Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Campagna blue jay


In the summer of 1950, in a kitchen somewhere in south Omaha, I know why the caged bird sang.

The Campagna blue jay was having breakfast, courtesy of his human friend, Sam. And, believe me, you haven't heard anything until you've heard a hungry blue jay.

I know all this because Sam's son, Anthony, was recording it all, cutting a slice of life from a different America -- a different Omaha -- into the acetate blank locked onto the spinning turntable of a home disc recorder.

So, who were Anthony and Sam Campagna . . . and why did Sam have a blue jay in his kitchen?

I don't know.

Neither do I know why a couple albums of Campagna-family home recordings were there for me to find at an Omaha estate sale last year. I guess it's the same reason I saw an unwanted album of family photos --
some dating to World War I -- at another estate sale on Sunday.



I DO know this -- there's the story of America in that recording.

You can hear it in Sam's Italian-immigrant accent. You can hear it in Anthony's unadorned, typically unaccented Midwestern accent.

You can hear the story of the American Dream on that 61-year-old recording, because la famiglia Campagna had enough disposable income to buy itself a fancy disc recorder. Not everybody did -- such things were not cheap in mid-20th-century dollars.

You can hear that there still was an American Dream back then.

MOST OF ALL, you hear an old man, a son and a moment of levity sent via acetate disc far into the future. Oh, yeah . . . you hear a hungry, squawking blue jay, too.

The Campagna blue jay, Aug. 5, 1950.

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