Okay – some ground rules for this post: First, if you don’t have 20 minutes or so to kill, stop reading now, because this is probably going to be a pretty long post. Second, I know I usually try to throw in a good measure of humor with my posts because that’s my personality – I love to joke around. Not today. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not gonna get all depresso-puppy on you either, but rather just share what I always have thought was a pretty cool story that happens to be true. Call it a coming of age story for lack of a better description.
So this past weekend I went to the last Trash Film Orgy movie of the year for Sacramento (see previous posts for what the Trash Film Orgy is). The movie we were trashing was “Rock and Roll High School.” Sort of a dumb teen comedy about a school marm with a broomstick up her (bleeep!) regarding allowing young people to listen to rock music – on or off campus. Things escalate, and she has a record-burning bonfire in front of the school to censor the kids’ music – a scene in an otherwise pretty dumb movie, a scene that I think ended up being a lot more poignant than it was ever intended to be. In response to the album – burning bonfire, the kids burn down the school.
There were some real messages hidden in this on-its face unbelievably trite movie. Messages about rebellion, youth, and censorship. You already know I’m going to say this film sort of reminded me of my high school days, so I might as well just come out and say it.
This film really kind of reminded me of my high school days.
But not exactly in the way you might think, and we certainly never wanted to burn down the school. Truth be told, most of us loved our high school.
So, I talked about my freshman year in another post – I missed most of that year because of my leg but still managed to pass on to sophomore-ness.
My sophomore year I just skipped school a lot, hung out with some rough around the edges types, learned to smoke, you know – the usual.
Remember that drunk driving incident I told you about in my last post? Well, it was during that time (while I was grounded for a month in late 1985) that I had my radio on all the time and listened to Rick Dees Top 40 every Friday night. I even remember the station – 98.5 Rock out of Cody, Wyoming. That was 90 miles away, but my boom box pulled it in just fine. And the hit parade just bombarded me with the music of a generation – Night Ranger, Van Halen, Def Leppard, REO Speedwagon, Motley Crew, Cinderella, Guns and Roses, The Eagles (my all time hands-down favorite band), Kansas, Boston, 38 Special, The Moody Blues, Bruce Springsteen, Pat Benatar, White Lion (remember them?), Bon Jovi, The Cars, dear God, it just never stopped, but you get the idea. It truly was the music of a generation, and I suddenly felt kind of left out. I mean, up until that time, my sheltered idea of music was mostly Neil Diamond and Charley Pride. I know those musicians had their place to be sure – but they weren’t part of a movement – those other performers I just mentioned were – they were part of a movement called Rock and Roll.
Some say that 80’s Rock was the “death rattle” of classic Rock and Roll. I tend to think it was more like the apex of a social movement. And all you had to do to join was listen and feel the music, really feel it. Because that’s what rock was really all about – letting the music make you feel. And if you were very very lucky, maybe rock would lead you to, or at least be the soundtrack to, burning down the school without actually burning down the school. Which is to say, simply, to matter. That’s all we wanted, really, to be heard, and to matter. I think that’s what “Rock and Roll High School” was actually trying to say.
Northern Wyoming. Spring 1986. I don’t really remember the first time I “cruised Main.” I do know that it was hardly a new idea – this of course had been going on all over the country since at least the 50’s – but I somehow got the distinct impression that those of us at WHS at the time seemed to like cruising Main a little more than previous generations. Maybe not – maybe we were just young and full of ourselves, or maybe we just wanted to be heard. My mom called cruising Main “helling around town.”
And, oh my god, we were. We rolled down the windows and blasted Dire Straits as we cruised Big Horn Avenue a.k.a Main. The town isn’t very big, so one round-trip drag of Main took like 10 minutes. I never counted, but if you do the math, if you cruise from 8 pm or so to midnight, say, that’s four hours of cruising, six or more laps of Main Street an hour, equals at least 24 laps of Main in a night, unless of course you went to a movie first.
Probably even more than that.
So, anyway, I started cruising Main for one reason or another – possibly a friend wanted to check out what this cruising thing was about – in a Chevy Chevette (HORRIBLE car). I at least got my dad to put in a decent Clarion stereo system with a tape deck and Kenwood speakers so I didn’t have to listen to an am radio while cruising. (You can imagine cruising small town Main Street while listening to Paul Harvey – it’s just not the same). After I consistently returned the Chevette with an empty gas tank and hundreds of additional miles on it each weekend, but otherwise undamaged, they let me take the Chevy Suburban out a few times. We once loaded 17 people into that car and went four-wheeling in the badlands, and there is a story out there that is to this day unconfirmed that I careened onto Main in that car with the two wheels on the driver’s side off the ground. I don’t think that really happened, but hey, anything is possible, I guess. Especially the way I drive, er, I mean, drove back then.
So – up to this point it was all pretty normal small town stuff – playing music, chasing girls – and I mean we used to literally chase each other through town, you know who you are – like a high speed chase on the Lifetime Channel. Anyway. Then, in the late fall of 1986, something kind of neat happened.
Cruising was hugely popular with our class especially by then (I know how self centered that sounds – but it really seemed true at the time), the Class of 1987. So much so that this empty parking lot that used to be a Chevron station sort of became “Jock HQ” – it was where all the “cool” kids – the jocks, the popular kids, etc. parked on Main and watched the parade of cars blasting Night Ranger and The Boss(Springsteen) out of open windows go by and back again. And again. And again.
I think in a way those of us who were not strictly part of the “In Crowd” felt a little intimidated by this. And no one really wanted start the “Loser Lot” – so basically if you weren’t popular you could cruise, but you better not park. That was the unspoken but totally clear message – the “In Crowd” had staked a weekend claim on Main Street, and if you weren’t there, you didn’t park. Sounds ridiculous now, I know, but at the time, it felt like a kind of rejection, and an unspoken challenge. (These kinds of feelings make up most of the lyrics of many of the great rock songs of all time, incidentally.) It felt like, I don’t know – it felt like cruising was open to anyone – but actual social interaction, actual conversation with all of the other kids at the school, you only get to do that if you’re cool – cool enough to park at the Jock Lot.
I guess during the 80’s recession (we didn’t know there was one, really) having a gas station in a small Rocky Mountain town wasn’t the greatest idea, because kitty-corner across the street was this broken down and abandoned 76 station. Not a cleared empty lot like the Jock Lot, but just a forgotten and abandoned Union 76 Station. It always struck me as really odd that the place went under, too, because north of town is a Union Carbide 76 refinery. But I digress. Oh, the station became a video arcade / sandwich shop for a while there in 1985, but that went under too, and after that the station – still with the orange 76 ball on the brick side of the building – sat abandoned until the day I moved to California.
Now, I want to be careful here – I don’t really want to take credit for much here, other than to say that in the late fall of 1986 I pulled the blue 1967 Chevy 3/4 ton truck I had bought myself with my school bus driving money (yet another future post) into that 76 station, directly facing the Jock Lot, cranked Dire Straits, and just watched them all, alone. I know it sounds kind of trivial – but in that setting, it felt kind of like an act of defiance. Which was probably because in a very real way at 16 years old – and maybe just a little scared of life, the Universe, and everything, (sorry again Douglas Adams), that’s exactly what it was.
The next night I did the same thing, and one of the jocks actually drove over to me and asked me what I thought I was doing. I told him I was listening to Dire Straits. He then said that I was on private property. I said so was he. And he got into his truck and went back to the Jock Lot. About an hour after that, Dale came over, and parked next to my truck. A while later Dave, another good friend of mine, did something odd, and was one of the few people in the town that could have pulled this off – he pulled his muscle car into the Jock Lot, got out and talked for a while, then got into his car and came over and joined Dale and I at the 76 station.
Someone had finally had the audacity to start the Loser Lot. To be fair, I don’t know if that was what the Jocks called it or not. We didn’t call it that – we didn’t call ourselves anything for a long while, but we had, for the most part unknowingly at the time, indeed started something.
What we had started was the Rock and Roll Gang, as we later loosely called ourselves, a core of seven people who became the best of friends over the next two years – the Rock and Roll Gang was the core of a stake on Main that grew to be larger than the Jock Lot.
The next weekend, Dave brought in some friends who had already graduated from high school, one drove a classic 1977 Trans Am, the other drove a 1979 Camaro Berlinetta. Other classic cars that became part of the original group included a 1970 Chevy Chevelle, and a 1977 Chevy Nova. Along with my truck, the Rock and Roll Gang was 3/4 of the way to a “Like a Rock” General Motors ad. Okay, not really, but you can’t tell me that wouldn’t have been one cool commercial. Heh.
Anyway, so that was the original gang – Dave, Dale, myself, two Lisas, Kev, and Rich. We all drove muscle cars (even my truck had a small block Chevy 307 racing engine under the hood) and we were all in love with Rock and Roll. (There was one member who really wasn’t that into the music to be honest, but to each his own, I guess). We all became fast friends, and went drinking in the badlands, went on impromptu two-day road trips out of town, went to a seemingly endless string of rock concerts all across the state – the famous time was when we did 160 mph in Rich’s Trans Am between Shoshone and Casper on the way to a Van Halen concert with five souls on board including my own- and you know, those were just some of the best days of my life.
Maybe it was the fact that we had a few older kids as part of our group, but several of the girls and a few of the guys “defected” from the Jock Lot and came over to join ours, and I think that in the summer of 1987 most of the entire Junior Class of the high school joined us as well, and it was at this point that our group became larger than the Jock Lot.
We hadn’t burned down the school, but we had stood up and said, “Hey – we matter!” And we did it to a soundtrack that even now I think is some of the best and most intriguing music ever made by human hands – classic American Rock and Roll. And standing up to matter is all any of those songs were ever trying to get us to do in the first place.
Glory Days? Yeah, maybe. I mean, here I am, 25 years later, writing about it. Rock and Roll High School?
Oh, yes, most definitely. And though unfortunately most of those friendships didn’t last – those were rocking times, and the Rock and Roll Gang in the end gave rise to two marriages, friendships that mattered, and a lifetime worth of memories.
So, in 1987, was Rock and Roll in its death rattle?
No way. And to the next generation, to the next Rock and Roll Gang – I’d simply say to you – Rock on.