What I found in dad’s old jukebox (it's not what you think)

Every once in a while, I’ll open something up that hasn’t seen the light of day for a while. One of my kids’ baby boxes, a closet in my mother’s house, or a box of old files. It always yields discoveries, forgotten memories and much more. Sometimes I’ll open something up because it needs to be cleaned or fixed, as was the case recently with my father’s 1955 Seeburg jukebox, long sitting idle in the basement. As with anything that is aging and has moving parts, it needed some care, my father long having left this life and his jukebox behind.

A rare quiet hour with a piece of your childhood can reveal much. It gets you thinking. Here’s what I found amid the ancient parts, tangles of wires and 30 years of dust.

I think the intensity of today’s life, fueled by a ravenous and omnipresent digital media makes us long for a simpler time. I can’t rightly be nostalgic for the 50’s, because I didn’t live during them. But I can imagine what it was like at the advent of television, the wonder created by post-war American innovation and the pride our country felt having saved the world from Nazism, the clarity of purpose we had fighting communism. As I combed over the vacuum tubes and smelled that unique aroma of old electrical components heating up, I couldn’t help but feel the need to unplug more.

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When the jukebox was king and record players were a staple in our homes, people mattered more. Relationships mattered more. Families sat around the kitchen table and talked. Children played using their imagination – outside of all places. Neighbors came over for coffee. We gathered around the phone for that long-distance call or happy birthday wish. That doesn’t happen much anymore. It’s been replaced by ‘liking’ or ‘commenting’ on Facebook.

Peering into the intricate innards of dad’s jukebox I also found perspective on how far we’ve come as a nation in a relatively short time. For those who face injustice, any amount of time to forge progress is too long, but still, in today’s victim culture and chorus of negative viewpoints on the state of our nation, thinking back to where we were as a country in 1955 is certainly worthwhile.

When dad’s jukebox was new and blaring out Bill Haley and the Comets as the centerpiece of some sock hop or saloon, America was a segregated country. Young black girls were being escorted to school by soldiers. Brown vs. Board of Education had only been decided the year before. It would still be 10 years until the Civil Rights Act. Martin Luther King was far from a household name.

Just like freedom and democracy, technology requires responsibility on our part to ensure we don’t lose our humanity in cold technology. The alternative is being enslaved by computers.

Racism wasn’t about a governor wearing blackface in a yearbook or a throw-away line from some talking head or politician. It was institutional, endemic and often protected by law. It wasn’t that long ago. We would do well to remember that we’ve come a long way toward a more perfect union.

Watching the hulking Select-O-Matic squeaking and clicking past the 200 45s, I felt a sense of awe at today’s technology as well. I pulled out my phone. There is a whole world at our fingertips today. There are positives and negatives of that to be sure.

The jukebox brought people music. That old cabinet television in the wall brought family-friendly entertainment into our living rooms. That new car expanded our horizons.

The other day my kids were watching a commercial that was inappropriate. Today, Americans are more stressed and suffering from more mental illness. Much of our changing attitudes can be traced to how we interface with technology. We’re more jaded and often dour as a people. Too many of us grab for the phone the moment we get up. We take more work home with us. We read for pleasure less than ever before. We socialize less.

We are on the verge of significant advances in artificial intelligence, virtual reality, robotics and even more computerization. Will our 21st century advances lead to more freedom, free time and a better quality of life? I’m at best skeptical based on recent history.

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Just like freedom and democracy, technology requires responsibility on our part to ensure we don’t lose our humanity in cold technology. The alternative is being enslaved by computers.

Closing the glass top and locking the back, I couldn’t help but think about everything that will happen in my life and the life of a nation until those leads, tubes and connections are exposed again. We spend so much time predicting the future, but we can learn so much about our present by taking a little time to peer into our past. You never know what you’ll find when you try – even inside dad’s old jukebox.

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