The fifties were a great time to be growing up. The post-war economy was booming, and for the first time, kids had money, and Mr. Businessman wanted it. First, he renamed us “Teenagers,” then he manufactured us clothing we liked, made movies about us, and then also began recording some strange music which our parents hated, so we even loved it more.
It was while doing homework one evening that I heard that same strange music the sister was playing a year earlier. However, this time it wasn’t coming out of a record player, it was coming out of the radio.
One two three o’clock
four o’clock rock.
Five six seven o’clock
eight o’clock rock
When “Rock Around The Clock” began playing on the radio, things would never be the same. Before long you started hearing the Crew Cuts, the 4 Lads, and the Diamonds mixed into the sweet soft sound of what used to be. As good as this new Rock&Roll sounded, I’d soon discovered that most of it, was only watered down versions of even a bigger sound.
When the school year ended, we left my grandfather’s house and moved into a brand new home in another suburb of Winnipeg called Transcona. Not only did I leave North Kildonan behind, but I also left that shy quiet guy who loved baseball and scouting behind too.
Unfortunately, being a jack of all trades, my Father had purchased the stripped down version of our new home. What this meant was as his assistant I got to help build a garage, a bedroom in the basement, put in a concrete driveway and sidewalks, build a fence, plus sod the front and backyard which took most of the summer.
It was during our building years that I guess he felt compelled to remind me about the house rules which were, “Don’t bring the police to the front door, don’t ever tarnish the family name, and stay away from the bad girls.” I understood the first two, but staying away from the bad girls was ludicrous. How the hell were you supposed to get lucky? Also, according to my Father, all crime began after midnight, so to keep me from temptation he initiated a midnight curfew.
The only break I got from our construction work was when my Dad was sick in bed. I now figure that sadly he must have been suffering from what know as Depression. On those days though, I’d get to wander over to the nearby park hoping to meet someone I could play a little ball with. On one of those days, I happened to meet an unassuming guy by the name of Peter Proskurnik and had no idea that he was about to change my life.
Pete said that he be glad to play catch with me, but first, he had to practice his accordion a little, and I remember thinking, accordion, why would anyone want to play the accordion? Less than an hour he was back and while we were throwing the ball around he asked if I’d like to go with him to Teen Canteen that evening? When I asked, “What’s Teen Canteen?” He said that it was a dance which didn’t sound like much fun to me because the only dances I was aware of were polkas and square dances. However, since he played ball, I decided to go.
Later that evening when we arrived at the East End Community Club the summer sun was still high in the sky. Unfortunately, when the door closed behind us, we were thrust into total darkness and must have looked like a couple of blind guys. We were clinging to the walls as we slowly groped our way down the narrow hallway towards the dimly lit entrance ahead.
Upon entering the hall, I noticed that the dim light was coming from the colored lights that they had strung up everywhere. However, now, I no longer cared about seeing, all I cared about was the thunderous sound which was blasting out of four huge Hi-Fi speakers. The raw sexuality that was pouring out of them and into my very soul was making it very difficult for me to breathe.
I spent the rest of the night frozen in front of one of those speakers, and for the first time, I heard the likes of Jimmy Reed, Fats Domino, Big Joe Turner, Little Richard, Tiny Bradshaw, Little Willie John, Muddy Waters, and Wynonie Harris.
At some point, Pete must have sent some girl over to ask me to dance, but I remember thinking, “Hell, I don’t wanna dance, I want to make other people dance, and I want to do it for the rest of my life.”