It all started when I found a stack of my older sister’s 45 RPM records and 33 RPM albums. They were all vintage 60’s albums by a long list of artists that we have all become familiar with. There were albums by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Animals. Lots and lots of 45’s by The Beatles. I remember listening to I Feel Fine and Love Me Do over and over again on the little dirty white radio tube Magnavox stereo that I somehow absconded with from my grandmother’s house. The top of the thing came off and made the second speaker for full stereo. Sometimes the records would skip due to wear and you’d have to stack some pennies or nickels on the tone arm to stop it from skipping. I adored my little stereo system and soon moved on to acquiring my own tastes in music. Three influential 45 records that come to mind are Cecelia by Simon and Garfunkel (1970), No Sugar Tonight by The Guess Who (1970), and Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum (1969). No Sugar Tonight had a darker B side song called American Woman which I also adored. To a 12 year old boy this music was like crack to a crackhead.
One particularly influential point in my musical journey really stands out in my mind. I was probably 12 or 13 and still listening to my sisters music collection along with the aforementioned 45 record that I’d buy from the local Family Bargain Center. Our little gang of neighborhood kids played basketball regularly down at the local playground on Briggs Street. We would break open the power box in the evening and switch on the overhead lights so that we could have some night games. Nobody ever came by and told us we were violating any rules by doing this. Our feelings were that it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission. Besides, we had no idea who to even ask for permission.
It was on one of these nights when two 17 or 18 year old teens pulled up in their hot rod Camaro and started shooting some baskets on the other end of the court. We invited them over to shoot with us, mainly because it really elevated the image of ourselves to have such cool dudes playing basketball with a bunch of 13 year old kids. It turned out that they weren’t the greatest basketball players, but we did have a lot of fun trying to keep up with them. We learned that their names were Jerry and Jim, so my buddy Frank and I immediately started bugging them to get a ride in the cool Camaro. What ensued was a week long adventure in music and mayhem that will live in the annals of my hometown history until the end of time.
Jerry and Jim ultimately relented and took us for a ride around our home town. They had a stack of 8 track tapes from strange bands that we had never heard of like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Grand Funk Railroad. We heard the first couple of albums by Led Zeppelin and were transformed. We had heard nothing like this stuff on my cheesy little Magnavox and the music was totally transfixing to our tiny pee brains. To this day, I’m not totally sure I would have ever been exposed to this stuff at such a young age had we not met Jerry and Jim. But of course, that is not the end of the story.
The next day, we met up with Jerry and Jim again at the basketball court. This time they asked us if we had ever been to the Meco Sand Pits to harass parkers. “parkers?” we said, what are “parkers?”. It turned out that parkers were kids that drove their cars out to the sand pits to have consensual relationships with their significant others. The thought rattled around in our adolescent minds, “What could be the harm in that?”. So off we went to harass parkers at the Meco Sand Pits in our hot rod Camaro. Of course, on the way, we had to pick up a six pack of Genesee Cream Ale and a pack of smokes, neither of which Frank nor I had ever had a taste of. We quaffed a brew on the way to the sand pits, but never did see a parker. We did drive around all night that night and the next couple of nights listening to Ramble On, Born on the Bayou, and Closer to Home on the 8 track while getting totaled on the beer.
It was all fun and games until the last and fateful night when the Camaro broke down out near the Perry Lanes bowling alley. Frank and I were more than a little wrecked and a bit disoriented due to our complete lack of experience in the finer art of partying like it’s 1999. Jerry and Jim called a buddy on a pay phone and abandoned us at the bowling alley. I called my mother, bless her soul, and she drove out to pick us up and bring us back to safety. She didn’t ask us what the hell we were doing or why we were staggering. We both stank of cigarettes and booze, so I’m pretty sure she had an inkling as to the mischief we had been in.
We never did see Jerry or Jim again, and I haven’t seen Frank in decades. I’m pretty sure he’d remember the whole affair, as it sticks in my memory as life changing. I still enjoy Led Zeppelin, Grand Funk, Creedence, and Black Sabbath today, albeit in small quantities. Each time one of those golden oldies pops up on the juke, I am transported back to that magic week in the Camaro.