GILBERTINE & THE EXCHANGE, Chapter 7, the Zeller Story, Part 2, July 1964

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I increasingly began to spend time at the Zellers when Mum went, visiting Charlie’s sick and injured animals; racing slot cars on what was indeed quite a gargantuan track (encircled all the while by Fritz’s electric trains); and playing records.

In addition to Del Shannon, Charlie had a fair few singles from a range of rockers, and albums by the Beach Boys,[1] Dick Dale, Dick & DeeDee, Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, the Four Seasons, and

Gerry & the Pacemakers.[2] He’d a comprehensive collection of U.S. Beatles albums; it was fascinating for both of us – in our 12-year-old way – to contrast his with my British ones.

Strangely enough, while Charlie was allowed to own such records, he wasn’t usually allowed to play them, at least when other family members were home.

A special exception was made when I came over, however, and we were allowed to play both his records and mine as much as we wanted – on Fritz’s own special stereo, no less.

On the plus side, the Zeller house had a graceful simplicity and – much more important – was air conditioned. On the minus, it was rather modern and minimalist – with too much glass and chrome – for either Mum’s or my tastes.

Its living room was open, with an atrium-like quality, quite large, given the overall square footage of the house (about the same as ours, post-expansion). It could easily have functioned as a modest ballroom, if it had possessed the grandeur. It did have a big stuffed plastic couch (like the one in our atrium), two large chrome chairs and a “modern” wooden coffee table that Fritz had designed not to clash with the couch and chairs, in one corner.

In the opposite corner sat three high-backed wicker chairs, each with a number of exotic-looking cushions and what appeared to be a bamboo coffee table. In each case, the furniture was almost lost amidst oversized pots, jars, vases and urns with equally elephantine potted plants,

The room was dominated by two things.

First, a concert quality grand piano on which the boys practiced and performed.

Second, a stereo Fritz designed and built himself. He was still a skilled cabinetmaker who enjoyed building televisions, stereos and radios,[3] from kits – from components sometimes (although this stereo looked like the sort of contraption that Dr. Seuss might have designed).

But, its sound was a universe away from the cabinet stereos of the day. It had an AM-FM stereo radio, a four-speed turntable and three-speed reel-to-reel tape player.

The turntable had a stylus of Fritz’s own design, capable, as needed, of altering both tone-arm pressure and needle size for old 78s, microgroove LPs and Avice’s curious collection of 16 rpm “Highway Hi-Fi” disks – mainly Hollywood or Broadway tunes – she played in her ’59 Imperial

and wanted to play at home too.

 

Aside from Avice’s strange disks, the Zeller “record” collection was overwhelmingly LPs and reel-to-reel tapes reflecting Fritz and Ben’s respective tastes in classical music.

 

Perhaps their personalities a bit, as well.

Fritz generally preferred established masters of the 18th and 19th centuries, although he occasionally gravitated to some who were then not-so-established masters, such as Mozart’s “little brother,”

 

Johann Hummel,

 

 

 

 

 

and my friend, Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf,[4] and had recently developed a mania for Mahler, Bruckner and the early Schoenberg.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ben’s preference ran to Gregorian chant and “early” music, i.e., compositions from the high middle ages, renaissance and baroque

 

eras, on one hand[5], and to Berg and Bartok, as well as to Varèse and Stockhausen,[6] on the other.

 

He also had fair few folk disks, including Leadbelly, 

 

Dave van Ronk, Odetta, the Weavers, and the Mitchell Trio,

 

 

 

 

 

as well as jazz albums by the Modern Jazz Quartet,

Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Lennie Tristano, Charles Mingus, Tadd Dameron, John Coltrane and Sun Ra.

Sometimes I couldn’t help wondering what Lulu might’ve thought of Ben’s collection and if – despite their age difference – the two might well hit it off in a big way, were I to find a means to introduce them.

 

ENDNOTES

[1] Charlie was fascinated by my English pressing of their first LP.

[2] He never seemed to grow tired of hearing me talk about seeing Gerry & the Pacemakers with the Beatles in June 1963 at the Town Hall in Birmingham

[3] His compulsive building and refurbishing of electronica provided me with a radio, in the form of an old cracked plastic Admiral table model he’d rescued from the junk pile and rendered serviceable, providing me with a better sound than the tiny transistor I’d brought with me. It also bestowed a newly restored four-year-old RCA portable record player upon me, allowing me to have the electronica in my room that I wanted, yet keep my promise to Dad to forego buying either. Man may propose, but the angels do indeed dispose.

[4] I wanted so badly to tell him of the adventures Ian, Stan and I’d had with Carl, but I knew an empirical rationalist like Fritz would never believe it – though I did tell him of things I’d leared about Carl during The Magic Flute, and let him think I’d learned it from a book.

[5] He loved that I could play some of this music on Gramfer’s guitar – even Puck’s “soliloquy” that had been written in that style for me – although he was amused, given the context, by what Rashmi had burned into the box of the guitar, leading, in turn, to questions about my former girlfriend.

[6] Including the LPs I had – a bonding point between us. I taught the “eye camera” technique and subsequent visualzation with the music to Charlie; we dragged Ben away from his harpsichord long enough to teach it to him.

 

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