Fairfax, VA, USA. Howdy-Doody, Crusader Rabbit, Kukla, Fran and Ollie, and Ding Dong School with Miss Frances: my roots begin here.
I am older than Rock and Roll but not as old as Dick Clark.
The Woody Woodpecker Song was at the top of the charts the day I was born. Little Richard was not yet 16, Elvis was 13, Jerry Lee Lewis only 12.
It would be four years until Bill Haley and His Comets would be formed, six until Rock Around The Clock would begin climbing the charts.
I am not as old as Little League Baseball but am still older than many of the nations on this planet and yet, I am little more than half way through all the things I intend to do with my life. The future lies wide open before me.
But it all starts in the past. I’m a child of the bastard marriage of coast to coast network television and the devil’s music - rock and roll. I would not be who I am without them.
I was born when the last great war was still a recent memory and my father’s Army’s assignment in China fresh in his mind. Harry Truman was President, elected on his own, and the Korean War a pre-school reality as my next door neighbor was recalled and my playmates vanished for the length of his service. I was three years of age and I still remember the emptiness inside me when my neighbors left and my happiness when they returned a few years later at war’s end.
I watch it all and remember everything: The Doors on tour before Light My Fire was number one on the charts; The Rolling Stones when they couldn’t sell out the 5,000 seat Sacramento War Memorial Auditorium; Santana’s rhythm section playing on the beach, the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop; my friends who never came back from Viet Nam and those who did, scarred many times in both body and mind.My mother watched American Bandstand. I watched American Bandstand.
We all watched the Hit Parade, Ed Sullivan, What’s My Line, and I Love Lucy.
We were middle class Americans in a middle class neighborhood filled with Catholic war veterans and their children.
We walked to class at All Hallows three blocks away.
My first impression in Kindergarten was astonishment at how tall the nuns were all dressed in their black and white, a black woolen belt with rosary beads that would swinging when they walked.
By the time I was in seventh grade, we were caught up in Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council and Jack Kennedy’s campaign to be President of the United States.
I have a vivid kindergarten memory of working on a drawing with my crayons. I was making good, careful progress when the girl sitting next to me (we were all seated around long tables) nudged my arm and pushed my crayon outside the lines. My masterpiece was ruined.
Now, decades later, I realize that she was just wanting to play with me but, inside me, the moment when my coloring went astray is still important. I feel the loss and wonder what might have been if she had not nudged my arm.
We all were white in our child’s eyes: Anglos, Mediterraneans, Mexicans, and Hispanics. I knew my Sicilian olive was darker than some, especially in the long California summer, but it never occurred to me that large groups of Americans did not consider me white. It was only years later that I learned that to some, I would never be truly white. [N1]
There were few black Catholics in Sacramento when I was growing up. I knew them both.
I was in my late teens before I realized that Filipinos, somehow, were not consider “white.” As far as I knew, as far as I still believe, we were all lower middleclass kids striving to move up the food chain and make our parent’s proud.
All of us children watched Disneyland, Davy Crockett, and The Mickey Mouse Club. We all either wanted to be Annette or lusted after her.
My mother and I watched Elvis’s first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show that fateful Sunday night and watched our world shift irrevocably. We watched in bemusement a few weeks afterwards when the network decreed that Elvis’s performance could only be shot from the waist up – his hips were much too threatening for the public airways. [N2]
But we all knew the truth: rock and roll was everything and we all wanted to be part of it. Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Ricky Nelson became part of the background of my young life. I was raised on girl groups, Phil Spector, Dick Clark, and Rhythm and Blues (although I did not know it was R&B at the time).
Years later, in my mid teens, we watched Ed Sullivan introduce The Beatles and my life changed forever. The Cuban Missile Crisis had resolved itself, Kennedy was dead and we all wanted to be part of something bigger than ourselves again. Rock and Roll was our new new frontier.
Soon we were all marching off to either war or, for some of the boys, to Canada and the underground. I was neither a part of the counter culture nor a part of the establishment, floating between the two more as an observer than an active participant. Both groups accepted me: the establishment invited me to fraternity and sorority parties, the counter culture offered me acid, pot, and a trendy white powder they said was cocaine.
I watch it all and remember everything: The Doors on tour before Light My Fire was number one on the charts; The Rolling Stones when they couldn’t sell out the 5,000 seat Sacramento War Memorial Auditorium; Santana’s rhythm section playing on the beach, the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop; my friends who never came back from Viet Nam and those who did, scarred many times in both body and mind.
I remember it all.
Oh rooty, I’m out of here.
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