Bi­den spins ‘record player,’ other vin­tage ref­er­ences

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Second Front - By THOMAS BEAU­MONT and MICHELLE L. PRICE

Joe Bi­den’s sug­ges­tion that par­ents leave a record player on to teach their ba­bies bet­ter vo­cab­u­lary was a head-scratch­ing (nee­dle-scratch­ing?) mo­ment in Thurs­day’s de­bate.

But it was hardly the first time the 76-year-old Bi­den has busted out a vin­tage ref­er­ence that re­veals his age and leaves some in the au­di­ence in the dark.

Fa­mous for his off-the­cuff sto­ry­telling, the for­mer vice pres­i­dent reg­u­larly goes deep in the vault to pull out char­ac­ters and events known pri­mar­ily to a peo­ple of a cer­tain age. Ever heard of Henry Carr? How about a Jerry can?

The de­bate about Bi­den’s age has large fo­cused so far on his ca­pac­ity, but it may be that his cul­tural frames of ref­er­ence pose an equally vex­ing is­sue. Aides dis­pute the idea, say­ing it’s just Joe being Joe and hardly a sign that he can’t con­nect with younger vot­ers. One joked Fri­day that thanks to hip­sters, some old things are new again. “You don’t know about the vinyl vote?” ad­viser Sy­mone San­ders told CNN.

Still, if you need some ex­pla­na­tion of Bi­den’s old­school riffs, keep read­ing.

Record player

BI­DEN: “Play the ra­dio, make sure the tele­vi­sion — ex­cuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the — the — make sure that kids hear words.” CON­TEXT:

This was part of Bi­den’s an­swer to a ques­tion about in­equal­ity in schools and what Amer­i­cans can do to re­pair the legacy of slav­ery. He spoke about spend­ing more money on the coun­try’s poor­est schools, giv­ing teach­ers a raise and hav­ing so­cial work­ers help par­ents.

He then sug­gested that par­ents “play the ra­dio” and “have the record player on at night” so their child can hear words and learn, sug­gest­ing that a child from “a very poor back­ground will hear 4 mil­lion words fewer spo­ken” by the time school has started.

Record play­ers de­signed for lis­ten­ing to vinyl records largely fell out of pop­u­lar use in the 1980s with the in­tro­duc­tion of CDs. In the era of on­line mu­sic stream­ing, vinyl and record play­ers have be­come a vin­tage spe­cialty item.

Bi­den’s sug­ges­tion that fam­i­lies turn on their record player or ra­dio ap­pears to be a ref­er­ence to what’s known as the “word gap,” the con­cept that well-off chil­dren hear far more words be­fore start­ing school than poor kids. It’s based on a land­mark but hotly de­bated 1995 study that found poor chil­dren hear a frac­tion of the words their wealth­ier peers do, adding up to about 30 mil­lion fewer words by age 3.

The re­search led to ef­forts to close the word gap, in­clud­ing one cham­pi­oned by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. But even there Bi­den seems a bit off the mark. The aim was to en­cour­age par­ents talk to their chil­dren more, not to en­cour­age chil­dren to watch more tele­vi­sions — or lis­ten to record play­ers.

Henry Carr and a Jerry can

BI­DEN: “I re­mem­ber one time, a guy, a great ath­lete, an all-state ath­lete; any­way, I won’t get their names. They were great ath­letes. They went on to do great things in col­lege too, in­clud­ing one named Spencer Henry, who ac­tu­ally beat Henry Carr, who used to hold the world record.” CON­TEXT:

In July, Bi­den was talk­ing to a pre­dom­i­nantly African Amer­i­can group of high school stu­dents in New Or­leans, re­call­ing his life­guard days in Wilm­ing­ton, Delaware, and the black teenagers he be­friended. Among them was Spencer Henry, a Delaware state cham­pion sprinter in the early 1960s. Bi­den dropped the ref­er­ence to Spencer beat­ing Carr as if the lat­ter ought to be as fa­mil­iar as Michael Jor­dan or Ser­ena Wil­liams.

Carr was an icon of the mid-60s. Nick­named “The Gray Ghost,” he won two gold medals in the 1964 sum­mer Olympics in Tokyo and went on to play in the NFL. His foot­ball ca­reer ended in 1969.

At the same event in New Or­leans, Bi­den told the teenagers a story about a friend who wanted to bor­row a “Jerry can.”

“You know,” Bi­den added, “a big five-gal­lon can.” The term was given to metal fuel cans, and named for the term al­lies gave to Ger­man sol­diers in World War II, who com­monly used the re­cep­ta­cles.

Haight-Ashbury and along came Jones

BI­DEN: “All of a sud­den, ‘Along Came Jones,’ as that old song goes. Along came Trump,” Bi­den told a group of Democrats in Las Ve­gas in July.

“Just like what hap­pened in my gen­er­a­tion. My gen­er­a­tion was drop­ping out. My gen­er­a­tion, in the late ‘60s, when I was grad­u­ated from school, said ‘No, no. Go to Haight-Ashbury. Drop out. Trust no one over 30. Don’t be en­gaged.’” CON­TEXT:

In this salad of 50- and 60-year-old pop cul­ture ref­er­ences, Bi­den was riff­ing on a late 1950s R&B tune and the coun­ter­cul­ture a decade later.

“Along Came Jones,” was a 45 — a sin­gle — on the long-de­funct ATCO la­bel that barely charted af­ter its re­lease in 1959, when Bi­den was a sopho­more in high school.

He used it as a segue to the defin­ing mo­ment for vot­ers to­day, the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

But then Bi­den goes on with a litany of ref­er­ences to the coun­ter­cul­ture move­ment of the late 1960s, when Bi­den was in col­lege and law school.

“Drop­ping out” was a ref­er­ence to psy­che­delic ther­apy ad­vo­cate Ti­mothy Leary, the late Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia-Berke­ley psy­chol­o­gist who urged the young in 1966 to “Turn on, tune in and drop out,” chiefly with the help of LSD.

Haight-Ashbury was the sym­bolic cen­ter of the move­ment, a cor­ner of a low-rent San Fran­cisco neigh­bor­hood where thou­sands of aim­less youth flocked for com­mu­nity, but of­ten found in­stead poverty and drug ad­dic­tion. An up-and-com­ing band, The Grate­ful Dead, was a reg­u­lar act in neigh­bor­hood base­ments.

Though gen­er­a­tions re­moved, Bi­den was con­nect­ing that time of dis­trust in the gov­ern­ment fed by grow­ing op­po­si­tion to the Viet­nam War and the of­ten vi­o­lent clashes of the civil right move­ment to to­day, with wide­spread doubt in Trump’s truth­ful­ness and in­creas­ing acts of race-mo­ti­vated vi­o­lence.

As­so­ci­ated Press

In this July 18 file photo, Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den speaks to com­mu­nity faith lead­ers af­ter serv­ing break­fast dur­ing a visit to Du­lan’s Soul Food on Cren­shaw in Los An­ge­les.

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