Monday, July 23, 2012

Rock and roll awakening: my first songs, circa 1968

I went to sleep-away summer camp for the first time in 1968, in the Wisconsin Dells.

It was one hell of a year. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in the spring, and yes, third graders had our worlds rocked along with the older folk -- certainly on the south side of Chicago. Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June. Later that summer, after I returned from camp,the Democratic National Convention of that year ripped up downtown, a few miles north of where we lived.

Back home, my musical range was defined by what Mom and Dad played on the stereo, mostly meaty symphonies -- Beethoven and Tchaikovsky -- seasoned with a dash of Herb Alpert and Tijuana Brass. And Up With People recordings, natch. Who would have considered raising nice, liberal children in the 1960s without slotting Up With People into the mix?

I was nine years old that first time at summer camp. Despite the flood of political upheaval on my nascent cultural radar, I had no clue what was happening in radioland.

But our camp counselors did.

We were too far out in the boonies to pick up radio stations, but one enterprising counselor had brought a small stereo to camp, along with two (count 'em, two) 45 RPM singles. What's a "45," you ask? Think of it as a single song extracted from the inside of an iPod, and flattened onto a black, vinyl disc. Rather than magnetic ones and zeros, ridges pressed into a spiral groove that winds around the disc encodes the music.

Oh, never mind.

The whole time I was at camp, this counselor -- I don't recall his name -- blasted those two (2) singles over and over and over and over again into the hot Wisconsin afternoons. These were, in a nutshell, my introduction to popular music.

I did not get tired of the two (2) songs. I was smitten. Captivated. Fascinated. I couldn't get enough.

One of the singles was The Troggs performing Wild Thing, which may be the easiest song to play on a guitar of all the songs ever written, though I only figured that out much later. It was brilliant back then, it made my nine year old heart sing. In fact, it's still brilliant. If you don't know the tune, here's your chance: check out the embedded video. If you do know it, you don't need to be invited twice.

The other single was The Doors, Light My Fire. Another classic. This nameless counselor knew how to pick 'em.

(Seeing a theme here? Think about it. Our camp counselors must have been seventeen or eighteen year old boys. What are they supposed to be thinking about? The draft? Well. Yeah, maybe that too.)

I came home from camp and immediately began saving my allowance for a small transistor radio. Once I hit my fundraising goal, I fell asleep each night with the radio tucked underneath my pillow, the volume turned super low so it wouldn't wake my little brother sleeping on the other side of the room. We didn't have earbuds then.


Mom would tiptoe in after I'd fallen asleep, and reach underneath the pillow to switch the radio off.

What songs are the totems of your musical awakening?

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Who was that masked man: Mr. Trololo leaves our earthly plane
Melancholy popular music: Lana Del Rey and her antecedents
Take a sad song
Are you a lyrics person?

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