Saturday Reprise- I wrote this last year
Averyell A. Kessler
The sky was still December dark when my alarm clock rattled loud enough to shake teeth out of a corpse. Daylight was a long way off but I had an early class in Allen Hall, an ancient building facing the quadrangle at LSU. I rolled out of bed, stepping quietly to avoid waking my roommate and padded downstairs to the kitchen of my sorority house searching for coffee. When I entered the kitchen, our cook, Alma, was crying. She was an interesting lady who’d won a skinny legs contest at a Jimmy Hendrix/ Joe Tex concert.
“What’s wrong,” I asked.
“The king is dead,” Alma sniveled, dabbling her eyes with a tissue.
“Otis Redding,” she answered. “Plane crash last night.”
“Oh, no,” I said. “His music is really great.” We watched the sun rise drinking coffee and talking about These Arms of Mine and Try a Little Tenderness.
I remembered Otis this week when an interesting item popped up on my laptop. It read “Wondering why young people are so angry these days? It’s because their music is $%#%!” (use your imagination ). I’m grateful that wasn’t a problem for my generation. Our music was magic. It began as a rock’n roll revolution organized by Elvis and Buddy Holly, blessed by the doo-wop guys*, and honed to a fine art by The Beatles, Mick Jagger, The Beach Boys, and James Brown. As for country music, we’ll kiss an angle good morning and toss in Charlie Pride and Patsy Cline. Terrific!
My music addiction started early when I realized something new was bubbling on the horizon. Big band swing and The Hit Parade were fading. No one cared what was behind The Green Door, or how much That Doggy in the Window cost. Daddy had already refused to listen the Rock Around the Clock and snapped off Elvis singing Hound Dog on The Ed Sullivan Show. Even though Ed had only shown the upper half of Elvis’ body, rumors of his swiveling hips caused community outrage. But it didn’t stop. Suddenly, Joey Dee and the Starlighters burst into view with the Peppermint Twist. Anyone who’d hula hooped in childhood intuitively knew how to twist. Chubby Checker had a hand in it too – Come on baby, let’s do the twist. This was the ideal ice breaker for young teenagers wading into the frightening waters of a boy/girl parties. It was a perfect sing-along, required no body contact, and wore us out in short order – a chaperone’s dream come true. I made an abortive effort to teach my mother the twist, but she was accustomed to Glen Miller’s big band and never got the hang of it.
Then high school – a joyous mix of blossoming hormones, semi adulthood, the Prom, and the sweaty cheek slow dance. We were lulled into romance by Ray Charles, I Can’t Stop Loving You[ak1] , Percy Sledge crooning When a Man Loves Woman, and the ultimate snuggle up song, Nat King Coles’ When I fall in Love. Whew! If things got too intense, Hey You Get Off My Cloud or Wooly Bully barged in. John, Paul, George, and Ringo brought us a new sound. A new hairstyle too. Somehow, we survived.
I attended college in South Carolina for one desperate year, just long enough to hear the mellow sound of The Platters, dance the shag, and sing With This Ring in the shower. Although I Can’t Get No Satisfaction was not popular at a women’s college, the Everly Brothers were well received. The only high point was our Christmas concert and dance when the scheduled performer canceled and the college hired an unknown substitute named Dionne Warwick.
The next year I arrived at LSU. Party time! I discovered that several college hangouts were within 5 minutes of the campus, all spotlight attractions making it hard to study for exams, compose term papers or arrive bright eyed for a 7:30 AM class on Saturday morning. I learned that fancy heels don’t work well with Soul Man and anything by the Supremes was an instant dance event at the Phi Mu house. I tried to figure out the mystery lyrics to Louie, Louie and decode Sgt. Pepper’s mysterious album cover. When that failed, I’d tune in my radio to comfort of Brown Eyed Girl and Your Love Keeps lifting Me Higher. I survived those years too.
With little prodding, I’ll say that the music of my generation was the G.O.A.T. – that’s kid-speak for greatest of all time. My folks will not be listening to somnolent elevator music in a senior residence or popping Geritol laced Champagne bubbles with Lawrence Welk. We’ll be moving to Honky Tonk Women, Mustang Sally, and listening to Aretha with the volume set to earthquake level. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find put what it means to me. Maybe I’ll work in a little Elton John too because I really like Honky Cat. I know that it is possible to hum Proud Mary,as well asMr. Redding’s greatest Dock on the Bay. I can still dance The Watusi, but I’m a little rusty on the shag. Perhaps I’ll summon up Sixty Minute Man and see if I’ve still got that South Carolina rhythm.
My story is not unique. Most folks have favorites from their growing up years and can still hum the tune. We all know when Billy Joe McAllister met the grim reaper, and how to Let the Sunshine In. So, I’m making plans. Maybe I’ll borrow a T-Bird, blast the radio and cruise to the Hamburger stand. Perhaps Maybelline will drive up in her Coupe de Ville and take me for a ride down Penny Lane. Maybe aliens will land at Graceland and return Elvis. One thing’s for sure, Dum vivimus vivamus, while we live, let us live.
*Bill Morris’ has a fascinating book about his experience with “doo wop” guys – This Magic Moment. Don’t miss it.