The band

When I was 16 in 1965, my brother had a band. In the basement.

I don’t remember its name now — aging does that to a gal — but they were loud and noisy. I was in heaven.

My parents weren’t. The house shook with reverberating drums and a booming bass guitar and my folks were not happy about all this ruckus. Neither were our neighbors.

Garage_BandSo in the evenings, dad would hit the basement light switch off and on until everyone got the message. In hindsight, how or why they even allowed my brother and his friends to do this is beyond me, except perhaps peace and assurance in knowing where we all were during those days of drugs, sex and rock-and-roll.

The band, for me, however, was a gift from the music gods.

I was smart — not a good thing in high school — and I was awkward and shy. Friends were not knocking down my door. Until the band.

Having my own in-house group of rockers made me somewhat popular. I had a place in the unstable teen-aged universe of things. I belonged.

My so-called friends would straggle down the basement steps in groups, huddling in the darkness of our basement, all goo-goo-eyed at this head-and-hip shaking display of throbbing pubescent.

And we would listen — to the music of The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Stones, and more — our chests and limbs pulsating from the blare of the amplifiers. We would dance and giggle. We were in awe.

I’m not sure what my brother’s intentions were in forming this group. Adulation? Girlfriends? The dream of becoming famous? Or maybe it was about the music, about channeling those newfound energies of angst and possibilities into something “cool” and “fab.”

girls screaming beatlesAs for me and my girlfriends, we knew that we would probably never see The Beatles or The Stones in concert (although I eventually did, lucky me). But we had the band. They were close enough.

And, of course, at that age, we all had our crushes. I fell heavy and hard for one guitarist, and then realizing that was for naught, fell for the drummer. I dreamed. I prayed. I wanted to marry him, please God, I’ll do anything if you’ll make him love me and someday we can marry. Ah, such innocent yearnings and stupidity at 16 years of age.

Life goes on and so did we.

A friend of mine did end up marrying that drummer. They divorced soon after. And he went on to have many problems in life. From that experience I learned: Be thankful that God has your back and doesn’t always answer every prayer.

Some of my other friends drifted, lost in life. Some found jobs. Some married and had children. Some died.

My brother went on to become brilliant in the field of physics — go figure — and I went on to a career in journalism and writing.

Growing up as a teenager in the 1960s wasn’t easy. I suppose it isn’t for any teen in any era. Still. We were living in times of sweeping change as Bob Dylan sang, dropping the baggage of patriarchy and rules and regulations, and searching for meaning.

But through it all we had the music.

beatlesToday, we still have that music as it has evolved into something this antiquated brain can’t seem to wrap itself around. But I know in my rock-and-roll heart of hearts that a band is forming somewhere even now, in some garage or basement, with its own brand of hip-hop or rap or whatever.

And in the end, some rockers refuse to hang up their guitars despite their age. Paul McCartney. The Rolling Stones.

You can applaud them or shake your head in dismay, but you can’t fault their longevity or ability to draw crowds and captivate with their songs.

Then there’s Eric Clapton.

My brother used to call him “God.” A friend and I went to see him in concert a few years ago and he hadn’t lost whatever “it” is that he had in his youth. He played like a magician, his fingers caressing the frets with agility and grace.

And yes, he was gray. So was most of the audience. I was amused by this, wondering if we ever really let go of our youth. Do we cling to the tiniest piece of it as to keep ourselves young and in blissful denial?

Who can say?

I only know that the bands — whether in a basement, a garage or on the big stage — were about something more. They were about belonging. To something beyond ourselves. And to finding our own rhythm in the midst of change and chaos.

To discovering who we were then and who we would become.

Perhaps they still are. And the beat goes on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Catch the wind

In the 1960s, many of us were trying to find ourselves. Hair was growing longer and skirts shorter. The Vietnam War. Bob Dylan, the Beatles and Joni Mitchell. Indeed, the times they were a-changing. Here’s a story about a high school friend and how, in trying to find ourselves, we found the unexpected.

*****

I was a freshman. An all-girls Catholic high school, no less, where — as the outside world pounded on the doors with the decadence of Woodstock — inside the regimen and decorum of a convent prevailed.

woodstockI was quiet by nature. Loved reading. Shy and insecure. And then I met Regina, a classmate. She lived nearby so we rode the bus together.

She had long red hair — that she ironed nightly into a crisp, flat sheet — flashing green eyes and a tough exterior. She smoked on the sly, cursed like a sailor and spoke her mind. I wanted to be her.

As we grew older, we loved all things “folk” and “British” and Regina tempted me to a place called The Cellar where local bands and singers performed. The steps downward were steep and the room itself, narrow. Pockets of light poked into the darkness from candles stuffed into empty wine bottles set on the few tables that lined the stucco walls.

We entered a shadowy, smoke-filled world where a guitarist strummed “Catch the Wind” by Donovan or a four-piece band thumped out songs by the Rolling Stones.

Regina started dating the bass player of one of the bands and she tried to set me up with the lead guitarist. But I was painfully shy. Our conversation that night fizzled because I wanted to speak of things like “The Little Prince” and Charlotte Bronte and Leonard Cohen. He couldn’t finish a complete sentence. He wouldn’t have understood.

Like her mother, Regina was political. She protested the Vietnam War. She believed in equal rights. In her rights.

One day during history class, she was sitting in the back row by an open door. We watched as the good sister walked down the aisle and yanked her out into the hallway. I overheard part of the conversation. Sister felt that Regina’s bangs were too long and threatened, with scissors in hand, to cut them. “You’re violating my civil rights,” Regina screamed. “You can’t do that!”

make loveOh, yes, I wanted to be like Regina, outspoken and courageous in times that demanded a voice.

But times do change. And so do people. We graduated. Moved on. Life took me into journalism and writing. I lost touch with many of my classmates, including Regina.

Then one day, I was searching on Facebook for high school friends, and that somehow led me to her name and to another site.

And to her obituary.

Regina had died at the age of 56. She had had a hard life. When she was in labor and about to deliver her baby — a single woman and alone — she drove herself to the hospital. Later in life, she worked odd jobs, doing what she had to in order to survive and raise her son.

When she was diagnosed with brain cancer, she wasn’t afraid.

Her sister had written in her obituary that she saw this not as an ending, but the beginning of new life. Somewhere along the way, Regina had rediscovered what the Sisters had planted in our hearts years ago — faith in God. It had sustained her those last days.

The 1960s were a time we were trying to find ourselves. We had dreams to change the world. But some of us got lost along the way.

We didn’t know that as much as we would try “to catch the wind” that we wouldn’t. That as we grew older, life would have its way with us, that we would love, cry, laugh, fall and get up. Again and again.

And sometimes, in those days of turmoil and trying to find ourselves, we never thought that perhaps we were never lost to begin with.

We didn’t know that being shy or outspoken were all good, pieces of who we were becoming. And in that search for self, in the fearlessness of youth, little did we dream we might find ourselves in death some day. Or so soon.

sorrow-julie-fainI go back in memory to that time and can still see Regina, red hair swinging and bangs intact, challenging me about my vote and the Vietnam War, letting a curse word fly, giving voice to her views about civil rights and women’s liberation.

I realize now that she was one of the first to show me how it was done, one of the first who helped me find my voice.

And in my heart, I know she’s at peace because she finally did find herself. She found her way home. She caught the wind after all.

******