AN AMERICAN BAND
The era was mid-Nixon, Viet Nam war, pre-disco. You were cool if you wore very faded blue jeans and shirts of gauze or cotton (shiny nylon and white polyester shirts were late seventies developments); you were cool if you drove a 240-Z or a GTO. But it was all about the music. There was a time when it all came together, when the music was at its best. The Beatles, though dissolved, had their musical roots twisting all through the music still, with an infusion from Sly and the Family Stone. Pre-stadium rock; before bands came along that made you wince. And for these valleys, the music took on flesh in the form of a band. Mother's Mattress Factory. (The name meant nothing, coming from an era of the Strawberry Alarm Clock and Jefferson Airplane, it was just caught out of the air by one of the band member's sisters). Doug, Jay, Larry, first Clarke and Scott and later Brad and Lloyd.
They played in high school gymnasia and cafeterias, at skating rinks and church cultural halls. They covered songs by Deep Purple and Grand Fund Railroad and Argent and Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Their greatest hits were "Smoke on the Water," "Takin' Care of Business," "Hush," "and "Hold Your Head Up." They were just a bunch of local kids, you'd know the last names. But to those of us in those gyms and cafeterias, they were magic. More than the movies, the cars, and what we wore; more than the Watergate hearings and inflation, they defined that strange and wonderful era -- to be a teenager in the early seventies.
I think they were good. Of course, my memory's shot (no, I never, never did any drugs; it's shot from kids and grad school and sleep deprivation). But I hear the songs, an "MMF song" and I think they sounded better than the pros (of course my hearing's shot!). Harpo, Lloyd, was a mad man, and provided the foundation for the music skillfully and as funkily as any white boy can thump a bass. Brad's drums pulsed and clashed and wove a tapestry, cooly; cool was his trademark and his specialty. Larry, a brilliant smile that mirrored his keyboard, was a tortured soul who made the music all the more ardent and vibrant and still sad. Doug had a natural authority, both because he was the lead guitar and guitars ruled, and from a natural power of his personality. And Jay. Jay's voice would seem almost too sweet for wailing rock and roll songs. But when Jay sang it was with the passion of youth, the promise and threat of young manhood, the juxtaposition of choir-boy sweetness and rock and roll menace.
It was that, that fusion of the promise of youth running from the threat of the age; the quality -- both too good and so fitting for the gym's sock hop; the ache of young men battling the flesh, both wanting to and fighting growing up, relishing the moment, reeling in the years.
It was our time, to avert our eyes just for a while from the uncertain glow of the future just ahead and stare instead into the strobe lights of the moment, to hide behind the wall of sound and let the music carry us away and reassure us we're forever young.
For us who heard them, who lived it, there was nobody better. They were rock and roll. They could have been contenders, but probably luckily for them, they were never discovered. Instead, they would graduate, go on missions, marry. Now they work for the power company, a city manager, an investor and property manager, human resources manager, technical writer. Now they have families and responsibilities and graying hair.
The music couldn't keep its promise. We grew up.
But that music still floats around out there somewhere, in orbit, like a comet. The call of the bass, the urgency of the guitar, the heartbeat of the drum. And sometimes it hits one of us, one of us who was there in the gym or the hall. And when it hits us we're not middle aged and mortgaged any more. We're transformed, transmitted to a time when we had pimples and potential, were irresponsible and carefree and always profoundly worried about something. We're denim-clad teenagers again with our lives to live over and hearts beating with that abandon and passion once again.
From "Our Town" by Greg Palmer. Rexburg Standard Journal,