Rockers Hendrix and Joplin Honored with USPS Stamp

Published in Pawtucket Times, February 28, 2014

Miriam R. Plitt, like many of the baby boomer generation were  ecstatic with the announcing by the United States Postal Service (USPS) of its unveiling of a new line of commemorative stamps, including music culture icons. These stamps will be sold as forever stamps and are good for mailing first class letters at that price any time in the future even if stamps price increase, she says.

The long-time Oak Hill resident was elated that two of her 60s favorites, Jimi Hendrix, on of the most celebrated guitarists in the 20th century and legendary singer and songwriter Janis Joplin, who pushed their way into the public psyche at the Woodstock festival at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in the Catskills near the hamlet of White Lake in the town of Bethel, New York, made the cut.

“Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix reaches my soul, they speak to me,” notes Plitt, who chairs Pawtucket’s Advisory Commission on Arts and Culture, who grew up loving Rock and Roll when this musical style became entrenched in her generation. “Any time I hear these musicians, I just go into my own world and dance,” she says.

“Joplin and Hendrix are not artists that came onto the nation’s musical scene and left,” she observed, but they have had an impact on preceding generations even setting high standards for other musicians who came after them.

Now in her mid-sixties, Plitt notes that this is a terrific honor for her generation, having musicians that her contemporaries listened to growing up to be placed on a first class postage stamp.

Pushing the Musical Boundaries with His Guitar

According to Mark Saunders, USPS spokesman, this month, the Jimi Hendrix stamp will be released on March 13 at the South By Southwest Concert in Austin, Texas and available nationwide that day.  It’s a natural venue for Jimi Hendrix fans to purchase the stamp, he says.

            According to the USPS’s bio on Hendrix (19421970), the musician was considered to be one of the most influential electric guitarists in the history of popular music, this being a key factor for the honor of being selected by the USPS.

            Combining influences from rock, modern jazz, soul, and the blues with his own innovations, the legendary Hendrix created a unique style that influenced musical guitarist of his era and continues to inspire musicians well into the 21st century.

            As shown at Woodstock, Hendrix pushed the boundaries of what his guitar could do, manipulating various devices to produce sounds that could be loud—the quintessential psychedelic music—or melodic and gentle. A master at the controlled use of distortion and feedback, he expanded the instrument’s vocabulary in a way that had never been heard before—or since.

While Hendrix is remembered as one of the most innovative guitar players of all time, he was also a gifted songwriter, combining visionary, sometimes haunting imagery with deft pop hooks.

            Rolling Stone ranked Hendrix #1 on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, and #6 on its list of the 100 greatest artists of all time. His band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and the U.K. Music Hall of Fame in 2005. The band’s first album, Are You Experienced, is considered by many critics to be one of the best rock albums of all time, and in 2005, the Library of Congress selected it for permanent preservation in the National Recording Registry, a list of sound recordings that “are culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.”

In 1993, Hendrix was awarded a posthumous Grammy for lifetime achievement.

Through Hendrix’s mastery of the guitar and use of controlled feedback as a melodic element, he revolutionized and redefined popular music. His music sounds as innovative and fresh today as when it was first released, winning legions of new fans who just might by commemorative stamps with his image.

Bluesy Voice Propelled Her to the Top

Joplin (1943-1970), an icon of the 1960s whose bluesy voice propelled her to the pinnacle of rock stardom, gets her image on a stamp, too. Her stamp will be issued later in 2014.

When announcing the issuance of the Joplin stamp, the USPS detailed her musical track record, too.  Joplin broke onto the national music scene with an explosive performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Known for her rebellious public persona, Joplin roared and wailed her way through uninhibited, soulful performances.

Her time at the top, however, was very brief. She recorded only two hit albums and performed at the Woodstock concert, but in October 1970, just three years after she became a star, she died at the age of 27 of a drug overdose. The album she was recording at the time of her death, Pearl, went on to cement her reputation as one of the premier white blues singers of all time. “Me and Bobby McGee,” written by Kris Kristofferson, became a number one hit.

As the years passed, Joplin’s legacy was increasingly recognized by critics. She was inducted into the Cleveland, Ohio-based Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. Rolling Stone included Joplin on its list of 100 Greatest Artists. Some of her most popular songs include “Piece of My Heart,” “Ball and Chain,” and “Cry Baby.”

Washington Posts Reporter Lisa Rein reported in a February 21 article that while stamp designs for both Hendrix and Joplin were scheduled for 2014, other pop and music icons were selected for 2015 and beyond. Specifically, Rein’s commemorative stamp listing also included Beatle John Lennon, NBA Basket Ball player Wilt Chamberlain, celebrity chiefs, recording artist and musician James Brown, late night talk show host, Johnny Carson.  She noted that the USPS even was considering the reissuing of Elvis Presley stamp.

However, USPS Spokesperson Saunders, stated that while Hendrix and Joplin are confirmed for release this year, the others cited by Rein are only being considered at this time, subject to change and most certainly not finalized.  “We may or may not move forward with these stamps,” he says.

            Yes, there is controversy even in the world of stamps.  When hearing that Beatle John Lennon might be honored by having his image on a stamp, collectors voiced their opposition and concerns.  Traditionally, only Americans subjects have been selected, they say.  But, Saunders explains that the USPS has the discretion to select subjects that have made a significant impact to American society and culture, citing examples of Mother Teresa and Winston Churchill. This opens the door to John Lennon’s consideration, he says.

            Bringing more relevant stamps reflecting popular pop culture icons to market is a way to attract younger buyers and increase USPS revenues, notes Saunders.  “With 300 million customers across the nation, our diverse stamp program has something to offer everybody,” he adds.

Saunders notes that “We receive over 40,000 suggestions of subjects on stamps each year.” Many people suggest the inclusion of Rock stars on stamps.  Most certainly, “Joplin and Hendrix will appeal to fans of Rock music from the 60s and 70s,” he says.

            Will Joplin and Hendrix’s commemorative stamps be a big hit with the American public?  It’s a mixed bag says, Ken Martin, Executive Director of the American Philatelic Society,” a nonprofit group representing 34,000 stamp collectors, educators and postal historians in 110 countries.  “Some collectors feel that people commemorated on stamps should be without flaws,” he says, noting that some might just not agree with Hendrix or Joplin’s music style or the way they lived.  However, others might just love them.

            But Martin concedes that “a little bit of controversy adds to promotion of the released stamp and may well increases sales.”  He recognizes that the USPS is broadening the scope of the diverse stamp program to reach out to a broader section of the population.

            Countering the concerns of collectors who may well frown upon the USPS issuing stamps of people with nontraditional or controversial lifestyles, like Hendrix and Joplin, Rick Bellaire, Vice Chair of the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame, has another take on it.

            Bellaire says that the sudden deaths of Hendrix and Joplin, especially coming as they did [from drug overdoses], one after the other in the Fall of 1970, “were a great blow to the music world.” These musicians were “such giants that there could never be anyone to replace them nor carry on their work,” he says, noting that their “highly original styles promoted deep Rhythm & Blues to the young, white masses in the guise of psychedelic Rock ’n’ Roll while always making sure the audience knew the source material.”

            “I am proud of the U.S. Postal Service for honoring these two masters, judging them not by their personal lives and lifestyles, but by their groundbreaking work as musicians and their generosity of spirit,” says Bellaire.

            For more information on submitting to the USPS your suggestion for a stamp design, go to http://about.usps.com/who-we-are/leadership/stamp-advisory-committee.htm.

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Experts Offer Some Advice on How to Age Successfully

Published in Pawtucket Times, February 21, 2014

            As an aging baby boomer, the pains and aches of old age and my noticeable gray hair are obvious signs of getting closer to age 60.

            Amazing, being given a free donut with my large cup of coffee at Dunkin Donuts, an AARP member benefit, is a clear reminder to me of how people may perceive my chronological age.  When I pulled out my wallet to get my membership card, the employee said, “Don’t worry, your covered.”  Simply put, by having gray hair it was obvious to the young woman that I was eligible to get the free donut.

            The aches and pains of getting older happen more often, too.   After spraining my ankle from a fall on a sheet of ice, while taking out my garbage, it took much longer for this injury to heal.  Most recently, a sharp pain in my hip makes me wonder if hip replacement surgery could be in my future.

            Even like me, President Barack Obama has shown his age by his gray hair and is even beginning to publicly complain about his aches and pains, because of living over five decades.

            The 52- year- old President told retired National Basketball Association star Charles Barkley in a recent interview that he was limiting his trip to the basketball court to once a month because “things happen.”

             “One is, you just get a little older and creakier. The second thing is, you’ve got to start thinking about elbows and you break your nose right before a State of the Union address,” said the 52-year-old president in the interview on the TNT network before the NBA All-Star Game.

             Discussing the aging process during an exchange about his signature healthcare reform law, Obama said that being past 50, “you wake up and something hurts and you don’t know exactly what happened, right?”

 Taking Control of the Aging Process

             Of course, President Obama’s complaints about getting old went viral. Approaching two Rhode Island gerontologists and a geriatric physician, this columnist gives the middle aged President tips on easing into his old age.

            Phillip G. Clark, ScD,  Director, URI Program in Gerontology and Rhode Island Geriatric Education Center and Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, notes that some research has indicated that the decade between 50 and 60 is when many people start getting “messages” that they are getting older. These can be physical, psychological, familial, and social.

             “A lot are based on the messages that they receive from those around them, including the media (“if you’re older than 50, you should be taking Centrum Silver, or you qualify for this special type of life insurance policy,” adds Clark. “These messages may not reflect an accurate picture of what normal aging really is, but rather a biased and stereotypical portrait,” he says, for example, supposed bodily reminders of aging, such as aches and pains, may be due more to lack of exercise rather than actual aging itself.

             To successfully age, “stay physically active” says Clark, suggesting that you get an assessment from your physician.  This helps both your body and your brain. A moderately brisk, 30-minute walk a day is all you need, he notes.  “It’s more important that you build physical activity into your daily routine and do something that you enjoy and can stick with, than spend a lot of money on a gym membership that you seldom use,” he says.  Eating a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables is also important as part of a healthy lifestyle at any age.

             Clark also recommends that aging baby boomers stay engaged with settings and activities that keep them involved in life through their faith community, family and friends. Even having a sense of purpose in life that gets you outside of yourself, through volunteering, can help you age more gracefully, he adds, stressing that having a social network and people who care about and support you are essential elements of successful aging at any age.

             But don’t forget to “have a positive attitude and keep a sense of humor,” warns Clark. According to the gerontologist, this can get you over the challenges and hurdles you may encounter.  “Being resilient in the face of the challenges of life and getting older demands that we see the positive side of situations and not get bogged down in focusing on what we no longer have. We need to emphasize what we can do to keep the enjoyment in our lives.”

             Successful aging may not be swimming the English Channel at age 80, noted Brown University Professor of Medicine and of Health Services, Richard Bresdine, Director of Brown’s Center for Gerontology and Healthcare Research and Director of the Division of Geriatrics in the Department of Medicine.  However, for the general population, successful aging, that is “optimum physical cognitive functioning, rests on your genes, education and life experiences,” he says, not accomplishing great feats like swimming the English Channel.

            While the Brown University geriatrician agrees with Clark about the impact of exercise and social networks on improving your health and longevity, he also sees other ways to increase the quality of your aging.

 Strategies to an Improved Life Style

             According to Besdine, a majority of people with high blood pressure don’t take medication to control it.  This chronic condition can cause strokes.  Smoking does not just cause lung cancer, “but every type of cancer and chronic lung disease, “one of the worst ways to die on this planet.”

             Driving safely can increase your lifespan and quality of aging.  As one ages your eyesight may change, glare becomes a problem, and you lose flexibility to turn.  Retraining programs, offered by AARP and AAA, can reduce the probability of having an accident, says Besdine.

             Don’t forget your pneumonia or influenza vaccination, warns Besdine.  Having repeated occurrences of the flu can lead to heart disease and other health issues, he says.

             A good nutritional diet is key to enhancing the quality of health in your later years, notes Besdine, but people living on fixed incomes may not be able to afford eating fruits, vegetables and lean meats.  Cooking for yourself may even lead to a decision to not make nutritional meals.  Besdine is also a big advocate of the Mediterranean diet, a heart-healthy eating plan that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats.  He notes that this diet reduces your chances of getting heart disease and diabetes.

             Besdine also notes that there are simple things that you can do at home to increase your longevity and quality of life.  Make sure your home is safe, equipped with fire and carbon monoxide detectors.  Rid your kitchen of toxic substances.  He urges a “gun free” home. “This is not a political statement. Research shows us that a person is much more likely of being shot by a gun that is kept at home,” he says.

             Screening for cancers (by scheduling a mammogram and/or colonoscopy) and depression, along with moderate drinking, good oral health care, and preventing osteoporosis by taking calcium and Vitamin D, even reducing adverse drug reactions and improving mobility, are simple ways to increase the chances of your successful aging, Besdine says.

 Unraveling Research Findings

             Rachel Filinson, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology/Gerontology Coordinator at Rhode Island College, says the “devil may well be in the details,” as older persons try to unravel research findings that might provide them with a clear road maps to achieve successful aging.

             For instance, Filinson notes that while some gerontologist have long regarded “under nutrition,” that is the consuming relatively few calories to sustain oneself,” as a way to increase one’s longevity, others disagree with the theory.

             Meanwhile, mental stimulation is believed by many to deter cognitive decline, Filinson says, but brain teasers and games have not been adequately proven by research findings, she adds, while reading and writing may be helpful.

             Although a large social network and recreational pursuits have been lauded as essential to enhance the quality of aging, some investigations have found that solitary activities like gardening are just as effective, observes Filinson.

             In that science can be a work in progress, Filinson believes that older adults can take charge of their lives by optimizing the positives and minimizing the negatives–how we age.  “It’s about the choices we make in life rather than the genes we were born with,” she quips.

             President Obama might well listen to Clarke, Besdine, and Filinson’s sage advice as to how he can cope with the aging process. Even small changes in his daily,  mundane routines, like using the stairs rather than taking an elevator in the White House or even taking Bo, the first family’s dog, for a brief walk around the grounds, can result in his living longer, even reduce his noticeable aches and pains.

              Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Duffy’s Legacy as Coach and Educator Lives On

Published in Pawtucket Times, February 7, 2014

            One of Rhode Island’s “Greatest Generation,” Pawtucket native Tom Duffy, passed away on Feb. 2, leaving behind a legacy in the Ocean State’s College sports world.  As a life-long educator, who now resides in Little Compton, he inspired and personally touched the lives of tens of thousands of Pawtucket students, as a teacher and educational administrator, when he worked in the Pawtucket school system.

            Duffy’s , (the son of the late Thomas L. Duffy and Mary (Kennedy) Duffy), educational ties to Pawtucket began early in his life. He attended St. Joseph’s School, later graduating in 1942 from St. Raphael Academy.  During high school, the young man’s leadership skills became quite visible to all when he was elected class president and became captain of the school’s 1942 Class B championship basket ball team.

            Once graduating, like many of his generation, Duffy enlisted in the United States Army (from 1942 to 1946), serving as a water purification engineer in the Philippines campaign.  As luck would have it, he fell into playing basketball for the U.S. Army basketball team.  “.  As his daughter, Barbara A. Duffy-Protentis, remembers, he would say, “I never got shot at, I got fouled a lot.”

             After his honorable discharge from military service, he would attend St. Anselm’s College in New Hampshire, receiving his Bachelors Degree.  Later on, he completed a Masters in Education degree from Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.

            Duffy’s professional journey, as a teacher, basketball coach and principal in the Pawtucket School System, began in 1950, where he drew Sayles Junior High for his first teaching assignment.  Leaving the City in 1956 to teach English at Warren High School, he also served at this school as assistant basketball coach for three years and head coach for one year.

            In 1960, Duffy, returned to Pawtucket, serving as guidance counselor at Jenks Junior High for seven years.  Then, for thirteen years (two as assistant principal and 11 as principal) he was at Slater Junior High School.  At age 56. as principal he took the reins of the former Pawtucket West High School (now called Shea) for three years, where he also served as the baseball coach for two seasons.   Turning fifty nine years old, he had a cerebral aneurysm, forcing him to ultimately retire two years later from teaching the public school.   His love for teaching would bring him out of retirement to be the Assistant Principal at St. Teresa’s School in Pawtucket for the remainder of his career.

            Later, Duffy was inducted into the Bryant University Hall of Fame and the City of Pawtucket Hall of Fame. He served as chairman of the Rhode Island Interscholastic Athletic Association and Chairman of Pawtucket’s Centennial Committee.  For several years, Duffy also served as the Chairman of the Rhode Island Secondary Principal’s Association.

Inductee in Pawtucket’s Hall of Fame

             Duffy’s passion for teaching and his impact on students was captured in the 2000 Pawtucket Hall of Fame program where he was inducted into this prestigious group:

             “Tom’s thoughts and actions always had the basic theme. Is it good for the kids?”  But, words from former students and fellow educators best describe him, notes the program: “He was principal and number one cheerleader for Slater.” “He turned a school (Slater) around from a so-called tough school to one that had a positive attitude, strong academics and a wide range of extra curricular activities.”

             “Tom was known as an administrator that teachers knew they could go to for extra materials or to add a new club or to fundraise for projects.  Tom’s theory was if it’s for the students then I’m for it.  He truly lived the motto of Slater – loyalty, perseverance and cooperation.”

One of the Greatest Coaches

            From 1962 to 1969, Duffy would take on new professional challenges while teaching in Pawtucket School System.  He became head basketball coach at Bryant University.  His teaching skills would translate well to the basket ball court with his basketball players breaking all records.

             According to Bryant University’s athletic department, “Tom Duffy was one of the greatest coaches in the school’s history, serving as the men’s basketball coach from 1964-68, going 70-22 during that time period for a .760 winning percentage that still stands as the best in the school history.

            The University’s athletic department noted that among Duffy’s many sports achievements was a 1966-67 team that went undefeated in the regular season and set the school record for wins in a season with 22.  This winning streak earned the squad a place in the Bryant Athletics Hall of Fame in 2007.  Duffy’s team was considered to be one of the best small university basketball ball teams nationally, even capturing the Naismith Conference Championship and advanced to the NAIA District 32 National Tournament.

            Furthermore, in addition to the induction of the team itself, four members of the unit would see themselves inducted as individuals, including all-time scoring leader Tom Smile, Don Gray, Tony DeQuattro and even Duffy himself.

            “Tom was a great coach, a great mentor to numerous Bryant basketball players, had a great sense of humor and, above all, was a great family man, stated Mike Fisher, Bryant University Chairman of the Board and a member of the Hall of Fame 1966-67 team. “He was a very important part of building the foundation for Bryant’s many years of successful men’s basketball.

            In 1967, the Rhode Island Association of Sportswriters and Sportscasters, named Duffy the “coach of the year.” This marked the first time a Bryant coach had received this prestigious honor.  One year later, he chose to step down as the University’s head basketball coach, choosing to continue to teach in Pawtucket’s public schools rather than taking on a full-time position as Athletic Director and basketball coach.

 Remembering Father

             Barbara A. Duffy-Protentis, 55,  remembers her father as being “the most godly human I knew.”  While he put his family first, he never forgot others.  “He spent his entire professional life doing things for people,” said the resident of Easton, Massachusetts.

             After Duffy’s death, Protentis noted that she found a letter in her father’s personal papers that he had saved for 36 years.  The young student, living in a bad home environment, wrote to thank him for constantly checking in every day to “see how she was doing.”  She also noted his prediction was correct, that she ultimately became the only person in her family to make it.  “You will never know the impact you had on me.  I went to College and because of you I became a teacher,” she said.

             “The best thing he instilled in his children was “we are put on this earth to help others,”  adds Protentis.  This philosophy ultimately drove her younger sister, Mary, into the teaching profession and Protentis entered a field to assist at risk 14 to 22 year olds.

            Mary Tetzner, 54, (married to Ed Tetzner, an official of the Doyle Administration) recalls how her father and mother took in young students from bad home situations, to live with them.  In one instance, Duffy bought a young girl a prom dress because her family was unable to purchase one.  No one knew except the Duffy’s and the girl, says the Greenville resident.

            Even in his final days, Duffy remained a teacher.  At the Rhode Island Veterans Home, he tutored employees, helping them get through their GED courses.  “Even though he was not in a class room he was always a teacher,” notes Tetzner.

            Duffy was married to his wife, Barbara (Molloy) Duffy, a former school nurse, for over 59 years.  After three weeks of dating, he proposed to her and later married. He leaves two daughters (Protentis and Tetzner) and grandchildren, Elizabeth (Tetzner) Shactel, Thomas Tetzner, Sam Duffy-Protentis, Alexis Duffy-Protentis, Nicole Duffy-Protentis, Jack Duffy-Protentis and his great-grandson, Benjamin Shactel.

            Duffy’s funeral is scheduled for tomorrow, Feb. 8, 2014 at 9:00 am, at the MANNING-HEFFERN FUNERAL HOME, 68 Broadway, Pawtucket. There will be a Mass of Christian Burial in St. Teresa’s Church, 358 Newport Avenue, Pawtucket at 10:00 am. His calling hours will be Friday from 4-8 pm in the funeral home.

            Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, medical and health care issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.