I’ve been listening to a piece of my childhood this week. I’ll get to that in a minute.
First, I want to talk about how it’s a truly special thing when an entertainer can impact one generation of people in a positive way. Two generations? Even better. Three? One word: WOW.
I have been watching the new Netflix Original show “Grace and Frankie”, which stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.
Err, “WATCHED”, since they released the entire season at once and I devoured it. Past tense.
Anyway, I was sitting there watching it one afternoon and J, who is twenty, walked into the family room and suddenly stopped as his ears perked up.
“Is that Ms. Frizzle??”
“The Magic School Bus” was a staple in our house when the boys were younger. Big-time.
In fact, when D turned five, we had a science-themed “Magic School Bus” birthday party for him.
Tomlin’s Ms. Frizzle made such an impression on J’s young mind when he was a toddler that, fourteen-ish years after he stopped regularly watching, he recognized her voice.
Rewind to the late 1960’s/early 1970’s. My parents (especially my dad) were fans of Rowan and Martin’s “Laugh-In”, a trippy sketch comedy show that launched many careers, including Goldie Hawn’s and one Lily Tomlin. (My dad still uses the most popular “Laugh-In” catch phrases today by the way, including “It’s Sock-It-To-Me Time”, “You bet your sweet bippy!”, and “Is that a chicken joke??” STILL FUNNY.)
Lily Tomlin was always a favorite of my parents, and eventually of mine. I LOVED her characters, especially Ernestine (the sassy telephone operator) and Edith Ann (the little girl that sat in a huge rocking chair and finished every monologue with “And that’s the truth!” *raspberry*).
At some point, they purchased an 8-track tape (get my cane!) of Tomlin’s “This Is A Recording”. It was a 45-minute one-woman routine, all Ernestine sketches with Tomlin interjecting a few seconds of her real self here and there, to make commentary and give background information on Ernestine. It was HYSTERICAL. It also won a Grammy for Best Comedy Recording, and Tomlin was the first to win it as a solo female.
Anyway, my sister and I listened to that Lily Tomlin 8-track from 1972 until the early 1980’s, and then the movie “9 to 5” became a family favorite and my latest Tomlin obsession. Much like I gravitated towards Kate Jackson’s smart and well-put-together character Sabrina Duncan on TV’s “Charlie’s Angels”, I was drawn to Tomlin’s Violet Newstead, who was similarly a leader-type. (Hmm. Analyze me.) We watched that movie about a hundred times over the years and it’s still a favorite, just like Lily Tomlin herself.
Fast-forward to last week. I had just finished season one of “Grace and Frankie” and suddenly remembered that Ernestine 8-track. I’m absolutely certain that my mom still has it somewhere in her house, but I have no way to play it so I did what any savvy 21st century girl would do when she wants to own and play a recording: I purchased and downloaded it from Amazon.
The first time I listened after so many years, I was amazed at two things:
1. How much of it was still so familiar after all these years
2. How funny it is to listen to it as an adult: there is a much higher level of understanding, obviously. With segments called “The Marriage Counselor” and “Bordello”, you can imagine that, back in the day when I was a youngster, most of it went right over my head.
Besides the obvious warm and fuzzy feelings of nostalgia and the true enjoyment of the classic comedy I get from “This Is A Recording”, it’s also a time capsule of sorts. There was the working-in of late 70’s legends FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, writer Gore Vidal, and actress Joan Crawford (who was CEO of PepsiCo at the time); the sketches are full of hilarious “conversations” with these people in addition to the everyday folks Tomlin created as silent participants on the other end of her line, but the cultural history lesson goes even deeper. Tomlin brings up the following things in conversation:
1. Back in the early 70’s, calls from a pay phone cost a dime. If the call took too long, you would have to add nickels.
2. If the phone “ate” your money you could call the operator and ask for a refund.
3. Back in the early 70’s, pop/soda from vending machines ALSO cost a dime.
4. It used to be commonplace for housewives (who were mostly the ones home back then) to offer food and drink to repairmen when they arrived to fix something.
5. Because of the elaborate switchboard systems (and landlines) used, telephone operators had the ability to patch themselves in to a phone call and eavesdrop.
6. “Ma Bell” refers to the phone company as a whole when AT&T had a total monopoly over phone services. There was no competition until 1982 when the government forced the breakup of the part of the company that provided local services.
Listening to this little slice of the olden days made me wonder what kinds of things my boys will remember fondly about the early 21st century, when they were little. I can’t even begin to guess. These days, things move so quickly. They’ve grown up with technology. What will they remember (in a decade or two) about their younger years and be amazed at how antiquated it seems? Will something Lily Tomlin has created (or face it, will create!) entertain a fourth generation in our family, somehow? While I’m in no hurry, I can’t wait to find out.