This space is dedicated to the proposition that we need to know the history of the struggles on the left and of earlier progressive movements here and world-wide. If we can learn from the mistakes made in the past (as well as what went right) we can move forward in the future to create a more just and equitable society. We will be reviewing books, CDs, and movies we believe everyone needs to read, hear and look at as well as making commentary from time to time. Greg Green, site manager
Friday, March 14, 2014
***In Honor Of Women’s History Month -Out In The Be-Bop Be-Bop 1960s Night- Save The Last Dance For Me-With The Drifters’ Song Of The Same Name In Mind.
From The Pen Of Peter Paul Markin
Scene: Brought to mind by one of the songs in a 1950s classic (ouch!) rock and roll compilation, The Drifters classic end of the night high school dance number, Save The Last Dance For Me. (And the reason for the kudos to Women’s History Month in a little off-beat way as well.)
Recently, when I was reviewing a CD AM Gold: 1962, I mentioned, in detailing some of the events surrounding the North Adamsville Class of 1962-sponsored version of the traditional late September Falling Leaves Dance that one of the perks that year was getting to hear the vocals of local singer and classmate, Diana Nelson, backed up by local rock band favorite, The Rockin’ Ramrods. I also mentioned that her selection had been the result of a singing competition held by the town fathers and that I would relate some of the details of that competition at a later date. That time has come. Additionally, I related that I had had a “crush” on Miss (Ms.) Nelson since I started staring, permanently staring, at her ass when she sat a few seats in front of me in ninth grade. At the time of the above-mentioned dance she was “going steady” with some college joe, and had not given me the time of day, flirting or encouraging-wise, since about tenth grade, although we always talked about stuff, music and political stuff, two of my passions, and hers too. Here’s the “skinny.”
No question that about 1960, maybe into 1961, girl vocalists were the cat’s meow. (Okay, young women, but we didn’t call them that then, no way. Also “no way” as well is what we called them, called them among we corner boys at Salducci’s Pizza Parlor in the harsh summer night, especially when we got “no action.” I don’t have to draw you a diagram on what that meant, right?). You can, if you were around then, reel off the names just as well as I can, Connie Francis, Carla Thomas, Patsy Cline, and the sparkplug Brenda Lee. I won’t even mention wanna-bes like Connie Stevens and Sandra Dee, Christ. See, serious classic rock by guys like Elvis (who was either dead or might as well have been doing foolish films like Blue Hawaii), Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry (and his Mister’s woman habits) and Jerry Lee Lewis (and his kissing cousins habit) was, well, passé, in that musical counter-revolution night when guys like Fabian and Bobby Vee ruled the girl heart throb universe
But music, like lots of other things abhors a vacuum and while guys were still singing, I guess, the girl singers (read young women, okay, and we will leave it at that) “spoke” to us more. Especially to record- buying girls who wanted to hear about teen romance, teen alienation, lost love, unstoppable hurts, betrayal (usually by the girl’s best friend and her boyfriend, although not always), lonely Friday nights, and other stuff that teenagers, boys and girls equally, have been mulling over, well, since they invented teenagers a long time ago.
So it was natural for the musically-talented girls around North Adamsville, and maybe around the country for all I know, to test themselves against the big name talents and see what they had. See if they could make teen heaven- a record contract with all that entailed. In North Adamsville that was actually made easier by the town fathers (and they were all men, mostly old men in those days so fathers is right), if you can believe that. Why? Because for a couple of years in the early 1960s, maybe longer, they had been sponsoring a singing contest, a female vocalist, singing- contest. I heard later, and maybe it was true, that what drove them was that, unlike those mid-1950s evil male rockers mentioned above, the women vocalist models had a “calming effect” on the hard-bitten be-bop teen night. And calm was what the town fathers cared about most of all. That, and making sure that everything was in preparedness for any Soviet missile strike, complete with periodic air raid drills, christ again.
In 1962 this contest, as it was in previous years, was held in the spring in the town hall auditorium. And among the contestants, obviously, was that already "spoken for" Diana Nelson who was by even the casual music listener the odds-on favorite. She had prepped a few of us with her unique rendition of Brenda Lee’s I’m Sorry so I knew she was a shoo-in. And she was. What was interesting about the competition was not her victory as much as the assorted talents, so-called, that entered this thing. If I recall there were perhaps fifteen vocalists in all. The way the thing got resolved was a kind of sing-off. A process of elimination sing-off.
Half a dozen, naturally, were some variation of off-key and dismissible out of hand. These girls fought the worst when they got the hook. Especially one girl, Elena G., if anyone remembers her who did one of the worst versions of Connie Francis’ Who’s Sorry Now I had (and have) ever heard. The more talented girls took their lost with more grace, probably realizing as Diana got into high gear that they were doomed. But here is the funny part. One of the final four girls was not a girl at all. Jimmy C. from right down the end of my street dressed himself up as girl (and not badly either although none of us knew much about “drag queen” culture then) and sang a great version of Mary Wells’ Two Lovers. Like I said we knew from nothing about different sexual preferences and thought he just did it as a goof. (I heard a few years later that he had finally settled in Provincetown and that fact alone “hipped” me, after I got hip to the ways of the world a little better, to what he was about, sexually.)
I probably told you before that one part of winning was a one thousand dollar scholarship. That was important, but Diana, when she talked to me about it a couple of days later just before class, said she really wanted to win so she could be featured at the Falling Leaves Dance. Now, like I said, I had a big crush on her, no question, so I was amazed that she also said that she wanted me to be sure to be at the dance that next late September. Well, if you have been paying attention at all then you know I was there. I went alone, because just then I didn’t have a girlfriend, a girlfriend strong enough for me to want to go to the dance with anyway. But I was having a pretty good time. I even danced with Chrissie McNamara, a genuine fox, who every guy had the “hots” for since she, just the night before, had busted up with Johnny Callahan, the football player. And Diana sang great, especially on Brenda Lee’s I Want To Be Wanted. She reached somewhere deep for that one.
Toward the end of the evening, while the Rockin’ Ramrods were doing some heavy rock covers, Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen I think, and she was taking a break, Diana came over to me and said, I swear she said it exactly like this- “save the last dance for me.” I asked her to repeat herself. She said Bobby (her college joe) was not here that evening for some reason I do not remember and that she wanted to dance the last dance with someone she liked. Well, what’s a guy to do when someone like Diana gives her imperial command? I checked my dance card and said “sure.” Now this last dance thing has been going on ever since they have had dances and ever since they have had teenagers at such events so no big deal, really. Oh, except this, as we were dancing that last dance to the Ramrod’s cover of The Dubs Could This Be Magic Diana, out of the blue, said this. “You know if you had done more than just stared at my ass in class (and in the corridors too, she added) in ninth grade maybe I wouldn’t have latched onto Bobby when he came around me in tenth grade.” No, a thousand times no, no, no, no…
Note: After reading the above heart-rending story I believe that we can safely put aside those accusations by my Salducci’s corner boys, especially my chieftain, one Frankie Riley, that I was totally skirt-addled. That I would chase anything in a skirt, anytime. Needless to say that also puts to rest that vicious rumor that I “hit” on Chrissie McNamara that night of the dance after she gave Johnny Callahan the big kiss-off.
And hence this quirky contribution to Women’s History Month.