That Charlie LeDuff book I'm reading - "Work and Other Sins - is interesting. I just read a section about a guy whose job it is to replace the ten inch, 620 watt flashing aviation beacon atop the Empire State Building. Normally, 17 million watts of power radiates from the antenna mast; in order for a man to climb it to change the bulb, four television stations have to go off the air and sixteen radio stations have to be rerouted to other antennas. It's a steady thirty mile an hour wind up there and about zero degree Fahrenheit.
I once did something somewhat like this in 1984 - but only in terms of function and nowhere near in terms of danger and extreme conditions. I had to climb atop an antenna mast atop the Eyring Science Center building on the BYU campus to remove a wind measuring device. (I was working part time for the physics department as a electronics repair guy.) The total height was only about six stories, but it was scary nonetheless because I don't like heights.
And the older I get, the less I like them.
I was the natural candidate because I had done telephone cable repair work atop telephone poles when I was in the Marines. I well recall the Fear of Heights Test at the Sheppard Air Force Base Comm-Elec school... it involved climbing a 200 foot antenna mast. I wore a safety belt with a ratcheting device that went click-click-click on the ladder as I ascended - which seemed to take forever. When I got to the top the instructor yelled, "Okay, lean out with your belt!" I closed my eyes and did so. "Are you gonna die?" he asked. "No," I hollered back. "Okay, then come down - you pass," he shouted. So I came down. I was scared to death and my heart was racing, but I didn't let on. I wouldn't. No Marine is going to admit fear to an Air Force guy!
Back to the BYU Eyring Science Center: I shimmied up the mast wearing a safety belt and gingerly reached upwards to remove the three bolts holding the device onto the socket, and took it down. I could see students on the ground looking up at me... and it was kind of shaky at the top - the mast moved a bit with the breezes. While up there I was thinking that if the mast collapsed with me at the top it would be an ignominious way to go. It was certainly a memorable part of my BYU experience.
The other cool thing I once had to do was to remove and replace the electromagnet ring that powered the Foucault Pendulum in the same building; this involved a climb into the rafters of the attic. A bit tricky but nowhere as bad as the antenna mast.
As readers of this blog know, I love music. In fact, I can't imagine life without it. One of my all-time favorite songs - perhaps my favorite song, ever - is the 1959 Flamingos (shown above) adaptation of "I Only Have Eyes for You." It is the ultimate doo-wop nocturne. I recall being in the car with my parents one night; I must have been only four or five or so. We were out in the middle of nowhere - the desert? - and they had the radio on. This song played on the radio just as we arrived at a Chevron station (then called Standard Oil). The red, white and blue neon sign lit up in the interior of the car for a time, then everything got dark again as we drove on.
I recall thinking that the song perfectly matched the environment. The production of this Flamingos song is celebrated for being ethereal and dreamy; I wondered about the song being carried over the air on radio waves, and that it sounded like it was... I was a somewhat precocious boy.
Anyway, I found this website that describes the production and recording sessions behind this great song - fascinating! It started as a completely bizarre and over the top Busby Berkeley number in the 1934 Dick Powell/Ruby Keeler musical "Dames." (Video here - watch it, it is jaw-dropping. Before there was CGI there was Busby Berkeley.) But it was the Flamingos' arranger Terry "Buzzy" Johnson who realized that the song would work better slowed down and made romantic. According to the article he arrived at the sound in a dream!
"I was so tired that I fell asleep, and in my dream I heard ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ just the way it came out on our record. I heard the ‘doo-bop sh-bop’ [backing vocals], I heard the way the harmony would sound — I heard the harmony so clear, and I heard the structure of the chords. As soon as I woke up, I grabbed the guitar off my chest and it was like God put my fingers just where they were supposed to be. I played those chords and I heard the harmonies, and so I called the guys. I woke them all up and I said, ‘Come over to my room right now! I’ve got ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’!'"
I once exchanged e-mails about the song with Johnson; he still tours with "Terry Johnson's Flamingos." I get their e-mail announcements - some day I hope to see them in concert.
And now you should listen to the song...
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