Tuesdays With Ricki - week three / Mitch & Becky and 920 am

WMNI, 920 am is an oldies radio station in Columbus, Ohio.  And we’re talkin’ OLDIES here, boys & girls, NOT classic-rock.  We’re talkin’ all the way back to the Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jerry Vale era; but then strangely forward all the way through the 1960’s (Beatles, Kinks, Byrds, Gerry & the Pacemakers), the 70’s (James Taylor, Gordon Lightfoot, anything no louder than Bread and nothing as loud as Bachman-Turner Overdrive); and up through the likes of Josh Groban and Norah Jones.    

Mitch & Becky and 920 am

Mitch & Becky were each other’s first date, first kiss, first boyfriend & girlfriend.  Their first date was to go see Canned Heat and Blood, Sweat & Tears at Vet’s Memorial on the West Side of Columbus, Ohio, in January or February of 1969.  They broke up later that year, right around the end of August, just before Mitch’s senior year of high school and Becky’s junior year.  Mitch was the lead singer of a garage-rock band; Becky was a sweet girl from Grove City, Ohio.

One warm afternoon in spring, 1969, Mitch & Becky were lazily kissing on Becky’s parents’ patio in Grove City when “Love Can Make You Happy” by one-hit wonders Mercy came on WCOL-AM – Columbus’ Top 40 station of the time – and Becky said dreamily, “Oh, I love this song.  Don’t you think this is OUR song?”  The dreamscape kinda got shattered as Mitch replied,  “No, I decidedly DO NOT think this is ‘our song.’  I hate this song.”  Realizing he might have gone a little overboard as tears started to glisten in Becky’s eyes, Mitch said, “Maybe ‘You’ve Made Me So Very Happy’ by Blood, Sweat & Tears could be our song, since we saw them on our first date.”  But the damage was done.  Mitch doesn’t think Becky ever forgot that slight.  It might have been Mitch’s first definitive moment in a life as a Rock & Roll Snob of the First Order.

Today in 2016 they both have wound up listening to 920 am: Mitch because he got tired of trying to stay allegiant to an alternative rock scene that would embrace the likes of Mumford & Sons and Grouplove as its standard-bearers; Becky because she just wants to hear some sweet, sad songs that remind her of when she was a young girl.

One late summer Friday afternoon Mitch hears The Beatles’ “Eight Days A Week” on 920 and thinks, “This constitutes a savage, pounding rocker on this station,” while humming the riff to The Clash’s “Clampdown” to himself.  Two songs later – on the same afternoon – Becky hears “You Were On My Mind” by We 5 while braiding her granddaughter’s hair and she wistfully tells the uncomprehending little girl, “One time a cute, brown-haired boy won me a stuffed animal at Cedar Point, and this song was playing.”  

Mitch & Becky were really very happy at the start.  They went to movies.  They got burgers & fries at Sandy’s by Sullivant & Demorest.  Becky went to see Mitch’s band play at parties & dances.  But Mitch knew from the time he was 16 years old – possibly even before the first time his lips ever met Becky’s – that he never wanted to have any kids.  And Becky had wanted a big family since she was 10.

Mitch went on to work in warehouses and play in rock & roll bands for the next 15 years, then as a solo act for the 25 years after that.  Becky got married right out of high school and had four kids by five years after graduation. 

Mitch has read a ton of books over the years: at home; in motel rooms, dressing rooms & vans on the road; at airports & bus terminals and once in a police holding cell.  He sometimes thinks the most profound literary quote he’s ever encountered is, “Your name and mine inside a heart upon a wall / Still find a way to haunt me, though they’re so small,” from The Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee.”  He hears that song about once a month on 920 am, and thinks of Becky every time.  First loves are like that.

Becky saw one of Mitch’s later bands at the Westgate Park Bean Dinner in 1978.  She was there with her husband & kids when they heard a racket from the music stage over by the duck pond.  “This is that punk rock crap everybody’s talking about now,” Becky’s husband growled as they got closer, “let’s get out of here.”  “No, I wanna watch a minute,” Becky said.  Mitch looked great, Becky thought.  He was still skinny, his hair was long but cut kinda cool and he was wearing a tie around his neck over a sleeveless black t-shirt.  Becky had put on 30 or 40 pounds when she had the kids, hadn’t been able to shed the weight and couldn’t remember the last time she had bought a new dress.  Or the last time she felt cool.

Mitch didn’t sing lead anymore, now he played guitar and sang back-up’s, and – in fact – the girl who was singing in the band didn’t look much older than Becky had been when she & Mitch were a couple.  The songs they played were all really noisy & fast and Becky didn’t think she had ever heard any of them before on the radio.  Just then Becky overheard the guy in front of her in the crowd say “Mitch writes all these songs.”  The guy had hair down to his shoulders & a scraggly beard and as he passed a joint to his buddy next to him, he concluded with, “Mitch has always been an elitist asshole, now he thinks he’s Joe Strummer or somebody.”

Becky didn’t know who Joe Strummer was and didn’t think she’d ever known anybody who made up their own songs before.  She wondered idly for a moment if any of the songs were about her, but the tunes were so angry & aggressive she wasn’t sure she wanted them to be.  Her littlest girl had her hands over her ears, yelling, “Mommy, TOO LOUD, TOO LOUD.”  Becky’s husband said, “Let’s go, Rebecca, they’re scaring the kids.”  Becky turned, took little Lee Ann’s hand in hers and “Love Can Make You Happy” was playing in her head as they walked back to the picnic tables in the evening dusk.  She turned to wave goodbye to Mitch, but he couldn’t have seen her, in the crowd, through the stage lights. – Ricki C. / September, 2016

I consider myself something of a devotee of bad late-1960's rock & roll exploitation films and even I can't claim to have ever caught the movie - Fireball Jungle - this clip is lifted from.   Judging by the fact that the producers allowed the film to grind to a halt for the entire 3:20 run-time of one-hit wonders Mercy, however, I have to ask the question: "Which member of the band had an uncle who was an under-assistant West Coast promo man?"  (It looks like a pretty great movie, though, doesn't it?)  (ps. For a HILARIOUS, almost Lester Bangs-esque review of Fireball Jungle, check out "LSD For Lunch" in the User Reviews section at this IMDB link)  (pps. After repeated viewings, I believe this may be the GREATEST rock video EVER PRODUCED.)

The Top Ten All-Time Best Songs on the Ricki C. Planet: 1) "Won't Get Fooled Again" (The Who)   2) "Brown Sugar" (The Rolling Stones)   3) "Walk Away Renee" (The Left Banke)   4) "Candy's Room" / "Incident on 57th Street" (tie, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band))   5) "Then He Kissed Me" (The Crystals)   6) "Isadora's Dancers" (Elliott Murphy)   7) "Roadrunner" (The Modern Lovers)   8) "All The Way From Memphis" / "Once Bitten Twice Shy" (tie, Mott The Hoople / Ian Hunter)   9) "New York, New York" / "Looking For A Kiss" (tie, The Dictators / The New York Dolls)   10) "Dimming of the Day" (Richard & Linda Thompson)

Okay, so it's fairly painfully obvious that the cats & kitten from We 5 have got "1960's Folk Club Refugees" written all over 'em, and Pencilstorm readers have probably figured out by this juncture that Ricki C. was likely NOT enamored of the Folk Club Kidz back in the day.  Entirely correct, but goddamn I have always loved this kind of folk-rock tune, and I had a HUGE crush on We 5 lead singer Beverly Bivens when this song was fresh & new in 1965, and so was most of the world around me.