***Growing Up Absurd In The 1950s- Penny’s Brand New Phonograph
Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of The Penguins performing their 50s classic, Earth Angel.
Frm The Pen Of Frank Jackman
The Golden Age Of American Rock ‘n’ Roll; Volume One, various artists, Ace Records, 1994
Scene: Prompted by the cover photograph, the memory cover photograph, which grace each CD in this The Golden Age Of American Rock ‘n’ Roll series. The photo on this CD, as might be expected, shows the ubiquitous, highly coveted, then and today, old time LP (and 45’s convertible) record player and the family radio, probably RCA, both weapons in the 1950’s teenage wars to have our own music, and to be able to listen to said music 24/7 without parental interference, or knowledge. Of course, not everybody, teenage everybody, and that’s what counted, including rock dizzy Penny had one or the other and that is the struggle we are to presently witness.
“Good night, Mr. and Mrs. Dodd, the kids were no problem and thanks again for the money.” “Whee,” Penny Parker whispered under her breathe, as she went out the door. Those kids were nothing but monsters, refusing to go to bed unless, and until, they watched Maverick on television, Penny played checkers with Bobby and Billy Dodd (sister Laura was satisfied to be a spectator), and they each (all three on this one) got not one, but two scoops of ice cream before surrendering to Penny’s demands. And all for a lousy seventy-five cents an hour. Those were slave wages, slave wages even for a thirteen -year old girl and Penny, Parker proud if not Parker bright, bright yet anyway thought for just a minute to give up this monster-sitting, well, baby-sitting really, up. “No,” she yelled into the Clintondale night, “No way after all I have put up with from those beasts am I giving up my dream record player now, no way.” And that was that.
Penny, Parker bright or proud notwithstanding, was a creature of her times, as we all are more or less. And the times called for every self-respecting teenager, and teenagers were all that counted in Penny’s universe, had his or her own private, up in his or her room, phonograph to play his or her favorite music, rock ‘n’ roll music, naturally. Not some lame Benny Goodman or Doris Day mumble that her parents listened to on the radio downstairs and drove Penny up a wall, maybe up more than one wall. And drove her right out of the Parker door down to Bop Benny’s Record Shop to play the jukebox there when the newest of the new records came out. See, Penny did not have her own record player like every other girl, every other teen-age girl that counted in her class at Clintondale Junior High School. Even Pammy Fuller had one, and Pam’s parents had them practically living on the county farm. But Peter Parker, father Parker, was adamant that he would not pay for anything that was connected with rock ‘n’ roll. Not out of religious principles, or anything like that, but he just hated the sound. Yes, I know, Peter Parker, square, square cubed.
So that left Penny down at Benny’s throwing nickels, dimes, and quarters in that old juke box. Many nickels when Kathy Young’s A Thousand Stars was hot, or when she had a crush, a big crush, on Zack Smith and she “broke the bank,” playing Earth Angel by the Penguins and When We Get Married by The Dreamlovers whenever Zack was in Benny’s and she wanted to draw his attention to her. Or the time when “Foul-Mouth” Phil Jackson dared her to play Eddie My Love by the Teen Queens when he was trying to date her up, or what passed for a date at twelve.
One day her brother, Paul, a year older than Penny but seemingly about a million years wiser saw that she had put at least fifty cents in the box when she was feeling all sentimental about Jimmy Kelly, her ex-beau, or as ex-beau as any thirteen- year old girl is allowed to have, and was playing I Love How You Love Me by the Paris Sisters like crazy. He just flat-out told her after dinner that night that it would be a whole lot easier and less expensive to just get her own record player and play up in her room to her heart’s contend. Penny stood there in disbelief, not in disbelief about the idea but that dear old dad would go for it. Well, the long and short of it, was that dear old dad did go for it, with the usual provisos that there would be no loud or late playing. Sure daddy.
And that prospect, that record player of her very own, with her own platters to spin (records, grooved vinyl records to the squares), and no bother, except maybe to invite Jimmy or Zack over bother, is why this night as she walks home she is muttering about wage slavery, the injustices of the world, the teenage world, the only one that counted in case someone might have forgotten, and other communistic sentiments, if anybody had hear her. Penny figured after that night that another twelve hours of drudgery, another nine dollars and she could get that cool one that she saw in the Sears&Roebuck catalogue.
But then Penny, Parker bright just then, looked pensively down at the sidewalk when she realizes that she would have to buy records to feed that record player and that she would have to continue baby-sitting for slave wages forever with Dodd monsters to get all the 45s that she absolutely needed. And then, horror of horrors, what if Jimmy liked Sixteen Candles by the Crests and Zack didn’t but liked Rockin’ Robin by Bobby Day (and he probably would) and she had to buy both records. Well, what’s a girl to do but, Penny, Parker proud just then, thought she would be able to figure it out.