Play A Song For Me

I promised myself I would not write about my Staples reunion this weekend.  But:  I can’t help myself.

Sugar pie, honey bunch…

Of course.  Anyone of a certain age (mine) knows without thinking that those are the only words that follow “I can’t help myself.”

Just as everyone at our reunion — or any other one, anywhere, from that era — understands instinctively that the only thing boot heels do is “wander.”  And — as Doctor Doctor Mister M.D. says — all you really need is good lovin’.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Brian Keane and Charlie Karp rock on. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

One of the many highlights at Saturday’s reunion was the band.  All were members of our Staples Class of 1971.  Billy Sims, Rob McClenathan, Bubba Barton — each with non-music jobs now — joined Mike Mugrage, Brian Keane, Jeff Dowd, Billy Seidman and Charlie Karp to play some of what Cat Mother and the All Night Newboys know is “that good old rock ‘n’ roll.”

Mike toured and performed with James Brown, Ronnie Spector and Orleans. Brian is a multiple Grammy and Emmy Award-winning composer.  Jeff is an opera singer based in Germany.   Billy teaches music at NYU.

Charlie never graduated from Staples.  He dropped out a few weeks into 10th grade, forsaking algebra and gym for touring and recording with guys like Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Miles.  He’s now back in this area, playing with great bands like Slo Leak.

These guys sometimes played together at Staples.  They were in different groups too.

Linda Satin, Carissa Simon, Margaret Hart and Bonnie Housner channel the Supremes. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

On Saturday night — with the addition of former Orphenians Bonnie Housner, Margaret Hart, Julie Aldworth McClenathan, Kim Plaut, Linda Satin and Carissa Simon as singers, all of whom had the “Stop!  In the Name of Love” hand motions down pat — they brought us back to a time when music was not only real and good, but a shared experience.

Everyone who went to school in the 1960s and 70s listened to the same songs at the same time.  We heard them on transistor radios, car radios, turntables at parties.

Just a snippet of the most obscure tunes — “I’m Your Puppet,” “Hitchin’ a Ride,” “Indiana Wants Me” — brings back powerful memories of precise places, people and the funny/outrageous/bizarre/typical/illegal things we were doing at those moments.

So as I listened and danced Saturday night — Mustang Sally, you been runnin’ all over town — I said to myself:  “Man, you are one lucky guy to have grown up when you did.”

Jimi Hendrix, back when music was music.

And then I thought about music today.  When the Class of 2011 has its reunion, they will not have actual music to listen to.

Nor will they have classmate bands from high school to play it.

Nor experience the joy of growing up sharing the same music, at the same time and place, during a transformative time in their young lives.

I threw this sad fact out at a friend from Burr Farms, Long Lots and Staples — a guy I haven’t seen in decades, but who because of our time together long ago, I’d reconnected with instantly.

He didn’t buy it.

His kids — in their late teens and early 20s — love the Beatles, Doors and other groups we also loved, he said, back in the day.

Suddenly, I felt fine.

In 2051, I realized, alums attending their own 40th reunions will listen to the same music we did.

Eighty years before.

19 responses to “Play A Song For Me

  1. It was an amazing experience seeing them perform, and I was transported back in time to our school dances when these guys got their start. It is incredible how many went on to a career in music. And, I wonder: maybe having the opportunity to do live performances early on at venues such as junior high and high school dances really helped them develop as musicians and ultimately was a factor in their career choices and success.

  2. Absolutely right on Dan! You summed it up precisely.

  3. I graduated from high school in 1978 and I’m often lamenting to my kids (now in college and at Staples) that their music just won’t withstand the test of time in the way the music of the 60’s and 70’s has. I was at the Gathering of the Vibes and was told that each night a “silent disco” is held at the beach. Everyone brings his or her own Ipod and plugs in and dances to his or her own music, but there is no music in the air. Perhaps that’s what future reunions will hold?

  4. LMG– I think they will ultimately play a lot of their own music at their reunions many years from now. But I just feel there is something special about having a quality live band, and it was made that much more special for us on Saturday night because the band consisted of our (very talented) classmates.

  5. yes I know,I was just kidding about the silent disco!

  6. SAT night’s music bonanza was just f*&king incredible. To see all of our classmates rockin’ it like they did was amazing. The music is timeless and was played to perfection. We were all singing along and dancing like no one was watching. Just the way it should be. Several times I tried to get up to the microphones and join in singing, but I couldn’t stop playing air guitar or air drums long enough. Some things never change. The only difference for me, is that now 40 years later, I wasn’t stoned, and I couldn’t imagine it being any better than it was.

    As an aside – for my wife’s son (who is 29), I am constantly burning CD’s of the Beatles, Stones, Doors, CCR, Jimi – all his request. I think the music of our generation will live on for quite some time.

    As another aside – while in Westport on this trip, I visited the house my grand-parents used to live in on Long Lots Lane. The people were there and invited me in. I hadn’t been in the house for at least 35 years. They gave me a tour of the house. When we got to the living room, I stopped and pointed and said “picture this – right there in the corner there was a small black & white TV, and in 1964, that’s where I watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan for the first time”. Rock and Roll will never die. Long Live Rock!

    • Margie Sopkin

      Alan, perfectly put! The evening was a natural high, and better than any of us could have imagined. Love the image of you watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan….I too was in my parents bedroom and the B&W was so small I had to sit two inches away from it, and I was crying. Definitely one of those “where were you” moments I will never forget.

  7. First time commenter long time reader of this page…There is a resurgence of “real” music among the today’s 9-15 year olds, a pendulum swing away from the techno-crap rap i.e. the disco of this current generation’s age. At a recent rock and roll band camp where kids from 6-18 years of age were immersed for 5 days with instruction, about 350 folks listened to these kids perform the likes of Eric Clapton, Warren Zevon, Alice Cooper, The Beatles and many others. A sure sign that the future of Rock and Roll looks bright indeed!

  8. Oh Dan, thank you for writing about this unforgettable experience we were lucky enough to have together. It was a blast being able to go back in time and not worry about being a grown up for a while. Seeing everyone on the dance floor dancing and singing along and getting to perform one more time with classmates like that was an honor and just too much fun! Thanks to Brian Keane for “throwing” this together at the last minute.

  9. The parents of the 60’s and 70’s kids complained about their kids music too.

  10. Holly Wheeler

    I know a bunch of kids in the 13-17 age bracket who are as Beatles-freaky NOW as my friends and I were when the Beatles first came to the US in early 1964 (and I was a senior in high school). It gives me hope!

  11. Bruce Fernie (1970)

    Sounds like a great time was had by all you Juniors!

  12. Thanks, Dan for doing a great job describing how many of us felt on Saturday, even though you broke your own promise. I’m glad you did. I think that students in towns like Westport that value their music programs will continue to listen to ‘real’ music.
    We were fortunate to grow up here. Not only because of the outstanding music department, but consider this: how many other people do you know who could have gone to see The James Gang, Doors, Taj Mahal, and J. Geils at their hometown High School?

    • don’t forget also: The Guess Who, Yardbirds, The Animals, The Young Rascals, Cream, Sly & the Family Stone, Delaney & Bonnie, Edgar Winter, Youngbloods, and the group we DIDN’T vote for: Led Zeppelin which was too expensive at the time for $10 instead of the usual $5. Yeah – we had a pretty cool high school experience. I think Staples could have been the model for the Ramones song : “Rock N Roll High School”.

  13. Right, Dan!

  14. Dan,
    Thanks to Fred Cantor I have discovered your blog. Your words about our Staples class’ reunion made my eyes well up and gave me goose bumps. So many memories that I only wish I could have shared with you all last weekend. I’ll be reading your blog from now on. All my best to you and your family. Sam Goodman

  15. Well done Dan. Were I in your position, I could not have resisted writing about it either. “Oh what a time it was… It was; I have a photograph. Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left us…” I could wax on but will keep it short and send you my gratitude for saying it all so eloquently. Rock on and … Peace out buddy.
    ~Nancy Samuelson Tiemann

  16. Well, believe it or not, this 1970 grad is now into rap. Well, not really into it, but some of it’s really good enough to sing along to. Lil Wayne, Eminem… these guys are masterful with their lyrics and their music. Some rap is disgusting, some is intolerable, but some.. the kind they’ll be listening to at their reunions ….is pretty darn good!! It doesn’t beat our music though. But how about this. I have youngest son’s room outfitted with a drum set, a keyboard and two guitars, and do you think there are kids jamming up there at any point in time? No. Now that’s weird. But my boy plays all of those instruments.