Monday, April 08, 2019

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-A Pauper Comes Of Age- For the Seaside Heights South Elementary School Class Of 1958-With Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen In Mind

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-A Pauper Comes Of Age- For the Seaside Heights South Elementary School Class Of 1958-With Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen In Mind

By Allen Jackson

[Hell even “the projects” boys, hell, maybe especially projects boys have dreams of grabbing some slumming Cinderella and turning the course of their lives around having that cachet nightingale wrapped around your very live dreams. I know I did, did three times later on when I got the marrying bug and scored three very bright, very pretty but most important very upper- middle class young women, no not rich like in the Scotty Fitzgerald sense that is almost too much to expect from someone born down in the mud, way down like I was. Of course that marrying bug took its toll what with alimonies, pay on time alimonies buster-or else-harsh talk from those so-called gentile Waspish wags and that fistful of nice brood of kids college tuitions that I am still clawing to get under control and which is the undertow of why I was in Frisco last year and why those horrible rumors about me working some whorehouse pimping with Madame La Rue anywhere from Frisco to Buenos Aires, Frisco where she is-without me- and blessed old neighborhood corner boy Timmy Riley known out there in North Beach for many years now as Ms. Judy Garland ( I think Timmy uses Miss to go back to the times but I will keep up with the times on this one.) who was supposed to be my transvestite lover and me high as a kite of sweet boy-girl opium bong pipes. WTF.

Strangely, or maybe not so strangely when I was in high school at North Adamsville High in the early 1960s I had nada, nothing for dates with any girls from high school or even from North Adamsville because of that social stigma which attached to guys down in the mud. The mud that I have never been washed clean from and in some senses, senses about sharing my fate with the poor people of the earth as Cuban nationalist Jose Marti said in his song made famous in America by Pete Seeger and the folk revivalists of the early 1960s, I don’t want washed away. In that former sense the caked mud sense, Markin, the aforementioned Scribe who would also have three marriages, three quick marriages before he went to ground down Sonora way, was ahead of me even though he too never got date number one from high school girl classmates or again from the town. (We didn’t either of us go dateless since under Scribe’s tutelage I got a few dates when we hit the late fading faux beat complete with black beret scene and the early folk scene over in Harvard Square but none of that was for serious dough young women but the arty type which we both fell head over heels for in those days).

So it is a little hard for me to tell a sweet little sixteen story straight up like Fritz Taylor could do up in high school New Hampshire, a guy I, we, met out in Southern California some years after our respective Vietnam War tours of duty. Met through lightening rod Scribe at first when I was just getting started on my series about those lost brothers who were having a tough time, as Fritz was, as I was although I didn’t know it until I went down in the mud again with my fellow soldier brothers who couldn’t adjust to the “real” world after “Nam, and as the most surprising of all the Scribe was but we were clueless about whatever pains and sadnesses possessed his beautiful bastard heart. No question what Fritz had to say below was one hundred percent or close just from seeing him with the young women out West who fell all over him even in his desperation times when he really should not have been dealing with women at all (something he denied at the time but has acknowledged since proving you can learn something in this wicked old world). So when he talks of some Cinderella princess that disturbed his sleep, some virginal sweet sixteen from the early 1960s you know that he was in synch with the times, keep his head down and ready for anything. Allan Jackson] 
They're really rockin Boston
In Pittsburgh, P. A.
Deep in the heart of Texas
And 'round the Frisco Bay
All over St. Louis
Way down in New Orleans
All the Cats wanna dance with
Sweet Little Sixteen
Sweet Little Sixteen
She's just got to have
About half a million
Framed autographs
Her wallet's filled with pictures
She gets 'em one by one
She gets so excited
Watch her look at her run
Oh mommy mommy
Please may I go
It's such a sight to see
Somebody steal the show
Oh daddy daddy
I beg of you
Whisper to mommy
It's all right with you
Cause they'll be rockin on bandstand
In Philadelphia P.A.
Deep in the heart of Texas
And 'round the Frisco Bay
All over St. Louis
Way Down in New Orleans
All the Cats wanna dance with
Sweet Little Sixteen
Sweet Little Sixteen
She's got the grown up blues
Tight dress and lipstick
She's sportin' high heal shoes
Oh, but tomorrow morning
She'll have to chang her trend
And be sweet sixteen
And back in class again
Cause they'll be rockin on bandstand
In Philadelphia P.A.
Deep in the heart of Texas And 'round the Frisco Bay
All over St. Louis Way Down in New Orleans
All the Cats wanna dance with
Sweet Little Sixteen
This is the way my old corner boy, Fritz Taylor, from down in “the projects” told me the story one night years later when we were sitting on the grey granite steps of our high school, Miller High, in Seaside Heights, that’s in New Hampshire. Those projects by the way, all white projects  unlike the ones you hear about lately which are mostly populated by minorities, had originally been build right after World War II to help stem the heavy demand for housing from returning servicemen with young families and not enough dough to finance a house. The original idea as well was that the housing was temporary and had been built with a certain careless abandon by some low-bidder contractors. Fritz’s and my family had been among those families in the 1950s who did not get to participate in the “golden age” and so we were long time tenants all through our school years until we graduated from Miller High. Between the isolated location of the projects and the high number of kids the place had it had its own elementary school, Snug Harbor (sounds nice right, however, that school was also expected to be temporary and built as such by those same low-bidder contractors), where we both had gone through all six grades together (we started in the time before kindergarten became a step in one’s education). I am telling you about this because the story happened down there long before we got to high school.

So there we were sitting there on the steps, no dough in our pockets, our main guy for a ride out of town, Benny, also a corner boy, on a family vacation up in Maine, no girls in hand, or prospects either since any girls we were interested in had no interest us either because we had not car or because we were from the projects, come to think of it forget that last part it was because we were car-less and that world was filled with guys with cars, “boss cars,” swooping down on the interesting girls, talking slowly. Talking kind of softly for us although loudly or softly no one would have been around to heard us that warm summer night with about six weeks to go before school started again and we could go back and start our junior year, kind of dreamy too really about the first times we had been smitten by a girl, not necessarily a forever smitten thing but with a bug that disturbed our sleep (forever then being maybe a month or six weeks, no more except for some oddball couples who found love and stayed together for the next fifty years if you can believe that in this day in age).

Yeah, that is exactly the way to put it, when some frail disturbed our sleep, the first of many sleepless nights on that subject.  (That “frail” a localism for girl, heavily influenced by our corner boy with the car Benny watching too many 1930s and 1940s George Raft or James Cagney gangster and Humphrey Bogart hard-boiled private detective movies.) So we were sitting there thinking about how we were now chasing other dreams, well, maybe not other dreams but older versions, sweet sixteen versions of that same dream.  Of course at sixteen it was all about girls but as it turned out that subject had its own pre-history way back when. Just ask Fritz Taylor if you see him.

Fritz Taylor, if he thought about it at all and at times like that dream vision night at sixteen on the steps in front of the high school he might have, probably would have said that he had his history hat on again like when he was a kid, loving history or even the thought of history since Miss Winot blew him away with talk of ancient Greeks and Romans. Blew him away so that when he got in trouble with that teacher for saying something fresh, and it really was, a swear word expression, “what the fuck,” that he heard all the time around his house which he thought everybody said when they were angry, assigned him a paper to write of five hundred words and he wrote an essay about Greek democracy which she actually read to the class she was so impressed. Miss Winot, blew him away more when she freaked him out with talk of Egypt and Pharaoh times with the Pyramids and the slaves and all the times he had begged his older brother to drive him all the way down to the art museum in Boston to look at old Pharaoh stuff some guys from Harvard had unearthed. But all that is just stuff to let you know what kind of guy Fritz was in elementary school before he wised up, or kind of wised up, in high school. Funny one time when I wanted to take the bus down to Boston when I got the Pharaoh bug in high school he dismissed me out of hand. Done that, he said. So that night he had his history hat on so I knew I was in for a story, a bloody silly story if I knew Fritz but we had nothing better to do so I let him go on. Let him go on that sixteen years old summer night when out of the blue, the memory time blue, he thought about more modern history, thought about her, thought about fair Rosimund.

No, before you get all set to turn to some other thing, some desperate alternate other thing, to do rather than read Fritz’s poignant little story, this is not some American Revolution founding fathers (or mothers, because old-time Abigail Adams may have been hovering in some background granite-chiseled slab grave in a very old-time Quincy cemetery while the events to be related occurred since Fritz was crazy about her too once he figured out she was the real power behind John and John Quincy) or some bold Massachusetts abolitionist regiment, the fighting 54th, out of the American Civil War 150th anniversary memory history like Fritz used to like to twist the tail around when you knew him, or his like. This is about “first love” so rest easy.

Fritz, that early summer’s night, was simply trying to put his thoughts together and figured that he would write something, write something for those who could stand it, those fellow members of our class who could stand to know that story. Although, at many levels that was a very different experience from that of the average, average Miller High class member the story had a universal quality that he thought might amuse them, amuse them that is until the name, the thought of the name, the mist coming from out of his mouth at the forming of the name, holy of holies, Rosimund, stopped him dead in his tracks and forced him to tell me that story and to write that different story later.

Still, once the initial trauma wore off, Fritz thought what better way to celebrate that milestone on the rocky road to surviving childhood than to take a trip down memory lane, that Rosimund-strewn memory lane. Those days although they were filled with memorable incidents, good and bad, paled beside this Rosimund-related story that cut deep, deep into his brown-haired mind, and as it turned out one that he have not forgotten after all. So rather than produce some hokey last dance, last elementary school sweaty-palmed dance failure tale, some Billie Bradley-led corner boy down in the back of Snug Harbor doo wop be-bop into the night luring stick and shape girls like lemmings from the sea on hearing those doo wop harmonies, those harmonies meant for them, the sticks and shapes that is, or some wannabe gangster retread tale, or even some Captain Midnight how he saved the world from the Cold War Russkies with his last minute-saving invention Fritz preferred to relate a home truth, a hard home truth to be sure, but the truth. Here is his say:

At some point in elementary school a boy is inevitably supposed to learn, maybe required to, depending on the whims of your school district’s supervisory staff and maybe also what your parents expected of such schools, to do two intertwined socially-oriented tasks - the basics of some kind of dancing and to be paired off with, dare I say it, a girl in that activity. After all that is what it is there for isn’t it. At least it was that way a few years back, and if things have changed, changed dramatically in that regard, you can fill in your own blanks experience. But here that is where fair sweet Rosimund comes in, the paired-off part.

I can already hear your gasps, dear reader, as I present this scenario. You are ready to flee, boy or girl flee, to some safe attic hideaway, to reach for some dusty ancient comfort teddy bear, or for the venturesome, some old sepia brownie camera picture album safely hidden in those environs, but flee, no question, at the suggestion of those painful first times when sweaty-handed, profusely sweaty-handed, boy met too-tall girl on the dance floor (age too-tall girls hormone shooting up first, later things settled down, a little). Now for those who are hopped up, or even mildly interested, in such ancient rituals you may be thinking, oh well, this won’t be so bad after all since I am talking about the mid-1950s and they had Dick Clark’s American Bandstand on the television to protect us from having to dance close, what with those funny self-expression dance moves like the Stroll and the Hully-Gully that you see on re-runs. And then go on except, maybe, the last dance, the last close dance that spelled success or failure in the special he or she night so let me tell you how really bad we had it in the plaid 1960s. Wrong.

Oh, of course, we were all after school black and white television-addled and addicted making sure that we got home by three in the afternoon to catch the latest episode of the American Bandstand saga about who would, or wouldn’t, dance with that cute girl in the corner (or that leering Amazon in the front). That part was true, true enough. But here we are not talking fun dancing, close or far away, but learning dancing, school-time dancing, come on get with it. What we are talking about in my case is that the dancing part turned out to be the basics of country bumpkin square-dancing (go figure, for a city boy, right?). Not only did this clumsy, yes, sweaty-palmed, star-crossed ten-year-old boy have to do the basic “swing your partner” and some off-hand “doze-zee dozes(sic)” but I also had to do it while I was paired, for this occasion, with the girl that I had a “crush” on, a serious crush on, and that is where Rosimund really enters the story.
Rosimund see, moreover, was not from “the projects” but from one of the new single-family homes, ranch-style homes that the up and coming middle-class were moving into up the road. In case you didn’t know, or have forgotten, I grew up on the “wrong side of the tracks” down at the Seaside Heights Housing Authority apartments. The rough side of town, okay. You knew that the minute I mentioned the name, that SHHA name, and rough is what you thought, and that is okay. Now. But although I had started getting a handle on the stick "projects" girls I was totally unsure how to deal with girls from the “world.” And Rosimund very definitely was from the world. I will not describe her here; although I could do so even today, but let us leave it at her name. Rosimund. Enchanting name, right? 

Thoughts of white-plumed knighted medieval jousts against some black-hooded, armored thug knight for the fair maiden’s hand, or for her favors (whatever they were then, mainly left unexplained, although we all know what they are now, and are glad of it)

Nothing special about the story so far, though. Even I am getting a little sleepy over it. Just your average one-of-the-stages-of-the-eternal-coming-of-age-story. I wish. Well, the long and short of it was that the reason we were practicing this square-dancing was to demonstrate our prowess before our parents in the school gym. Nothing unusual there either. After all there is no sense in doing this type of school-time activity unless one can impress one's parents. I forget all the details of the setup of the space for demonstration day and things like that but it was a big deal. Parents, refreshments, various local dignitaries, half the school administrators from downtown whom I will go to my grave believing could have cared less if it was square-dancing or basket-weaving because they would have ooh-ed and ah-ed us whatever it was. But that is so much background filler. Here is the real deal. To honor the occasion, as this was my big moment to impress Rosimund, I had, earlier in the day, cut up my dungarees to give myself an authentic square-dancer look, some now farmer brown look but back then maybe not so bad.

I thought I looked pretty good. And Rosimund, looking nice in some blue taffeta dress with a dark red shawl thing draped and pinned across her shoulders (although don’t quote me on that dress thing, what did a ten-year old boy, sister-less, know of such girlish fashion things. I was just trying to keep my hands in my pockets to wipe my sweaty hands for twirling time, for Rosimund twirling time) actually beamed at me, and said I looked like a gentleman farmer. Be still my heart. Like I said I thought I looked pretty good, and if Rosimund thought so well then, well indeed. And things were going nicely. That is until my mother, sitting in a front row audience seat as was her wont, saw what I had done to the pants. In a second she got up from her seat, marched over to me, and started yelling about my disrespect for my father's and her efforts to clothe me and about the fact that since I only had a couple of pairs of pants how could I do such a thing. In short, airing the family troubles in public for all to hear. That went on for what seemed like an eternity.

Thereafter I was unceremoniously taken home by said irate mother and placed on restriction for a week. Needless to say my father also heard about it when he got home from that hard day’s work that he was too infrequently able to get to keep the wolves from the door, and I heard about it for weeks afterward. Needless to say I also blew my 'chances' with dear, sweet Rosimund.

Now is this a tale of the hard lessons of the nature of class society that I am always more than willing to put in a word about? Just like you might have remembered about me back in the day. Surely not. Is this a sad tale of young love thwarted by the vagaries of fate? A little. Is this a tale about respect for the little we had in my family? Perhaps. Was my mother, despite her rage, right? Well, yes. Did I learn something about being poor in the world? Damn right. That is the point. …But, oh, Rosimund.

No comments:

Post a Comment