Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Advice to Students I Never Gave

I have taken a brief but necessary hiatus from my Facebook blogging, but I’m back now, reinvigorated and prepared now to write about stuff you probably couldn’t care less about: growing up in New Jersey and then moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. However, the video I’ve posted at the butt-end of this post is so wonderful that I’m figuring folks will be willing to read through the setup before watching what amounts to the punch line.

I was conceived and born in Brooklyn NY, which I’d like to believe afforded me some degree of genetic cache. Unfortunately, my WWII vet/GI Bill-educated father and mother did what millions of other like-minded young adults did in the 1950’s: they fled the city for the ‘burbs, in our case South Jersey. We landed in Levittown, which later adopted its original name of Willingboro. Call it what you will (“da ‘boro” was common among my milieu), it was (is) a lump of suburban sprawl not far from the miasmically vaporous Delaware River, about 13 miles north-east of downtown Philadelphia.

It was a great place to grow up (given the wonderful friends I had and the survival skills I learned) and an even better place to leave, which I did when I went away to college (also in New Jersey, but “good Jersey”), never to return.

Long before, though, I had decided that I was going to live in the Golden State of this-here California. My father’s sister and her family had moved to Los Angeles when I was around 8 or 9 years old, and between their descriptions of the place and the non-stop California propaganda I saw on television (“The Wonderful World of Disney”; “Gidget”; “The Beverly Hillbillies”; “Dragnet”; “Ironsides”, “The Streets Of San Francisco”, etc.) I came to believe that California’s streets were paved with gold. The “Summer of Love” (1967) focused my attention on the San Francisco Bay Area. (I still remember with all the power of revelation the report on the “summer of love” given by my classmate Freya Sumbler in Mr. Thomas’ English class. I might have been just 13 years old, but boy-oh-boy, did I ever want to be part of that scene!)

Fast-forward to June, 1973. Having just finished my freshman year at Princeton, I sallied forth to California in order to drive up the coastline from LA to British Columbia with three other guys. The trip was one glorious moment after another: the weather, the mountains, the ocean, the smell of the air, the girls; oh my goodness, the girls. But nothing gob-smacked me quite like our drive through San Francisco on 19th avenue/Route 1, then out across the Golden Gate Bridge and finally to the town of Sausalito, where we stopped for burgers on the waterfront, looking back across the Bay at San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. I remember the whole thing as if it were yesterday, and there and then I told my dogs that I was coming back to the Bay Area to live, fer sure; it was just a matter of time.

I returned in 1978 and haven’t budged. Rather than enter the “academic nomad sweepstakes” after having received my Ph.D., I simply settled down, got married, and found work here. My Bay Area roots (“ruts” as they would say back in South Jersey) go deep; my four children were all born here: two in Berkeley, and two in Oakland (“Oaktown” to the locals). For me, moving here was the key, the single decision/event that made the rest of my life (as I know it) possible.

(The best piece of good advice I never gave my students was “move to where you want to live and THEN find a job.” It’s good advice because – as best as I can tell – we have only one pass at this life, and if we hate where we live it’s going to be real hard to be happy. However, my students – a magnificently talented bunch of would-be professional musicians studying at the San Francisco Conservatory – had to be willing to go whenever they could find a job. The geocentric mind-set that worked so well for me wasn’t going to work for them at all. As such, as much as I loved giving advice, this was advice I never gave.)

In honor of the Bay Area I offer up this spectacular video. It was created to demonstrate a new ultra high-definition digital camera and it’s gyroscopic platform. Watch it on the biggest screen you can. (FYI, the alpine shot at the very end was taken in the Sierra Nevada mountains near Lake Tahoe, about a three-hour drive from where I sit.)


  1. Wow! Spectacular video. Thanks for posting this.

    I, too, am an escapee from the east coast (da Bronx), about the same time as you. Always grateful to be living in this wonderland.

    Happy holidays.
    Cheers, marcia