I’ll Never Walk Alone…or with Anyone Else

Nostalgia is defined as a sentimental yearning for a return to the happiness of some past period or irrecoverable condition, a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends. The word itself is a merger of the Greek words for homecoming, nostos, and pain, algos. This painful longing was thought to be a medical condition called melancholy in 16th century Europe, a disorder treated with some combination of song & dance and herbs, which reminds me of college. In modern America nostalgia isn’t a disease, it’s a cottage industry. At any rate, I can be a sentimental, wistful, nostalgic sort of guy, the kind that probably remembers my childhood as far more idyllic that it really was and fondly recalls almost everything, from movies, music, and television to political candidates, automobiles, and restaurants as being far superior “back in the day” to their contemporary counterparts. Sometimes that is indeed the case, and sometimes not. Either way it’s a matter of opinion, right??

This train of thought came barreling down the tracks of my mind after the recent announcement that Jerry Lewis is retiring from his MDA Telethon after this year. The telethon has been a Labor Day tradition since 1966…six years before I was born. Not only that, but the show is being shortened from 20+ hours to just six hours. Instead of starting Sunday night immediately following the local news and being on all night and all day on Labor Day it will now be on from 6pm-Midnight Sunday night. Can it even be called The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon if neither Jerry nor Labor Day are involved in the equation?? It is probably a moot point, because without Lewis I assume the whole thing will be scrapped eventually. Maybe the powers-that-be will atleast wait until Jerry is gone from this mortal coil before chloroforming his greatest contribution to the world…or not.

I am not sure why this news has had such an effect on me. I have seen countless television shows that I dearly loved (The Dukes of Hazzard, Cheers, Dallas, Seinfeld, etc.) become just a memory over the course of my lifetime. I am far from a technophobe, so I have happily embraced new technologies while watching old ones (landline phones, cassette tapes, Atari, ginormous floor model tube televisions) be relegated to historical artifacts. Even as a child…a child with a disability…I wondered what was so special about muscular dystrophy that it had its own telethon. It has always seemed odd to me that we didn’t put on such a spectacle to find the cure for cancer or heart disease or diabetes. Jerry Lewis is 85 years old and has been in bad health for about the last dozen years, so on an intellectual level one knows it had to end sometime. And it’s not as if the telethon has been high quality entertainment all these years. Tony Orlando hasn’t been relevant for three decades. Norm Crosby has been insignificant for even longer. I couldn’t possibly care less about Billy Gilman or Jann Carl. Ed McMahon was fun but he’s dead. Casey Kasem was cool but not that cool. But still I watch…and it makes me sad to see it end.

Maybe it’s because it has literally always been a part of my life. As much as I loved my cheesy 80’s TV I remember life before those shows, which realistically have always had a short shelf life…even the very best of them…of 5-10 years. Jerry’s telethon was already an annual ritual by the time I came into existence.

Maybe it’s because, as kitschy as it is, the telethon is a one-of-a-kind event. There is literally nothing else like it on television. So many shows, movies, and music are derivative of something better, and there is some basis for comparison, whether it be positive or negative. The telethon is an entity unto itself, and once it is gone we’ll never capture its singular cachet again. Something things are disposable, whereas some are irreplaceable.

Or maybe…just maybe…I have simply gotten to “that age”. I am not old by most definitions, but I have been around awhile. The Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon, as insignificant as it is in the grand scheme of life, is another example of something that is going away, leaving my life…dying. Like the soap operas that are my guilty pleasure but are now steadily disappearing, the various shops & restaurants of my youth that have faded away in favor of something hipper and fresher, the classic performers like Sinatra, Johnny Carson, Dale Earnhardt, John Candy, and The Junkyard Dog that are now six feet under, or erstwhile traditions like It’s A Wonderful Life being shown on TV every 5 minutes during the Christmas season, Saturday morning cartoons, $2/gallon gasoline, glass pop bottles, giving candy to dozens of trick-or-treaters on Halloween night, the U.S. space program, Dairy Queen only being open in the summer, paper bags at the grocery store, styrofoam containers at McDonald’s, and radio stations with legitimately good music, the telethon will soon take its place on the pop culture scrap heap, an embodiment of my own mortality and the steady drumbeat of time slipping into the mist.

Or maybe I dig Jann Carl more than I realized.

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