Everybody probably thinks they’re the perfect age for rock & roll, because about the time all of us hit 12 or 13 years old we get imprinted with the music, movies, books, (grandpa Ricki, what were books?) etc. that we will love throughout our lifetimes, and naturally think our choices are the best. As I type this sentence, I am 61 years old and would like to present my case for why I am the perfect age for rock & roll.
I was born in 1952, meaning, first off, I am actually OLDER than rock & roll is. (Rock historians quibble endlessly about what the first “rock & roll” record was – from Ike Turner’s “Rocket 88” in 1951, or Ray Brown’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight” from 1947, but let’s face facts, Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” from 1954 was where things really got started as far as lily-white teenagers were concerned, and then came The Elvis.)
One big rock & roll advantage I had over my peers was that I was the baby of my family: my sister and brother are 7 and 10 years older than me, which means that when I was five years old in 1957 I was already being blasted by “All Shook Up” by Elvis Presley, “Jenny, Jenny” by Little Richard, “Rock & Roll Music” by Chuck Berry and “Great Balls Of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis in my dad’s Oldsmobile with my 12-year old sister Dianne controlling the radio dial.
Most crucially, in 1957 there was Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue,” the first song I remember hearing where my brain literally exploded. I can remember like it was yesterday the first time that song detonated out of the tinny car radio speakers and I realized, “This is a song about a girl this guy knows whose name is Peggy Sue and he likes her, so he wrote a song about her.” I was FIVE, people. It was a lesson I never forgot. If you like a girl, write a song about her. For better or worse, it’s a precept I have lived with all of my life, to this day, 56 years later.
By 1959, of course, it was all over. Elvis was drafted into the Army, Buddy Holly was dead from a plane crash, Chuck Berry was in prison on trumped-up sex charges, Little Richard had “gotten religion” and left rock & roll behind (for the first of many times), and Jerry Lee Lewis had been hounded out of the Big Time for marrying his 13-year old cousin. (It was The South in the 1950’s, for Chrissakes, marrying his 13-year old cousin was probably the NICEST thing Jerry Lee could have done in those days.) (By the way, I can’t help noticing that crazy, racist, homophobic Duck Dynasty guy is now advocating people marrying young teenage girls, and he’s a major Free Speech Culture Star to the Fox News, Reality TV and People Magazine set. My, how times have changed.)
But I digress………
By time I was 10 years old in 1962, I had largely lost interest in music. My sister listened to and loved all those white-bread pretty-boys whom Dick Clark invented to replace Elvis, Little Richard and Jerry Lee: your Fabians, your Paul Ankas, your Bobby Vees. (Those guys were later supplanted by Bobby Sherman, Donny Osmond & Michael Jackson, later updated to Journey, Foreigner & Styx, later still to The Backstreet Boys and N’Sync, today to Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake and Mumford & Sons). All I cared about at that point was comic books and World War II.
And then in February, 1964, The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. (I remember my big brother Al saying to me sometime earlier in January, while he was watching some news program, “This is that new band from England that everybody’s talking about.” I looked up from my X-Men comic book to a scene of screaming girls and mop-haired boys, thought nothing much of it and returned to poring over the adventures of Cyclops, The Angel & Marvel Girl.)
I was 12 when The Beatles Hit America in 1964. This is the only place I might question that I am The Perfect Age For Rock & Roll. Kids three years my senior, who were born in 1949 – Bruce Springsteen and Elliott Murphy, among them – who were 15 in 1964 and had some grounding in folk guitar could (and did) almost immediately form rock & roll combos and start playing British Invasion hits in their garages and basement rec rooms. On the other hand, when Punk hit in 1976, I was only 24 and still young enough to latch on, where the 27 & 28 year olds around me sneered down their prog-rock noses at The Ramones and The Clash. (But I progress, more on that later………)
By the time The Beatles finished their three-Sundays-in-a-row stint on Ed Sullivan and I had fallen in love with the next Sullivan-approved British Invasion band – The Dave Clark 5 – every bit of my consciousness, allegiance & cash, every ounce of my being was allotted to rock & roll music.
I would take the bus Downtown every Saturday morning and go to Marco Records and the Lazarus Department Store to look at and buy records. I was a pretty typical rock & roll kid – buying singles by The Searchers, The Troggs and Freddie & the Dreamers, etc. – until sometime in 1966 when I saw The Who for the first time on Shindig. (Shindig and Hullabaloo were the first rock & roll primetime TV shows.) From the very first moment I saw Pete Townshend deploy a windmill strum on his Rickenbacker, followed by he and Keith Moon bashing their gear to smithereens, I knew I had found my New Favorite Band.
From The Who it was a short trip to The Kinks, The Yardbirds and The Rolling Stones (who I came to really late after my beloved Dave Clark 5, right around “Satisfaction”). I left behind teenybopper magazines like “16” and “Tiger Beat” for the oh-so-astute Hit Parader magazine, which became my primer for folk-rock, The Lovin’ Spoonful, and The Blues Project. Cream and Traffic followed in 1967. 1968 brought The Jimi Hendrix Experience and psychedelia to my solitary little world. Then, fueled & bolstered by my sonic studies since age five in dad’s Olds, I joined my first rock & roll band. The first song I ever sang onstage was “Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf. I was 16. I was the perfect age for rock & roll.
In 1969 I simultaneously took in country-rock with The Flying Burritto Brothers and Poco side-by-side with High-Energy Detroit Rock from The MC5 and The Stooges. I went through singer/songwriters with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Joni Mitchell and James Taylor in 1970 and nascent laid-back hippie rock in ‘71 with Van Morrison (whom I had previously loved in the 60’s for “Gloria” and “Brown-Eyed Girl”). I loved The Who right up through 1973 when they bored me to tears with Quadrophenia and it was time to move on to Bruce Springsteen, Mott The Hoople, The New York Dolls, Aerosmith and Elliott Murphy. I thought that crew were gonna replace The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan for a Whole New Age of 1970’s rock & roll. I was 21 years old in 1973, The Perfect Age for that changeover in the Rock & Roll Zeitgeist.
Only that changeover, that Changing Of The Guard, that progression, that Out With The Old/In With The New that had sustained rock & roll at the dawn of every decade since the 1950’s never happened. Radio tightened up. New acts got stiffed. The likes of Jefferson Airplane/Starship, The Grateful Dead, Elton John, Pink Floyd and The Allman Brothers got extended well past their sell-by dates. The Rolling Stones and Dylan grew ever more boring by the year. Anybody who had played at Woodstock was regarded as the Godhead. Hippies ruled. 1974 & 1975 took forever to pass.
In 1976 I saw Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band live for the first time, and the Patti Smith Group, The Ramones, The Clash and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers beckoned. I was 24 years old, the Perfect Age For Rock & Roll. And that’s where we’re gonna pick up in part two………
(If you think Ricki C. is long-winded here, you should see the blog he maintained until
December 31st, 2013, Growing Old With Rock & Roll. Yeesh, did he go on some tangents.)