Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Sean Richter Chronicles, part one: Sean & Becky and 920-am

The Sean Richter Chronicles will appear occasionally in Growing Old With Rock & Roll.  They are an adjunct to I Love Distortion (a rock & roll novel in 12 chapters) that played out in the blog throughout 2013.  Part one predates I Love Distortion: future installments will involve prequels, sequels, and incidents that took place during the story that weren’t portrayed in those 12 chapters. 

(This piece originally appeared in the Pencilstorm blog in a slighly different form.)

Sean & Becky and 920-am

 920-am is an oldies radio station in Columbus, Ohio.  And we’re talkin’ OLDIES here, boys & girls, NOT classic-rock.  We’re talkin’ all the way back to the Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Al Martino era; but then strangely forward all the way through the 1960’s (Beatles, Kinks, Gerry & the Pacemakers), the 70’s (James Taylor, Gordon Lightfoot, anything no louder than Bread and nothing as loud as Bachman-Turner Overdrive); and up through the likes of Josh Groban and Norah Jones.    

Sean & Becky were each other’s first date, first kiss, first boyfriend & girlfriend.  Their first date was to go see Canned Heat and Blood, Sweat & Tears at Vet’s Memorial on the West Side of Columbus, Ohio, in January or February of 1969.  They broke up later that year, right around the end of August, just before Sean’s senior year of high school and Becky’s junior year.  Sean was the lead singer of a garage-rock band; Becky was a sweet girl from Grove City, Ohio.

One warm afternoon in spring, 1969, Sean & Becky were lazily kissing on Becky’s parents’ patio in Grove City when “Love Can Make You Happy” by one-hit wonders Mercy came on WCOL-AM – Columbus’ Top 40 radio station of the time – and Becky said dreamily, “Oh, I love this song.  Don’t you think this is OUR song?”  The dreamscape kinda got shattered as Sean replied, “No, I decidedly DO NOT think this is ‘our song.’  I hate this song.”  Realizing he might have gone a little overboard as tears started to glisten in Becky’s eyes, Sean said, “Maybe ‘You’ve Made Me So Very Happy’ by Blood, Sweat & Tears could be our song, since we saw them on our first date.”  But the damage was done.  Sean doesn’t think Becky ever forgot that slight.  It might have been Sean’s first definitive moment in a life as a Rock & Roll Snob of the First Order.

Today in 2017 they both have wound up listening to 920-am: Sean because he got tired of trying to stay allegiant to an alternative rock scene that would embrace the likes of Mumford & Sons and Grouplove as its standard-bearers; Becky because she just wants to hear some sweet, sad songs that remind her of when she was a young girl.

One late summer Friday afternoon Sean hears The Beatles’ “Eight Days A Week” on 920 and thinks, “This constitutes a savage, pounding rocker on this station,” while humming the riff to The Clash’s “Clampdown” to himself.  Two songs later – on the same afternoon – Becky hears “You Were On My Mind” by We 5 while braiding her granddaughter’s hair and she wistfully tells the uncomprehending little girl, “One time a cute, brown-haired boy won me a stuffed animal at Cedar Point, and this song was playing.”

Sean & Becky were really very happy at the start.  They went to movies.  They got burgers & fries at the Sandy’s drive-in by Sullivant & Demorest Avenues.  Becky went to see Sean’s band play at parties & dances.  But Sean knew from the time he was 16 years old – possibly even before the first time his lips ever met Becky’s – that he never wanted to have any kids.  Nobody on the planet took that Bob Dylan lyric/admonition, “You’ve flung the last fear that can ever be hurled / The fear to bring children into this world,” more seriously than Sean.  And Becky had wanted a big family since she was 10.

Sean went on to work in warehouses and to play in rock & roll bands for the next 15 years, then as a solo act for the 25 years after that.  Becky got married right out of high school and had four kids by five years after graduation.

Sean has read a ton of books over the years: at home; in motel rooms, dressing rooms & vans on the road; at airports & bus terminals and once in a police holding cell.  He sometimes thinks the most profound literary quote he’s ever encountered is, “Your name and mine inside a heart upon a wall / Still find a way to haunt me, though they’re so small,” from The Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee.”   He hears that song about once a month on 920-am, and he thinks of Becky every time.  First loves are like that.

Becky saw one of Sean’s later bands at the Westgate Park Bean Dinner in 1978.  She was there with her husband and kids when they heard a racket from the music stage over by the duck pond.  “This is that punk-rock crap everybody’s talking about now,” Becky’s husband growled as they got closer, “let’s get out of here.”  “No, I wanna watch a minute,” Becky said.  Sean looked great, Becky thought.  He was still skinny, his hair was long but cut kinda cool and he was wearing a tie around his neck over a sleeveless black t-shirt.  Becky had put on 30 or 40 pounds when she had the kids, hadn’t been able to shed the weight, and couldn’t remember the last time she had bought a new dress.  Or the last time she felt cool.

Sean didn’t sing lead anymore, now he played guitar and sang back-up’s, and – in fact – the girl who did the singing in the band didn’t look much older than Becky had been when she & Sean were a couple.  The songs they played were all really noisy & fast and Becky didn’t think she had ever heard any of them before on the radio.  Just then Becky overheard the guy in front of her in the crowd say, “Sean writes all these songs.”  The guy had hair down to his shoulders & a scraggly beard and as he passed a joint to his buddy next to him, he concluded with, “Sean has always been an elitist asshole, now he thinks he’s Joe Strummer or somebody.”

Becky didn’t know who Joe Strummer was and didn’t think she’d ever known anybody who made up their own songs before.  She wondered idly for a moment if any of the songs were about her, but the tunes were so angry & aggressive she wasn’t sure she wanted them to be.  Her littlest girl had her hands over her ears, yelling, “Mommy, TOO LOUD, TOO LOUD.”  Becky’s husband said, “Let’s go, Rebecca, they’re scaring the kids.”  Becky turned, took little Lee Ann’s hand in hers and “Love Can Make You Happy” was playing in her head as they walked back to the picnic tables in the evening dusk.  She turned to wave goodbye to Sean, but he couldn’t have seen her, in the crowd, through the stage lights.

visual aids………

I consider myself something of a devotee of bad late-1960's rock & roll exploitation films and even I can't claim to have ever caught the movie - Fireball Jungle - this clip is lifted from.   Judging by the fact that the producers allowed the film to grind to a halt for the entire 3:20 run-time of one-hit wonders Mercy, however, I have to ask the question: "Which member of the band had an uncle who was an under-assistant West Coast promo man?"

inspirational verse: "Your name and mine, inside a heart, upon a wall /
Still find a way to haunt me, though they're so small" - Michael Brown, 1966

Okay, so it's fairly painfully obvious that the cats & kitten from We 5 have got "1960's Folk Club Refugees" written all over 'em, and readers have probably figured out by this juncture that Ricki C. was likely NOT enamored of the Folk Club Kidz back in the day.  Entirely correct, but goddamn I have always loved this kind of folk-rock tune, and I had a HUGE crush on We 5 lead singer Beverly Bivens when this song was fresh and new in 1965, and so was most of the world around me. 

(c) 2017 Ricki C.

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