Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-Out In The Be-Bop 1960s Teen Dance Club Night-Sonny James’ Young Love

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-Out In The Be-Bop 1960s Teen Dance Club Night-Sonny James’ Young Love

Sketches From The Pen Of Frank Jackman 

They say for every boy and girl,
There's just one love in this old world,
And I, I kn-ow, I, I, I've found mine.
The heavenly touch of your embrace,
Tells me no one will take your place,
A, A, A, A, ever in my heart.

Young love, first love,
Filled with true devotion,
Young love, our love,
We share with deep emotion.

Just one kiss from your sweet lips,
Will tell me that your love is real,
And I, I, I can fe-el that it's true.
We will vow to one another,
There will never be another,
Lo-ve for you, or for me.

Young love, first love,
Filled with true devotion,
Young love, our love,
We share with deep emotion.

I have always been intrigued by the different little social gatherings that dominated our teen-age lives back in the late 1950s and early 1960s. To a certain extent every generation of teen-agers since they invented the category as enough kids in a family made it to that age and had enough free time on their hands to form a distinct segment of society has had some of the same institutions, you know school, sports, special day parties and periodic dances stuff like that. Although I am not as familiar with the inner workings of today’s millennial generation I do not believe that I have heard much about an institution that was mainstay while I was growing up, the teen dance club. The place where you were allowed to go and have fun and of which parents approved which should have made us suspect, and would have later but while we were dealing with trying to fit the fixture into our lives we looked forward to its weekly charms.    

The teen dance club memory just did not suddenly come up and hit me out of the blue but was a result of some work I have been doing of late that brought it to the fore. I, seemingly, have endlessly gone back to my early musical roots in reviewing various compilations of a classic rock series that goes under the general title Rock ‘n’ Roll Will Never Die. And while time and ear have eroded the sparkle of some of the lesser tunes, tunes that our local jukeboxes devoured many a hard-earned father nickel and dime it still seems obvious that those years, say 1955-58, really did form the musical jail break-out for my generation. The generation of ’68, the generation that slogged through the red scare cold war night, survived and, for a minute, were ready to turn the world upside down in the mid to late 1960s before the wave ebbed and we wound up fighting something like a forty plus year rearguard action to maintain some semblance of dignity, and who had just started to tune into rock music as some sort of harbinger of things to come, that jailbreak previously mentioned.  

And we, we small-time punk (in the old-fashioned sense of that word, not the derogatory sense), we hardly wet-behind-the-ears elementary school kids, and that is all we were for those who would now claim otherwise, claiming some form of amnesia about when that beat hit them square in the eyes, listened our ears off. Those were strange times indeed in that be-bop 1950s night when stuff happened, stuff parents did not have a handle on and stuff we saw as our way out of the box that was being fit around us. Kid’s stuff, sure, but still stuff like a friend of mine, my elementary school best friend “wild man” Billie who I will talk about more some other time, who claimed, with a straight face to the girls, that he, all ten years old of him, was Elvis’ long lost son. Did the girls do the math on that one? Or, maybe, they like us more brazen boys were hoping, hoping and praying, that it was true despite the numbers, so they too could be washed by that flamed-out night when Elvis (and us, us too) were young and hungry.

Well, this I know, boy and girl alike tuned in on our transistor radios (small battery- operated radios that we could put in our pockets, and hide from snooping parental ears, at will and we owe a lot to whoever put that idea together especially for poor ass projects boys with too little space as it was) to listen to music that from about day one, at least in my household was not considered “refined” enough for young, young pious you’ll-never get-to-heaven-listening-to-that-devil's- music and you had better say about eight zillion Hail Marys to get right Catholic, ears. Yeah right, Ma, Pa like Patti Page or Bob Crosby and The Bobcats (not Bing, not the Bing of Brother, Can You Spare A Dime? anyway. I would come to know that song more closely, too closely later but that is another story) were supposed to satisfy our jail-break cravings.

And we had our own little world, or as some hip sociologist trying to explain that Zeitgeist today might say, our own sub-group cultural expression. I have already talked about the pre 7/11 mom and pop corner variety store hangout with the tee-shirted, engineered-booted, cigarette (unfiltered, of course) hanging from the lips, Coke, big-sized glass Coke bottle at the side, pinball wizard guys thing. And about the pizza parlor jukebox coin devouring, hold the onions I might get lucky tonight, dreamy girl might come in the door thing. And, of course, the soda fountain, and…ditto, dreamy girl coming through the door thing. Needless to say you know more about middle school and high school dance stuff, including hot tip “ inside” stuff about manly preparations for those civil wars out in the working-class neighborhood night, than you could ever possibly want to know, and, hell, you were there anyway (or at ones like them).

But the crème de la crème to beat all was the teen night club. Easy concept, and something that could only have been thought up by someone in cahoots with our parents (or maybe it was them alone, although could they have been that smart). Open a “ballroom” (in reality some old VFW, Knight of Columbus, Elks, etc. hall that was either going to waste or was ready for the demolition ball), bring in live music on Friday and Saturday night with some rocking band, ours the Ready Rockers who did good covers on all but Elvis since they lacked his implicit sexual energy  (but not too rocking, not Elvis swiveling at the hips to the gates of hell rocking, no way), serve the kids drinks…, oops, sodas (Coke Pepsi, Grape and Orange Nehi, Hires Root Beer, etc.), and have them out of there by midnight, no later, unscathed. All supervised, and make no mistake these things were supervised, by something like the equivalent of the elite troops of the 101st Airborne Rangers. Usually some maiden teachers dragged in to volunteer and keep an eye, a first name eye on things, or some refugees from the sporadic church-sponsored dances who some priest or minister dragooned into volunteering with heaven held out as a reward but eagle-eyed for any unauthorized hand-holding, dancing too close or off-hand kissing.    

And we bought it, and bought into it hard. And, if you had that set-up where you lived, you bought it too. And why? Come on now, have you been paying attention? Girls, tons of girls (or boys, as the case may be). See, even doubting Thomas-type parents gave their okay on this one because of that elite troops of the 101st Airborne factor. Those hardened surrogate parents with the beady eyes and tart tongues. So, some down at the heels, tee-shirted, engineer- booted Jimmy or Johnny Speedo from the wrong side of the tracks, all boozed up and ready to “hot rod” with that ‘boss”’57 Chevy that he just painted to spec, was no going to blow into the joint and carry Mary Lou or Peggy Sue away, never to be seen again. No way. That stuff happened, sure, but that was on the side. This is not what drove that scene for the few years while we were still getting wise to the ways of the world. The girls (and guys) were plentiful and friendly in that guarded, backed up by 101st Airborne way (damn it). And we had our …sodas (I won’t list the brands again, okay). But, and know this true, we blasted on the music. The music that was on the compilations I have reviewed, no question. And I will tell you some of the stick outs that made my pray for dance card:
Save The Last Dance For Me, The Drifters (oh, sweet baby, that I have had my eye on all night, please, please, James Brown, please save that last one for me, and on too few occasions she did, or her kindred did later when I had other roving eyes so I came out about even); Only The Lonely, Roy Orbison (for some reason the girls loved Ready Rockers’ covers of this one, especially one night, not a teen club night but a night the Rockers were playing a church hall teen dance Friday night when a certain she planted a big kiss on my face, well, on my lips after I sang, really more like lip-synched  that one along with the band. Unfortunately she soon had a boyfriend and I was strictly past history but the memory of that kiss lasted lots longer); Alley Oop, The Hollywood Argyles (a good goofy song to break up the sexual tension that always filled the air, early and late, at these things as the mating ritual worked its mysterious ways and despite prying prudent eyes hand-holding, dancing too close and off-hand kissing got done, got done much more than our parents would ever know); Handy Man, Jimmy Jones( a personal favorite which dove-tailed into my “style” then,  as I kept telling every girl, and maybe a few guys as well just to keep them away from the ones I was seriously eyeing, that I was that very handy man that those self-same gals had been waiting, waiting up on those lonely weekend nights for. Egad! Did I really use that line?); Stay, Maurice Williams and The Zodiacs (nice harmonics and good feeling, and excellent for dancing too close on); New Orleans, Joe Jones (great dance number as the twist and other exotic dances started to break into the early 1960s consciousness and great too because awkward self-conscious dancers like me could “fake it” with juke moves since we were basically dancing by ourselves on the fast ones); and, Let The Little Girl Dance, Billy Bland (yes, let her dance, hesitant, saying no at first mother, please, please, no I will not invoke James Brown on this one, please). Oh yeah, and Sonny James’ Young Love that got the girls all juiced and happy to dance close even with guys like me with sweaty hands and unsure feet.

So you can see where the combination of the dance club, the companionship, and that be-bop rock beat that we could not get enough of would carry us along for a while. Naturally the thing could not go on forever, our forever, once we got older, once we tasted cigarettes and liquor (okay, okay beer) and once parents took fright when too many down at the heels, tee-shirted, engineer- booted Jimmy or Johnny Speedos from the wrong side of the tracks, all boozed up and ready to “hot rod” with that ‘boss”’57 Chevy that they just painted to spec, started blowing into the joint to carry Mary Lou or Peggy Sue away, carry them away gladly never to be seen again.

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