeles County allowed outdoor services to held in the parking lot, which was way better than no in-person attendance at all.
Sometimes my mind wanders off into supposing what would’ve been like if Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount in a virtual format. The Romans said that He could preach but the audience members had to be separated and isolated from one another at least 3 cubits. Or when He fed the five thousand. This would be my version of that event (The New Gee Convoluted Version):
When it got dark, His disciples came to Him, saying, “We’re in the middle of nowhere, and it’s getting late. Send these folks away, so that they can go into town and buy something to eat. They’ve got to be famished by now.”
But Jesus said to them, “They don’t have to go anywhere. Why don’t you give them something to eat?”
They replied, “Don’t you remember about the Romans’ edicts about social distancing and food distribution? The leprosy outbreak’s been really bad to the point that they’ve banned outdoor and indoor dining; you can only eat at home with the people you live with.”
“You’re absolutely right,” Jesus said. “Go into town, speak to the food vendors, and obtain from them 5,000 food vouchers. Put the tab on Me.” (End of Convoluted fake scripture)
There’s nothing like going to church in-person. God uses it to give us a sneak preview to show us what eternity going to be like. Revelation 21: 3 and 4 states, “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Notice that God will be with them AND dwell with them, not at a distance.
If you get the opportunity to attend church in person during this Covid lockdown, cherish it, and thank the Lord for it. I will end with this scripture: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).”
On my last post, I talked about a little red transistor radio that my mom bought me. It was a Montgomery Wards (My mom would affectionately call it, “Monkey Wards”) product, and I’d carry it with me whenever we went shopping. It only caught the AM stations and used a 9-volt battery. I didn’t care about sound fidelity; I just needed something to keep me occupied while my mom, and oftentimes, grandmother were shopping.
There was one song that left a big impression on me; it was “Lola” by The Kinks. It was released back on June 12, 1970, so I was 9 at the time and had completed the third grade (John Adams Elementary School in Stockton, CA). It was written by Ray Davies. According to The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll (1980), Davies was the Kinks’ lead singer, composer, and guiding light.
The chorus of “Lola” was very simple to sing. Its melody was catchy, which was probably why it became such a big hit for The Kinks. At the time, I never really paid attention to the lyrics of the verses; I really liked the “hook” of the chorus.
Fast forward to the Fall of 1979, my first year at USC. I shared an off-campus, two-bedroom, USC-owned apartment with three other roommates. One of my roommates, Alex the vocal major, brought his stereo from home. The first radio station I locked into was K-RTH 101, where, at the time, it played nothing but oldies but goodies from the 50s and 60s. And guess what song was playing? That’s right; it was “Lola.”
So here I was with the stereo on, with “Lola” filling the apartment. I’m sitting on the couch, enjoying the song. This time, I’m 18 years old, and I’m paying attention to the lyrics of the verses:
“I met her in a club down in old Soho Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like cherry-cola [Lp version: Coca-cola] C-o-l-a cola She walked up to me and she asked me to dance I asked her her name and in a dark brown voice she said Lola L-o-l-a Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola
Well I’m not the worlds most physical guy But when she squeezed me tight she nearly broke my spine Oh my Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola Well I’m not dumb but I can’t understand Why she walked like a woman and talked like a man Oh my Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola
Well we drank champagne and danced all night Under electric candlelight She picked me up and sat me on her knee And said dear boy won’t you come home with me Well I’m not the worlds most passionate guy But when I looked in her eyes well I almost fell for my Lola Lo-lo-lo-lo Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola
I pushed her away I walked to the door I fell to the floor I got down on my knees Then I looked at her and she at me
Well that’s the way that I want it to stay And I always want it to be that way for my Lola Lo-lo-lo-lo Lola Girls will be boys and boys will be girls It’s a mixed up muddled up shook up world except for Lola Lo-lo-lo-lo Lola
Well I left home just a week before And I’d never ever kissed a woman before But Lola smiled and took me by the hand And said dear boy I’m gonna make you a man
Well I’m not the worlds most masculine man But I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man And so is Lola Lo-lo-lo-lo Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola.”
When the song ended, I felt like I had been figuratively goosed by an electric cattle prod. My tight, little Asian eyes widened like two UFO flying saucers. My naivety was brought to the forefront. Growing up in Stockton in the late 1960s and early 1970s had not prepared me for this revelation, that there were men dressed as women who went to clubs to attract men dressed as men, and vice versa.
I guess you can conclude that “Lola” initiated me into an ever-changing world that has morphed into “diversity”, with all its different types and flavors. You can say that “Lola” ended the innocence of my “Wonder Years” mentality that was engrained in me during my formative years in Stockton. The world didn’t seem to be cut-and-dried anymore; the world appeared to be, using professional wrestling terminology, a “free-for-all”, that you can do whatever you want, even if you weren’t fully aware of the consequences, like the guy who met Lola.
Music is powerful. It can allow you to worship God, take your mind off of your troubles, make you experience different emotions, tell you a story, and even take you to a place in the past. “Lola” definitely took me to where innocence and reality met, never allowing me to experience the naivety of my past, but always pushing me to confront the incongruencies of life, whether I wanted to or not.
I loved music since I was little. My mom said that when I was little, doing number two in the bathroom, I would sing some nonsense lyrics at the top of my lungs. I think the lyrics were, “Yee tah! Yee tah!” This was before Internet, cell phones, cassette recorder/players, cable television, etc.
If we were at Po Po’s (my maternal grandmother) house on a Saturday night, the Lawrence Welk Show was on television. That was her favorite television show. She loved Lawrence Welk not only for the music, but because he was also a dancer. If anyone got near the t.v. dial to change the channel, she would threaten to kill that person! It didn’t matter if you were a kid or a grownup. As a kid and a teenager, I thought LW was so square; but now, looking back, I have to admit, the LW Show had an great influence on my love for music. Here’s a clip from the Lawrence Welk Show.
Another contributor to my love for music was church. When I was about 4 years old, I remember being transported to the back house of Mr. and Mrs. Jones with a group of other Chinese kids around my age. This was at South Stockton, and the back house was a small classroom. That’s the first time I attended Sunday School and learned the classic Sunday School song, “Jesus Loves Me.” When I came home, I started singing “Jesus Loves Me”, and Po Po started singing it in Chinese. I later learned that Mr. and Mrs. Jones were Christian missionaries, who were fluent in Chinese and welcomed Chinese newcomers to Stockton. Po Po was one of the newcomers that Mr. and Mrs. Jones welcomed back in 1939 (I think). When I was about 5 till about 9 years old, I attended Chinese Bible Church. We met at the basement of Peniel Chapel, which is located on Sutter St., just south of Charter Way. Mr. and Mrs. Jones were the only non-Chinese who attended the church, and Mrs. Jones played the piano. We sang the classic hymns, such as “Rock of Ages”, “Onward Christian Soldiers”, and “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.” I really loved that time of singing of the church service, and, I must admit, it really helped my reading, because we sang out of hymnals. PowerPoint slides hadn’t been invented yet (We didn’t read from clay tablets or scrolls; we actually had printed books to read from). Here’s a video from the Gaithers, performing “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.”
The third major contributor to my passion for music was AM Top 40 Radio. Growing up in Stockton during the late 60s and early 70s, AM radio was king. The two main AM stations I listened to were KJOY and KSTN. Radio at this time didn’t have all the different music genres that we have today. They had live disc jockeys who played vinyl records on the air. Radio played rock, pop, Motown, soul, country, and everything in between. I used to carry around with me this little red AM transistor radio from Montgomery Wards. When we went shopping with my mom and I didn’t want to hang around in the lingerie department, I’d hang outside the store to listen to whatever was playing on my little red radio. A big treat for me was to listen to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 program that came on, I believe, on Sunday nights. I listened to the whole program to see if there was a new number one song, or if last week’s song remained the number one song in the country. There was a lot of variety of music played on AM radio during those days; it greatly contributed to my eclectic tastes in music. Here’s a short video about Top 40 radio in Northern California. Towards the end of the video, you’ll see the legendary Dr. Donald D. Rose of KFRC. We loved listening to him on the way to school (High school, that is).
Benny Mardones was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on November 9, 1946, a son of an immigrant from Chile. He grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland, and served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. For his show business debut, he did an impersonation of Elvis Presley at a Fourth of July talent show. He performed at local high schools and fire stations with the same group who backed him up at his debut.
When he first arrived in New York City in 1969, Mardones was signed to Mercury Records’ publishing division as a staff songwriter. He co-wrote songs for artists such as Brenda Lee, Three Dog Night, Main Ingredient, Free, and Tommy James (You Baby-Boomers probably recognize most of these names). He was eventually signed as an artist to White Whale Records, and then Columbia Records.
Mardones began to attract attention when he opened up for Richie Havens. He caught the eye of concert promoter Ron Delsener, who asked if he could fill in as the opening act for Peter Frampton at Madison Square Garden.
After getting signed to Polydor Records, Mardones began writing with Robert Tepper. Their ballad, “Into the Night”, was released on Polydor Records, and it reached number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. It later became one of the few songs to reach the Top 20 twice when it was revived in 1989.
Unfortunately, Mardones’s life took a nosedive due to substance abuse. In the 1980s, he sought help for his addictions and moved to Syracuse, NY, where he revived his career with his back-up band, the Hurricanes. His performances were geared towards raising funds for charitable causes, such as children’s liver transplants, Ronald McDonald House, and L.A. Breast Cancer Awareness.
In 2000, Mardones was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but he continued to tour and perform. His last performance was late in 2017.
A few days after learning of Mardones’s passing, I came across a YouTube video of him being interviewed by the “Professor of Rock”, Adam Reader, about his classic hit (https://youtu.be/EyABE-qjIbI). The 16-year-old in the song was about a girl whose family lived in the same apartment building as Mardones. The girl lived with her parents and two siblings. As time passed, the girl’s father left and abandoned the family, leaving them destitute. It broke Mardones’s heart when he learned of this tragic event, and it compelled him to do whatever he can to financially assist this family. Benny paid the girl $50 a week to walk his pet basset hound.
The following is an excerpt from Songfacts.com’s article on Mardones’s iconic hit:
Mardones wrote this song with Robert Tepper, who would later write the song “No Easy Way Out” for the movie Rocky IV. Benny told Songfacts: “One night Robert Tepper and I were up writing songs. It was about a week before we were leaving for Miami to cut the first big album, which was Never Run, Never Hide. We thought that we already had the hit song, so did Polydor Records. It was a song called ‘Might Have Been Love.’ But at the last minute we’re sitting there one night at my apartment trying to write. Bobby kept playing the chord changes and we tried 18 melodies and 30 kinds of lyrics and all of a sudden the key in the door turned and I said, ‘Oh my God, it’s daylight.’ Because we liked to keep the blinds down.
And in she walks, 16 years old, dressed for school in a miniskirt, little stacked heels, adorable, 16-going-on-21. She said, ‘You’ve been up all night?’ and of course it was obvious. I said, ‘Yeah, we have.’ She says, ‘Okay, come on, Zanky,’ and she walks the dog out. When she leaves and goes out the door, my partner goes, ‘Oh, my God.’ I said, ‘Hey, Bob. She’s just 16 years old, leave her alone.’ And literally five minutes later I said, ‘Play that lick again, Bobby.’ So he played the lick and I went (singing), ‘she’s just 16 years old, leave her alone, they say.’ Then I thought about her dad and what he had done, and that’s where I got (singing), ‘Separated by fools who don’t know what love is yet.’ The chorus was, ‘you’re too young for me, but if I could fly, I’d pick you up and take you into the night and show you love like you’ve never seen.’ Then the verse ‘It’s like having it all and letting it show. It’s like having a dream where nobody has a heart. It’s like having it all and watching it fall apart.’ Because his success was not the family’s success; it was just his. ‘I can’t measure my love there’s nothing compared to it’ – it was all about the abandonment of this family and this 16-year-old girl (https://www.songfacts.com/facts/benny-mardones/into-the-night).”
When you watch the Professor of Rock video, you will learn of the girl’s happy ending (I’m not gonna tell you; just watch the video). When my wife viewed the video, we were blown away, and it gave us a different and refreshing perspective of the song.
I hope you enjoyed this short journey through the background of this iconic hit. Here’s Benny performing his classic ballad:
Welcome to Mr. Gee’s Blog. Jackie Gleason used to start his television shows with the above phrase, “And away we go….” I’m rambling; I better stop.
You might be wondering, “Why are you doing this blog?” This was my wife’s idea. As we were enduring the coronavirus lockdown, she pointed out all this knowledge, especially music, rattling around in my brain. She encouraged me to start this blog to share this knowledge with those who have the same passion. When we watch YouTube music videos and attend live musical performances, I, and sometimes my daughter, would point out certain nuances about these performances with my wife. Over the years, my wife has learned a lot about music through these nuances. She encouraged me to put these down in a blog.
The last time I did a blog was in the early 2000s, when Earthlink was our Internet provider. Earthlink would give you some space to keep a blog. In that blog, I would journal what my boys did in TBall and what the Lord was doing in my life at the time. Since we’ve switched Internet providers, I don’t have access to that blog.
I want to thank my wife for encouraging me to start this blog. I also want to thank my fellow Edison High friend and former down-the-street neighbor Steve Dundas for his encouragement and help in getting this blog started. Somewhere down the line, I’ll do a post on how God used Steve to get me on journey with Christ.
As you can see, I won’t be writing about just music. There will be other topics I’ll be writing about. The three topics you can’t get me to shut up about are music, professional wrestling, and Jesus. Don’t be surprised if you find posts about these topics and other topics that stir my heart.
Let me leave you with two of Jackie Gleason’s phrases: “How sweet it is!” “And away we go…”
Thanks for joining me!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton