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Friday, June 03, 2011

Happy Birthday Curtis Mayfield


(Curtis Mayfield, June 3rd, 1942 - December 26th 1999)

I was a child in the sixties, a teenager in the seventies. The natural trajectory for a young man in the exurbs would be to embrace rock music. I never really did.

They were too much like me, perhaps, the arena power chorders. Aerosmith used to play in my high school gym, after all. I wouldn't change the channel if Bachman Turner Overdrive came on, (I would now) and I had a well worn copy of Frampton Comes Alive, just like everybody else, but that was about it.

There was a jukebox in the lunchroom at our public high school. It was a revelation to me after spending my grammar school years in Catholic School. The nuns would have no more brought in a juke box than a Wiccan into our lunchroom. Upon reflection, it's the nuns that got it right. It was a symptom of the profound unseriousness of the place that the public high school supplied the same soundtrack a teenager demanded in his non-school life to muddle through it.

I could probably list every single song in that jukebox, down to the most obscure, and it was over thirty years ago. Not much of it was very good. But it was generally fun and disposable, like popular entertainment should be, but rarely is, any more. There was:
Led Zeppelin
Harry Nilsson
Dr John
Hollies
Beatles
Rolling Stones
Eric Clapton
The Beach Boys
Badfinger
Moody Blues
More Led Zeppelin
Grand Funk Railroad
Elton John
Wings
Billy Paul
Billy Preston
Earth Wind and Fire
Still more Led Zeppelin
Gilbert O'Sullivan
Looking Glass
Marvin Gaye
Aerosmith
The Rasberries...

Well, you get the picture. Nothing much recorded at La Scala. Nothing much recorded in a gospel church. Now, having enough money to put into a jukebox was a foreign concept to me. The thing would play anyway, and you'd hear everything in it no matter what, eventually. I recall the only time an insurrection against the thing was mounted, when some wisenheimer pumped a buck or two into the thing and selected "Dogs Barking Christmas Carols" 15 straight times. After about five minutes, a grim and resolute shop teacher marched over, pulled the enormous contraption away from the wall, and yanked the plug. I'm certain it's the only cheer the prickly old fellow ever heard from his charges.

This one comes back to me though, and kindly:



The man, and the topic, was a world away from me. I was unlikely to adopt his huggybear/trotsky cap or his owlish glasses. But really, to a fifteen year old, looking into a world of dead ends, who could say it better, and funkier, than Curtis Mayfield?

Ask him his dream
What does it mean?
He wouldn't know...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Once upon a time, I did a stint at Camp Hanson, Okinawa right before the first Gulf War. In the O'Club, there were two records on the jukebox with four songs: B52's Roam/Loveshack & George Strait's There's a Tear in my Beer/Oceanfront Property. Any of those songs instantly transports me back to that sad watering hole.

Casca