When Super Storm Beatles tracked across the Atlantic, headed for the states, I missed the first big wave that hit our shores because I had shelter. Boy, did I have shelter.
The first hint that I would be routinely sheltered from atmospheric phenomena in the world of rock ‘n roll occurred when I was about five. Elvis Presley was performing “Hound Dog” on TV and about halfway through the song, my dad got up and changed the channel. “Don’t need any of that in this house.” Dang. Most likely was Elvis’s gyrating that did him in.
By the time the Beatles were slated to debut on the Ed Sullivan Show, our family’s hatches had been fully battened down — not a chance that even a drop of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” would seep into our living room. No, we had been sealed in our own yellow submarine when the deluge began to pummel the homeland. Protected, I was. Seriously protected.
So on that Monday, when girls ran up to me and asked, with extreme animation, “Did you watch the Beatles last night?!!!!!” my reply was a soft-spoken, “No, missed it.” Then they would proceed to describe in detail the Fab Four’s appearance in all its wonderfulness, and I felt like I’d slept through a coronation or something. (Well, in a way, I sorta did.)
But I didn’t waste any time getting up to speed. A lot of days, I walked home with Roxanne, who had a transistor radio and who frequently bought teen magazines, which were generally plastered with photographs of the mop heads.
“Who do you think is cutest?”
Is she kidding? Like there’s even any contest!
“Oh, I dunno — who do you think?” I replied, keeping the cards very close to the vest, as if her deeming him cutest too would somehow diminish the verve of my adolescent crush on Paul. You know, Paul — as in, the one who sang “Michelle” — en français. Be still, mon coeur.
Then there was my buddy, Desiree, whose parents not only let her listen to rock ‘n roll, but let her buy the 45’s. My visits at her house included lots of record playing. She was also fond of the Beach Boys, so I became familiar with “California Girls”, “Barbara Ann”, and “Good Vibrations”, too. Oh, help me, Rhonda!
Meanwhile, our home was devoid of any and all Billboard Hot 100’s. The radio perched atop the refrigerator was tuned to easy listening — Robert Goulet, Tony Bennett, Eydie Gorme, et al. Once in a while, a pop performer or group would cross over: Petula Clark’s “Downtown” wended its way into our kitchen via the airwaves, as did The Fifth Dimension’s “Up, Up, and Away”. (I’d cloak my glee to avert, if at all possible, that whole channel changing scenario.) The stereo in the living room was reserved for classical music, with the occasional big band thrown in. And there’d be no watching the Monkees on TV, either. At times, I thought I’d die for want of a rock ‘n roll fix.
Then one Sunday afternoon, my parents left me to watch my three younger siblings for several hours. I instantly sized up a ripe opportunity. But I generally didn’t violate house rules. Enter: Inner Conflict. I resisted. Temptation mounted. I held out. For a while. Alas, temptation overpowered my resolve.
I reached for the radio dial and turned to the station preferred by every warm-blooded adolescent I knew. And I cranked up the volume. The fall from saint to sinner was as simple as that. But I’m here to tell you, forbidden fruit is sweet, and “She’s Got a Ticket to Ride” never sounded better.
“You’re gonna get in trouble, Linda,” came a little voice from the kitchen doorway.
“Why, you gonna tell Mom and Dad?”
“No, but we’re not supposed to listen to rock music.”
Well, fine. Way to spoil the moment.
The brief exchange succeeded in smiting my conscience, and the next song just didn’t satisfy like the first ones, so I turned off the radio. Score that: Guilt 1; Contraban 0. I decided to turn my attention to the household chores I’d been asked to do, then hung out until Mom, Dad and my older brother returned. I think it was later the same day, and I was in my bedroom, when Mom wanted a little music to cook by and turned on the radio.
Not being a very clever sneak, I failed to return the radio dial to Mom’s easy listening station. And I also forgot to reset the volume control knob. Big lapse. Herman’s Hermits came blaring through the house. For about three seconds. I froze in my tracks waiting for the shoe to drop.
I honestly don’t remember any consequences for my behavior other than the self-inflicted shame of having violated the house rules, and knowing my parents knew I’d exposed the younger kids to musical pathogens. I wanted to be trusted and responsible more than I could ever want stolen pleasure from a handful of popular songs.
And that was the last time I ever did that.
Besides, I still had Roxanne and Desiree.