Saturday, July 31, 2004

Every Picture Tells a Story, Don’t It? (Part IV)

Story 3 of 3:
“The Cool Ones”

Two down, one to go. The third story that comes to mind from the photo booth picture I posted in this series’ prologue is the most fun, but least consequential of all. This story is a total lark; a fantasy; a make-believe dream come-true. Most accurately, it’s a frikkin’ joke!

You see, the twelve year-old making the goofy face there in the photo above, had another brief passion in back in 1968. He fancied himself to be a Rock star.

So you wanna be a Rock ‘N Roll star…
If you’ve been reading my blog long enough, or have taken the time to venture into the archives, you already know that music is one of my two top passions. I was lucky enough to grow up in not only the “Golden Age of Comics,” but the “Golden Age of Rock ‘N Roll” as well. I was born the same year that Elvis first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, cementing his status as “The King of Rock ‘N Roll.” That event, according to many commentators officially ushered in the Rock era. So when people ask me how old I am, and I’m feeling a bit playful, I simply reply that I was born the same year as “Rock ‘N Roll” (that one always earns me a lot of blank stares, but I like it). Then I make ‘em guess.

The first in-person rock concert I experienced was The Beatles, in 1964, when I was only eight years old. Rock was in the blood of everyone I knew. It wasn’t just a part of the youth culture in the 60s, it was the culture.

Everybody who could lift an instrument dreamed of being a rock star. I was no different.

I don’t remember whom it belonged to, or how I got it, if indeed it was mine, but sometime during the summer of 1968, I got my hands on a snare drum & symbol set. There’s an old saying, “Those who can’t do, teach.” Well I’d like to proffer a corollary of that saying, “Those who can’t teach, become enthusiasts.” That’s me in a nutshell with regard to music. I can’t play, yet music has always been such a part of my life that I have to do something, so I go to as many shows as I can, learn everything I can, and love to talk about it whenever I can.

Following the back injury in 1977 that ended my gymnastics season I had to take 12 credits in summer school in order to become eligible for my senior season the following year. The injury had forced me to take a medical withdrawal from all my classes for the spring semester. Since you have to average 12 credit per semester to be eligible for intercollegiate athletics, I either had to go to Summer School to make up those credits, or sit out the following season.

I decided that since I was sacrificing my summer taking classes, I was going to have fun doing it. So I took racquetball, beginning acting, piano and voice — classes that I would never have taken in college under normal circumstances. I had a blast in everything but piano — I sucked — and discovered that I am completely devoid of talent with regard to musical instruments. However, the other classes I did well in. I found that while I would never be considered “good,” when properly trained and practiced, I had a decent singing voice. But then I always sort of thought I did, which somehow leads us back to the story…

I felt so strongly about my burgeoning musical passion that I, like so many others like me at that time, thought I could be a singer-songwriter. For several weeks I sat at that mini drum set and wrote songs to a beat that could only be described as hideously spastic. But hey, I thought I was the next Dylan. I remember writing three songs, but unfortunately, still only have one that I’d written down (the other two, one of which was entitled, She’s Gone — and no, I didn’t sell it to Hall & Oates — have completely left me).

The remaining song was my first, and best. It is at the same time, a source of great pride and huge embarrassment for me. The pride is in the fact that it enabled me to have my fifteen minutes of (local) fame as a rock star. The embarrassment is in that it is so incredibly (but understandably) trite (I mean whadaya want from an eleven year-old?). Furthermore, my Dad used to make me sing it a cappella to every freakin’ adult we knew for a solid year after he first heard it. And while it’s great that he was so proud of me, it was hard not to feel like a show pony being paraded around. That and the “Hey AJ, show ‘em your muscles” fiasco when I was in 10th grade were the only two times in my life I can remember really not likin’ my Pop all that much. But that’s a another story altogether. Back to this one…

I recently came across the ancient manila file folder I still have from the late 1960s in which I have kept all the odds and ends that aren’t already in scrapbooks from that period in my life. I found torn-out pages from an old Daredevil comics special issue, for some reason separated from the original comic book (which bit the dust in the basement flood). Also, two Major League Baseball programs; one, from the first Big League game I ever attended, in 1969 at old Crosley Field in Cincinnati; the other, a California Angels program from a game in 1975 in Anaheim, with Mickey Rivers on the cover. There were also the faded colored pencil renderings of my first attempt at drawing a comic book of my own league of superheroes, “The Challengers” (which I will scan and post as per Michael’s request, once he returns from vacation). And finally, a yellowed page from a spiral-bound drawing pad, featuring the lyrics, written in pencil and barely still legible, to the one product of my very short songwriting career.

Laughing, chortling, snickering and snorting are definitely allowed here…

Baby, My Hold on You

Baby, my hold on you
is fading away.
Baby, I can tell
It’s not going to stay.
But, I tell you now
I just don’t know how
that I’ll
live without you.
I love you, love you true.

I think
and sometimes even
break down and begin to weep
‘bout the love
that once was ours
that I’m still trying to keep

But, my thoughts of these
are only empty memories
of when
our love was really strong
I wonder where its gone

I love you baby, don’t mean maybe
Love you every day, yeah
Love you baby, don’t mean maybe
Love you all the way ay yayyyyy…

Baby, my hold on you
It is going so fast
I remember all
The things we did in the past
But, before you go
I want you to know
that I
will never forget
the day that we met


My love for you
is everlasting
it’s constant as the sea
But now your heart
is someone else’s
it no longer belongs to me
But, you’ll never know
how much I love you so
and how
you linger in my brain
You’re driving me insane


(Orchestral bridge…you know, with lots of strings and horns and shit)

Baby, my hold on you
now is simply gone
I just don’t know
where it all went wrong
But, I tell you now
I just don’t know how
that I’ll
live without you.
You don’t know how much I love you.

(Chorus x2…fades out, with strings and horns a’ blazin’)

Okay, I’ll give you a moment to compose yourself, but hurry up…this story is getting to be a bit too long…

The Shirt
Ah yes, the shirt. In case you were wondering how making a toothless, monkey-ears face in a photo booth relates to being a Rock star, relax — you didn’t miss anything. I’m gettin’ to it.

Here again, I’m a little fuzzy on the details of “how,” but in the picture above, the shirt I wore on the Bike Hike that day is the key to the story.

The original photo had darkened a great deal over the years, so I had to perform a little Photoshop magic to make it look good when I scanned it. However the scan of the entire photo was still too dark to see much detail in the shirt, so I re-scanned it larger and tweaked the contrast so that you can get a little better idea of what the print on this shirt looked like. It was a short-sleeve mock-turtleneck shirt that was a deep blue — probably just a tad lighter shade of the dark blue in the Blogspot banner ad at the top of everyone’s blog pages.

In black, printed over the top the dark blue base color, the shirt featured a very cool paisley print. If I’m not mistaken, I think that my soon-to-be-Aunt Mom, Maxine got me the shirt that summer, probably for my birthday in July. She bought it at JCPenny, or as we always more simply called it, “Penny’s.”
I don’t know if I have ever received as a gift an article of clothing that I was any more excited about. That shirt was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Much less put on my body. I wore it proudly.

I entered the 7th grade in the fall of 1968. Mike A was a suave neighborhood boy who was a casual friend, but way too popular to spend much time hanging around with the likes of me. Soon after the school year began, one day he took notice of my “cool shirt.” He asked me about it and I told him where my Aunt had gotten it. A few days later he showed up at school just like it. Our casual friendship immediately became fast.

Once again I don’t remember how the subject came up, but one day we were both wearing our “cool shirts” as we’d collectively dubbed them and were sitting around talking at lunchtime. Now it was common knowledge that Mike had a band he was putting together. Over the summer they could be heard pretty clearly from my house. Mike and his friend, another former casual neighborhood acquaintance, Mark S, both lived one street over and a half block down from us. They usually jammed from Mark S’s garage and they sounded pretty good for a bunch of 12 year-olds. They were still practicing, but they were pretty close to being ready to play at parties and such around the neighborhood. Mike played electric guitar Mark S played the drums. Some other guy whose name has completely escaped me was the bass player. But anyway, as we were talking, I mentioned that I’d written a couple songs. Mike asked if he could come over some time and hear them. I must have jumped out of my skin saying “SURE! How ‘bout today after school?” Mike said he’d like that, so he and Mark came over to the house that afternoon.

I sang Baby, My Hold on You, for him and he really liked it.

“You wanna sing in our band?” he asked. I couldn’t believe my ears.
“Of course!” I said. “That’d be totally groovy!”
“What’s the band’s name again?” I inquired.
“We haven’t come up with one yet,” He said
“How ‘bout ‘The Cool Ones?’” I offered. “We could wear our shirts!”
“Hey that sounds pretty good!” Mike smiled.

And so it was, “The Cool Ones” were born.

Mark S. and the bass player were soon dispatched to go get their own official signature band attire, but unfortunately JCPenny had sold out of the dark blue style. However there were three other colors of the shirt still had in stock. It came in a dark green, deep yellow, and red base colors. Mark S opted for the green and the base player picked up the red variety.

My fifteen minutes of fame as a Rock star was actually about 3 weeks in duration. We played two parties, one at a popular girl’s house, in which I remember being really nervous, but doing really well singing my songs. The rest of the set were either instrumental covers of old “beach music” hits, along with a few pop covers that Mike sang lead on. I know that I wasn’t all that good, but I can take comfort in the fact that I sang better than he did.

The other party we played was at my house, an event that I still remember feeling nervous planning. It turned our well, but I don’t think I sang quite as well that time. No matter, we had a huge turnout and everybody had a good time.

Soon after that the “Cool Ones’” short-lived run came to an end, as the neighborhood fogies started complaining about the noise when we practiced and Mark S’ parents shut us down. The curtain was abruptly closing on my life as a Rock star.

So, the band just kind of faded off into the blue. To my knowledge, Mike never reformed the band before I moved to California the next year. I still heard Mark S. practicing his drums on an occasional Saturday afternoon. Who knows what the circumstances were in the lives of the other boys who were part of my brush with musical fame.

I’ve often wondered exactly happened to “the shirt.” I know it never made the trip to California. I don’t remember giving it to Good Will, but truth be known, as often as I wore it, it was probably a tattered rag by the time it either wore out or I grew out of it. Either scenario is equally likely to have happened. One thing is for certain, I’ll never forget wearing that shirt and the way it made me feel.




Next: Epilogue: Innocence Lost
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