Monday, October 17, 2016

C'MON! (Chapter Two: Under the Influence)

My Story of Rock, Ruin and Revelation
(The 5th Anniversary Edition)
- Christopher Long -


Under the Influence

So Long Beaver, Hello Chain Gang!
September 2, 1975 — my first day of school at Stonewall Jackson Junior High in Orlando, Florida proved to be a complete culture shock. As a kid growing up in Springfield, Missouri, I had only met one African-American and I was completely naïve to racial discord. But with my new school’s multi-cultural student body I now would witness frequent afternoon rumbles between whites, blacks and Cubans.

Some of my classmates actually kept chains in their lockers and we even had a full-time, on-campus police officer to deal with volatile daily student-related situations. In short, I wasn’t “in Kansas” anymore. But many fascinating individuals soon entered my life who introduced me to the music that not only provided the soundtrack to my early teens, but also fueled my future rock and roll ambitions.

Stonewall Jackson Jr. High - Orlando.

Flaming Youth
My cousin Cathy lived in Tampa, Florida during the mid 1970s. Cathy was two years older than me and in my mind at the time she was the personification of “cool.” She smoked cigarettes, went to concerts and helped reinforce my self-esteem during my particularly awkward tweenage period. The coolest thing about Cathy, aside from always being hip to the hottest new bands, was her willingness to hang out with me at our frequent family functions despite my obvious lack of coolness. Through Cathy I heard amazing first-hand accounts of actual rock concerts by such top-name acts of the day as Bad Company, Rod Stewart and Alice Cooper.

I remember hanging out with Cathy in my parents’ living room on Thanksgiving night in 1975, listening to Orlando's wildly popular radio station, BJ-105 FM. Mixed in among current hits from such pop artists as The Captain and Tennille, Barry Manilow and K.C. and the Sunshine Band, I heard for the first time a distinctive-sounding, hard rock, live concert recording. I couldn’t help but notice the abrasive guitars and gang-style back-up vocals chanting, “I – wanna rock and roll all ni-ee-ite, and party ever-ee day.” It was loud, heavy and I didn’t like it. In my estimation, Cathy knew everything about music. So, I asked her, “What’s this crap?” She immediately replied, “This is KISS. And they’re cool!”

I’d recently seen the band members’ outrageously painted faces on their album covers at the local record store in the mall. I also recalled having seen a commercial for their television appearance that summer on The Midnight Special. Their trademark make-up, leather outfits, platform boots, and fire-breathing, blood-spitting antics frightened me. And although The Midnight Special was my favorite TV show, I definitely did not tune in that week.


Cathy confidently endorsed these weirdos, and who was I to argue? From Elton John to Steely Dan, she’d always been on-point with every other musical recommendation. Could she also be right about KISS? I had my doubts this time.

My younger brother, Greg, was the first in my immediate circle to (bravely) purchase a KISS record. Although I openly chastised him for his lack of sound musical judgment, I’d often secretly crank up his 8-track tape of KISS' Destroyer album when nobody else was at home. I was quickly hooked on their high-octane, heavy rock anthems like “Detroit Rock City,” “God of Thunder,” “Shout it Out Loud,” and “Flaming Youth.” Before long I personally owned several KISS albums. I also began buying every magazine I could find that featured pictures or stories of the band and my parents were becoming very concerned. I remember dressing up as KISS drummer Peter Criss for Halloween in 1976. I didn’t possess the means to recreate his outrageous stage costume, so being a rather resourceful kid I just wore my green leisure suit, claiming I was paying tribute to Peter’s Dressed to Kill album cover look. I was clearly becoming a bona fide “KISS Freak.”

Do You Feel Like We Do
To me, the mid 1970s was a fascinating period to be a young teen. In 1976, America celebrated its Bicentennial, a peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia was elected President, The Six Million Dollar Man was a top-rated T.V. show and Farrah Fawcett’s image was seemingly everywhere. Plus, who could forget the C.B. radio craze with such infamous catchphrases as “breaker-breaker, good buddy” and “hammer down!” From such country acts as Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson to rockers including Aerosmith and Blue Öyster Cult to R&B supergroups, Earth, Wind and Fire and the Ohio Players, there was also an abundance of incredible music in 1976. And I absorbed it all like a sponge.


In the spring I became friends with two teenage brothers who lived down the street from me in Orlando  Ricky and Ronnie Burns. Unlike myself, the Burns brothers were, very cool. Ronnie, in particular, smoked, rode motorcycles, listened to rock and roll and was adored by the neighborhood “bad girls.” In fact, the Burns brothers were so cool that my mom literally forbade me to associate with them.

Consequently, I had to sneak over to the Burns house to hang out while my mom was at work. It was during these covert after-school rendezvous that Ronnie showed me how to apply Alice Cooper-like make-up and breathe fire, Gene Simmons-style. Ronnie played drums in the school band and even owned his own kit that he kept set up in his bedroom. From time to time he would give me pointers and even allow me to bang on them  and I loved it! Ronnie also educated me on various “ways of the world”  offering me compelling, step-by-step tips on how to get to “third base.”

Almost daily we would sit in the Burns living room listening to KISS albums at a ridiculously loud volume. Then one day, Ronnie decided to switch up the afternoon playlist and he introduced me to a new album called Frampton Comes Alive. After a succession of flop records, Peter Frampton, the former Humble Pie guitarist, exploded from out of nowhere and rocketed to the top of the charts in 1976 with the blistering live double-album. The signature Frampton classics “Show Me the Way,” “Baby, I Love Your Way” and the monstrous 14-minute, “Do You Feel Like We Do?” made Frampton Comes Alive an overnight international sensation and it's still considered one of rock’s all- time best-selling live albums. But one aspect of the record that captured my imagination almost as much as the music was the insightful liner notes printed inside the gatefold album cover. Written by (then) teenager Cameron Crowe, the Frampton bio was one of the first bits of rock journalism that I can recall ever noticing. Oh sure, I bought many of the popular rock magazines of the day, but with most of them offering near countless pics of Paul Stanley, I couldn’t be bothered with text. However, Crowe’s contribution to Frampton Comes Alive proved to be of considerable inspiration to me in my future writing endeavors.


Night Moves
Another inspirational character I met during my two-year stint in Orlando was a young man named David Tegeder. David was a year ahead of me at Stonewall Jackson Junior High. When you’re 14, one year is a BIG spread and I kinda looked up to David as an older brother. Unlike the Burns boys, David was focused on academics and he never got into trouble (at least not that I know of). He played sports and earned money mowing lawns. David was also passionate about rock and roll  and I had a mad crush on his younger sister, Donna. Hence, he was definitely a guy who I wanted to hang around with.

After promoting myself to David for months as being at least somewhat cool and reasonably astute when it came to rock and roll, he finally invited me to his house one day after school  and yes, Donna was home. I remember first entering David’s bedroom and admiring his vast music collection. He had crates and shelves full of vinyl LPs and stacks of both 8-track AND cassette tapes. David’s stereo system was equally impressive. It had AM and FM capabilities with two types of tape players and a built-in turntable. PLUS his speakers were HUGE! The woofers must have been an astounding 12 inches in diameter!

I don’t know if it was because he was cool or that perhaps he was afflicted with some kind of attention deficit issue, but David only referred to musical acts in abbreviated terms. Jethro Tull was referred to as “Tull,” Aerosmith was simply known as “Smith” and REO Speedwagon was, well, you get the idea.

During my first visit to David’s house he introduced me to an act he simply referred to as “Seger”   and he wasn’t talking about folk musician Pete Seeger. David was preparing to school me on the virtues of Detroit rocker, Bob Seger. Hot on the heels of his breakthrough album, Live Bullet, Seger and his Silver Bullet Band had just released  Night Moves, which at that time had just begun racing up the charts.


“Seger blows KISS away,” David informed me as he carefully removed his LP copy of Night Moves from its cardboard jacket and gently placed it on the turntable.

By this time I had become well-known at school as being a devout KISS Freak and I soon got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as Seger’s classic “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” began blasting from David’s enormous 12-inch speakers. I’d never heard such honest and pure rock and roll in my life. In fact, I became more enraptured with each ensuing track and I kinda felt as if I was cheating on a girlfriend. I mean, what would I have said if KISS guitarist Ace Frehley actually walked in David’s bedroom at that moment and caught me listening to Bob Seger with such delight? I could only imagine my defense. “Uh, Ace  you’re home early. This isn’t what you think! I swear it was only one time. Seger means nothing to me!” I then was struck with an unspeakable notion. Could it possibly be that KISS was NOT in fact “The Hottest Band in the Land?” Although I was unwilling to dethrone my kabuki-faced heroes, I did have to concede by the conclusion of Night Moves that I would at least have to make room for TWO at the top of my “Greatest Bands” list.

Walk This Way
I was always extremely close to my mom. She was my best friend and biggest fan. Like my dad, my mom was also raised in Tennessee and grew up in church. But whereas my dad took more of an iron hand, "do as I say" approach to parenting, my mom had considerably more finesse and possessed a true knack for connecting with me and my siblings. When I was about five, she heard me use the “N” word. At that age I had no idea what it even meant  I was merely repeating what I thought was a funny-sounding word that I had heard some other kids else use. She quickly and clearly educated me of the stupidity she had heard come out of my mouth. I immediately no longer thought it was a “funny” word. And to this day, I find few words to be as troubling. In fact, I don’t care if you’re a black rapper or a white supremacist, it’s an ignorant word.


I fondly remember having many wonderful and heartfelt conversations with my mom as I was growing up. During many of these childhood talks we would discuss various matters of faith. From explaining the meaning and importance of being “saved” to communion to tithing, the spiritual lessons I learned from my mom have stayed with me throughout my life.

My mom could seemingly do it all. Although I primarily remember her cooking, cleaning and creating an overall perfect home environment for our family, she also worked full-time in retail, security and banking. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t truly appreciate how demanding her gig really was until I became a parent myself. She asked very little of me as I was growing up and in return for her selfless efforts, I couldn’t even keep my room clean.

When I think back on everything I put her through when I was a kid, it’s amazing that she never strangled me. Once, when I was in junior high she discovered some rather risqué cartoons I had drawn in my bedroom which she found particularly disturbing. Another time, she came home early from work and caught me in my parents’ bed with a little teenage girl I had brought  home from  school. But she never ratted me out to my dad. Instead, she would always calmly confront me in private to express her displeasure.

A wise child brings joy to a father; a
foolish child brings grief to a mother.
Proverbs 10:1 (NLT)


I guess the one time I really pushed her buttons was in early 1977. I was 14 and a HUGE Aerosmith fan. At that time their single “Walk This Way” was a hot radio hit and I thought it was just about the most incredible record I’d ever heard. When a girl at school asked me to write down the lyrics to the song for her, I had to play my seven-inch single over and over at 33 1/3 rpm to decipher each and every one of Steven Tyler’s libido-drenched lyrics. Keep in mind, I was still a young and extremely naïve church boy and I genuinely had no clue what the lyrics meant  I just thought it was a groovy tune. However, my mom knew exactly what “bleeder” and “muffin” meant, and assuming it was a song I’d written, she flipped out when she found the copy of my handwritten lyrics lying on the coffee table. In short, she nearly had a heart attack, and in the words of Ricky Ricardo, I had “a lot of esplainin’ to do!”

If I could have just one more minute with my mom now, I would hug her and thank her from the bottom of my heart for everything she ever did for me. And I'd humbly apologize for being such an ungrateful little creep.

With my mom in Chicago.

I Get Around
By my early teens it seemed that all of my peers were being allowed to attend rock concerts. Everyone that is, except me. I had to settle for second-hand accounts of outrageous performances by legendary artists the following day at school. I never got to see the real Alice Cooper Band, Led Zeppelin, or the original Lynyrd Skynyrd lineup. However, after years of persuasion, I finally allayed my parents’ anxieties regarding rock concerts.

After recently denying my impassioned request to attend a KISS concert in December 1976, my parents finally gave in and allowed me to experience my first rock show — The Beach Boys in early 1977. My parents’ primary objection to me attending rock concerts was their expectation of people in the audience freely taking drugs and openly engaging in sexual activities at these events. I thought that was ridiculous. What did my parents know anyway? They were over 30 and by my accounts that made them really old and completely uncool. But when I arrived at the concert that night with the love(s) of my life; Jackie, Sharyon and Andrea, I was amazed to discover throngs of tie-dyed clad hippies scattered throughout the 10,000 seat civic center in Lakeland, Florida — smoking dope and groping each other. Holy cow  — my parents were right!

Like The Beatles, The Beach Boys also started out as a squeaky-clean pop act in the early 1960s and later morphed into scruffy-looking longhairs, creating more experimental-type rock in ensuing years. This concert was during The Beach Boys (scruffy) “Brian’s Back” era, heralding the return of the group’s chief songwriter, producer and visionary, Brian Wilson. I’ve often joked that there are only two kinds of people in the world  “John Lennon” people and “Brian Wilson” people. Although John Lennon is rightfully considered by many to be one of pop music’s all-time premier songwriters and has touched the lives of music fans in profound ways, Brian Wilson’s songs have touched me personally in ways few others have. I once heard a listener comment on a call-in radio show that Brian Wilson is the “Beethoven of pop music” — well put!


The Beach Boys show was a sold-out event. And from the roar of the crowd and the undeniable fragrance of marijuana permeating the arena to the blasting music and colorful light show, my first concert experience proved to be fantastic and inspiring.

Under the (Evil) Influence
It was also during my early teens when I first recall sitting in church and hearing about the evil influence rock and roll had over its followers. Sunday after Sunday I was reminded of how rock music promoted ungodly behavior  particularly, ungodly sexual behavior. In fact, the way I heard it, rock and roll was responsible for nearly every sin and impure thought known to man. It seemed to me like that was a lot of blame to cram conveniently into one package. After all, the Bible is filled with numerous accounts of immoral human activities from thousands of years ago. Do the words Sodom and Gomorrah ring a bell? In fact, the graphic accounts of incestuous behavior between Lot and his daughters found in Genesis 19:30-38 are so outrageous that it makes an episode of Jersey Shore seem like a rerun of Full House. I’m serious  there’s some unbelievable stuff in the Bible   it’s a bona fide page-turner!

Anyway, I was almost certain that many of these biblical examples of outrageous personal conduct had to have predated The Rolling Stones by at least a decade or two. As a result, I didn’t buy into the full-on, anti-rock mantra that I heard coming from the pulpit as a teenager. However, I might have connected with the message had my pastors and Sunday school teachers spent less time playing records backwards and dedicated at least a little energy towards offering an alternative.



Read C'MON! in it's entirety 

Copyright 2012 / 2016 Christopher Long

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