The Time Of Our Lives

I remember the first few days of the sixth grade.  School started and interrupted a summer filled with sunny days playing with friends and building tree houses.  Evenings with campfires and re-runs of favorite television programs followed by staying up as late as I could get away with were halted.  This happened every year as school commenced in the fall, but this time felt a little different.  It felt like the world was asking if I was ready to stop being a kid and get on with becoming a teenager or young adult.  The world was asking me this as I was staring at the clock in science class.  At that moment, as I was begging the clock to tick over to 11:05 and put a stop to this madness so we could go to lunch, my answer was a resounding, “No!”  Not just yet anyway.   

Naturally, I was anxious to do all the things that being older made possible.  Things like driving a car, having a few dollars to spend as I like, freedom, being able to make my own decisions.  I wanted all of this, but I knew that a healthy dose of responsibility came with it all.  I was bargaining for a few more weeks, or months even, of the good old days. 
I spent a lot of time that summer feeding my addiction to Doo-wop music.  It was all I listened to.  The Cadillac’s Speedo, Gene Chandler’s Duke of Earl, The Marcel’s Blue Moon, The Platter’s Great Pretender, The Coaster’s Charlie Brown, The Dell Viking’s Come Go With Me, The Monotone’s Book of Love.  These songs were on a constant rotation in my cassette player  until the “Oldies” radio station picked up the national feed in the evening to continue providing a steady supply of classic 1950’s music for me to enjoy. 
When these groups sang, you could see red and white 1957 Chevys and black and chrome Chrysler Imperials with the speaker boxes hanging on the windows at the drive in movies.  It was such a brief moment in the history of American music, but these artists captured the essence of the era in a way that is rarely done successfully.  When listening to the music, you can hear the fashions, fears, attitudes, hairstyles, values, challenges, lifestyles, and stylings of technology and art that existed.  The zeitgeist…but I wanted to spell it out.  It wasn't localized.  There was a sense of the spirit of the time and that it existed, for the most part, over the entire world if not only in the United States.  It’s a rare feat for music.  It hadn’t occurred since the big band music of the 1940’s.  These popular music forms were actually serving as a diary of the times.  Both were short-lived.  The singer-songwriter material from the 1970’s came close to repeating this achievement, but after Doo-wop, it really didn't happen again until the pop-rock music of the 80’s. 
80’s music had a hangover of sentimentality inherited from the 70’s.  It was trying to shake it in the same way that doo-wop hung on to the nostalgic themes in the music of the 50’s.  The 1980’s added energy and was working to ease up on the emotion.  This shift continued until it reached the ultimate expression of care-free energy with the hard rock groups that spent as much time on their hair as on their songwriting.  Hair metal had arrived. 
This was the state of music when I began playing guitar.  I had survived 6th grade science class and moved on to high school.  That old bargain had been accepted with a caveat.  I would move on from the carefree days of childhood as long as I could grow my hair long and play guitar.  I found some like minded friends and we began playing music together.  We knew that the prevailing popular music was fun, but also wanted a little more depth.  We expressed this through our originals, and by covering music by some of the edgier rock groups.  The songs had to have some meaning, even a bit of a dark side that wasn’t in the mainstream at the time.   
The music we played was an expression of the joy of playing in a rock band.  Of course, we sometimes vented any angst we might have, but that was secondary.  We also had guilty pleasures.  The occasional carefree rock tune made it on the playlist.  A lot of the 80’s metal was high energy riff rock, which meant it was fun for everyone to play.  The guitar and bass parts involved more than simply strumming chords.  There were unique passages even during the verses.  The singers got to strut and some of the poses they would strike were necessary to hit the high notes.  The drummer was required to beat on the set for the entire song.  Drummers love that.  Then there were the guitar solos.  It’s always fun to put hours of practice to good use.  What’s not to love here?  Even the most melancholy members of the band could be persuaded to have a good time while cranking out “I Can’t Drive 55.”

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