Sometimes, You Can Go Back

It seems completely bizarre that the year 1969 was 50 years ago. Half a century has passed since I was 14-years-old, growing up in my hometown of Torrance, California.

It was the year I graduated from 8th grade and made the transition to high school. I took a summer school class–P.E. of all things–so that I could spend some time on campus before going full-time in the fall.  The Beatles were still together, although they had gone all hippie and there were rumors of them not getting along. And while it was the year we finally made it to the moon, it had been a long decade. The Viet Nam War kept escalating,  a president, his brother and a civil rights leader were assassinated and people were anxious to get to a fresh new decade and move on.

 

The Levy Elementary School Class of 1969

 

While the major spotlight of the 50th anniversary of 1969 fell on the moon landing with a little bit left for Woodstock, for the 14-year-old kid growing up on 226th Street, when I recall 1969, I go straight to the Manson murders.

Remember how back in 2001 when those passenger jets crashed into the Twin Towers and it took your brain a long time to accept someone could actually do that intentionally? When Charles Manson and his followers went on their killing sprees–two separate nights, with stabbings and mutilations–it was unthinkable. That anyone could go in and butcher people like that. Who were these monsters? it resulted in news coverage that rivaled what you saw during the O.J. trial.  Being in the Los Angeles area, I remember a lot of people wondering, “Oh, my God, could we be next?”  We had made the transition from hippies representing peace and love to whacked-out psychopaths with crazed eyes that carved swastikas on their foreheads and killed people. The hippies they arrested said they were inspired by the Beatles song, “Helter Skelter.” They even left that written in blood at one of the slaughters.

In the months and years that followed, Charles Manson, Tex Watson, Squeaky Fromme, Patricia Krenwinkle, Linda Kasabian and Susan Atkins became household words. The Spahn Ranch, a former site where they filmed a lot of westerns, had been engraved in our minds as the home base of Manson and his followers.

 

All this to say, I was very aware of what happened that fateful summer and was curious how Quentin Tarantino was going to work it into his new movie, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” I’m going to avoid spoilers as best I can because the strongest payoff for that movie is for you to be completely unaware of where it’s going.

For a teenager growing up in Southern California in 1969, this movie had a profound effect on me. I was two years away from a driver’s license, so if I went anywhere in a car in those days, I was a passenger. The same was true of Tarantino, so he intentionally included a lot of shots of vintage Southern California from the passengers’ point of view. To do that, he had to recreate streets, freeways, signs and traffic as it was 50 years ago. That’s where this movie became a time capsule for me. As the plot thickened, I was fixated on all the billboards, the now-defunct stores, and the bus stops with ads on them for things like TV Kids Show Host Hobo Kelly (who I had completely forgotten about) and L.A. news guy George Putnam. Everywhere I looked, I was back in the So Cal I grew up in, 50 years ago.

To be clear, this movie is not for everybody. Tarantino loves his f-bombs and extreme graphic violence so I can’t recommend it to mom. But if you allow yourself to get past that stuff, you will be treated to one amazing movie. It’s not a documentary, it’s a fairy tale. It’s not how the story ended in real life, but rather, how you wished it could have ended.

DiCaprio, Pitt, the entire cast acted their rear ends off. I’ve only seen a couple of Tarantino pictures because the cartoonish violence is often too much. But in this case, I had to restrain myself from breaking out into a standing ovation. It was that feeling you get when watching the coyote get crushed by something he intended for the roadrunner…times a hundred.

One probably shouldn’t make Oscar predictions in my current emotional state, but Leo and Brad are very deserving and I think a little gold statue is due to Mr. Tarantino, if nothing else for the fantastic time machine he created. He took me back to that unsettling summer of 1969 and made it all better.

Then again, isn’t that what fairy tales are supposed to do?

Tim Hunter

Keeping The Thanks Coming

Well, here comes one of my favorite holidays, Thanksgiving. Minimum decorating, no gifts to buy and its centered around eating. Bob Thanksgiving or whoever it was that invented that holiday, we thank you.

I’m grabbing a few minutes and doing a quick parade through my brain of all the people and events I have to be thankful for, knowing darn well I’ll probably miss an important one along the way, but here goes:

Mom & Dad–How do you skip past them? Having done the great parent experiment myself, I look back and admire what they did for us. Not so much for the”things.” God knows as kids my sisters and I would complain that we never got to experience real Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, we got the Springfield brand. Springfield soda, Springfield popcorn. It was the lesser-cost version of all the popular foods. But like I said, it wasn’t about  the things, it was the environment. They gave us an abundance of guidance, stability, faith, and allowed us to be kids while growing up during those turbulent 1960s. Even when dad was out of work because of a strike or we were dangerously close to nuclear war with Cuba, my world was made up of school friends, Cub Scouts, Little League, Dodger baseball and the kids in the neighborhood.

Mr. Ray and Mr. Maxwell–two of the teachers I had along the way, both with clever, dry senses of humor. I credit them for helping shape my comical thinking.

Gary Owens–This Los Angeles radio legend and eventually, the announcer on “Laugh In” was nothing short of brilliant. While other kids were listening to Boss Radio KHJ (and that’s where I went after Gary was on the air) I couldn’t wait to tune in KMPC, wade through another Ray Conniff song, only to hear his witty banter and bits like The Story Lady. Blame him for me heading into a 30-year radio career.

Getting Fired–Yes, it wasn’t just people, it was events. Having your career pulled out from under you either destroys you or makes you stronger.  Twice, my life plans were thrown into chaos and uncertainty, but each time I emerged better off than I was before. This helped brand in my brain to keep focused on what’s really important–your life. Lose a job? You’ll be fine.  Getting honorary mention is deciding to quit a job and go out on my own 3 years ago.  A step I never would have taken if I hadn’t been fired. I basically fired myself, which put me into the dream situation I enjoy now.

Family–My incredible wife who showed me that people can be kind and caring as a way of life. My mom & sisters, my kids and step-kids, the grandkids, the assorted nieces and nephews. Oh and all those aunts and cousins throughout the greater United States. Quite the collection of characters. Love you all!

My Radio Brothers & Sisters–I made some life-long friends during that 30-year stretch of my life, most of whom I still stay in touch with today. It’s not a constant-contact kind of thing, but put us together anywhere and we can pick up right where we last left off.

My Memories–In the amusement park that is my mind, there’s a wonderful place called Yesterday. It’s where I go and reflect on my dad, my radio mentor Larry Nelson and my former morning show co-host Alice Porter. One of my high school classmates Dr. Jon Lemler is there, too. The class of ’73 will remember him playing “Suwanne River” with his hands at the senior talent show. I’ll be forever grateful to him for talking with my wife at one of our reunions where she told him about her kidney disease. Jon helped us with some alternative medicine that we are convinced helped Victoria’s disease go into remission. A couple of years ago, Jon was walking in Las Vegas when he collapsed and died from a massive heart attack.

You see, I’ve had the incredible fortune of meeting some amazing people along the way.

Star Boreson–I had incredible timing and, even though I didn’t grow up with him here in Seattle, during my days at KOMO, he came in as the revered former TV show host and I got to know him. Enough that he invited me over to his and Barbara’s house for a couple of afternoons, where we wrote parody songs for his next Christmas album. Read the fine print on the cover, there I am. Buried in our basement are the original hand-written lyrics to a lot of those songs on the album.  It was a college-level course on how to create a comedy, which I used many, many times throughout my career. And still do, to this day.

Matt Riedy & Frank King–It’s all about opportunity. Back when radio brother-turned-actor Matt was working over at Smooth Jazz, he connected me to a comedian he had worked with, Frank King. Frank used to do stand-up comedy with Jay Leno and had remained connected to him, faxing him jokes each day. Frank invited me to join his White Collar Comedy submission sheet and for most of a decade, I was lucky enough to be able to sell jokes to Jay. The thrill of having him tell a joke that I wrote, word for word, was about the biggest high a comedy writer could experience.

Dwight Perry–This Seattle Times’ lighter side of sports writer has dropped in some of my Wacky Week lines over the years and given me exposure that I wouldn’t otherwise receive, being off the air. As recently as last Sunday, a friend said, “Hey, I saw you in the sports page again today!” Thanks for the plugs, Dwight!

Jean Godden & Sherry Grindeland–When both were back in their day writing newspaper columns, they gave me quite a few mentions and let me show off my comedy writing skills to their readership.

You–A writer is nothing without readers. If no one bothers reading it, then I would be just entertaining myself. (which I do anyway. I’m a great audience) I’ve managed to write over 800 blogs these past 15 years, with 42,543 views the last time I checked. I am humbled.

I’m just a guy going along for the ride who believes everyone should be doing what they love to do. It truly makes all the difference in the world. I wish you peace, hope and happiness as we gather again to give thanks for all we’ve got.

It’s a shame we really only do this once a year. If nothing else, the holiday serves as that annual reminder that we truly are blessed.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tim Hunter

Hug ‘Em While You’ve Got ‘Em

You may have gotten up this morning and had a slightly stiff neck you’re going to have to deal with all day. Maybe later, you’ll accidentally spill coffee in your car, some jerk will open up his door into your car or your boss is in an uber-bad mood.

Life is loaded with ups and downs. We think things like the above-mentioned challenges are ‘downs’. Actually, they’re just part of life.

For every dropped glass there’s a beautiful sunset. For each time you do battle with a cold there’s the giggle of a baby that makes you smile. The key is to focus on the goods and just let the bads pass. At least, that’s always been my philosophy. Live is balance.

I look back on my high school days as jam-packed with lot of goods. I managed to win over the girl of my dreams (at the time, they were young dreams), played basketball, had some great friends, did the popularity thing–it was just all in all a great experience for me.

Among the good ones I met along the way was Mike Duarte. Mike was just a solid guy and while we didn’t hang around often, whenever he saw me, he’d say hi. We’d exchange pleasantries. He was a super-athlete. Mike was a 3-sport athlete, playing football, basketball and baseball with intensity. I still remember that husky voice and chiseled good looks. You could just tell this guy was going places and had a bright and beautiful future ahead.

So it didn’t surprise me when I heard later at a reunion that he had gone into law and was taking on the L.A. gangs. These days, he’s the Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County. I understand that he and his wife Barbara have a couple of kids: Mikey, who picked up dad’s athletic jeans and is now in the Chicago White Sox farm system, and a beautiful daughter, Christiana, who goes by the name Chrissy. She was a recent graduate of the University of Arizona and had just landed a job in the marketing department of the L.A. Kings.

Both kids, just like their father, seemed to have a tremendous future ahead. But Chrissy’s life will remain forever frozen in time. She will always be 22. Her incredible smile, the playful pictures she took, the singing voice some friends were lucky enough to hear was silenced. Chrissy was one of the 58 victims of the Las Vegas mass shooting.

I haven’t spoken to Mike in decades but it’s just heart-breaking to see something so tragic happen to a family of really good people. It just eats me up that this tragedy will become the latest high-water mark for a deranged mind in the future who will feel the need to randomly shoot even more innocent people. The gun debate will be revived for a short time, it will fade away and nothing will be done to make our world safer. We’ll all just wait for the next event, which continue to get progressively worse, praying we won’t lose a family member in the process.

There will come a tipping point when people feel enough is enough. The gun debate is a war of extremes.  As more and more people lose their children, their family members and their futures to senseless gun violence, there will be a solution. I just wish we’d get there sooner than later. I would think that if you have loved ones, you’d have a pressing desire to make simple things like going to a country music concert non-life threatening.

I can’t imagine the horror of what the Duarte family is going through, but it’s amazingly easy to think of how many ways that tragedy could have been prevented.

Last Thursday, the LA Kings honored Chrissy by having all the players wear CD helmet stickers.

There is a GoFundMe campaign to help the Duartes with all the expenses involved in burying a daughter that was taken from them way too soon.

Another senseless act serving as a reminder: hug ’em while you’ve got ’em.

Tim Hunter

                                                                     

 

 

I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together

Close to how I looked when I found out

Close to how I looked when I found out

Probably one of the most unusual intersections in my life has to be the Brian Miller/Carol Burnett connection.

It starts back in the 1970s, when I attended Torrance High School in southern California.  During the first three years of high school, I was a proud member of the Tartar Band, playing trumpet.  I found myself going down that path and by the end of the marching band season of my junior year, I was done.  Besides, I was an OK trumpet player–but Adrian Miller was excellent.  Such control, such perfection.

In my last year with the band, Adrian’s little brother, Brian, entered high school.  He played drums and was quite accomplished, even as a freshman.  He really looked under control when he got behind his drum set, that little early-growth goatee making him look like a beatnik musician out of the 1960s.  As I moved through high school, then headed off to college, I lost track of the Miller brothers.  But I heard they continued with their musical careers after our days at THS.

While most of my teenage memories had to do with basketball, high school and girls (one in particular), I also remember evenings at the Hunter household, watching The Carol Burnett Show.  She’d come out, answer questions from the audience, then do most of an hour’s worth of skits, with some songs thrown in.  But it was the skits, where they’d go into hysterical laughing fits that I remember most.   Carol, Harvey, Lyle, Tim, Vicki and there, in the audience, Ernie Anderson.

Flash forward a few decades and my sister Debbie informs me that she’s working with Adrian and Brian’s little sister.  That’s when I found out how it all connected.  Here’s the short version. After graduation, Brian continued fulfilled his musical destiny by becoming a drummer with the CBS orchestra.  As if that wasn’t good enough, he struck up a friendship with Carol Burnett, that evolved and, once she found herself single, it went even further to the degree that today, Carol Burnett is actually Mrs. Brian Miller!  No sh…kidding!!

Waking the halls of Torrance High 40 years ago, who knew that one day, one of my classmates would be married to Carol Burnett?

To Carol– a Tarzan yell this week on your 80th birthday.  To the unlikely couple, I’m so glad you had this time together.

Tim Hunter

 


Brian Carol

 

At the 2019 Golden Globe Awards