I want to take a moment to recognize a dear friend of mine who turned the big “3-9” this past week…the Jack Benny version of 39. For sake of his anonymity, I’ll just call him “Mike”.
I met Mike when he and I were about 12 years old and his family began attending the church I attended with mine.
I recall my family went to his house for a visit and we hit it off. He was into music. So was I. I remember listening for a long time to Led Zeppelin’s IV album and talking about music and our other interests. He had the same stupid sense of humor I did, which says something. We became close friends quickly and spent a good bit of time together.
It was only a few months later that Mike asked if I had heard a new song on the radio. It was called “Rock this Town” by a new band called the Stray Cats. He thought it was great and told me I should listen for it. Of course back in them days, you couldn’t just pull it up on the internet. There was no such-a-thing. Al Gore hadn’t gotten around to it yet.
Anyway, one night it happened. I turned on my radio to AM 690 – “The Mighty 690” out of Tijuana, Mexico – and caught the last 30 seconds of “Rock this Town”. I was completely blown away. I called Mike and told him I had heard it. I was already playing a little guitar, but I HAD to learn to play guitar like that!
That got the ball rolling. Like many other kids in the U.S. (and especially there in Orange County, CA), we soon immersed ourselves into this new world of rockabilly music and mid-century culture. We even started our first band together…first it was the “Lone Wolves” and later “The Blazers”. Forming a quartet with some buddies, we opened every rehearsal with the Rockin’ R’s classic “Crazy Baby” and played a other few covers as well as several of Mike’s original songs. Sadly, I don’t have a single recording of the early Blazers – just the echoing memories of loud guitars and drum-shaken sheet-rock in our dad’s garages.
Mike and I began exploring the vast world of music from the 1940’s onward as well as the cultural changes that went with it. We watched old movies, read old books and magazines. Our friendship and the common interests we shared made a dramatic change in my life – especially in expressing myself artistically.
On Sunday nights in the summer Mike and I would often spend the night at each others houses, where we would listen to the Dr. Demento show on 94.7 KMET. The show was sort of the capstone of our weird common comedic tastes, and I have many fond memories of the laughs we shared over Dr. Demento.
Mike and I bought Disneyland annual passports the first year they were offered. We about wore them out, soaking up the magic and nostalgia of Disneyland in the “good old days”. Somehow it didn’t seem quite as commercial back then.
After several years of little contact after I moved from SoCal, I’m so glad Mike and I have reconnected through the magic of the internet…even got to enjoy a personal visit with him a few weeks ago.
To my “old” friend, Mike: Happy birthday. Your friendship played a key role in my young life and still shapes who I am today in many ways. Thanks for that. I’m just five months behind you. Here’s to many more years of friendship!