Sitting with my brother one evening, over a glass of wine, chatting about the hundreds if not thousands of concerts we saw, the albums we played, the singles we bought and/or the songs we had heard on the radio he suggested that I write some of “that shit” down. Hence,”that shit” from the last half century plus, as best as I can remember it and then some. Who said there was nothing better than “sex,drugs and rock and roll”? Not me.
This is dedicated to my best friend, my roommate for our teen years, my brother KEVIN PATRICK HODGKISS (April 17,1954-Feb 10, 2018). I love you all the money in the world.
CHAPTER 1: THANK YOU MARCONI
It just might be the two AM radios that I remember most. Two radios exactly the same model except one was black which was in my parent’s bedroom on Dad’s nightstand, the other a white model on top of the Frigidaire in the kitchen. Very rarely if ever would either be on but when one was, especially “whitey” in the kitchen, the sounds would be amazing. The magical tunes seemed to send the cares and woes of this seven year old far away. When I was tall enough to switch it on that one in the kitchen got a good workout.Then Christmas of 1959, I received a small transistor radio all for myself.The first tune I heard was MACK THE KNIFE by Bobby Darin and life would never be the same.
“Oh, the shark babe has such teeth, dear,
And he shows them pearly white
Just a jack-knife has ole MacHeath, babe
And he keeps it out of sight”.
In 1865 Guglielmo Marconi was credited with inventing the “wireless” that is the first practical signaling system, therefore he was later granted the title of the “inventor of the radio”.
To me it seems humorous and somewhat prophetic that the town I live in, Copiague, New York, a small hamlet located on the south shore of Suffolk County, Long Island would once have been named Marconiville. There is still a large iron awning in the center of town proudly declaring “MARCONIVILLE” to all visitors. And of course, there is the obligatory Marconi Blvd, which years later in my story will be the location of The Record Rack, a short lived but interesting shop where I purchased many of my vinyl wares. Yes, at one point in his life Marconi resided in my town, however so short a time it was.
My folks were not rich by any means, as a matter of fact we were poor, as in welfare poor. Thank God for welfare, as little as it was at that time, because with welfare and the good graces of family and friends we survived. Our poverty was not self inflicted as Dad who was a true worker, contracted POLIO. In fact Dad, later in life, was working three jobs to pay off the bills which mounted due to his extended stay in the hospital with polio. Dad paid off not just hospital bills but all the bills. Pop was medically famous being one of the last men in The United States of America to contract that dreaded disease and he was one of the last victims to be placed in an “iron lung” while in the hospital. Fortunately, being one of the last victims in the long history of the disease had a huge upside as most of the treatments and actions taken to combat the disease were by now perfected, Finally after many moons in the hospital Pop was released. I remember the “WELCOME HOME” party as vividly as I remember the Sunday morning he had fallen and the ambulance that took him away. I was just a babe then, but not so much when he came home almost two years later.
Seems Pop and a group of his friends were digging dry-wells for each other’s homes with ours being one of the last to be finished. These dry wells were not sunk for drinking water but rather for drainage of washing machine waste water and yes, as additional cesspools. This was a time before sewers appeared in suburbia. I remember the men finishing ours only a few weekends before Dad took ill.
This one Sunday Mom had dressed me up for church, and with my baby brother in tow Dad drove us to church for mass but he did not go in, which was unusual. Years later I found out that he had not been feeling well for a few days time and needed to beg off this one Sunday. After mass he picked us up, drove home, and with Mom walking Patty, my brother, up the front steps (which we never used) Pop lagged behind. I walked with him for a few steps before he collapsed on the sidewalk which lead across our suburban lawn. He looked up at me and as little as I was…. I knew he was in pain. Mom ran Patty into the house probably placing my baby brother in his playpen and was back outside in a flash instructing me to go across the street to fetch “Aunt” Ruth, our neighbor. In what seemed like seconds an ambulance arrived and my Dad was gone so was my Mom. My brother and I were in the company of “Aunt” Ruth to whom I would always be grateful to ,“Aunt” Ruth the good neighbor and family friend.
Doctors were unsure if the digging of the wells aided in Pop contracting Polio but most neighbors thought it had something to do with it.
Mom did not drive, she walked everywhere and with Dad being in a hospital about 20 miles away, in an area without public transportation, Mom’s visitations would be dependent on others. During the mid 1950’s most folks in suburbia did not have a dedicated land line aka phone but rather used a party line, one which we shared with “Aunt Ruth” and our next door neighbor who was related to Aunt Ruth.
Mom’s visits to the hospital were day long affairs and she didn’t get there as often as she wanted. In the hospital, since polio was considered a “contagious disease” Dad was in “isolation” with a thick protective glass wall separating him from the visitors. Mom would find Dad laying on his back in the “iron lung” facing into his room. Mom could only see the top of his head as the iron long ran the length of his torso, and most of his legs.There was a mirror stationed over his head so he could look out into the hallway. Visitors spoke to him through a microphone. Now of course I did not know any of this until years later for as kids we were not allowed in hospitals, and women had to follow a dress code, that is to wear a dress, no slacks. This was the 1950’s.
One particular Saturday my paternal grandparents who lived in Brooklyn arrived as they had many weekends before and took us to the hospital in their car. I was so excited anticipating being near my Dad even thought it was only me being in the parking lot. I loved to be with Nana and Papa and this day would be special as they told me my Dad would wave to us from his window. Anxiously we waited in the fresh air while Mom visited. AND then, there it was, a hand, a wave….my Dad. Or so I thought. Years later I found out it was just Mom pretending to be Dad. Yet my heart was overjoyed at that moment and for days to come. To this day passing by that hospital I can pin point exactly where I was standing at that moment.
Note:After remission and many good decades later Dad was one of the first people to be diagnosed with what was labeled “post-polio syndrome”. Ultimately, polio led to his demise.
So, during Pop’s extended hospital stay the television and the radio were our escape. We might have been poor and on welfare but we had TV, a glorious television located in the living room, the only TV in the house, one which took a good couple of minutes to “warm up” before we could get a picture, a clear picture from one of the seven available channels. The screen was small, and the picture was black and white but it was ours and it was our family time together with Mom who despite her husband being seriously ill never wavered from her beautiful smile and the loving care she had for her two boys. Truthfully she was a bit over protective and used some pent up anger against a few neighbors who told their kids to stay away from us as we were “contagious” with polio.
Besides the two radios and the aforementioned TV we also owned a very small “victrola” and an even smaller record collection. Our “collection” consisted of what The Columbia House Record Club had to offer, mostly big band stuff that Dad had accumulated and of course some “little kiddie records”. So that was ENTERTAINMENT 101 in the Hodgkiss household for those months of polio and years of welfare. Also, there was reading. Mom taught me how to read before I hit Kindergarten. Not deep insightful stuff, mostly sight words with me guessing what the other words were or should be. Reading was a game or so I thought.
So what’s all this psycho banter have to do with Marconi? Well, it’s now 1964 and my black and white TV world becomes stereophonic and ultimately “in living color”. My TV didn’t change from B/W but the way I viewed it certainly did. Ed Sullivan, Shindig, Hullabaloo, Where The Action Is, American Bandstand, Upbeat, Lloyd Thaxton, Clay Cole, The Shindogs (later known as The Wrecking Crew), The Blossoms, The Animals, James Brown, Roy Head, The Yardbirds, the Zombies, and The Kinks all changed my world.I could not get enough of this music. I started to buy 45’s, singles preferably with a picture sleeve. And the collection grew in leaps and bounds. While I loved to read it was mostly the newspaper and a few novels. Music became my escape, not the Hardy Boy mysteries.
My radio listening habits changed throughout the years going from the traditional New York “AM TOP FORTY” stations which included WMCA, WABC, 1010WINS, and WWRL, all featuring disc jockeys known as Murray the K, BMR, Cousin Brucie, and the legendary Rosko and years later to glorious free-form FM but I digress…