Friday, May 11, 2018

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-When Gary Ladd Danced The North Adamsville High School Be-Bop Hop Dance Night Away

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-When Gary Ladd Danced The North Adamsville High School Be-Bop Hop Dance Night Away 

A YouTube film clip of The Shirelles performing their 1960s teen angst classic Mama Said  

Introduction by Allan Jackson

[On reflection a lot of what went on in high school, what drove guys like me crazy, guys who had no sisters, maybe had no close girl friends was the very subject of chasing women. There is no other way to put the matter. Strangely enough everybody, every guy was on his own (I will let the women of our generation speak for themselves but I have on anecdotal evidence the distinct thought that also from different biological needs their social stories don’t differ too much from the guys)on the subject, had to learn the hard way what was what. I don’t know how much things have changed in the last fifty years concerning parental guidance through the sexual thicket but I suspect, again on anecdotal evidence, that some things have stayed pretty much the same despite the tremendous amount of information out there. Of course a lot of our Tonio’s Pizza corner boys being on our own was self-imposed since we neither wanted to be thought nor really have much going on since we got a lot of very bad, or erroneous information from the “street. Since parents were books sealed with seven seals the only real way to get any information about sex, or anything else that might interest a teenager was from older brothers, sisters or stuff heard out on that street. Many a guy got some kind of social disease and many a girl had to visit faraway “Aunt Emma” shorthand for pregnant based on that erroneous information. The other coin thought was that we, individually were lying our asses off half the time about sexual conquests and the like. That too on anecdotal evidence gained many, many years later when the smoke and fog had cleared.

Despite the shortcomings of our knowledge about sex, about how to approach girls you could almost take it to the bank the information, the intelligence we called it that the late Peter Paul Markin, the Scribe, gathered in other areas, areas like what girl was interested or not interested in what guy or guys, and the crucial information about who was “going steady,” taken, or however you wanted to call unavailable in your neighborhood. This critical information saved many a guy from making a social faux pas and going even further down the high school social hierarchy. See what that situation meant that you were duty-bound and maybe depending on the guy to keep “hands off” if that was the information Scribe handed you. And except for one very embarrassing time when Scribe didn’t know that a girl Seth Garth was interested in had a steady guy who was in the Navy and he wound up calling the girl up and got an irate slap down Scribe knew his stuff. Again, later based on anecdotal evidence, this tradition, this point of honor so-called was honored more in the breach than the observance. (By the way on that misstep by Scribe with Seth that girl had been interested in him earlier in the year and not getting any response from her signals went on to that sailor boy and when he called she was just kind of paying him back for his lateness on the matter. Yeah, life was, is like that sometime. Seth said damn when he found out about that a couple of years after our high school graduation.)

How Scribe got his information, why girls were free to talk to him about stuff that they might not talk to their girlfriends about was always a mystery. Maybe they thought he was a eunuch, or more likely in those times “light on his feet” and no threat to whatever they were interested. Part of it might have been his two million facts which he would spout at the drop of a hat and that impressed many girls from what I came to understand later although not enough to strike up a romance. For a fact, Scribe, and I, although I always lied about it, never in high school had a date with anybody from North Adamsville High or even the town in general so it wasn’t about getting dates for himself. Maybe too it was that he had a reputation for knowing who and who not to approach and maybe that held him in good stead. The funny thing is that if Gary Ladd had been a couple of years younger he could have scooped up his honey, the one e was able to “dance” the night away with once things got clear a lot faster than he did. Allan Jackson]   

Saturday night from seven to eleven, any third Saturday of the month from September to May, every red-blooded teen boy and girl in the 1961 North Adamsville High School be-bop, be-bop night could only be in one locale, or want to be. That was the night of the monthly seasonally-themed high school hop. The Fall Frolic, Pumpkin Ball, Mistletoe Magic, Frozen Frolic, and so on themes with hop at the end to give the old-timey innocent high school feel to the night in a town which had had such dances since the school’s founding in the 1920s. Although the term “hop” had been of more recent vintage reflecting the effect that such cultural phenomena as the afternoon television program American Bandstand and Danny and the Juniors classic song At The Hop had invested the word with significant teen meaning. More importantly this monthly hop, unlike the more exclusive Autumn Leaves, Holly Hock and Spring Fling dances which were meant solely for juniors and seniors and their guests and which were not designated hops or any other such shorthand reflecting the new rock and roll breeze that had been stirring through the nation for some time by then, anyone, even freshmen and sophomores, could ante up the dollar admission and dance the night away.

There had been a large attendance of wallflower-like freshman, girls and boys alike, all red-faced, all sweaty palms, all trying to look nonchalantly like they had been going to these things for ages to hide their wallflower fears  who were hanging off the walls in the transformed festooned gym. As were most of the sophomores, a little more self-assured and hovering around the gym bleachers which had been extended to provide some seating, but still worried about whether they, the boys, had put on enough underarm deodorant, had swigged enough mouthwash, had combed enough parted Wild Root-infested  hair, and the girls, whether that stolen mother’s perfume would seem too strong, their permed hair was still in array and that that padded dress showed their figures to good effect were witness to the fact that anyone, sweaty palms or not if they had enough moxie could dance the night away.  

Well almost everybody in attendance had the chance to dance the night away. And that had been the dilemma confronting one freshman, Gary Ladd, he the “wallflower” way off to the side of the gym almost into the wall if you didn’t think you had seen him on one of the third Saturday nights in question. And right next to him is another guy, Sam Lowell, hair-slicked, underarm-protected, Listerine-inhaled, his best friend since junior high days when he moved to town from Clintondale and they have since tried to defend each other against the hardships of American wayward youth times, times when they both would have rather just that moment had cool sunglasses on to stifle their fears. But let’s get back to Gary because the night Sam was referring to was his night after some many failed efforts and Sam’s story can be simply stated. He will wind up going home at intermission kind of defeated since nobody, nobody at all had asked him to dance, believing that he had not put enough deodorant on, enough Wild Root or swilled enough mouthwash and had been defeated by the ever-present bane of the wallflowers-personal hygiene.

[Sam would find out a couple of days later when he mentioned his defeat to Emma Wilson in History Class that most of the freshman girls that she knew kept an arm’s distance from him not for personal hygiene, some girls thought that he was “cute,” but no girl, no self-respecting girl could permit herself to be barraged by the two thousand odd-ball facts that he would spew out in order to impress them during the dance. Sam has since decided to take her comment under advisement. But back to Gary.]   

What had been bothering Gary, though, we might as well have our moment of truth right up front since this is a confessional age and the truth would have come out anyway, is that he can’t dance. Can’t dance a damn, to hell, heaven or any place in between. Couldn’t dance in junior high when Sam tried to shadow-box teach him a few steps and when the moment of truth came he almost broke poor, beautiful Melinda Loring’s big toe. Such a reputation in a small town is hard to break. Sam’s corner boy Gary’s problem: two- left feet. Two left-feet despite the more recent best efforts of one Agnes Ladd, North Adamsville Class of 1961 Vice President, whose own feet have taken a terrible beating, and has earned some kind of medal for service above and beyond the call of duty, trying to teach little brother Gary the elements of the waltz, the fox trot, and hell, even two feet away from your partner rock and roll moves and the twist to no avail.

All of this teaching done under the cover of tight security since Gary had sworn Agnes to secrecy about their doings. Agnes, for her part, one of the smartest and most popular girls in the senior class, had no intention of telling anybody that she was talking to, much less teaching dance to a freshman even if it was her own brother. Those are the school conventions, and nobody, nobody who is smart and popular is going to defy conventions like that. The freshman, as Agnes told Gary, would have their day in a few years and would in turn snub their subordinate freshman. That is the way it is. But Gary, no twerp under his two left-footed exterior, has always, as he put it, exercised his democratic right as a freshman in good standing to be at these universal dances, come hell or high water.

But that night, that warm April Bring Spring Hop night Sam was talking about, things were destined to be a little different as Gary has already staked his place against the far wall (the wall farthest away from the girl “wallflowers” just in case you wanted an exact location. Mostly wallflowers, boy or girl, although not Sam, were keeping their respective distances on the odd chance that someone may actually come up and ask them to dance. First off this month, unlike most months when some lame student DJ from Communications class spins platters on a feisty school record player, the local craze rock band sensations, The Rockin’ Ramrods, were performing live on the makeshift bandstand and were guaranteed to have everybody who gets to dance rocking before they are done, including Gary and Sam who are scared but still hopeful. Just that minute as Gary shifted his weight and placed his back to the wall they were tuning up before their first set of three with the appropriately named Please Stay by the Drifters. Secondly, but in line with that Gary hopeful, a new girl in town, Elsie Mae Horton, had told Gary that she would be coming to the hop, her first since moving to town a couple of months before. Naturally the mere fact that she said she would come was an added reason why Gary was there  all that exercising democratic rights stuff be damned (and also why he had tortured his sister Agnes to try, try in vain, to teach him some dance steps). See Gary has the “bug” for Elsie Mae, Yeah, as Sam well knew since he had taken a failed and fruitless run at her with his two thousand facts in Civics class and had gotten the deep freeze, Gary was smitten.

Now this Elsie Mae was maybe, on a scale of one to ten, about a six so it is not looks that had Gary (and about six other guys, five and Sam), well, smitten. An okay body, fair legs, nice brown hair and eyes, a so-so dresser like Sam said a “six” (and Gary agreed with Sam in that department although if you see Elsie Mae Sam never said that, nor did Gary). See what Elsie Mae had was nothing but smarts, book smarts which had been how Sam had made his approach to her in Civics class talking about this book they were reading about President Andrew Jackson and how he broke the back of the aristocrats like the Adams family who wanted to keep political power in the hands of some self-selected elite, themselves, and forget the guys going west, yeah Sam confessed not exactly the smoothest move. Idea smart too which enthralled Gary since he liked to talk about novels and such which was what Elsie Mae was into, talk smarts you name it smarts and one of the sweetest smiles this side of heaven. And, as Gary found out early on in one of their shared classes, very easy to talk to about anything, if she wanted to talk to you. Yes, he was smitten; the only unknown in his mind is whether she could dance good enough to stay out of his way if it came to that. That is if he got up the nerve to ask her. And as the Ramrods started their first set with Gary Bonds’ School Is Out (praise be) he noticed her coming in the door. Heart pounding he started sinking into the wall again. 

As they finished with Brother Bonds the Ramrods started in on The Impressions’ Gypsy Woman before Gary realized that Elsie Mae has drawn a bee-line straight for him and was standing right in front of him, turning a little red after he did not greet her. “Oh, my god,” Gary whispers under his breathe, “she is going to ask me to dance. No way.” The usually easy to talk to Elsie Mae though said nothing, nothing but turned a little redder as the Ramrods covered the Pips Every Beat Of My Heart (nicely done too). She stood there waiting for Gary to ask her, if you can believe that. Well, two-left feet or not, he did ask her. And she smiled a little smile as she “accepted.” Relief.

Needless to say when they did their dance, The Edsels’ Rama Lama Ding Dong, it was nothing but a disaster. A Gary disaster? Yes. Although you can use fake moves galore on such a tune Gary, maybe nervous, maybe just trying to show off started moving all his arms all over the place so he looked from Sam’s wall position like one of those devilish Hindu gods with a ton of arms. And while in motion he had hit Ella Mae a couple of times, not hard but not cool either. Once she came close to him and he moved back into another couple, a senior couple and Sam thought the senior, Bill Daley from the football team, was going to level poor Gary but he just moved away with his date with the meanest look of scorn Sam had seen in a while. 

So disaster was the right word. But here is the funny part. Elsie Mae Horton, formerly of Gloversville, a town in farm country a few miles away and known for the Gloversville Amusement Park on Route 9 and nothing else really, and new to North Adamsville so of unknown dance quality, had two-left feet too. When she had been closing in on Gary it was because she had lost her balance and was ready to careen into him. Get this though. When the dance was mercifully finished, and the two had actually survived, Elsie Mae thanked Gary and told him that he was a wonderful dancer and said she wished that she could dance like him. Whee! Here is the real kicker though. Elsie Mae had also been taking dancing lessons on Saturday mornings at the YWCA, unsuccessfully. Dancing lessons solely so that two-left feet Elsie Mae Horton could dance with Gary Ladd. See, she was “smitten” too. And so if you did not see Gary or Elsie Mae at the Mayfair Dance last month you have now solved that mystery. That night they were sitting, sitting very close to each other, on the seawall down at Adamsville Beach laughing about starting a “Two-Left Feet” Club. With just two members.

[As for Sam’s fate at the Mayfair Moon dance he went to the hop with Emma Wilson. See after she clued him in to “what was what” that time in class about his style Sam ran into her at the library and they talked, or rather she talked, not two thousand facts, talked but talked. And Sam let her. And right after that she asked Sam to escort her, her words, to the hop.]   

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