CHAPTER 23: AT SEVENTEEN

They say it’s your birthday, It’s my birthday too, yeah

They say it’s your birthday, We’re gonna have a good time

I’m glad it’s your birthday, Happy birthday to you

What a way to celebrate my 17th birthday with two tickets to see THE DOORS on January 24, 1969 at Madison Square Garden. New brown corduroy slacks, brown boots, a new overcoat, with a few extra bucks in my pocket from my folks as a birthday gift and away I go. A new pack of Marlboro Reds, train fare, money for the food after the show at the diner, I was psyched to go to another live show. But on the train ride in, the “problem” soon reared its ugly head as I had a girlfriend who was more excited about seeing Jim Morrison and chatting with her friends about Jim Morrison on the train ride in and again on the way home than celebrating my birthday.

In THE GARDEN the stage was set in the middle of the arena and as the lights dimmed, The Staple Singers appeared first. Beautiful mood and music is the best way to describe what The Staples did. Even with a poor sound system their set was fascinatingly simple, elegant and spiritual. I was awestruck. After a rather extensive intermission, THE DOORS with a bass player (Harvey Brooks) appeared on stage, and adding a small horn section for a few tunes this being their Soft Parade days. According to The Doors faithful, this show, one of the band’s first attempts at an arena rock show, was one of their finest. That night included songs from The Soft Parade, as well as Tell All The People, Love Me Two Times, Spanish Caravan,Back Door Man, Light My Fire, Five To One and When The Music’s Over

The Doors were, to my limited live experienced ears, musically okay, but not what I had anticipated. I expected a great rock band. Jim Morrison was an idiot, or was it just me? Nah, he was an idiot, hindering an otherwise good band with his “poetry” and rants. One interlude by Mr. Morrrison was something about him sitting on a fence, “and boy, do my balls hurt”. Musically my night was made by really digging The Staple Singers and developing a true appreciation for what they did. They were one cool group with a smooth, unique sound. Needless to say the Staples did not fit into the conversation on the return trip home. And neither did my birthday which seemed to have been overlooked. So as the song goes, TURN OUT THE LIGHTS…

February 1969 a group of us went to see the film MONTEREY POP in the local movie house. It was a night of enlightenment for me. The Who fantastic, Otis Redding was the MAN, Big Brother and The Holding Company’s feedback guitars with Janis Joplin singing, Country Joe and The Fish, the harmonies of The Mamas and The Papas, the horns of Hugh Masekela, Jefferson Airplane and according to all my compatriots Jimi Hendrix was the star of the show and rightfully so. I took this movie experience more as a lesson in what I was MISSING, new horizons to be explored and I was excited, oh so excited to start the exploration.

At this time I am in a relationship with a girl, one who I had an on and off again kinda thing going for the last few months. We dated a bit in the spring and summer of 67, she being the one I listened to SGT PEPPERS at her house while playing whiffle ball. She was a bit of an athlete playing softball and a cheerleader at the local high school. We parted company at the start of the school year as I saw her being driven home by an older neighbor. They soon became an item as my Mom would have said. Cool. We saw each other at house parties and occasionally at Hullabaloo. Then we met up again in the spring at my buddy house where he was having one of his notorious bashes with bottles and bottles of alcohol sent to his house by a friend of ours who worked making deliveries for the local liqour store. George’s goal tonight was to get the girl who caught his eye to be his date for our school (not hers) Semi-Formal Dance, a semi-big thing. He needed the alcohol to get up the nerve I guess. Bingo, as I was smoking a smoke outside he ran out shouting “YES, She’s going”. Cool. The party proved to be another fun night, a classic with guys falling down, guys throwing up outside, girls laughing at idiot guys. The usuals, me being one, stayed back to clean up before his parents would arrive home which we figured to be about 2 AM. A few girls stayed also. Spotless. Now my “used to be” girl asked me to walk her home. At her door she told me what a great time she had and we should get together soon. She said, “Call me”. Confused? Oh boy was I. A few days later, I had new arrangements for the SEMI FORMAL SPRING DANCE of 1968.

So now you are up to date on my relationship status. The girl from the SUMMER OF 67, and me, as Mom did say, “were an item”. It’s now February 1969 and we are going to different high schools. Her older brother a recent graduate of University of Maryland with a Master’s Degree in Business Administration had volunteered for service in the U.S. Army, ultimately being sent to Vietnam. With a spare car in her family she would occasionally meet me up at my high school dismissal.

One day late February, she had no activities after school and arranged to pick me up. I would blow off work as we expected to go riding around in her car. I exited school from the usual side door, headed over to my favorite smoking area behind the buses for a quick puff.  Walking toward her car, my girlfriend’s best friend came out of the car and said, “Larry is missing in action”… My heart dropped.

The strange phenomena here is my Mother, only the night before said she was thinking about my girlfriend’s brother and hoped all was okay. Mom actually asked “Did your Mom hear from him lately?”

A few day later the soldiers came to her house to deliver the worst news, February 26, 1969, he was killed in action. A death in the family. I didn’t know what to do. We spent many of the next few nights secluded in my basement, seated quietly.