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.

Some Simple Resolutions Can Better Your Life

Published in Pawtucket Times, January 4, 2014

Every year we see the Times Square ball swiftly drop as a million or so revelers loudly count down to one at the stroke of midnight. Also, we traditionally make New Year Resolutions to accomplish in the coming year to perform acts of kindness and for self-improvement.

Making a resolution for positive change goes back for eons. According to Wikipedia, the act of making a resolution can be documented in Mesopotamia (the territory of modern-day Iraq). Babylonians made promises to their stone deities to start off a new year by returning borrowed goods and paying off debts.

The free internet encyclopedia also notes that the Romans even carried out this tradition by making promises to Janus, the God of beginnings and transitions (for whom the month January is named). Knights during the Medieval era, from the 5th to 15th century, took a “peacock vow” after the Christmas season to re-affirm their commitment to knightly virtues of honor, courtesy love and courtesy.

Wikipedia also reports that even “watch services” held late on New Year’s Eve, also provided an opportunity for Christian parishioners to review the past year and make confessions and prepare for the New Year by prayer. Even Judaism’s High Holidays, from Rosh Hashanah ending with Yom Kipper, the Day of Atonement, gives worshipers an opportunity to reflect on their wrongdoings over the year to seek forgiveness and to prepare for the upcoming year, adds the internet website.

Memorable New Year Resolutions

Zoe Mintz, of the International Business Times, posted her thoughts about New Year Resolutions just hours before 2014, on the New York-based digital global publication’s web. Like clockwork, many of the nation’s newspapers and magazines, including Mintz, printed articles detailing interesting, inspirational and unusual resolutions from prominent people, from movies stars (they usually tweet) artists, politicians, writers, and corporate leaders.

Mintz details some well-thought out New Year Resolutions from people who you may well know.

“Let our New Year’s resolution be this: We will be there for one another as fellow members of humanity, in the finest sense of the word.” — Goran Persson, served as Prime Minister of Sweden from 1996 to 2006

“New Year’s resolution: To tolerate fools more gladly, provided this does not encourage them to take up more of my time.” — James Agate, British diarist and critic.

“I made no resolutions for the new year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me.” — Anaïs Nin, an American author, ‘

“One resolution I have made, and try always to keep, is this: to rise above the little things.” — John Burroughs, an American naturalist and essayist important in the evolution of the U.S conservation movement.

“I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the years.” — Henry Moore, an English sculptor and artist. He was best known for his semi-abstract monumental bronze sculptures which are located around the world as public works of art

“What the New Year brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the New Year.” — Vern McLellan, author of Wise Words and Quote.

“Follow your passions, believe in karma, and you won’t have to chase your dreams; they will come to you.” — Randy Pausch, American professor of computer science and human-computer interaction and design at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is author of the “Last Lecture.”

Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” — Mother Teresa, an Albanian-born, Indian Roman Catholic Religious Sister who founded the Missionaries of Charity which in 2012 consisted of over 4,500 sisters in 133 countries.

“If you asked me for my New Year resolution, it would be to find out who I am.” — Cyril Cusack, an Irish actor, who appeared in numerous films and television productions in a career lasting more than 70 years.

Everyday Resolutions

Resolutions may inspire or be a little bit ethereal, as detailed in the above listing compiled by Mintz. Simply put, our personal New Year’s resolutions help us cope with daily challenges to improve health, personal finances and relationships, that is to enhance our quality of life.

Many of your family and friends will be making their 2014 New Year’s resolutions to improve their health by eating healthy foods, losing weight or ratcheting up their exercise regimen. Everyone knows someone whose has made a resolution to either drink or smoke less, or not at all.

As the New Year approaches a person may say “Life’s too short,” when they begin to craft their personal resolutions. Attitude adjustments may well occur, when the person resolves to see “a glass half full rather than half empty,” making a commitment for the coming year to become a more positive person, one who looks forward to living life to the fullest. Even some may explore ways to reduce the stress in their lives.

A 2014 New Year resolution for others may just be to dig themselves out of credit card debt (cut those cards in half), regularly put money away for retirement, invest in the stock market or even to find a more satisfying job that pays better than their current one.

You might even see college students making their 2014 resolution to study harder to get that “A.” Some baby boomers and seniors may even chose to make this year the time to enroll at a local College or University to get a bachelor’s or graduate degree, or go to just learn new or sharpen up their existing skills.

For many, life may have become too routine and predictable, pushing them to schedule a trip to exotic places in the New Year. Some may choose to watch less television, committing to put their leisure time to a better use in 2014. One might resolve to become a volunteer at the local food kitchen, or helping the homeless, or even joining civic groups, like the Pawtucket Rotary Club or Lions club, or the Masons, to reach out to their community. Spending time helping those in need can also be a benefit for those volunteering – learning new skills, meeting new friends, advancing your career, or even improving mental and physical health.

New Year’s resolutions even help a person focus where their time, money and energy is directed. Everyone knows someone who is resolving to spend quality time in 2014 with family members. Some may even make resolutions to get engaged or married their long-time partner or to even begin a family.

With Christmas becoming so commercial, some may well make New Year resolutions that will push them away from materialistic pleasures, to exploring their spirituality.

Using Technology to Keep Resolutions

New technology can help keep us on track with keeping our 2014 New Year’s Resolutions. With the growing popularity of cell phones (iPhone and Android) thousands of self-help apps are now becoming available on app stores for IOS and Android cell phones, reports Business Reporter Victor Luckerson, in an article published on New Year’s Day on Time.com.

Luckerson details apps that will keep you on track with keeping your 2014 New Years resolutions. Here is a small sampling:

For learning the basics of a foreign language to prepare for a vacation, Duolingo helps you to quickly learn the basics. Users can easily review lessons in vocabulary, pronunciation, and basic grammar. Currently Duolingo offers lessons in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German and Italian. Available for iPhone and Android.

MyQuitCoach was created to help you keep cigarettes at arms length. The app uses data to help people curb their bad habit by allowing users to input how often they smoke and when they have their cravings. This information allows short and long-term goals to be set, enabling the smoker to reduce their daily cigarette use. Tying results to both Facebook and Twitter can increase support from social media friends. Available for iPhone.

For those who require motivation to go to their neighborhood gym, MapMyFitness is just the app for you. The app tracks 600 different fitness activities, from running, to ballroom dancing, to even walking the dog. With this app you can even map out effective jogging routes. It even offers a social component that allows your friends to motivate you to exercise from within the app. Available for iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry.

For resolutions to tighten your belt to improve your personal finances, check out DailyCost. The app easily allows you to closely check in going and outgoing money in all you bank accounts. Moreover, you can easily log in all your daily expenses, too, categorizing them within seconds. Weekly and monthly spending charts allow you to closely review where you spend your money. Available for iPhone.

Finally here’s an app to help you accomplish your resolution goals. Simply put, Lift helps you track how often you complete your tasks that you resolve to complete and rewards you with virtual check marks for achieving. Tasks can be drinking more water, praying, and other habits you want to change. App users who pursue the same goals can support each other via discussion groups. Available for iPhone and Android.

For this columnist, my 2014 New Year’s Resolutions (like many) revolve around health, financial and family. I resolve to become healthier by losing weight, eating healthier foods, and increasing my visits to the local YMCA; to get my financial house in order; and to spend more time with family and good friends. Maybe I might even write a book. As to my success, I will keep my fingers crossed.

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