Out In The Be-Bop 1960s Night- Josh Breslin’s Chucks-In Honor Of Chuck Taylor, Or Rather His Sneakers-A CD Review
Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Ruby and the Romantics performing their classic teen angst song, Our Day Will Come.
Super Hits 1963, various artists, Time-Life Music, 1991
Scene brought to mind by the cover that graces this CD. Simple, very simple. A pair, black, of course, of Chuck Taylor Hi-Top sneakers (minus the trademark logo here). For those who are clueless, Chuck Taylor was an ancient (and white, very white too) 1930s (or so) professional basketball player whose trademark were these hi-top sneakers that in the 1960s were sold with his famous Chuck Taylor logo on them. I had a bunch of pairs, black of course, in my Jack Kerouac /Allen Ginsberg Harvard Square Hayes-Bickford all night dive “beat” minute along with my black uncuffed chinos, flannel short, red bandana and midnight sunglasses before I turned, full-bore to generation of ’68 hip-hop concerns. Different ‘style,’ same concerns.
Since that time there have been periodic revivals, the early 1980 and mid-1990’s come to mind, (including what looks like a resurgence now) of these note-worthy items. I, naturally, tipped my hat to the trend and bought that mandatory bunch of pairs, black, of course. Now that I see resurgence, although about seven different knee, ankle and hip problems preclude any but a ritualistic symbolic purchase, I will buy a pair, black, of course. Today though, if one can even utter such sacrilege, they are in all colors of the rainbow. There are even low-tops (although how uncool is that) and, mercy, in an age of complete sneaker kill there are imitation Chucks (minus the Chuck logo, un-cool, don’t even say it).
What makes this all remarkable, remarkable to my old eyes, is that these are the very sneaker, although rather primitive by today’s techno-scientifically driven, aero-dynamically precise, lighter than air float, fleet-footed wedge of a sneaker, that Josh Breslin wore to win the Maine state championship in the mile for Olde Saco High School back in the day, the 1967 day. As he has reminded just recently, in case I might have forgotten a hard fact that he has repeated constantly since I first meet him wearing those same sneakers, or same style, black, of course up on a San Francisco Russian Hill park in the summer of love in the year of our lord, 1967. And if you do not know that particular summer of love reference and think it was, or is, just some reference to your average, ordinary, plain vanilla version of summer love like happens every summer when boy meets girl, or girl meets boy, or name your particular combination these days, well hell’s bells, go look it up in Wikipedia.
Oh, sorry, you don’t know Josh Breslin or have never heard of him. Well, I guess, probably not, but he like about twelve million other guys (and gals) had Olympic dreams, or at least Olympic –sized dream based on that silly little local schoolboy win. Moreover, Josh based that big time dream, more understandably, understandably to these ears, on the fiercest desire to get out from under his working poor roots. Ya, Josh’s is that kind of story, another in a long line of such stories, but a story nevertheless. And although he told me the story a long time ago it always kind of stuck with me since I too had some dreams, not Olympic dreams, or Olympic-sized dreams for that matter, but shared his great desire to get out from under my own low-rent working poor roots. That’s probably, although Josh is a few years younger than I am, why when we meet in the summer of love in 1967 out in day-glo, merry prankster, magical mystery tour, yellow brick road San Francisco we kind of hit it off right away. Even though he “stole” my girl, Butterfly Swirl (real name Kathleen Callahan from down in Carlsbad in that same California dream night, Ya, it was that kind of time, read up on it like I said), right from under my nose. But to his story.
Josh Breslin, church mouse proud, poor as a church mouse proud, maybe poorer, just like his father, Prescott, never liked to show how poor he was, especially after his father lost his job in the MacAdams Textile Mills after that firm fled south for cheaper labor and left many in Olde Saco, that’s up in coastal podunk Maine, with not much to scratch by on. With the years Prescott’s dreams faded to insect size, maybe ant size, but Josh, once he got to be about eleven or twelve just decided one day that way, that dreamless father dream way, was not for him. Let’s just leave it at that for his motivation, and that seems about right for the eight millions strains that a young boy is under, and puts himself under.
But like many twelve- year olds what the hell is he going to do about it. Too young to work, to young and clueless to take off on some bum freighter, or smoke dream freight train. In short, no prospects, no hit you in the head with prospects. Then one day, one late fall day Josh, walking down to Olde Saco Beach after school, purple paisley-print hand-me-down shirt from older brother, untucked, chinos, uncuffed, (signifying not cool, not cool in Olde Saco boy teen world, but cuffed were more expensive and that argument won the day, the Mother Breslin day), and wore buster brown shoes to guide him through early tween-hood just started to run once he hit the sand, and he kept running for long while, long enough to work up a serious sweat, and get rid of some serious angst, tween variety.
And that simply enough is how it started. Now at twelve or so he was no speed demon, and too ill-formed physically to have endurance yet but he was on a roll and for a couple of years he just ran, ran to get some sweat up, and take some of that angst crust off. By the time he reached Olde Saco High in the ninth grade he had something of a reputation as a guy who ran (and as a loner, except for the odd girl or seven who fell for his “from hunger” but “cute” routine but that, like the later, ah, Butterfly Swirl “theft” incident is not part of the story so we will move on) so, naturally, the cross country coach (who also tripled as indoor and out track coach), “recruited” him to the teams. Grade 9 Josh was something of a bust because he tried to keep pace with the older boys rather than run at his own pace, and part of grade 10 too, but anyone could see that he had plenty of determination to run, and seek his glory by running. This was the ticket out, the way out.
There is no need to go into detail about his training regimen (running the dunes, beach work, mainly) or that toward the end of tenth grade he started to beat the older boys not just at Olde Saco but around southern Maine too. You can look that stuff up. What you can’t look up, at least in any record book, is how Josh in his senior year won it all, won the Maine state one mile championship that was going to propel him to, well, Olympic heights. And the key? Josh, sometime in the eleventh grade got hold of a pair of Chuck Taylor’s. ( I won’t bore you with the black, of course tag) Why, well, in those pre-techno-wiz sneakers with bells and whistles crazed days because they were cheap, all Prescott could afford for his son. Now Chuck’s may have had (and have) a certain cache as basketball shoes, and maybe even by the time Josh started winning a lot a certain “cool” cache with the girls but to win races, even podunk state championship races, you needed real track shoes, Adidas, stuff like that. Not Josh though. The kid he beat from Auburn upstate had them but there was young Josh in the winner’s circle with his old clickety-clack Chuck’s.
More than one Olde Saco girl who had not previously fallen for his “from hunger” act started calling him up in the night. Late at night. Including one cheerleader-type who practically stalked him and who when she introduced herself stated “I didn’t know Olde Saco had a track team.” Oh, well. Now I wish that I could say that Josh then went on to fame and fortune as a runner. In those days, unlike now when there is real dough in the thing, runners as a species were “from hunger” and so that dream energy went into other stuff. But, hell, it still is a good story, right? Especially that "cool with the girls" part. I know Butterfly Swirl liked his “kicks” (code name for Chuck’s among the aficionados) out in that warm San Francisco summer of love night. Damn Josh and his damn silly sneakers.
Labels: growing up absurd in the 1950s