Fast Changing Times

It remains a musical legacy of humming material that will outlive, at the least, the past thirty or so Hollywood Oscar song winners.

What a glorious run of years it was, too. On the West Coast circuit, most of the big bands played Portland.

At McElroy’s, downtown, you could dance to the pulsating rhythm of Jimmie Lunceford, Count Basie, Chick Webb, Duke Ellington and other jazz masters. I never made it to the Duke’s heralded stand that summer of 1939. But I was there at Chick Webb’s opening night session, when his 21-year-old singing protégé, a young unknown named Ella Fitzgerald, mesmerized the crowd with the radiance and wonderful shadings of her voice.

McElroy’s had the atmosphere of a down-to-earth dance hall. By comparison, Jantzen Beach was a paradigm of ballroom glamour, set on the banks of the Columbia River. It was the glittery setting for black-tie headliners such as Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Dick Jergens, Billy Butterfield, and even that lovable old reprobate, Ben Bernie. Do you remember Butterfield’s dreamy theme song, What’s New? I can never hear that song without thinking of a last dance at Jantzen with Virginia Valentine’s drowsy head on my shoulder, and the slow-spinning mirrored ball sending a thousand trembly dots of light across the floor.


At the age of eighteen, maybe nineteen, I was riveted by For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway’s study of courage and compassion set against the terrors of the Spanish Civil War. It gave me a deeper understanding of the vehemence burning inside Robert Sharral, the pock marked veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade whom I had interviewed some two years before at Reed College.

Ernest Hemingway was an arrogant, self-promoting, charismatic, machismo man of action and in the end, a self-destructive alcoholic. But My God, at his peak, how the man could write.

His early books and short stories remain rock-hard diamonds. He wrote in a flat, true, realistic style that influenced countless modern writers to follow.

Along with the rest of my generation, I read and reread Hemingway. He was the icon of our youth.

He made of life an adventure, a glorious challenge, a test ofself-discipline and courage and honor. And through all of his writings, you encountered a measure of grace under pressure. Grace under pressure. There is a quality I have aimed for in my own life—in work and play, in peace and war.

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