COUNTY AGENT GUY
A recent study purports that our musical preferences become set in concrete during our teen years. If your teens happened in the 1920s, you might believe that ragtime is the best stuff ever played; if you were a teenybopper in the 1820s, you might own a collection of Beethoven’s Greatest Hits.
This probably holds true throughout human history, back to when rock music was, well, music made with rocks.
“Me don’t understand how kids nowadays can listen to that mammoth bone caterwauling!” a middle-aged caveman groused to his pal. “Those songs nothing compared to when we were young and listened to The Stone Thumpers! Now THAT was music!”
Everyone thinks the tunes he or she enjoyed as a teenager is the best music since the invention of sound. But in my case, this is an empirical fact.
I was 15 in the summer of 1973. That summer, like several before, a redheaded pal named Steve stayed at the farm of our neighbors Al and Lorraine Warnes.
I spent a lot of time at the Warnes farm during that glorious, golden summer. I think it was because Al and Lorraine embraced the “benign neglect” approach regarding the supervision of teenage boys. Their attitude seemed to be “Just don’t kill yourselves.”
The Warneses had a cheap pool table which occupied a small room next to their kitchen. As if that weren’t excellent enough, the room also had a stereo.
Steve and I frittered away innumerable hours shooting pool with the stereo’s volume cranked to “nuclear detonation.” Iconic rock tunes were blasted directly into our skulls, altering neurons, rewiring synapses.
The music wasn’t iconic at the time; it was simply new. Few tunes are better for shooting a game of eight-ball than “We’re an American Band” by Grand Funk Railroad or “Frankenstein” by Edgar Winter.
During that long, hot summer, the energy of adolescence crackled through us like bolts of lightning from a Tesla coil. We played with this force, observed it, strived to take its measure. Tried to figure out what to do with it.
In June, a letter from a teenaged girl whom I didn’t know landed in our farm’s mailbox (for you whippersnappers, a “letter” is a printed text message that’s physically delivered to its recipient). The girl, who was a friend of a friend, wrote that she was interested in meeting me.
The epistle struck me like a roaring freight train. What did it mean? How should interpret it? I promptly showed it to Steve, who was a bit older and a world wiser than me.
“She’s got the hots for you!” Steve crowed upon reading the letter. This diagnosis shook me to the core. What do I do now? After extensive and intensive internal debate, I decided that my best course of action was to do nothing.
In Al’s shop, we worked on our “old beater” cars and talked about everything, especially girls. Our cars’ radios were always blaring. Steely Dan was “Reeling in the Years” and Dr. John was in the “Right Place, Wrong Time”. Elton John was doing a thing called “Crocodile Rock” and Chicago was “Feeling Stronger Every Day”.
Sweltering Sunday afternoons found us at a local lake. We hung out on the beach, which was tragically infested with bikini-clad sunbathers. Muscle cars rolled slowly past, their engines emitting the lazy “blub, blub” of pent-up horsepower, their multiple carburetors swilling gasoline at rates measured in gallons per minute.
Steve and I might slip into the sketchy little lakeside bar and hustle a few games of pool. The stench of stale beer, car exhaust and baking lake algae assaulted our nostrils as the bar’s stereo thundered such tunes as “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple. It was absolutely wonderful.
“Live and Let Die” – both the song and the movie – forced its way into our consciousness. We had no choice but to see the film at our local drive-in theater.
“Live and Let Die” is a great flick to watch at a drive-in. The impossibly debonair ladies’ man Roger Moore somehow combined perfectly with an improbable boat chase. Every awkward teenaged guy secretly wishes he were 007.
At intermission, Steve and I wandered the rows of cars and yakked with acquaintances. Word came that the letter-writing girl was at the drive-in. Just then, a car radio began to play Marvin Gaye crooning “Let’s Get It On”.
I took this as a sign. I hightailed it for my car, scrambled into the front seat and made myself as small as possible.
After all, the girl might already have a boyfriend. And Jim Croce had described, in excruciating detail, what had happened to “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”.
Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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