Musicality, Part One
8-track flashbacks and a talent show hijack.
Music has been a massive part of my life as long as I can remember. At 3-years-old, I had my first album, Ernie's Greatest Hits. At 5, I had my first single, "Saturday Night" by the Bay City Rollers. In 1977, I had my official musical Big Bang when my mother indulged in one of those Columbia House "12 8-track tapes for a penny" deals that were so common back then. If you don't remember, the only catch was that you would have to buy X amount of 8-tracks over the coming years at regular (inflated) club prices. I suppose it really wasn't that bad of a deal; as of this writing, ol' Franny just has to purchase 200 more 8-tracks between now and 2020 to be free of all obligations.
Albanese Comes Alive
I remember the exact day that first box of 8-tracks came in the mail in Nutley. Nutley? Let me explain. As mentioned in previous editions of RW, I resided in The Gardens, but then the 'rents bought a new house on Whitaker Place, which was still being built. What this means is: we were caught in a living space lurch, and had to spend the summer at my grandparents' house in Nut-to-the-ley.
It also meant that when school started in Fall of '77, my mother drove me up to Wilson School until we moved in the new house in late October. In these days of tighter restrictions on kids living out of district and school zones, I wonder if my cross-Essex County commuting to Mrs. Caprio's class would have been an issue with the school.
Anyway, I remember opening the carton on the porch on a sunny morning and seeing these tape-cartridge things with names like "Kiss," "Aerosmith" and "The Eagles" on them. There was some disco in there, as well as Frampton Comes Alive.
The half-hour rides to school were my listening parties. Bopping around the back seat. (No child restraining devices were in use in the Caddy, or anywhere at that point.) I'd ask my mom to "put in the orange one" (Kiss), and things like that. I was just totally into the music; at that point, for example, I didn't know what Kiss or anyone else looked like.
What a Racquet
Soon after getting into music, I wanted to play guitar and drums. I indulged my six string fascination first–with a few dozen extra strings for good measure. In fact, I was a prime example of the "fake it 'til you make it" philosophy. I made good use of my mother's tennis racket, turning it into my axe; my bedroom was my stage. Almost every day after dinner, I'd put a record on my Sound Design stereo Santa Claus gave me, and jump around my room, pretending I was whoever. During holidays, I'd come up with little shows my cousins and I would perform for the grownups.
School Boy in Disgrace
In fifth grade, I unexpectedly went public with my guitar mimicry. The Wilson School talent show was coming up and I had come up with what I thought was an awesome Saturday Night Live-styled Mr. Rogers parody. In it, I would play "Mr. McFeely" to Eddie Malia's "Mr. Rogers," who wouldn't be able find his sneakers that he always changes into at the beginning of each show. At the appropriate moment of dramatic tension, I would barge onto the stage shouting "Speedy Delivery! I have some ShopRite sneakers for you!" We even had Paul Koutouzakis inexplicably doing a cameo as "Exidor" from Mork and Mindy. It was wacky.
When ShopRite Was Also Shop-Locker, or Foot-Rite
Does anyone remember when ShopRite sold sneakers? To 11-year-old me, it was the funniest thing. In that odd seasonal items/dog food/automotive aisle, there was a actually a small section of foot-related stuff. In addition to the usual Dr. Scholl's foot and corn pads (eeeww), there were also those tube socks with stripes at the top (when are those coming back?), and then there they were; imitation, paper thin, Adidas three-striped sneakers.
Mrs. Deligny wasn't seeing the humor in it. She was the "other" fifth and sixth grade teacher at school, as in, "not mine." And she just hated cool kids like myself and my pals. She was not exactly beautiful, and had a bit of a post-hippie movement look going on. Let's sum it up this way: she probably voted for Jimmy Carter. To my horror, she was in charge of the talent show.
In rehearsal, she stood in front of the stage watching us practice our bit with a frown on her face. Somehow she was nonplussed at our act. Her main concern? The ShopRite sneakers part.
"Some people have to wear ShopRite sneakers," she said. Then, she killed the skit.
C'mon, who actually wore ShopRite sneakers? By the way, while writing this I asked my wife that very question, and she said she did! It must have been a Hoboken thing ... did you?
For Those About to Shock
We intrepid fifth and sixth graders regrouped and decided to lip-sync to an AC/DC song. In this effort, I'd be the group's visual focal point, the frenetic lead guitarist and schoolboy-outfit wearing Angus Young. It was a win-win; I could bust out my moves, and even use most of my "Mr. McFeely" outfit. Eddie (who would be singer Bon Scott) made a big cardboard version of the band's logo, and we scrounged around the school for instruments.
The talent show was a school wide event–and on the day of, the gym was filled with kids, teachers, administrators and even some parents. Most of the acts were forgettable, as they were basically run throughs of school band lessons and such. Everyone clapped politely after each presentation.
While this was happening, I was in the hallway next to the gym, ready to go, but a little nervous. I had on shorts, one of my old man's ties, and was sitting in a trance. Finally, teacher's pet (Deligny loved him) Jon Zigman did an introduction welcoming us to Wilson after touring the world.
We hit the stage, and I immediately got into it, running all over the place, just like I always did in my bedroom. I still wasn't playing live, but I had traded up from the tennis racquet to an actual guitar–even if it was an acoustic one.
Fellow fifth grader and Patch reader Carl DiMasi was also in the act. I remember looking back at him. He smiled, gritted his teeth and "played" his unplugged instrument even harder, as if to say, "Let's get 'em!"
Here's what he has to say about the experience: "I believed I was Malcolm (Young) and all I had to do was stand still and strum the guitar. We were all scared to get up in front of everyone, but I was really just glad to get out of the principal's office for the afternoon. I think we performed 'Dirty Deeds'?"
He's right, and that's where the kicker comes in. The AC/DC song that we 10- and 11-year-olds used, instead of doing a comedy skit that mentioned ShopRite sneakers, was "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap."
The song's lyrics are delivered from the point of view of a low-rent hit-man for hire advertising his services. Scenarios presented include taking out the "high school head" because "you want to graduate, but not in his bed." Methods of "hitting" are also covered, including cyanide, "neckties," "contracts," and even "high voltage." We ended up with a great audience response.
Sometimes, we kids didn't even have to try to be punks. The only regret I have is that throughout the whole experience, I didn't check to see what kind of footwear Mrs. Deligny was wearing.
Coming up next time: More tales from a musical road less traveled, including more AC/DC and the shortest-lived garage band ever!