Last Friday was Mexican Flag Day. It was that thought that prompted me to write about Mexico at all, and the column hijacked itself and had me write what it wanted. This is a beloved cop-out among writers and one that proves itself valid the longer you're at it. It is spring-like weather that suggests to me I start from there (broad enough), and I have no idea at this moment where that will lead.Spring.Young man's fancy, love, etc.
The poet's territory traditionally, and here's a poet ready to land on my desk. It is Boris (Doctor Zhivago) Pasternak.
Spring! I am from the street where poplars stand astonished,
Where the distance shies in fright, where houses fear to fall,
Where the air is blue-washed, like the linen bundle
Of a patient just discharged from a hospital.
Where the evening is vacant, like an interrupted story,
Ending in asterisks without any sequel
To the suspense of a thousand clamoring eyes,
Bereft of expression and deeply abysmal.
Free-associating. Love = doughnuts. Love = guitars. A spring evening with a warming breeze on the heels of a brutal wind-chill factor February in the Midwest. The scent of lavender in the air from...somewhere becomes an olfactory, Proustian time machine. I wanted to fill the night with music, guitar music, the Kinks, the Who. Link Wray. This would have been the mid-1960s and for those of you tired of my brain-burned and pot-holed memory lane, please feel free to turn the page. I'm going to say 1967, spring. I was 16. I did not want to dance. I thought it was gay, or more precisely, I would have thought of it as a homo thing. Still, I wanted to meet girls, and that year I was in a public high school in Grayslake, Illinois; I had been sitting next to them, across from them, behind them, smelling them -- and they may as well have been in El Paso. Sophomore year I had partially solved the problem with a band called (not by me, surprisingly enough) the Swordsmen. We probably had no idea of any double entendre. John LeDuc was a short, wiry little greaser who learned all the stuff on the Play Along with the Ventures records, so he was lead guitar. A quiet, burly athlete named Nils Holstrom who would, the following year, get killed in Vietnam, supplied rhythm guitar. The drummer was a guy I only remember as "Lurch" because of his resemblance to the guy on The Addams Family TV show. I played bass guitar; it was a lovely, hollow-body, violin-shaped Echo bass, similar enough to McCartney's, and I had borrowed it from a guy named Ralph Dado, a dangerous, older Italian dropout who also knew how to get pot.
I had commandeered the basement of Saint Gilbert's Church for Friday night dances under the auspices of a "regular Joe" type of priest whose name I've forgotten. We had a stage with an American flag and a lectern. The place held about 200 kids, and we packed them in. The Friday night series was a success. I have fond memories of playing and singing top 40 stuff, and that year, the top 40 seemed to have some of the best popular music anyone had heard. It still seems that way.
My fingers learned to play over the fretboard the notes to "We Gotta Get Out of This Place," and "Inside Looking Out," while my voice delivered a fair imitation of Eric Burdon's. Fair, I say, fair -- nowhere near the power, the control and whatnot, but....
Learning "Hey Mister Space Man" by the Byrds prepared me for a year-long stint playing country and western bass a few years later at military bases and after-hours truckers' joints in hostile places like Casper, Wyoming, and Pocatello, Idaho. And the bass part to "Nowhere Man" still eludes me. I wonder what rubbish I passed off as the original running line Paul delivered with seeming ease. The old gospel song "Bury My Body" (and we were imitating the Animals again here, this was long before Led Zeppelin) is still an anthem of freedom and promise when I replay the thing in my head. I have been unable to find a recording of the Animals version for many years.
I don't remember the girls' names other than Sue Faulkner or Suzy Creamcheese, a thinner, sexier, and younger Mama Cass in a Podunk landscape. I became the boyfriend of a girl named Cindy and later, Beth. Beth had a seriously bad time of it a year later when I got my own apartment in Chicago and broke it off. I only heard about her therapy sessions with a priest over this trauma 20 years later.
Something about spring evenings (and I know it is not yet spring) and a slightly above body temperature breeze blowing through a high school parking lot and cooling the rock and roll sweat from the back of my neck embodies the essence of Friday night to me more than any other set of sensations I can summon.
Somebody, please invite me to your Friday night high school dance. Please. Write TGIF Dance, P.O. Box 85803, San Diego, CA, 92186. I promise I will behave.