The movie “American Graffiti” posed the post-pubescent query: “Where were you in ’62?” Seemingly, all those with a recollection were at a drive-in movie or a record hop. After all, Danny and the Juniors didn’t record “At The Library.” Memories of cramming for trig test, squeezing a combative zit, recoiling from romantic rejection or explaining much of anything to your parents now gets short-shrifted in the interest of nostalgia.
Sure, your folks couldn’t fathom Clarence “Frogman” Henry and loathed Jerry Lee Lewis way before he married his 13-year-old cousin. And come to think of it, they always wanted a son more like David Nelson, Ricky’s dull sibling. But who really harbors such memories anymore?
That’s why nostalgia is so appealing. It’s the sheer, refutation-free selectivity of it all. Truth be told, the era of happy daze consisted more of making do than making out. Nocturnal missions impossible were all too frequent, but what’s it matter now?
Nostalgia, however, has never mattered more.
The post-war baby boomers are now the prime target for the marketing industry. The generation that went from Wally Cleaver to Eldridge Cleaver now has the money as well as the memories. Everything from PTAs to nightclubs can make money off of a ’50s-’60s theme. And isn’t “Trivial Pursuit” really a paean to that same epoch?
Musically, it’s not just rock revivals featuring exhumed acts or Dick Clark reminiscing between emcee spots on “The $25,000 Pyramid” and “TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes.” Contemporary songs must vie with oldies for airtime. And, ironically enough, in form — as well as fashion — aren’t the Stray Cats little more than changeling copycats of yesteryear’s hep cats. New Wave, old precedent.
Locally, radio stations increasingly carry the sounds of the permanent wave set. They range from WRBQ’s “Lunchtime at the Oldies” to WHBO’s all-oldies format. Little Anthony is still big; “Long Tall Sally” is still short on clarity; and “Dedicated To The One I Love” is still a generic rush.
There are even a couple of Tampa Bay Area night spots that play nothing but those blasts from the past. Studebaker’s and Chevy’s in Clearwater are less than two miles apart, but light years away from the present for most of their patrons.
“I ain’t fakin’. A whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on.“
It’s designer clothes on untailored torsos, but nobody cares. Gold chains now replace hickeys as status symbols and epidermal jeans reveal bulging hints of a pedal-pusher past, but no one notices, much less minds. The fallout from push-up bras, however, still maintains a timeless quality. We’re not talking furtive glances here.
“Round, round, get around. I get around.”
It looks like the high school dance revisited by the 25th reunion crowd — sans Clearasil, curfews and Sen-Sen. A sock hop with wing tips. There are no upraised basketball hoops hidden from view; a jukebox, dance floor and a 1950 Studebaker Champion are very much in evidence. So are a couple of fernless bars.
“All the cats and chicks can get their kicks at the hop.”
It’s vintage ’50s-’60s, non-stop bop at Studebaker’s. Lines linger long out front for a chance to re-enter a time warped only by the passage of a generation and personas long since overhauled. Who cares if Chuck Berry now nears Social Security and myopia blurs the distinction between a come-hither look and a go-to-hell glare?
“My boyfriend’s back, and you’re gonna be in trouble.”
Although there are some pre-boppers going native and big band aficionados around for the free eats, this is largely a class reunion, circa 1960. No backgammon tables here. Maybe “A Rose And A Baby Ruth” after dancing to “Quarter To Three.”
“Why must I be a teenager in love?”
However disparate this graying, balding, baby-booming group, the music is the common thread. Accountants and attorneys, truckers and traffickers, married couples and swigging singles — most of whom never would have mixed during high school clique years. Bo Didley is more popular here than Bo Derek. Well, almost. But the players in this crowd can remember when “Get A Job” was much more than a parental directive. When “Mashed Potato Time” actually meant burning off calories.
“Come on baby, let the good times roll; come on baby, let me thrill your soul.”
It was a time when performers had colorful — almost chummy — names such as Fats Domino and Chubby Checker. For some reason, a Pudgy Parcheesi never came along. There was Elvis “The King” and Fabian who couldn’t sing — except when compared to Gary U.S. Bonds. Little Richard was outrageous enough to get away with countless variations on a “Tutti-Frutti” theme. Doo-wop remains a reminder of what harmonizing is all about.
“You can do anything, but lay off of my blue suede shoes.”
And incongruously enough, the uncool likes of Pat Boone, Lesley Gore and Patience & Prudence also belonged to that era. But then, so did Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. “Wooly Bully” is now an escapist anthem of a whole generation otherwise caught up in making a living. Ah, to be a Sha-Na-Nabob again — even for a night. To revel without a cause — other than the desire to cavort down memory lane.
“Don’t be cruel to a heart that’s true.”
Selective recall has a way of making erstwhile backseat lovers and nimble rug-cutters of us all. The Tune Weavers could identify. They recorded “Happy, Happy Birthday, Baby” and nothing else. Oblivion City. One-hit wonders Harvey and the Moonglows would also understand. Their “Ten Commandments Of Love” was as close to a religious experience as peer pressure would permit. And ditto for Little Caesar and the Romans who sang the shibbolethian hit, “Those Oldies But Goodies.”
Still, they all had their moments — out of the charts and into our hearts with their winning-wax ways. The we-generation remembers.
“We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight; we’re gonna rock, rock, rock till broad daylight.”
The music transports a generation back to decidedly simpler times — before Buffalo Bob gave way to the G.I. Bill. When “going all the way” was a rite of passage, not a quid pro quo for dinner. “Scoring” also meant hitting a base-line jumper or beating the tag at home. The “hots” didn’t mean flashes and “mooning” was acceptably asinine. Promotions only catapulted you to the next grade, and riots were akin to food fights. The “British Invasion” had something to do with the War of 1812. When all those people in America’s closets stayed there.
Lee Harvey Who?
“Well, my bucket’s got a hole in it; don’t work no more.”
Nostalgia bender notwithstanding, one wonders how many former wallflowers are now in full blossom. Have the years done their pruning? Females dancing with each other now seem less inviting of new partners than caustic comments