Monday, June 25, 2012

Record Day

Every Friday, Miss Wolflin would let students in our 8th grade music class bring in their favorite record album to play.
Slim with short, black hair and a cheerful smile, our young teacher was enthusiastic and friendly. Her class was a place I loved to be, even if I couldn’t exactly sing on key as we belted out hippie-era songs like “Time in a Bottle” and “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”
I loved music. The daughter of a piano player, I had played keyboard since I was 8-years-old and had recently learned to play the flute. I could sing, although my voice was basically monotone, and had even joined Miss Wolflin’s choir. Music was a safe haven in the train wreck of my junior high life.
Smart, shy, and painfully skinny, I was a misfit. I tried so hard to fit in, but even my new Gloria Vanderbilt designer jeans and black t-shirt somehow looked out of place on my angular figure. I was not only shy, but decidedly less worldly wise than my peers.
My classmates were generally a tough lot. Thornton was a small quarry town where dynamite blasted every day at 2 pm shaking the cinder block walls of our school.
For our Friday record album event, Jim Smith had brought in his most prized possession: the latest KISS album. While Jim and his friends were not allowed to paint their faces white like Gene Simmons and his entourage, they did wear stacked heels and had even brought packets of fake blood to spit into the air at appropriate moments.
Miss Wolfin looked a bit concerned as Jim took centerstage and placed his album on the record player. As the music crashed, he leapt up and brandished his air guitar. Troy, Tom, and Robert, unable to control themselves, also jumped to their feet on the risers and turned our junior high classroom into a mosh pit. Realizing her classroom was on the brink of losing control, our pretty teacher reached over and lifted the handle of the record player.
The music went abruptly silent, and Jim fell to the platform with a thud. The room erupted with boos and stomping. Trying to regain control, Miss Wolflin employed the teacher stand by – lights out, heads down.
When the sounds had finally died down, she flipped the lights back on. “Alright,” she said. “Who’s next?”
“Jamie, would you like to take your turn?”
This was the moment I had been dreading. I hated being up in front of class. I also had a problem with record day.
You see, as the oldest child, raised in a conservative Baptist home, I had no awareness of popular music. I also idea what type of record I should bring. I only owned two albums: Barry Manilow’s Even Now and the soundtrack to The Sound of Music. Neither one really seemed appropriate for this crowd: Barry’s songs brought me to tear, but I feared they were too romantic for junior high boys.
Desperate, I decided to raid my dad’s album collection, looking for something, anything to bring to school. Finally, stuck between Joan Baez and The Kingston Trio I found a record that I recognized – actually, I had heard this musical group play at a local Baptist conference center.
“This will be perfect,” I thought.
Or, at least, I had thought that, until the moment came to actually put my album on the player.
I walked to the front of the class, knobby knees shaking. I hesitantly handed the album to Miss Wolflin who looked at it with a mixture of surprise and sympathy. As was the custom, the student who chose the album would stand and face the class while the song played.
My album? The Spur Family Sings About Jesus.
The moment the song started, I realized with crystal clarity, that my choice was wrong. Terribly, horribly wrong.
The students, at first, were completely silent. No one could believe that I was actually playing the album. But, as the bluegrass, twangy Spur family strummed enthusiastically and sang about Jesus, the snickers began. Soon, the entire room erupted in laughter and jeers.
Jim Smith and his bunch were laughing so hard they were rolling on the ground, holding their sides.
I stared at the ground wishing it would open up and swallow me whole. What had I done? Why had I made such a terrible choice? I was like Daniel in the Lion’s Den, standing alone in the center of the room completely unprepared for the onslaught.
Miss Wolflin, in her kindness, ended my song a bit early, and decided to spend the rest of the class period teaching us the harmony for “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” I took the record album and quietly slid it into my school bag.
In junior high, music was about fitting in. To own the latest album, or to wear the t-shirt of the most popular band, meant that you were somehow cooler by association. Record day certainly wasn’t the last time I did not fit in with my peer group. I was behind in terms of music and social awareness.
It was not until much later that I began to discover what sorts of music I enjoyed. I also realized that it didn’t really matter if my choices weren’t the same as everyone else’s – music is as much about individuality as it is about community.
Henry David Thoreau wrote, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
I like that. Music has continued to play a significant role in my life. From those early days of Barry Manilow and the Spur family, my musical tastes have expanded. I just returned from a rockabilly event where my husband and I bopped to early tunes by Gene Vincent and Johnny Cash. My 14-year-old daughter, her IPod always close at hand, has introduced me to younger artists like Owl City and Panic at the Disco.
I’m a bit jealous, actually. Sabrina is not much older than I was as I stood, insecure, at the front of my junior high class. Yet, unlike me, she listens confidently to her own beat. She is not afraid to be herself, to try new things, to declare her choices proudly.
Perhaps, I taught her a bit about that.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My 1950s Flea Market Addiction

I recently found this nifty item at our local antique mall. Couldn't resist.

Do you know what it is? I was especially enthralled with the atomic boomerang designs on the turquoise vinyl top. For now, it will make a nice side table. Some day - it will go in my huge walk-in closet where I have ample storage for my vintage clothes, shoes and hats!

We live in a 1990s era home, but most of our decorating choices come straight from the late 1950s. Soon, we will have to find a house to match our design taste. Here are a few snapshots of my favorite flea-market, garage sale, antique shop finds...

Our family room is furnished via Craigslist. This great ivory vinyl sofa, chair, and end table came from a home in Indiana and took three months of bargaining.

One of the newest additions is the upright bass - tucked in the corner. This was another Craigslist find - just two blocks from my home! Now, I need to learn to play it.

I am fascinated by 50s lamps and curtains. Love the odd shapes and interesting patterns.

Vintage signs in the kitchen and bathroom. The old DONUTS sign came from Indianapolis at one of our first rockabilly events. The Ladies Room sign was a garage sale find. Heavy old metal enameled sign.

Ever since I inherited some Fiesta ware from my Grandma Storms, I have loved the brightly colored pottery of the 40s and 50s. This is a recent addition to my kitchen - a place to display some of my bowls.

Thanks for taking a mini-tour of my flea market finds. Want to go shopping with me?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

True Love Ways: My Visit to the Surf Ballroom

There are a few places I have visited in my lifetime where I have instantly felt transported back in time. My visit to the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, was one of those places.

I felt like the main character in "Peggy Sue Gets Married," where she enters a modern-day class reunion and falls back through decades of time and space. Oh how I wish I could be here when the room is filled with music. The dance floor is enormous and gleaming. Small wooden booths line the perimeter of the floor in three levels, where dancers can watch and rest and chat.

The Ballroom is forever known as the location for the Winter Dance Party in 1959 - the last concert of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper, before their plane crashed, and we lost them all. The ballroom is still standing and remarkably similar to what it looked like years ago.

They have worked hard to keep the site historically accurate. They have even preserved the phone booth where Buddy supposedly made his final call to his wife (sigh)...

and the Green Room where bands who play the Surf continue to sign the walls with marker.

So many of the small details that make a building special and time-specific are still in place. They have the original entryway, the cedar-lined coat check room, the ladies restroom has a room circled by pineapple etched mirrors and pink formica ledges meant specifically for primping and applying lipstick. There is even a four-sided full-length mirrored pillar in the middle for checking your dress.

This is not a place that looks like we "think" the 1950s should be (poodle-skirts and chrome) - but how it really was. My husband felt it was the most authentically 50s ballroom he has ever seen. As David Freiburger says in his article for Hot Rod Deluxe magazine, "In today's craze for era correctness and pure '50s and '60s details, it's interesting to look back and see how it really was, unfiltered by foggy nostalgia or selective memory."

I will never forget our visit to the Surf Ballroom. It seemed...that if we were very quiet, we could almost hear the faint echoes of Buddy Holly singing, "True Love Ways."

Rest in Peace...