We're Having a Party!

Last time I promised some gatoring, but before getting to that, let me record another pre-incident from those West days.

Junior high began simply enough with the Monkees, who were fairly innocuous and not apt to raise hackles among parents. Sweet chords, difficult chords, lyrics of love, lyrics of tenderness. Not a single thing there to concern the unhip generation running the show from on high.

Then we encounter Paul Revere and the Raiders, inching toward insurrection in the pantaloons with their incorporation of the devil's pentatonic scale. I've had more than one person counter that I haven't attributed this change fairly. I've never claimed that they were the first to shift from diatonic to pentatonic. That honor probably belongs to Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, and who knows how many other locally famous blues performers. But--and this is the point--the Raiders were introducing it to an enormous nationwide audience. No longer did you have to rub shoulders all night in some smoky den with a couple dozen boozers, on some out-of-the-way wet and filthy street in Chicago to hear the tonal structure that exuded sensualism. All you had to do was tune in to Caucasian television, daily, I think it was, to Dick Clark's
Where the Action Is. While chasing down some details, I found that I'm not the only one to have noticed the change in scale. On Wikipedia, surely the Brittanica of our times (giggle), I noticed:
This farcical, cartoonish image obscured the proto-hard rock sound that their music often took.
Not only that, but the Raiders were sneaking in some lyrics under the radar. Not long ago, I awoke one morning (well actually afternoon, if you want to split hairs--too many years on stage, don't you know) and for whatever reason had their song Hungry running through my mind, over and over and over. Here 'tis for your listening pleasure:


Wow! If that isn't describing unusual appetites, I don't know what is. Moreover, did you notice in this classic tune by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil that there are several chord changes later absorbed by Three Dog Night, Steppenwolf, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and who knows who else? Cutting edge, even if sponsored by soda pop and potato chips, and aimed primarily at the Clearasil crowd.

But now we're up to the ninth grade and things were really starting to change at a galvanizing rate. This was the era of parties, a new and exciting concept among us junior high kids. I've already mentioned Rhonda's hotdog party previously, but West was also throwing some school-sponsored shebangs. I think the idea was to introduce us to certain social graces, all of which would eventually lead straight to matrimony, with no extraneous pollutions (nocturnal or otherwise) intervening.

For example, there was the Box Social around the winter holidays. In this case we got to goggle at Rip (the boys shop teacher who hated my guts from day-one) escort the plump Reba (the so-called American history teacher whose pedagogy arose straight from the Bastille) on to the cotillion to trip the light fantastic. What a sight! What a stench! Reba was notorious for her overpowering perfume, and obviously received a discount from the wholesaler. Bouquet some people call it--noxious is probably more accurate. I don't know how Rip got through the trot without severely vesicated nostrils.

By the way, Reba also hated my guts. And just so you know, I was not the one to knock the head off the plaster-of-Paris model of the Statue of Liberty in her classroom (which was as dizzyingly reeksome as a strumpet's boudoir).  I'm pretty sure it was Kerm Moodhardt, even though I got blamed for it. But when Reba started stuttering as she gave me the third degree, I knew I was home free. Even at that early age I loved toying with authority. Cat and mouse. Beetface, you're next...

But the music that night! Rather than procure a genuine band which might run all of $25, the school pressed the music instructor into service to throw together an orchestra for the occasion. When a kid is only 13 or so, everyone looks old. But these guys
came straight from the Old Testament. In the semi-darkened ambiance of the gymnasium, after the box dinner (yum...fried chicken as I recall, whose tallow made the cardboard container completely transparent...these were pre-cholesterol-free days) the orchestra struck up the beat and launched into all sorts of ditties guaranteed to turn our cranks:
  • Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
  • Sentimental Journey
  • Always
  • Bali Hai
  • My Little Sister
  • Stardust
While the last listed there may have been sufficient to transform a certain ever-jovial proprietor of the Health Food Store into a magnetic lothario and almost beget one of my best friends, it had no impact on us kids.  The response, even from the squares forced to wear clip-on scarlet plaid neckties by their realtor fathers (a constituency dominating our class), was less than enthusiastic. While Hungry inclined you to lick something, anything, these party tunes just made you want to sit and pray for a better incarnation next time. It was a long night and almost put me off soirées.

To be fair, this collection of oldsters was probably pretty good for the material they parlayed. But they clearly were unfamiliar with Hamlet's injunction:
Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature.
Rental tuxedos from Nims (wow--a downtown establishment in my class-conscious hometown!) didn't cut it. Even the Linda Blair pea-green outfit of the trombonist failed to inspire awe. The world had clearly passed this antediluvian crowd by and they thought a rousing rendition of Woody Herman's Woodchopper's Ball should satisfy even the most decadent of teen hipsters. The dance floor remained barren virtually the entire night, even when the tune-meisters made the supreme concession and played the theme song from the television show Batman. We better hear that right now:


Man if that doesn't bring back the memories of some wild frugging. It's been nearly fifty years but I can still clearly recall how disappointed the audience was with the orchestra and vice-versa. That night, libido evanesced, after all the anticipation of the week leading up. That's not the effect music should have.

More on party music next installment, when things take a definite turn to the lascivious. Same gymnasium, phonograph records this time, hot May breezes, and sex, definitely dreams of sex. All cerebral, mind you (that's a curious juxtaposition of words, almost redundant, isn't it?)


But as my good friend, the author of Justine, would have it, in the imagination is where it all lives fully.

Next installment: Cacoethes, Indeed

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