Saturday, August 24, 2013

***Those Oldies But Goodies…Out In The Be-Bop ‘50s Song Night- The Battle Rages- Jerry Lee or Elvis?- Jerry Lee Lewis’ “High School Confidential”

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Jerry Lee Lewis banging away on that piano for his life on High School Confidential from the movie of the same name.
Markin comment:
This is the back story, the teen listener back story if you like, going back to the primordial youth time of the mid to late 1950s with its bags full of classic rock songs for the ages. Of course, any such efforts have to include the views of one Billie, William James Bradley, the schoolboy mad-hatter of the 1950s rock jailbreak out in our “the projects” neighborhood. Ya, in those days, unlike during his later fateful wrong turn trajectory days, every kid, including best friend Markin, me, lived to hear what he had to say about any song that came trumpeting over the radio, at least every one that we would recognize as our own.

Billie and I spent many, many hours mainly up in his tiny bedroom, his rock heaven bedroom, walls plastered with posters of Elvis, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, somewhat later Jerry Lee Lewis, and of every new teen heartthrob singer, heartthrob to the girls that is, around, on his night table every new record Billie could get his hands on, by hook or by crook, and neatly folded piles of clothing, also gathered by that same hook or by crook, appropriate to the king hell king of the schoolboy rock scene, the elementary school rock scene between about 1956 to 1960. Much of that time was spent discussing the “meaning” of various songs, especially their sexual implications, ah, their mystery of girls-finding-out-about worthiness.

Although in early 1959 my family had started the process of moving out of the projects, and, more importantly, I had begun to move away from Billie’s orbit, his new found orbit as king hell gangster wannabe, I still would wander back there until mid-1960 just to hear his take on whatever music was interesting him at the time. These commentaries, these Billie commentaries, are my recollections of his and my conversations on the song lyrics in this series. But I am not relying on memory alone. During this period we would use my father’s tape recorder, by today’s standard his big old reel to reel monstrosity of a tape recorder, to record Billie’s covers of the then current hit songs (for those who have not read previously of Billie’s “heroics” he was a pretty good budding rock singer at the time) and our conversations of those song meanings that we fretted about for hours. I have, painstakingly, had those reels transcribed so that many of these commentaries will be the actual words spoken during those conversations(somewhat edited, of course). That said, Billie, king hell rock and roll king of the old neighborhood, knew how to call a lyric, and make us laugh to boot. Wherever you are Billie I’m still pulling for you. Got it.
High School Confidential lyrics-Jerry Lee Lewis

You better open up honey it's your lover boy me that's a knockin'
You better listen to me sugar all the cats are at the High School rockin'
Honey get your boppin' shoes Before the juke box blows a fuse
Got everybody hoppin' everybody boppin'

Boppin' at the High School Hop
Boppin' at the High School Hop
Shakin' at the High School Hop
I've rollin' at the High School Hop
I've been movin' at the High School Hop
Everybody’s hoppin' Everybody's boppin'
Boppin' at the High School Hop

Come on little baby gonna rock a little bit tonight
Woooh I got get with you sugar gonna shake things up tonight
Check out the heart beatin' rhythm cause my feet are moving smooth and

Boppin' at the High School Hop
Shakin' at the High School Hop
Rollin' at the High School Hop
Movin' at the High School Hop
Everybody’s hoppin' just a boppin' just a boppin'

Piano Solo!

Come on little baby let me give a piece good news good news good news
Jerry Lee is going to rock away all his blues
My hearts beatin' rhythm and my soul is singin' the blues

Oooooh Boppin' at the High School Hop
Shakin' at the High School Hop
Rollin' at the High School Hop
Gettin' it at the High School Hop
Everybody’s hoppin' Everybody's boppin'
Boppin' at the High School Hop
Peter Paul Markin comment:

“Who are you taking to the hop? Come on now, tell me, tell me, your old buddy Billie, who you asked? Was it Theresa? Was it Donna? Was it Karen?” That was the incessant bugging by my old elementary school boy compadre, Billie, William James Bradley if you didn’t know already, every time a school sock hop came up. But you know, or you should know, that was just a little way that he had to bait me about my shyness, or rather my awkwardness around girls. Around girls that he, king hell king of the late 1950s rock night “discarded” and left for the rest of us, especially for me.

And he knew, he knew damn well that I had not gotten up the nerve to ask any of those three ex-flames, or any girl, to the dance coming up in a few days. For one thing because, as king hell king of the rock night, and therefore king, crowned or uncrowned, of the sock hop he had all the configurations, combinations, set-ups, and, and, no-go bust-ups all computed out, no, not on some machine memory depot but in his head. For another because he didn’t know that I had decided just to go to the dance alone and maybe getting lucky there. Heck, I had done it before, a few times, although not with any great success but if there is any rhyme or reason to youth it is around the possibilities of getting lucky. Of course, old Billie had “selected” Laura as his escort, no awkwardness in Billie, although I had heard, heard from more than one budding teenage source that she “liked me,”(don’t ever tell him this though for I will deny it on seven stacked bibles). Or liked my seriousness, and my clowny, get in the way bookishness. So I am going “stag” on the hope, the hell or high water hope that Billie will let his old buddy, his old amigo, his, well you know, have a dance with his escort to see if I have some “magic.”

Now, and ever since I heard about her opinion of me, I have been wracking my brain to figure out this question. How could she “like me”, or not like me for that matter, I do not know because although I had looked over in her direction in class dreamily (yes, dreamily) more than somewhat I had never said word one to her, or her to me. Now this Laura, if you want a description is not drop-dead beautiful, at least by Billie-Markin defined drop-dead beautiful, twelve and thirteen year old girl beautiful, but she has something else that I would not (and Billie definitely would not) figure out how to say for many years, she was fetching. Definition: nice figure, meaning having a shape, if you really want to know, because when you think about it, boy or girl, twelve and thirteen year old boy or girl, any girl that had a shape (meaning had womanly contours, hips, breasts, nicely-formed legs) rather than a stock stick figure tomboy-like girl was bound to get ahead in that be-bop night, and probably now too.

But more than that, for me, if not for Billie, she didn’t giggle, silly giggle like the other girls when a boy said something stupid-funny (and the twelve and thirteen year old boy universe is more than somewhat filled with stupid-funny stuff done by eons of clueless guys, trying, trying just like me, and just like Billie if he could have ever been honest about it, to figure out the key to the girl-charm thing, yes, there is plenty of room in that universe even now for the stupid-funny) and, she carried herself in a way, sometimes with a certain thoughtful look, sometimes by a thing she did by putting her fingers to her lips, and maybe the most important, that she knew she was a girl and was content with that knowledge. She would lack for no dates or admirers, ever. Oh, ya she was also smart, not Billie street smart, not Markin two-thousand facts smart but asking and answering teacher smart, without being crazy smart about it that you also knew every boy, or almost every boy, in the twelve and thirteen year old boy universe did not like in girls then, and maybe now for all I know. It only gets sifted out later.

But enough of Laura, of Billie, christ of Markin as well, of pre-sock hop arrangements, derangements and dreamily kid in the night be-bop stuff let us get to the sock hop. Hey, wait a minute, you know what sock hops are, or you heard from your parents or grandparents what sock hops are, right? Back in the fifties, yes, the 1950s (and a little bit into the 1960s but the term had kind of died out by then, at least for “non-squares”). If you don’t then I’ll fill you in quickly now, but you’ll see you really know about all of this because it is nothing but a “primitive”, maybe Stone Age when you hear it, version of any school dance scene since they started making teenagers a separate social category in the world, the whole wide world even. Okay the idea was to hem in this mad dash, this mad craze to dance, and dance guys with girls and vice versa, that kids have been into since the radio and jukebox came on the scene, maybe back in that Stone Age now that I think about it.

So dear mother and father, you name the generation, figured out if you can’t beat them join them, and the schools (and churches later) were in cahoots. So every once in a while to keep three eyes on this stuff (and to avoid the feared, seriously feared, basement or “family room”-launched “petting parties” if kids are left to their own devices), maybe a few times a month they would throw a sock hop (the sock part comes from the fact, the hard fact, that most girls, most twelve and thirteen year old girls, wore ankle socks. Ya, no nylons, etc. If you don’t believe me look it up on Wikipedia, or something). Now, most times, this was nothing but some parent or teacher acting as dee-jay and "spinning platters” (records) in some dank, well-lighted, too well-lighted school gym or church basement, christ more than once in the school cafeteria when the gym was being used for other purposes that night. Yes, the night, the night in those days being from seven to about ten in the evening so you would have to think pretty hard about not going, stag or dated up, to the dance if for no other reason than to be able to get out of the house, the cramped, nowhere project house (really apartment) for a few hours uncramped freedom.

This night, this night that Billie kidded me about, this Billie and Laura night, though somehow, although I am vague on the details of how they were brought in, we are not reduced to cranky, scratchy records but a real live local band, a band that prided itself, I heard, on doing covers of the “hot” new singers and groups we knew from American Bandstand (an afternoon television show that had Philly kids, older Philly kids, dancing and swaying to whatever dee-jay Dick Clark, is he still around?, decided was wholesome and fit for the ears of America’s afternoon rock obsessed youth). So this is a time you definitely did not want to miss. And to truth to tell I went early, nervously early if you must know, to see what was up and watch the band set up.

Now this is not just any time in the 1950s, although the sock hop thing, the worried parent, worried about those “petting party” things(and more, much more, about sex things) and this wild and woolly rock obsessed thing their no understand what kids are into could have been anytime from about 1955 on, from the time that Elvis exploded onto the scene with those swiveling hips, that jumping girl guitar, that unkempt hair (ya, unkempt to them), and that permanent sneer came onto the scene.

No, this is 1958 when the Elvis thing had died down a little now that he was dead, or we thought he was dead, and for a fact he might have well have been dead in the constant teen chew-up of rock talent from the kind of music and movies he was into after giving us such great stuff like Jailhouse Rock, Good Rockin’ Tonight, Heartbreak Hotel and One Night With You. Ya, the king was dead, long live the king, and let’s move on, okay. Billie and I talked about it, about how guys, rock guys that is, seen to have a short shelf-life, but as Billie knew, knew from his own bumpy rock “career”, that’s show biz. So this night we are wondering, wondering like crazy, how the band will work out and whose music they will cover.

Like I said I got there early and watched the band set up, including a piano besides the guitar and drums so I figure maybe they will do some Little Richard or Fats Domino stuff. Seven o’clock comes and here comes Billie with Laura. Wow, Billie has on a nice jacket, wide lapels like all the rock guys are wearing these days (I’ll tell you about how he got it sometime but you can figure that a projects boy didn’t get it as a birthday present from Ma and Pa). Really sharp. But double wow on Laura who has on a cashmere sweater, some wide skirt and, can you believe this, nylons, to show off her nice legs. Oh ya, and just a hint of smile on her face like she is here with the king of the rock night, crowned or uncrowned, and she has staked out the territory as queen, demure queen, but queen nevertheless.

Yes, fetching (although we will agree between ourselves that I don’t know that word, or how to use it in relationship to describing girls and their charms just yet, alright). But here is where the sweetest part comes in when Billie and Laura make their royal entrance and come over to where I am standing when Billie introduces me, formally introduces Laura to me, she gives me this, well, I don’t care if I do wear out the word, fetching smile and says “I’ve seen you in class but you never seem to pay any attention to me. I thought that report you gave on Greek democracy in class was very well done.” Be still my heart, she actually remembers the report… and me. And here I am wearing some bedraggled (always bedraggled, always) stripped (stripes, jesus) white collared shirt, ratty black pants, and old Thom McAn Easter-bought brown shoes. Well, she remembered my report, that’s a start, and it actually was pretty good because I went to the Thomas Crane Public Library right up in Adamsville Square to look the stuff up.

But enough of reports, and "be still my hearts" because the music is going on. A few covers of Little Richard and Fats as I expected, with that piano and all, some Buddy Holly that sounded a little tinny, a few other non-memorable odd and ends, including some Elvis that sounded, and I again swear on seven bibles, like old time parents’ music, like Frank Sinatra, or those guys. The suddenly, the leader of the band said that he had a special guest on the piano for the next number. We all wondered what the song would be while they were setting the piano up closer to the front. I heard somebody say it was going to be something by a new guy, Jerry Lee Lewis. Whoa! I have only heard him once or twice but I thought his piano was smoking so maybe this guest guy could do a good cover on it. Billie, Billie king hell king of the rock night, must have known something was up, and why (always why) because he brought Laura over and asked me if wanted to dance the next dance with her. Me, two left feet, or two right feet, stag, coming to the dance stag just hoping that I would get lucky with “discarded” Theresa, Donna, or Karen dance with fetching Laura. No way. The she said “but I really want to dance with you, you being Billie friend, and he says you are a good dancer,” and then turns a very whimsical smile on me.

Well what are you going to do when a woman (alright girl, but a girl with a shape) wants to dance with you, and had something nice to say about your school report, and, oh yes had that smile, that come hinter smile that leaves a man (okay, boy) anywhere from twelve to twelve hundred weak at the knees. Well, the music is starting so I say yes, okay yes.

And what does our guest pianist do but a cover, a hot cover by the way, of Jerry Lee Lewis’ latest, High School Confidential, which I had heard about but had not heard. Great. Laura and I are dancing away and she is doing nothing but give me meaningful smiles and, maybe that rumor about her “liking me” was true. I am just dancing away like crazy and people are looking at me like where did he learn how to do that. After the dance I returned Laura to Billie, a little miffed Billie but I could have been wrong on that. And then Theresa came over and asked if I wanted to dance. A few dances, a few Laura-less dances later the call for last dance came, and not feeling like watching Laura with Billie just then I headed home.

The next morning, a Sunday morning, if I recall, Billie came over to the house and was fuming/hangdog as we talked, talked obviously about the sock hop doings. Fuming because I had switched up on him. How? Well, apparently, Laura, sweet fetching Laura, spent more than the allotted time talking about me, rather than about Billie’s virtues and he had used the dance, the Jerry Lee Lewis manic rock number that he had found out the band was going to play to make me look silly (his word, although mine when I heard it was more of an expletive). Hangdog because he felt bad now that he had done his best friend wrong, wrong over a girl although, in Billie fashion, he tried to step back and argue that maybe he did me a favor getting me out on the dance floor. See, though what he didn’t know (and don’t tell him either, if you know his whereabouts) is that I had been taking lessons from his slightly older sister, Carol, on how to dance this latest faster dance stuff.

So that is the end of the story, or almost the end. A few days later Laura knocked at our apartment door in the afternoon after school. My mother answered the door and invited her in, although she, my mother that is, said Laura was coming in no matter what from the look on her face. She was fuming, although as it turns out good fuming, because she said she had been smiling at me like crazy when we were dancing to give me the “hint” to ask her for the last dance, the last close to her dance. Sorry, Laura. And then she blurted out her command, “You and I are going to the next sock hop together and you had better not say no.” Well, when a woman (girl, are you happy) "insists” on something, almost anything like that, and on top of that had that kind remark about that school report, and that shape, what is a boy, a boy of the twelve and thirteen year old universe to do but say yes. So at the next dance I won’t be dancing with Billie “discard” Theresa, Donna, or Karen although they are okay but with fetching Laura. So there Billie, we are even. And if anybody asks you, like they asked me once-Elvis or Jerry Lee? Jerry Lee, long live the king.

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