Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Part I: The Clock Strikes Five, Six and Seven

Hey hey, my my
Rock and Roll can never die
There’s more to the picture
Than meets the eye
Hey hey, my my                        Neil Young
Today I “celebrate” my 54th birthday (and coincidentally open a new bottle of Centrum Silver vitamins). Since my father passed away this last December and well aware of my new status as the patriarch of my nuclear family I’ve naturally been a little more aware of the subject of mortality.

So is life short or isn’t it? Caught up in the race of this busybody culture we’ve created it’s easy to ignore the totality of our lives. Occasionally one encounters a stimulus that sends them back, as for instance, I remember very well an exact moment from seventh grade when I first encountered the very lovely Chanel #5. Scents can do that, but I find that more commonly music is my time machine.

And what music there is! My conscious life has neatly coincided with 50 years of Rock and Roll or, more generally, the US/UK guitar band. Search the list of songs from those fifty years while taking the time to remember and one can easily see that life is a great, big thing—a really good deal at this point come what may.

I must have been three years old when my sister was walking around the house singing to “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” by Bill Haley and the Comets. It made an impression on me because she had previously told me about tornados and how they would shake, rattle, and roll our house if they found us. I remember someone playing “Mr. Sandman” when I was supposed to be going to sleep, those arpeggios were probably my first exposure to math as I have never forgotten their distinct spatiality.

Soon after that I remember being puzzled why some guy was singing a song about stuff mothers put on their face, and though I was clearly on my Rock and Roll way with Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” (and obviously discovering TV ads) at about the same time the roots of my working class consciousness were sown by the spiritual “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford. I quote from memory;

Sixteen Tons
And whadda ya get
Another day older and deeper in debt
St. Peter doncha call me cuz I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store
Then came Elvis and I learned how to dance, I remember vividly my sister laying out the steps to the jitterbug for me as we listened to “Hound Dog”. Other memories from those days were of my parents and friends passing around quarts of beer (Blatz and Drewry’s come too mind), playing cards and listening to Little Richard, Elvis, and the Crickets. Once in the course of these loudish evenings a certain person called Little Richard a nigger and I learned that adults can fuck up too when I caught on my father’s face a certain disapproving look normally meant for one of us kids—this time however being directed at one of his peers.

My first hot babe was Debbie Reynolds; to this day I remember sitting in the theater being awestruck by her Cinemascopic presence. I had no idea what she meant by “Does my darling feel what I feel …When he comes near?” but I felt something all right—and for the first time realized that a little something I felt for someone else was a big enough subject for a great big movie. I still love to “program” versions of "Tammy" on the synth/sequencer in strings, horns and what have you, or did until I fried the board on it.

Of course the subject of love is a fleeting one to seven year olds; far better suited to our twitchy selves were “Purple People Eater” by Sheb Wooley, and “Jailhouse Rock”.

It was at this silliest of times in 1959 that along came the very un-silly “Tom Dooley” by the Kingston trio. We would sing the chorus to this first “pop” American folk song on the bus ride to the Waukegan YMCA, led by an “older” high school girl whom we suspected was a beatnik, whatever that was. Perhaps the seeds of my distrust for the denigrators of things counterculture were sown in that she didn’t seem “filthy” at all!

Maybe it was reaction to Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire” and his marriage to his young cousin or maybe that February 3rd really was the “day the music died”, but 1959 seemed to mark the end of the classic rockers—even Elvis had gone from rip-snortin’ rockabilly to the grammatically pristine “A Fool Such As I”.

Novelty songs abounded in ‘59, yet oddly none you could hula hoop to. My buddy, coming from a much smaller family than mine and therefore actually owning things, had a record player. We would hang in his room (again a foreign concept) and listen to “The Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton. It was then that his mother introduced me to a thing called history when we wanted to learn more about the War of 1812.

“Mack the Knife” aside everyone seemed to quiet down to Paul Anka’s “Lonely Boy”, Frankie Avalon’s “Venus” and the year’s #1, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” from the Platters. An era was ending and the next direction was unknown, a condition perhaps exemplified by the popularity of “The Chipmunk Song”!

One day I watched the kids on American Bandstand do the stroll to a song called “Kansas City” done by Wilbert Harrison and the Crests. The fire of Rock and Roll had smoldered down to its funky, bluesy roots.

It would explode again in part two.


At 11:42 PM, Blogger Bullock said...

Young folks, old folks, everybody come,
Join the darkie Sunday school and have a lot of fun.
Please park your chewin' gum and razors by the door,
And I'll tell you Bible storiees...
You never heard before.
-Origin unknown
-Interpreted by Bill Shogren, Scoutmaster, Troop 81,
circa 1963,probably at the venerable Wilmot dirtlot campground, southern Wisconsin.

This little ditty along with others he used to sing around the campfire. And chuckle.. He had a good chuckle.I am glad to have known him and am sorry to hear of his passing.He made an good impression on me, as (some)friends' dads do, as a teacher, storyteller and tolerant man.Remember the good times and be thankful of the time spent.It has been 24 years last November that my dad passed, before the birth of my firstborn.Wished we would've had a little more time,shared a lttle more life music together.

But, hey, I'm 54, too, still rockin' in the free world.
And hey,you got turned on to "Sixteen Tons" by me,
your southern-influenced, church-goin'& singin' bud.(I had the 45)Heh,heh.Memories and melodies..

I first heard Sgt.Pepper's album from you, though.In the McHenry house I helped build.(you had the better stereo by then)
Which, of course, is Part 2.

At 8:52 AM, Blogger Bullock said...

Postscript: I also learned the nifty cut and spin ping pong shots from your dad. When we both mastered those, he didn't want to play us anymore.


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