We Have Nothing To Fear…

May 31, 1975

“One of these nights, one of these crazy old nights… we’re gonna find out pretty mama, what turns on your lights… The full moon is calling, the fever is high and the wicked wind whispers and moans… You’ve got your demons, you got your desires, well, I’ve got a few of my own.”

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Okay, I’d been 10 years old for fifteen days when this song was released and started playing on the radio and I’ll be honest: It scared the crap out of me. “The wicked wind whispers and moans?” Huh? Gulp.

It might have been that my oldest brother, Woody, turned 18 that day, which carried some weird and sinister overtones to it (I remember thinking five years earlier, the day he turned 13 and I was newly five, that he was going to beat the crap out of me because he was now a “teenager” and that’s just what teenagers did).

It could have been that because at 18, he was 6’7″ and 250 pounds. (Well, that’s what I would have guessed anyway, he was probably 6’1″, 185.) He had the long, 1975 hair and some weird, paisley, hippy shirts and gave off a “stay the hell away from me” vibe. To the 10-year old me, he was cool but certainly ominous. (The guy shared a birthday with Clint Eastwood and Joe Namath for god’s sake.)

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He was the only one of my four brothers who had his own bedroom, and trust me, you did not go into Woody’s bedroom. At 10 years old I would have rather been forced to run naked through my dad’s home office singing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” while he was on the phone pitching a story idea to his boss than walk into Woody’s room while he was…. well, whatever the hell it was he did in there. (To my decade old brain everything was in play, he was an 18-year old and it was 1975 for frugs sake: drugs, booze, voodoo dolls, ouija boards, dirty magazines, Doors records, weed lined with acid, just everything man, GENERAL SIN, FILTH AND MACABRE lived in Woody’s room.

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I had to stand in line to use the bathroom quite a bit at the Hubbell house when I was 10, and that line would put you about four feet away from the door to Woody’s room. Most of us were too scared to even look in there. If there was no bathroom line you would hurry by much like you would if you were passing an ally downtown and you knew a bunch of skinheads were about to brawl with a bunch of devil-worshippers. You wanted to look, you just couldn’t risk it.

Woody, much like one of those devil-worshippers, might catch your eye and call out, “WHAT THE F*%K ARE YOU LOOKING AT?” At which point you would literally fly into the bathroom, slam the door shut and wait for four days until you knew the coast was clear.

He was a scary dude in a scary room, and it was just a heady time to be a 10-year old in general. The country was in the grips of the “Energy Crisis”, so much so that daylight savings time had started two months early that year– in February. The President had resigned the previous summer and that winter the former Attorney General, John Mitchell, along with White House aides H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman had been sentenced to prison for their involvement in Watergate.

At the end of April the communists of North Vietnam had completely overrun South Vietnam and the war had ended with what was called, “The Fall of Saigon.” I didn’t really know what that meant, but it sure sounded important and dreadful.

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Shamed Presidents, DC big-wigs getting jailed and crazy people in far away lands shooting each other from four inches away. And now the damn Eagles were singing about, “searching for the daughter of the devil himself.”

I made a decision that day to stop being such a wussy. Yeah there was a lot of bad stuff going on, but I was finishing up fifth grade now, so maybe it was high time I started to kick back at the world a little bit. Bolstered by my new fighting spirit, I listened to “One of These Nights” again, and I actually dug it. The radio began to inspire me as it seemed like all the songs were telling me it was time to man up: Kung Fu Fighting, Rhinestone Cowboy, The Hustle, Chevy Van. (Okay, Chevy Van didn’t really inspire me, but c’mon, I was 10, I knew there was some cool stuff going on in that song.)

That night we’re having Woody’s birthday party down in the kitchen and I find myself upstairs, headed to the bathroom. Everyone else is downstairs. Woody’s bedroom door is wide open and the light is on. It’s almost inviting me in. Instead of walking right by, I take a quick glance into the mysterious dungeon. Closer, closer…. next thing you know, I’m in the middle of his room looking at all his stuff.

A stack of Sport magazines. A book about Mickey Mantle. An empty bottle of Coke. A necklace with a saint on the head of it. A Hall and Oates record. A golf club. No voodoo dolls. No dirty mags. No acid weed. No riff-raff at all.

I walked into the bathroom a new man. I’d conquered a fear. I told myself that it really was silly the things that could wind up the nine and under set. Whatever, I was a man now and the summer of 1975 was coming on full steam ahead, nothing to be afraid of at all.

20 days later this came out:

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Published in: on May 31, 2012 at 10:05 pm  Comments (1)  

It Seems Like Yesterday, But It Was Long Ago

May 18, 1980

I’d turned 15 the day before and holy mother of God was I ready for summer vacation. I was winding down my one and only year at St. Thomas Academy, finishing off ninth grade, which would forever be my hardest year in school. My advanced placement biology class was more difficult than anything I ever took in college, and that’s a testament to St. Thomas Academy, not a knock on the University I graduated from years later, named after the same saint a few miles away in St. Paul.

St. Thomas Academy was a grind. I’d gotten pretty much straight A’s all through grade school without really having to exert too much energy and I suspected things would be the same way in high school. But that was when I thought I was going to Southwest, like all my brothers and sisters had.

I wasn’t. My parents had decided to send me to the Academy, mostly for football reasons, as I had proved to be a pretty good player and Southwest was a football wasteland. I remember having no real problem heading off to St. Thomas and at first I loved it– the football was great and I immediately established myself as a kid to watch on the ninth grade team.

Then school started and it was all downhill. My four brothers and sisters who were still in high school and grade school would get up around 7:15am, only to find me already gone to catch my bus during the first month of school, or after that I’d be standing at our front door, waiting for my carpool ride with three older guys I didn’t know. They were great guys, but I was a super shy kid and probably said five words to them the whole year. Plus they listened to Bob Dylan, which I didn’t get at all (but I did learn to like by the end of the year.)

I think it was ultimately my shyness that doomed me at the Academy, but that Biology class didn’t help. Or that my algebra teacher didn’t know algebra himself. I gave up on the math class, but I worked my ass off in Biology only to get high C’s. Hardest class I’ve ever taken by a mile. Throw in getting up an hour earlier than my siblings to polish my shoes and “brass”, and then getting home hours later than them made me feel isolated. Then after dinner I’d have two to three hours of homework while my public school siblings would be done in fifteen minutes.

I tried, but I became miserable. You weren’t allowed to rebel at St. Thomas Academy, so I rebelled at home. My parents should have kicked me out of the house I was such a jackass to them. I lived too far away from any of the people I now knew to ever hang out with them, so when I’d get back to school on Mondays and hear about all the “partying” at so and so’s house from the weekend, I felt like I was missing out.

It was a strange year, I didn’t hate the school, but I hated the long hours that going there entailed, and to a 14-year old there was no difference. But there always seemed to be something that kept me going. The Winter Olympics didn’t hurt obviously.Image

Then Southwest made it to the state tournament in hockey for the first time in a few years, so that got me through March.

Once spring hit, like any junior high kid, the thought of summer on the horizon was enough to get me to the finish line. Another important note about St. Thomas was that it didn’t have girls. I liked girls and I missed having them around. With no girls sitting in front of me in class, I was forced to find my daydreams elsewhere. That spring my hormones were mostly raging for one Kristy McNichol, who’d I’d seen recently in the movie, “Little Darlings” with Matt Dillon and Tatum O’Neil. I was a little timid to admit to this crush since my brother Joe had pronounced her a mutt at some point. Man, I went to an all boys military academy, anything with long hair looked good to me.

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So how does an about to be 15-year old get pushed over the hormonal edge? The day before my birthday, Friday, May 16, I go to a movie with two of my brothers and my sister. We got in for free because Margy worked at Edina Theatre. The movie was “Fame” and Irene Cara was naked in it. It wasn’t cool naked though because she was crying as she took her top off for some sleazy broadway guy who was filming her. I mean, at 14 and 364/365ths, I pretty easily got past the exploitation of it and was able to just enjoy the nudity part of it.

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Summer was coming, I was about to be released from a school I hated and there was a crying, naked black woman on a huge screen in front of me. I thought I was going to explode.

Then two days later, May 18, 1980, part of the world did explode. Mt. St. Helens erupted in Washington state, after 130 years of dormancy, killing 57 people and causing damage in the billions of dollars.

What the hell, a mountain exploded? I thought that only happened in old books or movies. The whole country stopped on a late Sunday afternoon to watch the evening news. (CNN would literally launch two weeks later, proving that the world waits for no man… or television network.)

The next day we learned that ashes from the explosion had landed in 10 different states! The devastation was pretty mind boggling: 185 miles of highway destroyed, thousands of animals and trees were wiped out as over a cubic mile of ash and lava spewed out from the mountain.

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It was the biggest, “wow, we’re just tiny people on a tiny planet that could go at any time” moment of my lifetime.

Bob Segar had a huge hit on the radio at the time called, “Against the Wind”,  (the opening words are the title of this post), which has the following lines:

“And the secrets that we shared… the mountains that we moved… caught like a wildfire out of control… ’til there was nothing left to burn and nothing left to prove.”

I transferred to a public school. Fame became an underground cult hit. Kristy McNichol, who it seemed was on the edge of stardom at the time, faded away after being dubbed a “troubled young actress”. She wouldn’t be diagnosed as bi-polar until 12 years later, and wouldn’t publicly reveal that she was a lesbian for 20  years after that. (Those who knew me in ninth grade would just nod their heads knowingly when told that I had a months long crush on a crazy lesbian.) Bob Segar just rolled on.

None of that really seems to matter under the scope of something like Mt. St. Helens. Just tiny people on a tiny planet.

It seems like yesterday, but it was long ago.

Published in: on May 18, 2012 at 9:54 pm  Comments (2)