When my parents dropped the hammer on me in the fall of 1966 -- informed me that we were moving to a new state, a new town -- I was initially pumped. Thanks to my dad, I've always possessed that optimism gene, certain that tomorrow is going to be great, much greater than today. When I heard the news, I was giddy. I hopped on my bike and zoomed down our country road, felt the wind whip my hair; threw my arms out like a baby bird alighting for the first time.
It's funny how reality pummels dreams.
Reality was bleak. The motel my mom and dad purchased with their hard-fought savings and the good will of their local banker was nice enough for the nineteen sixties sample case salesman pulling off the blacktop looking for a medium-soft bed for the night, but our family of five was tucked into an attached two-bedroom apartment behind the motel office. On the farm my world was vast, endless. The blue sky punctured by white fluffy clouds tucked me snugly under God's arm. This new place was dank and dark and claustrophobic. My companions in misery were a four and five-year-old, and we three shared a skinny room with bunk beds and a gnat-smeared high window. Heaven. That first night, I climbed the three-rung ladder to the top bunk, flipped up the volume knob on my transistor radio, shoved it under my pillow and cried.
Did the whole world change? Well, yea, it did. My world was no longer Lesley Gore and the Beach Boys and the Beatles. The Beatles were different, the same way my whole existence had become an alternate universe. I ached for my home that wasn't my home anymore.
We moved in December of 1966, and I had a couple of weeks before I was forced to meet my new school and a bunch of strangers. I was eleven, going on twelve. A tip to parents -- if you feel you need a life change, don't move when your kid is eleven going on twelve. You can tell yourselves that everything will work out -- everybody will adapt -- but it's not true. Your kid will never, ever get over it. It will scar them. I don't know what the right age would be. My big brother was twenty, so he was on his own. He had a Ford Fairlane that would take him wherever he wanted to go. If he didn't like his current circumstance, he could just -- go. My little brother and sister weren't yet fully formed, so their sole memories would be of that sodden apartment that to them smelled like home. But I knew better. And that's what doomed me. I knew there was a better life. A life I would never live again.
My transistor radio was absolutely no help. And TV had changed, too. When whoever it was who discovered color TV latched onto the possibilities, that man apparently determined that the colors flashing on the screen should be wildly garish -- blinding yellows and eye-scorching reds and a coverlet of lime green. If you've ever seen reruns of Laugh-In, you'll understand. The tawdry hues burned the average kid's eyeballs.
As confused as I was, this sort of thing confused me even more:
And then we had the song that is played in every single documentary about the Viet Nam war:
The Supremes were on the downslide in 1967. Herewith, the garish colors:
My only friends early in '67 were my radio and our big console TV in the living room. My sixth grade classroom was a blur of unfamiliar girls clad in green jumpers and puffy-sleeved blouses and boys with blonde bowl-cuts and stringy bangs. We studied things like Constantinople and I scribbled math calculations on wide-lined paper and pretended I knew what I was doing. We lined up along opposite sides of the wall and had spelldowns. Recess consisted of me hugging the brick wall until the bell rang.
The school bus was a vehicle of torture. I generally grabbed a window seat halfway back and tried to remain incognito. Boys tussled and pushed one another into the aisle. There was always one dweeb who sat up front and made small talk with the driver. High school girls tucked their mini-skirts beneath them and giggled to each other, and there was always one "couple" who never actually talked to each other, but cuddled close. Even the little kids, when they alighted the bus at the elementary school, managed to find something to cackle and snort about. Then there was me, with my friend the radio.
I probably hate this song because my friend, the radio, liked to play it in my torture chamber, the bus, every day. To be honest, I also hate it because it's a bad song. Its awfulness sums up 1967 for me.
At home I was alert to any hint of criticism, of which there were many. I will concede that I was kinda lazy. I was eleven! Today an eleven-year-old is a child. In '67 eleven equaled mini-adult. Or was supposed to. Me being the "eldest" (at home at the time), Yelling Mom had her expectations. I was never capable of meeting them. Eventually I began avoiding Yelling Mom.
Existence was cruelly claustrophobic. The bedroom three of us shared approximated the size of an average walk-in closet. There was a desk or a dresser against one side of the narrow wall that I plopped my battery-powered phonograph atop, and I spun my Paul Revere and the Raiders singles and the one new album I possessed, "The Monkees", while my little brother and sister were outside riding their tricycles or creating five-year-old mayhem.
This next song holds no particular memories for me, but it was a hit in 1967. Nobody knew it at the time, but it would become the most overplayed song of all time. That's why I include it. And that's why we hate it. F the misty morning fog:
Sometime in '67 I somehow wrangled my own room. I remember a lot of cajoling and a bunch of rationalizing. I don't recall exactly why Yelling Mom acquiesced, but owning a motel with 52 rooms made the decision less knotty. Out our kitchen door was the garage and the motel's laundry room and adjacent to that was Room Number One. Room Number One became my room. My big brother carved a doorway in the garage wall, so I could traverse the kitchen (where, frankly, I needed to obtain sustenance), scamper through the cold garage, and glide my way right into Room Number One. It was THE BEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO ME. I'd barely turned twelve and I'd become a permanent motel guest. Granted, I had to be my own motel maid, but that was a small price to pay. And I was diligent about cleaning. After all, it was mine.
Toward the end of the school year, I'd made a friend, sort of. We were still scoping each other out, and her taste in music would upend my musical world, but I was feeling a tinge of happiness. I would arise to the beep of my alarm in my own room, stumble to the bathroom (yes, it had its own bathroom!), click on my radio and apply makeup to my zit-dotted face to music like:
Graham Nash wasn't always iconic (as in CSNY). He also was a Hollie. People forget minor details like that. I don't, because I was around (applying makeup in the mirror).
Speaking of the Turtles (I was, earlier), I actually like this song better than Happy Together. Call me crazy.
As the hot July sun beat down on the asphalt I skipped across, barefooted; past the timber stand my big brother had hammered together to sell fireworks from, down the cement stairway to the pool (yea, we had a pool -- it was for commerce reasons. Travelers liked a pool. Luckily for me, the traveling salesmen didn't show up until 'round dinnertime, so I had the pool to myself), cheap sunglasses with white frames shading my eyes, a two-piece bathing suit hugging my non-existent curves, I plopped upon a webbed chaise lounge, rubbed Coppertone on my legs and slid up the volume on my transistor.
In July, the sizzling sun met the sizzling zzzzzt of sultry summer radio.
The Summer of Love is a construct. I'm not saying it wasn't real -- I'm just saying that unless you lived in or "took a trip" to San Francisco, it didn't matter at all to those of us in flyover country. Like anything that gets pumped up by the media, it's now attained a stature it didn't actually have at the time. Yes, the Jefferson Airplane had some hits. Yes, they weren't good songs. Yes, Big Brother and the Holding Company had a groovy girl singer. At Fillmore West, the crowds loved her. She didn't have any hit songs in '67, though. Let's face it; the biggest act of 1967 was an artificial, carefully constructed, network approved "group" called the Monkees.
The most enduring remnant, for me, of the Summer of Love, is a pretty song that could have been about St. Louis or Nagocdoches. It was just a nice song, sung by a nice singer:
The good news for me is, sometime in 1967 I submitted. I still didn't like where I lived, but what were my choices? I had my family. I didn't claim them, but I knew I had them. Everything else was sparkle in the wind and I could never catch it. So I submitted. As the calendar tumbled, this place would become my new home. I never anticipated what lay in front of me, music-wise.
What lay ahead would change me.