If you watched the movie “Pomonok Dreams” you saw an interview with Richard Jay Hyman, a Pomonok native who also happens to be the Director of the Northport Symphony Orchestra on Long Island. Rick and Al Stark collaborated on a great new song about growing up in Pomonok, and, if you click on the link above, you can hear part of the song and purchase it from CDBaby. Rick played the guitar back in the day and helped form a Pomonok-based rock and roll band called “The Bathtub Ring.” The song “Pomonok Dreams” transports you back to growing up in Pomonok and the spirit of the 60s. If The WMCA Good Guys were still playing records, “Pomonok Dreams” would be The Sure Shot of the Week!
Everyone has had the experience of listening to an old song that suddenly transports you back to a specific time and place in the past. Music and memory must reside in close proximity in our brains. So it’s little wonder that many songs for me evoke memories of growing up in Pomonok.
My first memory of music was on special weekends during the 1950s, when my father would break out the Victrola and his old Decca 78s and we’d listen to Al Jolson, Enrico Caruso, and Aaron Lebedov sing his tearful version of “Romania.”. On Sunday afternoons, he would always tune the radio to WQXR and we’d listen to opera live from the Metropolitan Opera House while eating corn beef and pastrami sandwiches. What better way to train a little kid’s ear to classical music than with the positive reinforcement of deli sandwiches!
I never really got into Elvis or rock and roll during the 1950s. I remember watching “Sing Along with Mitch” with my family during the early 60s and gleefully singing along with the bouncing ball. When I was in sixth grade, my best friend David introduced me to folk music, and it was a revelation: beautiful tunes and meaningful lyrics. His mother had strong socialist views and had an invaluable collection of Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, the Weavers, and Peter, Paul and Mary. Listening to Pete Seeger singing “Kisses Sweeter than Wine” or “Turn, Turn, Turn” brings me back to Dave’s disheveled room and the pungent aroma of cat litter seven floors above Pomonok.
The first single I bought on my own was Bob Dylan’s “Postively 4th Street” in 1965. From that point on I became a lifelong Dylan fanatic. We finally purchased an updated stereo system and I bought every Dylan album. I remember listening to the double album “Blonde on Blonde” over and over again, lying back on my bed trying to memorize all the lyrics to the dense, image-filled, 11-minute long “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.”
I was never a big Beatles fan until the release of their single with “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” and their album “Sgt. Peppers” in 1967. Every song on the Beatle’s “White Album” brings me back to the winter of 1968 and hanging out with a group of friends in Sheila’s apartment across the court. That same year Sheila won two tickets to the premiere of “Yellow Submarine” in Manhattan and she convinced her mother to let her go if I accompanied her since I was a few years older. The famed radio radio host, “Cousin” Bruce Morrow, was the emcee for this unforgettable event and I’m forever in debt to both Sheila and her mother.
The late 60s is a bit more hazy in my memory for obvious reasons. Music became synonymous with drugs. I joined a service fraternity at Queens College that provided voluntary ushering at Colden Auditorium and I managed to get to see The Band, Sly and the Family Stone, Janis Joplin, Dionne Warwick, and few other icons of the 60s that I can’t recall. Suffice it to say that we never really paid too much attention to our ushering responsibilities and let lots of students sneak in for free. It amazes me now that right across from Pomonok I got to see up close and live some of the greatest musicians of that era.
I remember two incidents pretty clearly from Colden. The first was being brought up to the stage to meet Dionne Warwick just before she went on to perform. She was a gracious lady with a big beautiful gap-toothed smile. The second was running into my cousin and his girlfriend at The Band concert. He was a few years older than me and I always looked up to him. I was totally shocked when he pulled out a joint and offered me some. After that, I was even more in awe of him.
During the early 70s, we used to hang out in someone’s apartment in either Pomonok or Electchester, usually in an altered state of mind, and listen to Pink Floyd, King Crimsom, and The Moody Blues. “Nights in White Satin” is the song that evokes that time period best for me. Even without the drugs, whenever I hear that song, I am transported.
It was in the early 70s that I finally taught myself the guitar. I don’t have a natural ear for music and my early experience with musical instruments was frustrating. My mother sent me to Mr. Didario at the Pomonok Community Center to learn to play the clarinet, but I could only make the rented instrument squeak and squawk. I was convinced the clarinet was broken, but Mr. D took it in hand and proved me very wrong. I gave up the lessons. At PS 201, I remember being tested in second grade to see if I had enough talent to be in the band. The class was taken down to the auditorium and each kid was sent up to the music teacher to sing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” a cappella. I wasn’t chosen for the band.
Later on, I think in fourth grade, we all had to learn to play the recorder, which I really loved, but I never really progressed much past “Hot Cross Buns.” In sixth grade, I auditioned for the part of the lead tenor Nanki Poo in Mrs. Moskowitz’s production of “The Mikado,” but I remember not being able to hit the high notes on key and being relegated to a comedic role that could be talked rather than sung. I remember having the same problem at my bar mitzvah a year later at Areles, when in a terrified state in front of all my relatives, I sang my part in an off-key high falsetto. How painful that must have been to listen to.
But I loved music and when I got a job as a counselor at a Wel-Met Camp upstate, I met a guy who began to show me chords on his guitar. He became a life-long friend and I became a life-long guitar player. I was finally able to play and sing all those Dylan songs that I loved so much. I would play “Just Like a Women” or “It Aint me Babe” for my sister and her friends in our apartment, imitating Dylan’s whining drawl. My father said that it sounded like a sheep caught in barbed wire, but my future wife thought it was pretty cool and married me. I even played a song I wrote for her at our wedding ceremony.
In the film “Pomonok Dreams”, Ricky Hyman is interviewed and he says something that really expresses how I personally feel about Pomonok and music:
“Pomonok is a creative thing that really doesn’t ever end.”