Monday, August 17, 2020

Ode To The Cool Uncle!

You can get along without a lot of things, just ask my car and my girlfriend, ba dum bum, but the fact of the matter is that the one thing no young boy can go without is a cool uncle.

As a kid, I didn't have a whole lot going for me except for the fact that I had two cool uncles; my dad's younger brother who was every bit as funny as Robin Williams, and my mom's younger brother, who was a bit of a gadget geek throughout the 60s and 70s. By the time I was reaching my teen years, all that sixties schtick was coming back into vogue and he was looking like the coolest dude on the planet to this young kid.

Then one fateful day in 1976. he played me a VHS copy of the original network airing of The Beatles' second movie, "Help!", and my ten-year-old brain...exploded.

Suddenly, I was seeing all the hip gear that my uncle owned, and kept in pristine condition, in episodes of The Monkees' TV series, Gilligan's Island, and other well-known TV portrayals of the psych rock scene that had become "in" again.

Vox organ? Check.

Transparent bass guitar? Check.

Multi-track reel to reel recorder? Check

Fancy Swedish speakers hand made by fine Swedes and once mentioned by Mike Nesmith in a Stereo Review interview that you not only had to order from freakin' Sweden BY MAIL, but then assemble yourself 6-8 weeks later? Check.

Who had the first big screen projection TV (just like the one pictured with Hef above)? My uncle.

Who had every variant of VCR because if one manufacturer added a new feature ("Whoa, DIGITAL CLOCK!", they just had to have it? My uncle.

Who was such a pop culture geek that they had a satellite dish back in the late '70s/early '80s in order to watch local news coverage in other markets, as well as live feeds from on-site news broadcasts, and the hours-long "affiliate feeds" allowing him to watch movies and TV shows days before they aired? My uncle.

He was the uncle who kept my brother and I up-to-date in the latest Commodore computer equipment every Christmas, leading me to develop an early distaste for coding long before HTML and CSS.

He was also the uncle who lent me his video camera equipment on numerous occasions in order to film an ill-fated music video for my band. Ugh, what a disaster I was, but he humored me none the less and it meant a lot as a kid to have someone who would do that.

I mean, my uncle might not have set the next Spike Jonze or Daniel Lanois loose upon the world, but he sure as hell did his part. 

To those who never had an uncle like that, I never knew how you felt until a few days ago, when he passed away at the age of 70.

Through a comical set of circumstances, I now live in the house that he grew up in, full of belongings he once held dear, but left behind.

My cool uncle left his coolness behind ages ago, spending his last days at "the lake house", squirreling away plastic grocery bags and packing materials. If anyone ever needed the box a replacement hard drive for a computer purchased in 1998 came in, he had it, just good luck ever finding it.

 In my once-cool uncle, I saw how life changes us all and how, after awhile, dreams don't just go untouched, but unsought. 

I saw a man who had always been on the cutting edge eventually surpassed and overcome by a present that moved faster than he did and no longer resembled anything he could remotely give a shit about.

That which had always been so much a part of his world had gone obsolete, just like all the other crap it replaced.

There's a lesson in there somewhere, I suppose, but it isn't the gadgets I will remember about my uncle as much as the fact that he made a concerted effort to share his world and, in doing so, not only taught this kid\how to interact with adults beyond parents and teachers, but expanded my horizons exponentially in the process.

On the day of my high school graduation ceremony, he and I drove right past my schoolmates in their caps and gowns sweltering in the mid-day heat on the varsity football field on our way to one high-end stereo equipment stores that was commonplace then but has long-since gone out-of-business to purchase a state-of-the-art recording device for a format that has long since been discontinued as my present for graduating high school.

It all seemed so "cool" at the time, staring at wall upon wall of the absolute latest in stereo sound regurgitation, knowing that I could have the most up-to-date device available and, or a solid four months or so, being top dog on the block until the new machines with even more bells & whistles came along.

It was nice while it lasted, but we had some good times together. For that, I thank you, Uncle Bruce.  May you rest in peace. 

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