The Colgate Scene
May 2002

Familiar cover
by Kevin Briody '85 (Produced by George Wurzbach, Dan Lyon and Kevin Briody)

Kevin Briody's new CD, Familiar, is a solid and captivating follow-up to his debut album, When No One's Watching. Filled with a variety of moods, ranging from whimsical to heart wrenching, from adolescent anger/confusion to the pure joy in everyday life, the songs follow a theme related to family. Each phrase is clear to the ear, so much so that the lyrics provided with the CD jacket are not really needed -- however, read them to appreciate the power of the songs.

Take a careful listen to "The Big Picture," the second track on the album. Autobiographical, it portrays the emotions of living in the town where Briody grew up. In it, he recognizes with bittersweet irony that while growing up there, leaving was the last thing he wanted or expected to do. The lyrics "All the things that made me leave/brought me back/there's an understanding that/time alone allows/and I see the big picture now" are a testament to the maturation process we all go through. They also underscore the love-love relationship he has with his home state, Connecticut: Briody has been named Official State Troubadour by the Connecticut Commission on the Arts.

Kevin Briody In "Daddy's Little Girl," Briody relates the story of John, who loves his girlfriend's daughter but realizes he will never have the relationship she has with her real father. While John is "cool" and refers to the girl as his "pearl," he knows she "will always be Daddy's little girl."

There are other songs for dads - "The Parade" is notable for its imagery, comparing life to a parade that slows down for no one. There are songs for moms -- "The Favor" is about remembering a loved one, with a unique twist about the favor itself. And how many singer/songwriters today cut tracks with their dad playing trombone -- and get away with it? The Briodys pull it off in the whimsical "Life Happens Just Like That."

To make this CD, Briody reached out to a couple of pros in the producing world. George Wurzbach has an impressive Nashville pedigree, having worked with the likes of Kathy Mattea, and Dan Lyon is an acoustic guitar purist. The three have created a recording that, though its lyrics follow a common theme, offers interesting and varied music.

Familiar is a fine collection of well-crafted songs, with pitch-perfect lyrics about many aspects of family life. It should be played over and over again, until the songs feel like they are being sung about your family. I assure you, you will find at least one song you thought was written just for you.

Ether Day cover
Ether Day: The Strange Tale of America's Greatest Medical Discovery and the Haunted Men Who Made It
by Julie M. Fenster '79 (HarperCollins 2001)

In Ether Day, Julie Fenster chronicles the transformation of "laughing gas" and ether from parlor entertainment devices to medical marvels -- what she calls "America's greatest medical discovery."

In the first half of the nineteenth century, Fenster writes, "surgery remained as a relic of ancient agony stranded by itself in a civilization that was modern or quickly modernizing in every other respect." She describes operating theaters as filled with the moans and shrieks of patients undergoing surgery without benefit of anesthesia. The best surgeons were determined by speed, not mortality rates, and savvy hospital administrators sited their operating rooms wherever the screams of patients were least likely to be heard in wards and waiting rooms.

"[W]hat mattered most in preanesthetic days was, first, deferring to the agonies of the mind, and only second tending to the ills of the body," Fenster writes. "Surgical science was . . . bound fast to a [deep] part of the human lot -- the inescapable fact of pain."

Nitrous oxide, or "laughing gas," was in use at the turn of the nineteenth century, mostly for entertainment purposes. Ether, too, was for decades no more than a diversion; Fenster notes that by the 1830s, teenagers gathered in living rooms for "ether follies," giddy with the inebriation ether could produce. Although doctors and scientists had begun to recognize the possible value of nitrous oxide and ether as painkillers, those who spoke out were scoffed at by a society that believed adamantly that operations would always be painful.

But in 1844, dentist Horace Wells attended an exhibition in Hartford where the use of nitrous oxide was demonstrated and a lungful was offered to anyone who would come onto the stage. Wells tried the gas, but more importantly, he noticed that another man on stage had lacerated a knee but was feeling no pain. The next morning, Wells administered nitrous oxide to himself and a colleague extracted one of Wells' teeth. Wells came back to his senses, felt the hole where his tooth had been and realized that he had revolutionized dentistry.

The anesthetic properties of ether were demonstrated for the first time in an operation at Massachusetts General Hospital on October 16, 1846 -- what Fenster calls "Ether Day." What has followed in the succeeding century and a half could certainly be termed a medical miracle, as anesthesia and surgical techniques evolve together. However, the financial value and professional glory that ether represented didn't make for a happily-ever-after tale. That is the story that unfolds in Ether Day.

Three men -- Wells, Boston dentist William T.G. Morton and Boston physician Charles Jackson -- were to claim credit for the discovery of anesthesia. Their animosity became so bitter that it ended up destroying them: Wells committed suicide, Morton attempted suicide and died shortly thereafter and Jackson ended his life in a mental institution.

"The tragedy," Fenster notes, "lies . . . in how pain . . . retaliated against the three men who'd dared to conquer it."

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