Southern California in the early sixties was at the forefront of education and entertainment in America. Public schools were reputed to be some of the best in the nation and broadcast television boasted nearly a dozen channels. I imagined myself being the host of The Mark Metz Show holding forth in front of Ed Sullivan on the screen with a pretend microphone in my hand. After kindergarten and first grade at Bayview Elementary in Orange County where, with the help of my brother and a chalkboard and my parent’s subscription to Time Magazine I had already learned to read, I found myself at a one-room schoolhouse at the far end of Glade Park, Colorado. Glade Park, population 95 at the time, consisted of a general store/Post Office/gas station at the main crossroads, and hundreds of square miles of ranch land sprawling from the aspen-covered alpine mesas down to the red sandstone cliffs on the banks of the Colorado River.
The Glade Park School was actually taught in a trailer set up behind the old picturesque schoolhouse, the historical building, complete with a bell tower, was leaky and didn’t have proper heat so it was only used for special events like the Christmas play. Our one teacher was sadly outmatched and barely up for the challenge of providing a real curriculum to the assorted rancher kids. It was K-12 in one room, and with only nine or 10 kids not even all of the grades were represented. She managed to keep us occupied by allowing us to study whatever we were best at, which in my case was reading. It was more or less glorified day-care for the older kids with a big emphasis on a long lunch period and morning and afternoon recess. I remember having my first crush on a fifth-grade girl named LeeAnne, we would ride on the swingset together, which was an incomparable thrill at the time.
My habit during the ranch years was to spend an hour at the library in Grand Junction, the bigger town 36 miles away down the mountain, during my mom’s weekly grocery shopping expedition. The rule was that you were allowed to check out 10 books at a time, which I managed to devour every week without fail. The upshot of my schooling during second and third grade was that I learned very little aside from reading and that my parents and a few of the others with kids in the school started agitating for better education with the result that the one-room school was shuttered and by my fourth-grade year I was riding a bus back and forth with the rest of the rangy ranch kids to a big elementary school down in The Valley.
Fourth-grade at Scenic Elementary brought new levels of access to my eager 8-year old soul and introduced me to a much more sophisticated group of peers. One of my new friends had their own mini-turntable in their basement playroom, along with a small collection of 7” 45’s. This was my first realization that music could be ‘cool’ and rather than being something that grownups or big brothers were into, this music was ours, and we could damn well be hip and cool ourselves! Well, the records were by Abba, and playing them over and over at top volume while screaming the lyrics to S.O.S. was the pinnacle of ecstasy.
But simply keeping it to ourselves in the basement wasn’t enough. I discovered that my school library would allow me to check out portable cassette recorders, which immediately came home with me for taping sessions in my friend’s basement. Armed with scratchy-sounding mixtapes, recorded with the built-in microphone, I was able to arrive at school and share the brilliance of ABBA with the world. There was an outdoor electrical outlet near the back door to the school, and I was fully in my glory when I would plug in the tape deck blast the tunes as loud as it could go to anyone I could gather round. I learned the lesson that while having and owning your own music was hip, being the one who could play it for other people made you cool. And if ABBA wasn’t your cup of tea, it was your problem, not mine.
I became friends with an older girl named Gwen, who would have been in the fifth or sixth-grade at the time. She had a brother named Tim who was my own age, so I had an excuse to visit their house and get to know the family including the elder brother Dave. He looms larger later in the story, but my early encounters with the Pipe family centered around Gwen and her adulation of Elton John. This was my first acquaintance with a true fan, someone who not only collected every record in an artist’s discography but also one who knew every factoid and detail that could be gleaned from the teen magazines of the time. I learned what lyric sheets were, and witnessed the glory of rock posters wallpapering a bedroom. I think she was probably considered somewhat of a nerd by her peers in her class, and it was for my benefit that she would sneak illicit Elton John LPs to school in her bag to pore over the art and lyrics with me at lunchtime.
Looking back it’s obvious that these were the years when I first touched upon the meta-consciousness of musical artists as distributed through the electromagnetically encoded magic of records and tapes.
(more from my musical memoir project…to be continued)
Much love till next Monday!
Director of the Dance First Association
Publisher of Conscious Dancer Magazine