Hello to all, and I hope you’re enjoying being in the thick of the holiday season, and if not, I hope your December is going as well as can be expected. I know in my last post I spoke about a project that I hope to complete before March of next year. My intention is to follow up on this as is possible.
For now, having recently awoken with an old memory about my experience as a child discovering music, I thought I’d write about that. This is not to say that I hadn’t had music in my life, having grown up with fairly young parents who introduced us to people like Johnny Cash, (loved “Ring of Fire”), and also country western. Which is nothing like what is out there today. It was more of an Appalachian style, with undertones of the mournful west, and lonesome cowboys, etc. . Songs like “Down in The Valley”, and “Red River Valley”. There was also Buddy Holly, and things like the twist, that my mother taught us. That and swing dancing. However, these were all things that were more or less coming from the adults point of view around us. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it. But this post is about an unusual, dare I say odd encounter I had, literally finding my own personal tastes.
When I was nine years old, in nice weather, my brother and I would walk home from school. Not to be cliche’ but, it really was more than a mile from home. We went to St. Teresa of Avila parochial school, in Albany New York. The walk home took us from Elm St. (which at that time still had beautiful, majestic elms, before the blight), then downward toward a long street named South Manning Boulevard. This street continued most of the distance toward home, where we would then ascend a hill, then around the streets until we come to our own street, Crestwood Ct. So basically, South Manning Blvd. was a valley.
I hated walking home, not only was it at the end of a tiring day at school, but my feet always hurt. Along with my school uniform, which at that time was a brown one piece, with a shirt underneath, there was a sweater to match. So it was usually too hot. To top it off, there were knee high’s, which most of the time, would slip down, and I’d have to stop every few minutes to pull them up. The worst part was that, at the time, saddle shoes had come back into fashion. When my mom first brought me to get them, I thought they were OK. Here’s the thing though, back then, they were hard as a rock. Also, my parents wouldn’t get us new shoes until our feet were literally becoming a deformed mass. Often by the time I got home, my blistered feet, had bloodied my socks. (I swear, I’m not being dramatic.)
On this one particular day I dawdled behind my older brother. (At least I think he was there, but to be honest, I don’t remember him being there.) He may have gotten impatient, and run ahead, leaving me to die alone in the scorching heat.
The sun was beating down, I had my sweater wrapped around my waist, and I was sure I was hallucinating, (like in the movies where someone lost in the desert would start to see things that weren’t there,) when I saw them. Now South Manning Blvd. was actually two streets divided by a large swath of grass, or meridian, which flowed in opposite directions. We were supposed to stay on the sidewalks that flanked the streets. However we would often cut across, meandering along the grass, which although out in the open unprotected from the sun, or from flying objects from passing cars, was somewhat easier to walk on.
While contemplating my demise, I saw, strewn a long distance along the meridian, what appeared to be flat black rocks. Apparently it was an apparition, as my brother, (who was possibly there), had completely ignored this in his quest to get home. As I got closer, I realized that I wasn’t seeing things and that there really was something all over the grass. Stooping down, I realized that these were 45’s. For those unfamiliar, they were the smaller sized version of vinyl records, that had a large hole in the middle. Now yes, I did have a record player, (look it up). One that I played things that were probably close to what my daughter’s had in the 90’s, like “Barbie World” on cassettes. (A cassette by the way that was played so often that it somehow “vanished” to the delight of the adults in the house.)
I toed one of the records, to see what it said on it. I looked around. There was little traffic, and no one else in sight. I came to the conclusion that some of the annoying teenagers who lived in the area, must have tossed them out of their car as they woo-hooed down the street. South Manning Blvd. was also the street where “all the rich houses were”. You would think a great place to trick or treat, but sadly, no. Most were pretty stingy. Anyway, I figured my conclusion was about right.
Picking one up, I saw that it was a record by Neil Diamond. I had never heard of him. It was called, “Holly Holy”. Humph, I wondered, religious crap. (I tended to be a skeptic.) As I stood there sweating and dripping blood into my shoes, I decided to grab some, and stuffed them into my school bag. (No backpacks then.) Also having had “right and wrong” drilled into my head, and being a Catholic, I was born with guilt and impending doom lurking at all times, so part of me felt like I shouldn’t take them, and another part was more practical. The records were beginning to warp in the heat. I decided I’d take some of them, and leave the rest in case the wild teenagers came back, or to at least leave some for other scavengers. I was thoughtful that way.
With my ill gotten pirate booty safely ensconced in my shoulder bag, I had a little more pep in my step, and if not skipped, at least didn’t do my usual trudge home.
I can’t recall how I told my mother about the records but I wasn’t drawn and quartered, and I was allowed to keep them. I’m pretty sure my mother thought it was funny. That smile would be wiped off of her face, when I would then proceed to play these records, on nausea-um for weeks, or maybe it was months to come.
Another of the records, had a song called “Venus” on it. It was by a band called “Bananarama”. “Bananarama!” This was a whole new world opening up. It was a toss up which was my favorite. Many years later, it became a jingle on a commercial, which ruined the magic of it, especially as it was a poorly done cover, ah well . But at the time, when I found it, I couldn’t get enough of it. There were also a few Beatles songs as well. Now at this time, I had never heard of them, (I was nine). I was to be properly introduced to them fairly soon however, in two ways.
Our house was what today might be considered a “tiny house”. It was what was then called a Levittown house after what I presume is the name of the man who designed them. Every other house on our street was the same. They were all built on slabs, no basements. These houses were built after the war. I have no idea which war. We lived in a small enclave of these houses, built on what we were to find out years later, had been a dump. We were surrounded by much nicer homes. But it was clean and ours.
One could enter through the front door, but most often we came in the side door. This led into a small entry, and then into an equally small kitchen, decorated in the latest olive colored appliances, and large 60’s style flowered wall paper. That led to the dining/living room area. Through a door to the left was a slatted door that covered the water heater, ( a constant source of concern to my dad), and then there was the bathroom.
Also in this little hall area, was my brother’s room. My father had painted it in a bold orange, and brown, and had built in a low seating area with storage. (He loved “Popular Mechanics). He had also commandeered one side of my brother’s closet to use for his dark room, as he was an avid amateur photographer . He had attached a thick rubber cover thing to it, and would stand under it to develop his photos, the pungent smell of the developing chemicals seeping into the room. To the right was a hall that led to my room and then to my parent’s room. So there was little space to get away from each other, much less loud repetitive music. Or music that was loathed. There was a show that my father loved, and felt that we should too. It was called “The Earl Pudney Hour”. We had a black and white TV then, and the show was filmed in a studio against a white wall. Thus creating creepy shadows to go along with what I considered the worst music ever. They were a “jazz” band. The TV had bad acoustics, and that along with the bad, boring filming of it, was not conducive to making me a fan. I hated it. But every week my dad would try to convince me that it was fantastic.
In regard to my repetitive playing of my found treasure, I have to say, that my mother had infinite patience. Either that, or she just didn’t care, and had her own problems. It was around this time, that the Beatles were showcased on the Ed Sullivan show. This show came on very late at night, so we were not normally allowed to watch it. Our couch was on the wall facing away from the hall. My brother and I would often sneak out of bed, and think that we were “hiding” behind it and watch. The night that the Beatles came on, my dad suddenly said; “OK, come on out, you’re gonna watch it anyway.” Thus I was introduced to the Beatles. After seeing them, I decide I liked them, a lot. But I was still just a kid, and had a lot of other more important things going on, like following my brother around. So seeing them was fun, but it didn’t have that big of an impact on me. That is until my tenth birthday.
That same year my mother decided that I should have a more grown up birthday, and have real music, dancing, and boys over. She also invited our neighbors daughter who was sort of my friend, and as her big sister was home from college, she came over too. This annoyed me a little as my brother had a major crush on her, and this was just sickening. But she was cool, and introduced us to all the latest dances, which turned out to be a lot of fun. She also brought over Beatles albums. She couldn’t believe that we had only just started listening to them. A few months later she ran away to New York City. My brother was crushed, and I being a naive Catholic kid, couldn’t really understand why on earth she would do that.
It would only be a few years later that due to tragedy, and having to grow up fast, that I did understand. I also became something of a music elitist. I no longer listened to Neil Diamond, considering him to be something “old people listened to”. By this time I had very strong convictions about the music I listened to, CCR, Procol Harem, Judy Collins, Carol King, etc.
I’ve lived a lot of lives since the time I found those 45’s. But through it all, I’ve never forgotten finding them, or how it was one of the catalysts to my growing up. And sometimes, when one of those obscure songs comes on, I still remember all the words, and finding the music on my torturous walk home, so long ago
Reading through this, I’ve come to the conclusion that I could have added some more sketches. So eventually I may do that and then re-post it. For now, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this little slice of my life, see you next time!