The River's Badge

Saturday, January 20, 2018

A Year Lost To Time -- 1962

(all cars looked like this)

My sisters could tell you more about 1962 than I am able to. It's not that I wasn't around -- I was -- I was seven, which is an age when one is barely conscious of the world around them. I was confused, trying to feel my way in the vast universe that primarily consisted of my school bus, home, and Valley Elementary School. 

In second grade my school caught on fire. That was something different. It was mid-winter, and all of us kids were stuffed into waiting buses, and then the teachers exited the school carrying boxes of snow boots and pressed them into our confused hands. I went home with one boot that fit and another red rubber boot that was two sizes too big. I don't recall being traumatized. Little kids tend to accept whatever happens to pop up. I had to go to a different school while mine was being rehabilitated. There were only three elementary schools in my town -- Riverside, Valley, and Crestwood. My class got bused to Crestwood, where my teacher commenced to instruct us in the hallway. Again, I was not unnerved by having to squat on the hard linoleum floor for six hours a day as the regular Crestwood kids stomped past on their way to the lunch room and stared at us. 

This went on for approximately six-to-twelve weeks, and then we returned to Valley, which looked brand-spankin'-fine, like a blazing inferno had never engulfed the furnace room. I tend to think everyone over-reacted. I had a boyfriend, who I liked but didn't like, Jon Bush, and I got mixed up the day we moved back to Valley, and pushed him away. I thought my teacher had only wanted me to correct one classmate's paper, but she had meant for me to correct everybody's. She got mad when she saw me give Jon a shove and she reprimanded me sternly. Last time in my life I ever shoved anyone. 

The big event in my seven-year-old life was Valentine's Day. We crafted our Valentine receptacles out of shoe boxes; decorated them with bric-a-brac from Mom's sewing box and festooned them with red Crayola hearts. Everybody had to give everybody a valentine. There was no quibbling. Mom chose the valentine pack based upon the number of students in my class. It was a difficult decision, however, determining which valentine to bestow upon whom. If a girl was a good friend, I gave her the prettiest sparkly heart. For Jon, I didn't really want to lead him on, but I did need to distinguish him from the other boys in my class. The sentiments printed on the cards contained subtle differences. For example, "You've Roped My Heart Podner" was far more meaningful than "Hi Cookie!" Choosing the appropriate valentine for each person in my class was a very serious undertaking. In retrospect, perhaps I placed too much significance on the process.

On Valentine's Day, when I got home with my shoe box stuffed full of hand-printed hearts, I perched on the top of the stairs and sorted and categorized my cards and created little songs to accompany them as I danced them about. I was a bit too invested in Valentine's Day.

That, in a nutshell, is my memory of 1962.

Music was haphazard. Granted, music was filtered through my sisters' tastes. My oldest sister was kind of flighty -- one could never pin her down as far as what she truly liked. My second oldest sister was damn moody. I didn't dare ask her what music she preferred, or anything, really; because she might just fly off the handle. I was her mangy mutt -- someone she was forced to tolerate, but really a giant pain in the ass.

I'm guessing my sisters didn't really like this song, but it was a giant hit. This is because radio in 1962 wasn't radio as we know it today (if anyone actually listens to radio today). Singles weren't slotted into crisp categories. There wasn't rock ('n roll) and country (western) and easy listening. The DJ played them all! And mixed them up! Right after Jay and the Americans came Frank Sinatra! Yes, disc jockeys didn't just stab a button and up came a whole pre-fab playlist. DJ's actually played real records and they picked them out themselves. They also gauged local hits by how many call-in requests they received -- yes. Ahh, so antiquated.

Anyway, this single, I'm guessing, was for the "old folks", because we all listened to the same radio station (in my case, KRAD), be we seven or seventy-seven.


Much like this:


Yes, there was a common thread running through the old folks' songs. Lots of violins and a rhythm that was sort of a "slow gait". Connie Francis was a mega-star in 1962. I remember playing at my cousin's house when one of those "be the first caller to guess this singer" blurbs came on the radio. My aunt hollered to my cousin, "Connie Francis!" and my cousin dialed the radio station's number. "Is it Connie Francis?" she asked. "You're our winner!" My cousin won the black MGM single and all she had to do was have her mom drive her to the station to pick it up. I played that game, too, except all the songs I knew were records I already owned, and I did my own guessing without my mom's help. I often ended up with double copies of the same '45, but it was the notoriety that counted. 

To be frank, there were only two renowned female singers in '62 -- Connie Francis and Brenda Lee -- so there was a fifty-fifty chance my cousin aunt would get it right. Sadly, I can find no live performance videos of this song (Connie is shy):



You can see why I had such a laissez-faire attitude toward music. Well, toward everything, really, but that's kind of a seven-year-old thing.

There were a few more rockin' hits in 1962; songs that my sisters much preferred. Face it, it was a new world. JFK was president and he was young. Ike probably liked Nat King Cole, but it was time to rocket into the second half of the twentieth century. Sputnik was being launched into space, whatever Sputnik was, and John Glenn had climbed inside a "capsule" and putted across the sky.

Yep, this was more like it:


Dang it, I loved this song in '62. I danced and sang in front of the upstairs bedroom mirror to it. It had a nonsense intro and harmony and a good beat (you could dance to it). What's not to love for a little kid?


In 1962 "twisting" was of supreme importance. My sisters did a masterful rendition of the dance in our kitchen one winter evening, to the family's delight and consternation. I've featured Chubby Checker's version here too many times, so here is a variation:


The "peppermint" twist was what all the cool cats did, especially in New York. You know, people like Truman Capote and Lee Radziwell. And their martinis.

The twist was by far not the only dance craze of the time. No. There was any stupid dance that any dunce could do, even if just by accident. The twist was really good exercise, but if one was tired, they could always do the mashed potato, which essentially involved simply contorting one's feet in and out. The remainder of the body could rest. Hey, I'm not a snob when it comes to dances. My generation had the jerk, which was ordinary arm exertion, as opposed to foot movement, but the result was the same. One could be their regular lazy self and still "dance".



Believe it or not, this single hit number five on the charts. You may think this is a tired old saw; the song that pops up every time a movie scene demands it, but there was a time when this was new. Of course, at seven I didn't know what a "stripper" was. My big brother knew. You gotta admit, it had a good beat.


Aside from the kitsch, music was beginning to show signs of what was to come. 


There was this new group that not many people paid attention to. They wore matching plaid shirts. So hokey. I don't know whatever happened to them. Maybe I should do a Google search.


I'm including this simply because it's good:



Gene Pitney was a rock star in the days before there was such a thing as rock stars. I suspect he probably really wanted to be on Broadway, but nevertheless. This guy could sing. And he had the look -- the early sixties Anthony Perkins look.



Yea, goofball was around. Sorry, I mean Elvis Presley. My sisters liked him a lot. I almost wish I liked him, but I'm not sure why. In '62 I frankly thought Ricky Nelson was better. Aside from being a caricature, it struck me that Elvis tried too hard.


My sisters had this album. I wonder if they remember. It seems, in my recollection, that my two sisters shared singles and albums. I'm averse to that. I think music should be the possession of one person. The reason I like this song is because it foreshadowed the direction my life would go, musically. It's not rock (or rock 'n roll). It's country. They called it rock 'n roll in 1962. It wasn't:



To sum up, at age seven I was confused, befuddled. I had the beginning of an inkling of what music was -- good music and bad music. Music wasn't the sum of my existence then. 

It soon would be.

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