In 1967, my best buddy was my new neighbor Gary. He had recently moved into the cool modern house behind my childhood abode in Carteret, NJ. We were both 10 years old and had a ball riding our bikes, building model car kits, and listening to records together. Virtually every summer day that year would be spent in my family’s pool. But first, we celebrated the end of the school year by “camping out” in a tent in Gary’s back yard.
After watching The Hollywood Palace (on a tiny TV with a long extension cord), horsing around, eating pork & beans, and telling jokes, I don’t think we got very much shuteye that Saturday night. Not being the Boy Scout type, I felt less than comfortable spending the night “in the wild.”
I half-woke around 6:30am on Sunday (Father’s Day) to the pungent aroma of earth, grass and canvas. Gary was sound asleep. The sun was rising, slicing through the early morning mist. My house was mere yards away but I wasn’t about to cut my suburban safari short. What’s more, I wasn’t about to pass up a rare opportunity to skip church! I fumbled about, switched on my transistor radio, put it to my ear and kept the volume on the tinny speaker way low.
Although I had long pledged my allegiance to 77 WABC’s “All American” deejays (Dan Ingram was my fave), I tuned in to 57 WMCA (home of “The Good Guys”), the NYC station that routinely dug deeper and presented platters that one may not hear elsewhere. The spring of ’67 yielded a bumper crop of terrific singles and I trusted my bleary state would be jolted by one of the new, mind-blowing sounds that I counted on hearing nearly every day.
“I Was Made To Love Her” by Stevie Wonder was up. Too much! I was already nuts about this record and never got tired of hearing it (still don’t).
In solemn stillness I lay, drifting in and out of consciousness when the air was pierced by a swirling organ, gently-bashing drums and a regal voice chanting oblique lyrics. From what galaxy did this land? While my folks celebrated Mass a mile away I was having my own religious experience as I first encountered “Whiter Shade Of Pale,” the maiden single by some new British group called Procol Harum. A holier moment than this I had not yet known. Maybe I was still asleep. Was this all some real cool dream?
Then the next pick of the week came on. Out of nowhere, the intro swiftly swelled into a tight, charging fist of controlled chaos. I knew I was awake now. Wow. I think I recognized it to be The Who pretty quickly. I’d bought “Happy Jack” about a month before and was hip to their sound. This was tougher, really ballsy. Yet it was melodic and told some kind of story (mind you, it took me a few years to figure it out) and it sported those high harmonies that reminded me of The Beach Boys. I never heard a guitar sound like this before. I never heard anything like “Pictures Of Lily” before. It gave me a feeling I never had before!
The drummer really spoke to me. He sounded wild, even crazy, but everything he did made some kind of sense and totally enhanced the song. I’d been teaching myself to play drums on coffee cans with plastic lids for five years already but it would be another six months until I would get my first kit. I soon added Keith Moon to the expanding list of drum heroes that included Ringo, the Motown sticksmen, Johnny Barbata, Dino Danelli, Hal Blaine and many others.
My world would never be the same after that morning of June 18, 1967, though I may not have realized it at that moment. I’m not kidding when I say that those of us who were digging music in the ‘60s had our minds routinely blown on a semi-daily basis. But I knew that this “new sound” was something I wanted in my life in a big way. Somehow, someday, I wanted to create it.
I wouldn’t actually own “Pictures Of Lily” until I got a copy of Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy a few years later. My miniscule allowance and my folks’ tight budget made for lots of frustration for a music-starved kid. But indeed, I kept my eyes and ears on The Who.
Fast-forward to September 1971. Entering Carteret High meant that I would connect with a larger student body and, hopefully, I would meet other musicians who were into the same noise as me. I desperately needed to “find a new place where the kids are hip.” I figured that if a fella could play “I Can’t Explain,” then he “got it.” The going was tough ‘til that point, let me tell you.
It was first period of day one. First row, seat one. A guy opens up his looseleaf and plastered inside the notebook are full-color pictures of The Who from Hit Parader magazine.
Thirty five years ago, during the first week or our high school careers, Jimmy Babjak and I began a lifelong friendship and created the nucleus of The Smithereens.
Thank you, Pete, John, Roger…and especially Keith.