“Remembering When the Music Died”
A nice reader wrote: “You include old 50’s song lyrics in your column often you must be an old rock ‘n roll fan. So, tell me, when do you think our music was born and when did it die?” The birth, Ralph? Many say it began with Bill Haley and the Comets recording “Rock Around the Clock.” And, for its death, I’m sure you refer to the plane crash killing Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the ‘Big Bopper’ February 3, 1959. A day immortalized by Don McLean in “American Pie.”
Well, for me, it was born on August 12, 1956, when I wrote in my diary, “…I heard the most fantabulous song today! Don’t Be Cruel by Elvis Pressley (sic). Suzanne and I are listening to see if they play it again.” Music has evolved so much over the years. The popular sound today has no kinship at all to that which we grew up listening to in the 50s and early 60s. Except for “Oldies”stations, like KVRE, our music has left the building.
In the mid 50s, teenagers rushed home from school to tune in to “American Bandstand” and see, not only hear, new stars of this sound that had become so popular, (almost as popular was its host, Dick Clark). The show left Philadelphia in 1963 for the West Coast and I stopped watching. I guess that was the first death–saying good-bye to Dick and the regulars who rated the songs and taught us to dance. This was near the death of our own‘home-grown’ dance program, “Steve’s Show,” broadcast on Channel 11 out of Little Rock.
But I will always believe the true roots of Rock ‘N Roll began with an event of 1956. A newcomer was introduced on The Steve Allen Show and his name was Elvis Presley. This was what got the “Rock” truly “Rolling!” He was instantly adored by teenaged girls and a phenomenon in modern music was born.
Parents were wary of his influence. Newspapers declared us insane. Preachers preached we were depraved. But we were not deterred.
Teenagers looked forward with great anticipation to Ed Sullivan’s ‘reeeealy big show’ September 9, 1956.
A church night in Carthage, parents insisted we be present. I must admit, Lord, our thoughts were not totally centered on Joseph being sold into Egyptian slavery as we waited for the clock to turn to 7. At the last “Amen,” Suzanne and I raced up the sidewalk to my den to turn on the television.
Suzanne and I grabbed hands and screamed. Just then, Mama and Daddy arrived. Daddy declared he would tolerate no foolishness because of “this boy.” Suzanne and I, trembling, tried to remain quiet.
Elvis was announced to a screaming audience made up of teenagers, just like us. We became hysterical as he took the stage. When we could tell he was swivelling his hips and giving that adorable sullen look, followed by the crooked smile, we could hold back no longer.
Clasping hands, we jumped from the couch and stormed the television set, screaming and crying! (Surely all girls weren’t this silly)
“I’ll turn it off if you don’t quiet down!” Daddy warned.
Hands shaking, we tried to stifle our screams. Was he not the COOLEST, WILDEST,
CUTEST thing we’d EVER seen?? We sat down right where we stood, just inches from the screen while Mama cautioned,
“Don’t sit so close to that set! It gives off radiation!”
But the only radiation we felt came from within. Elvis was right there before us and we weren’t leaving him.
I wrote two pages in my diary that night, describing every tiny detail.
The following June, my family took a vacation to the Smoky Mountains. It was a beautiful trip, but the highlight for me was coming back through Memphis. Daddy reluctantly took me to Graceland the morning we left. I had him buy a roll of Scotch tape on the way there. Walking up to those magnificent gates decorated with musical notes, I peered inside to a palace…home to my idol.
I stuck pieces of tape on the brick wall. Peeled away, they held bits of grit. ELVIS’ DIRT!!! I carefully carried these back home and sold them to members of our Elvis Presley Fan Club for $1, saving only one piece for my personal scrapbook.
August 16, 1977. Houston, Texas. After a day of teaching. I was driving home on the Katy Freeway. A bulletin came on the radio. Elvis had been found dead at Graceland. I slowed my car. I was a teenager again. He was once more the wholesome hero of my youth, not the tragic figure he’d recently become. I cried all the way home. My phone was ringing. It was Suzanne.
So, no, Ralph–‘our’ music did not really die in 1959 but in 1977. For me, anyway…when I heard its final song played in tribute,.
Memories, pressed between the pages of my mind
Memories, sweetened through the ages just like wine
Memories, memories, sweet memories…
Brenda Miles is an award-winning columnist and author living in Hot Springs Village. She welcomes your comments at [email protected]