The year was 1965, and the perversion I was about to perform would, within a matter of months certainly, even the final six weeks of that year, that winter, pale to "a harmless giggle" by comparison to what would come later. I placed my mother's mascara brush to my cheek. The line I drew began below my left ear, somewhat on a parallel to my jaw line. If one of my sisters came into the bathroom now, I would have to kill her. I repeated the phrase out loud, "Just a harmless giggle, really," with a trace of a tired, Liverpudlian accent. I caught my fracturing, 14-year-old voice dead-on the downbeat and convinced myself I sounded like the rhythm guitarist for the Beatles. It was John Lennon who originally said it, actually. (The word "actually" began to creep into speech with more regularity, as well. "As well" was replacing "too.") I told myself it gave me something of -- if not a Brit or even Liverpool accent -- then a vague continental quality to my world-weary aloofness. But Lennon had been talking about marijuana. That was another thing. After two years of looking for the stuff, that is, after having been ritually initiated into Hipdom, "turned on" by the Ukrainian beatniks of Chicago's near north side, then left potless for 24 months despite my best efforts, I was going to get high again that Friday night in November.
I think back on the name of my band then with amusement, embarrassment, and pride. (How did I come up with that? What had I been reading? Oedipus Rex that fall, pretty sure.) The Village Oracle was light years ahead as a band name, ahead of anyone else in a 12-block radius of rock bands (like the Renegades); polka bands; Italian, crushed-velvet "juicer bands" or grease bands; even surf bands (don't ask how or why in the Chicago of 1965). We were even light-years ahead of ourselves with that name. A month earlier we had been the Crescendos.
In the mirror: hair that had been slicked back all week in school, the "duck's ass" tucked into turtlenecks, was washed and free and just over the ears. I was sweating with nervousness (Is this stage-fright?), so my hair buckled into waves, shortening its length. This was no good at all. The maroon turtleneck wasn't helping here or the navy-and-white-striped skating scarf to my knees. The mirror was fogging up. The turtle would have to go.
This left my wide-wale amber corduroy hip-hugger bell-bottoms nearly invisible, a kind of earth-tone smear or cloud. I swabbed at the mirror with a wet towel. Beatle boots -- or, more accurately, Puerto-Rican fence-climber, shit-kicker dress boots that passed just fine as Beatle boots -- gave my already six-foot frame another inch. The shirt, substituting for the sweater, was plain white, starched, pressed brutally, severely, and featured a cotton-and-metal tab collar. Buttoned, of course, à la Bob Dylan. In the breast pocket of that shirt was a pack of Lark cigarettes, anemic little gaspers in a red packet and punctured with a ring of pinprick holes around the white filter. One might as well not be smoking, but one might as well not be smoking John Lennon's brand, wot? Still around? No idea. Haven't seen them in years. Liggett & Meyers made them.
The pièce de résistance: a three-quarter-length Edwardian corduroy, double-breasted coat with gold-braid piping at the lapels, the whole garment gathered and tucked at the waist. A touch of the Kinks. Mum had found the coat and pants, inexplicably, in either the Sears & Roebuck or Montgomery Ward fall catalog.
I briefly chickened out at the dandy/Beau Brummel topcoat and considered a plain, faded, blue denim jacket; I called it my Eric Burdon jacket. Nothing fey or Fauntleroy about Eric, and this was Chicago, not Regency France.
Between nerves and the lingering humidity, my mascara (rather, my mother's mascara) ran. What had been sideburns were now two shiny racing stripes that met at the chin forming one strap, as if I were wearing a shako in front of Buckingham Palace. I thought about shoe polish while I tried to make my hair look like anything except a Mickey Dolenz wig and put a stack of albums on my sister's portable Pony Tail turntable: Beatles '65, Bringin' It All Back Home, and Animal Tracks.
I failed to mention I was wearing either Jade East cologne or Hai Karate.
Oh, yes, and I had a blond, hollow-body Eko violin bass made in Japan; cool-looking and rococo as hell. It had cost about $60 at Shopper's World in La Grange, Illinois.
During the years 1965--1968, I paid more attention to what I wore while onstage (could be a gymnasium floor like that night) than I ever paid to clothing before or since. In '68 I had a pair of gold lamé (probably curtain material) bells that I think was the high-water mark of my career as a clotheshorse.
I'm not at all sure if it was that school dance at Lane Tech High or some other high school dance gig we landed that autumn of my sophomore year in which I was re-introduced to grass, but let's say it was. And the high school gigs? They were definitely all Fridays, often after a football or basketball game. The weed, smoked with a toilet paper tube and aluminum foil, was sneaky. Combined with Carling Black Label beer, the stuff had us playing the same three theme notes to the Batman television show for maybe 20 minutes, while a silently creepy wrestling champ had some kind of fit (epilepsy? if so, an odd, stylized form) and began a sort of dance craze.
We called it the Podo (don't remember why) and eventually substituted the Animals' Bury My Body as its anthem rather than the monotonous Batman theme. I was known that winter for carefully setting aside my Eko then flopping stupidly on the floor during "Wipe Out"--style drum solos. I tended to wear the denim more as the winter became 1966.